Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 29, 2006

‘Battle of Saltville’ provides a honored opportunity to remember a tragic wrong

If I have learned anything in life, I’ve learned to keep an open mind because there is always the possibility that something unexpected can take place at any time.

I was storming through the Bluefield, Va., Wal-Mart a few days ago with the singular goal of buying some tea candles for the Scott Street Baptist Church youth to transform into luminaries for our annual service later this evening at the Saltville, Va., Battlefield Overlook. This will be the eighth year that Scott Street has participated in the service at the battlefield in memory of the men of the 5th and 6th US Colored Cavalry who died there during and after the Oct. 2, 1864 “Battle of Saltville.”

The annual Saltville service has remained about the same through the years with prayers, songs, a keynote address by Bluefield Mayor Garry D. Moore, and Deacon Sam Johnson’s reading of the names of the soldiers missing in action, but my understanding of the circumstances related to the event has evolved through the years. In times of war, the stories that historians work with can be challenging to decipher as a result of both intentional and unintentional factors. In the process, the story of history itself can become increasingly more complex through the passage of the years.

I have been carrying the Saltville story around in my soul since I first heard about it in the summer of 1998. I have thought about it from many different perspectives, but in the end, I keep returning to the realization that slavery as an institution was a horrible thing.

It created a heavy burden for American democracy to withstand. I don’t blame my ancestral heritage for the reality of slavery in the U.S, and it’s likely that few if any of the Confederate defenders at Saltville were slave owners themselves.

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