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[534]

Gen. J. C. Breckinridge, in command of the Confederate forces in southwest Virginia, having been duly advised of the movements of Stoneman's command, promptly made every effort to collect his scattered men to meet them; but in that inclement season it was impossible to get them together at so short a notice. Witcher's regiment of cavalry was nearly 100 miles away, in and near Mercer county, across the mountains to the northeast. A small body of militia, under General Preston, occupied the earthworks that defended the salt works at Saltville.

Pushing forward with great energy, and having at his command some 5,500 men, nearly twice as many as Breckinridge could get together, Stoneman drove Vaughn's and Duke's commands before him, and pressing on passed Glade Spring, paying no attention to the Confederate force at Saltville, until he was delayed, by an action at Marion, on the 16th, but only for a short time, as his superior force enabled him to flank Breckinridge's command and compel the larger portion of it to retreat southward toward North Carolina. Riding rapidly still further up the valley, Stoneman was again opposed, in a skirmish at Mt. Airy, on the 17th and 18th. Detaching a portion of his command from Marion to destroy the lead works, by way of the Rye valley, he sent another portion on to Wytheville, where it destroyed a number of warehouses filled with army supplies, burning a church that had been used for this purpose, and destroying the railway bridges and stations for a few miles northeastward of Wytheville.

Having accomplished so much in the way of damaging the Confederacy, Stoneman retired to the vicinity of Glade Spring, and on the 20th and 21st drove away the small force at the salt works and greatly damaged that important and indispensable salt-making establishment. On the 22d he retired from Saltville. Burbridge's portion of his command then returned westward, by the way of Pound gap, on the 27th, to Catlettsburg, at the mouth of the Big Sandy in Kentucky, and Gillem's command returned to Knoxville on the 29th, reporting that it had marched 461 miles during this expedition, in intensely cold and inclement weather.

The damage inflicted upon southwest Virginia by this Federal. raid, in the destruction of railway and turnpike

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