August 19, 1863: Union Troops Destroy Saltpeter Works Near Franklin

General William Averell

On August 19, 1863, Union troops under General William Averell destroyed the saltpeter works near Franklin, the seat of Pendleton County. This was the first of Averell’s three cavalry raids in 1863, launched from West Virginia toward Confederate railroads, troops, and supplies in western Virginia. Averell had been more or less banished to the West Virginia theater due to his failures during the Chancellorsville campaign.

He set out from Moorefield a week before reaching Pendleton County. After destroying the saltpeter works near Franklin, his cavalry moved south and chased Confederate troops from Pocahontas County. His next objective was to capture the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals library at Lewisburg, but the Confederates took a stand at nearby White Sulphur Springs and ended Averell’s first raid.

Averell’s second raid resulted in a Union victory at Droop Mountain in Pocahontas County but still failed in its main objective: destroying the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Averell’s third try finally broke up the Virginia and Tennessee in places. The following year, Averell was removed from command again—this time, for his poor leadership during the Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1864.