Friday, December 09, 2005

McKinney: "The Civil War in Greenbrier County, West Virginia"

[The Civil War in Greenbrier County, West Virginia by Tim McKinney. (Charleston, WV: Quarrier Press, 2004). Pp. 396, $29.95, Hardback, photos, maps, notes, appendices. ISBN 1-891852-36-1)]

During the Civil War, Greenbrier County, West(ern) Virginia had the misfortune of occupying a place on the map that was strategically important to both sides. The James River-Kanawha Turnpike was a made to order avenue for invasion and its course ran right through the county seat at Lewisburg on its way to the upper Shenandoah Valley. Mineral and resource rich itself, Greenbrier County was additionally located only a short distance north of the vital salt works at Saltville and the critical east-west running Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. All of this geographical importance translated into invasion, occupation, and material devastation for the area’s inhabitants.

With this book, Tim McKinney, author of a number of West Virginia history and reference works, has contributed greatly to our understanding of the Civil War in western Virginia. The many battles and raids that crisscrossed throughout Greenbrier County are detailed here, including the relatively little known engagements at Lewisburg, White Sulphur Springs, Sinking Creek, and Tuckwiller Hill. Union General George Crook’s 1862 victory at Lewisburg over a Confederate force led by Henry Heth is given the most thorough treatment.

Although much of the book is dedicated to military matters, the civilian experience is far from ignored. The citizens’ grim struggle to survive in the face of constant raids and arbitrary seizure of life, sustenance, and property is starkly portrayed. Civilians were often arrested and held as hostages and the infamous hanging of prominent civic leader David Creigh provides a clear example of the hazards of living in a war zone. Being one of the solidly pro-Secession counties to be attached to the new state of West Virginia only added to the post-war burdens of the people of Greenbrier County.

The story of the region’s many spas and resorts is also told. The famous Old White Hotel at White Sulfur Springs quickly went from vacation spot for the rich and famous to a Confederate hospital and supply depot. Only by sheer luck was it spared the incendiary proclivities of Union General David Hunter.

The Civil War in Greenbrier County is obviously a labor of love and the product of years of careful research. Almost half of the entries in the bibliography are manuscript sources. As an added bonus, a great deal of reference material is interspersed throughout the text and in the appendices. The only significant complaint I have with this fine work is the absence of a detailed county map that would make the geography-heavy text more welcoming to outsiders. This particular region is clearly important enough in the conduct of the war to merit attention beyond local interest. Overall, this history is an excellent addition to Quarrier Press’s long line of books dealing with West Virginia’s Civil War heritage.

(Reprinted with Permission from North & South Magazine. Originally published in Vol. 8 #5, pg. 86, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

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