"Fit only for ? owls and bats."
— Hunter's Raid —
On May 26, 1864, Union Gen. David Hunter marched south from Cedar Creek near Winchester to drive out Confederate forces, lay waste to the Shenandoah Valley, and destroy transportation facilities at Lynchburg. His raid was part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's strategy to attack Confederates simultaneously throughout Virginia. After defeating Gen. William E. "Grumble" Jones at Piedmont on June 5, Hunter marched to Lexington, burned Virginia Military Institute, and headed to Lynchburg. There, on June 17-18, Gen. Jubal A. Early repulsed Hunter and pursued him to West Virginia. Early then turned north in July to threaten Washington.
On June 14, 1864, after Union Gen. David Hunter's force forded the James River upstream from the Buchanan Bridge that Confederate John C. McCausland had partially burned, the Federals swarmed through Buchanan and the surrounding countryside. They looted homes and farms for food and valuables, including a cache of fine wine that fueled a boisterous party well into the night. The soldiers also damaged canal locks and embankments, and destroyed several bateaux and packet boats and their cargoes. A few months after the brief occupation, a resident wrote that the Iower part of town was a ruin "fit only for the habitation of owls and bats."
During the Civil War, Buchanan consisted of 110 households with 650 free inhabitants and 250 slaves and was the largest community on the James River west of the Blue Ridge. As the terminus of the JamesRiver and Kanawha Canal, Buchanan served as an important Confederate depot for agricultural produce and pig iron en route to Richmond. Wilson Warehouse (the present-day Community House) and other warehouses stored military supplies and other goods bound for the Shenandoah Valley and elsewhere in western Virginia. After Hunter s raid, however, Buchanan's role as a commercial center dwindled until the arrival of the railroad in 1881.
The home of noted Virginia novelist Mary Johnston (1870-1936) stood across from the Wilson Warehouse. Her father, Maj. John W. Johnston, a kinsman of Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, served in the Botetourt Artillery of Vicksburg fame. Mary Johnston used her father's diaries to write two Civil War novels, The Long Roll
and Cease Firing
. Her most famous book is To Have and To Hold