John D. Imboden: Misrepresenting History and Southern Soldiers Who Fought at Piedmont

Gen. John D. Imboden wrote about the battle of Piedmont to protray himself as a victim and the Confederate Forces who fought there as being incapable of victory. Unfortunately, he misrepresented the truth about the composition of the Confederate forces at Piedmont. In the process, thousands of regular Confederate soldiers were denied their place in history, because Imboden’s widely circulated writings have been overly relied upon by historians. In the following text, where Imboden is quoted, his false assertions will appear in italics.

Gen. John D. Imboden

In his post-war writings on the campaign, Imboden recalled organizing the troops sent him from Southwest Virginia on June 3 and wrote of the troops who joined him:
To my dismay, I learned from officers in command of the detachments arriving that no large organized body of troops was on its way to join me except Vaughan’s small Tennessee brigade of cavalry. Jones had cleaned out the hospitals from Lynchburg to Bristol of convalescents, and gathered them together with the depot guards along the railroad, aggregating all told less than 2,200 men. The largest organization was no more than a battalion, not a single complete regiment was coming on, except as stated, Vaughan’s brigade of about 800 men. Mostly they were in companies, and parts of companies.
This statement contained several misleading assertions which short-changed the Virginians, Tennesseans and North Carolinians who bore the brunt of the coming battle. General Imboden left the impression that his assertions applied to the army as a whole. Unfortunately, this post-war account appeared in the widely read Confederate Veteran and heavily influenced future interpretation of the battle of Piedmont.
Imboden’s statement that no unit larger than a battalion is an outright fabrication. In reality, General William E. Jones generously sent Imboden several organized infantry regiments. The 36th, 45th and 60th Virginia Infantry regiments numbered a minimum of five hundred men each. The Thomas Legion contained 390 men. The 45th Virginia Battalion numbered only 150 men but consisted of only five companies. These men were not Valley soldiers, however, they resided in Southwest Virginia and Counties that became West Virginia in 1863 and were not part of the usual Valley armies prior to June 5, 1864.

When Imboden’s account appeared in a Staunton newspaper, word of it filtered back to a veteran of the 45th Virginia. The veteran took Imboden to task and informed the paper’s editor of his oversight in leaving out the Virginia infantry. Jones also sent approximately five hundred dismounted cavalrymen from his own brigade to the Valley, but these proved the exception rather than the rule, as Imboden implied in his narrative.
Imboden also claimed that he appointed the acting brigadiers and organized the brigades. Most reinforcements already belonged to existing organizations. The 36th and 60th Virginia, the 45th Battalion and Bryan’s Lewisburg Battery belonged to an officially recognized brigade, formerly commanded by Colonel John C. McCausland. This brigade retained its organization under the command of Colonel Beuhring Jones at Piedmont, and Imboden clearly played no role in its creation and organization.

Imboden possibly organized the 45th Virginia, General William E. Jones’ dismounted men and the Thomas Legion into a brigade com-manded by Colonel William E. Browne. On the other hand, the 45th Virginia and the Thomas Legion had formed part of the Saltville garrison which Browne had previously commanded.

Imboden did indeed organize the convalescents from the hospitals and the Maryland Line into a battalion, organized a medical department and called up a regiment of local reserves before any rein¬forcements arrived. Quite clearly, General Imboden organized some of the troops, but he misled his audience when he de-scribed the nature of the troops from the Department of South-western Virginia and East Tennessee.
Imboden also stated that the troops at Piedmont were strangers to one another and had never fought together before. To some limited extent this held true, but the infantry which did the bulk of the fighting had much shared experience. The 45th Virginia previously had fought side by side with McCausland’s Brigade at Cloyd’s Mountain. Before that, the Virginians fought together in several Western Virginia campaigns. Some familiarity definitely existed in the Confederate ranks at Piedmont.
Imboden further exaggerated the situation when he described the “heterogeneous materials” which composed the Confederate army at Piedmont. He wrote that the Southern soldiers “touched elbows with strangers, and obeyed orders from, to them, unknown and unfamiliar lips.” While Vaughn’s brigade, the Virginia Infantry and Imboden’s cavalry had not fought together as an army previously, the units within each brigade were well acquainted with each other. The companies and regiments had been together for most of their service, and the officers who commanded them at Piedmont knew their men well. Imboden’s exaggerations por-trayed the Confederate Army at Piedmont as one which had little chance to achieve victory. In truth, General Jones had assembled a formidable force of infantry and dismounted cavalry given the exigency of his situation. And he did so in a remarkably short period at a time when the Confederacy was hard pressed across all fronts.

Jones and the men who did most of the fighting at Piedmont deserved better than Gen. John D. Imboden gave them.



Filed under Battles

4 responses to “John D. Imboden: Misrepresenting History and Southern Soldiers Who Fought at Piedmont

  1. Keith Hatch


    Are you planning a book on the last half of the 1864 Valley Campaign (Cedar Creek, etc.) I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the rest.


    • Keith, Yes, I have always planned on finishing out the campaign. Most of my research incorporates the entire campaign including Cedar Creek and beyond. I have recently begun outlining Cedar Creek and getting my materials organized for writing.

  2. Whit

    Imboden disagreed with Jones concerning the selection of the Piedmont battlefield (IIRC, Imboden argued for a line on the rise about a half mile north of present day Barrenridge) Would this serve as a motive for his selective memory years later?

    • He claims he argued for that position, but that is a post war “lost cause” claim by Imboden. Contemporary evidence is lacking in that regard. Imboden disobeyed orders on the morning of the battle and got his cavalry chewed up in violation of Jones’s orders. Then he was highly inactive during the final Union attack and did make any attempt to prevent it. claiming his prior orders from Jones’s prohibited from doing so. Overall, Imboden was covering his own tracks by blaming Jones and to a lesser degree Vaughn after the war.

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