Salt was a crucial resource during the Civil War. It not only preserved food in the days before refrigeration, but was also vital in the curing of leather. Control or destruction of the South’s most important salt production facilities was critical to the Union war effort. In early October 1864, coincident with Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan's burning of the Shenandoah Valley, Union cavalry and infantry raiders led by Brig. Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge attempted to destroy the Confederate saltworks near Saltville in southwest Virginia. Burbridge was delayed at Clinch Mountain and Laurel Gap by a makeshift Confederate force, enabling Brig. Gen. Alfred E. Jackson to concentrate available troops near Saltville, including Home Guard militia units, to meet the Yankees. On the morning of October 1st, the Federals attacked but made little headway against the defenders. Confederate reinforcements continued to arrive during the day. After day-long fighting, Burbridge retired without accomplishing his objective. Afterwards, some of the Confederate soldiers, mostly militia irregulars, were said to have murdered as many as 50 captured black soldiers from the 5th Unites States Colored Cavalry. For that offense and others, their leader Champ Ferguson was tried, found guilty, and executed after the war. A second battle here occurred two months later when Union cavalry Brig. Gen. George Stoneman defeated Confederate defenders and burned the saltworks.