Edmond Justice, also known as Edward Justice, was born in the mid- to late-1830s in Kentucky. While his age was rarely certain, it was never in question; as such, it was rarely if ever discussed at any length in any documentation. The most reliable documentation of his age would have been his enlistment and service papers during the Civil War; however, while he served a three-year contract, both his muster-in and muster-out papers record his age as 27. It is presently unknown if any family records exist to better solidify the date.
Not much is known about Ed's younger years. The first US census to record the names of individual family members was that taken in 1850; this reports him as 12 years old, living with his older brother Abraham's family along with his sister Minerva. In 1856, Ed married Louana Reffit; this marriage, according to records with Floyd County, was agreed to by her mother "Polly" and his mother "Rachel". There is one Rachel married Justice in that part of Kentucky at that time, which pretty-well solidifies Ed as the son of Archibald Slone Justice and Rachel Potter. While they have not been found in any census records following 1830, family records indicate that Archibald died first, in 1868.
In the fall of 1862, Colonel John Dills, Jr. of the United States Army began raising a regiment from the counties along the Big Sandy Creek; Ed enlisted with them on 1 December, and he, along with several of his friends, were officially mustered into service 16 February 1863 at Peach Orchard, as the 39th Kentucky Infantry. Even before mustering, due to the volatile nature of the region, the regiment began a series of fights and skirmishes with the enemy, similar incidents to which continued throughout its entire term of service. As an example, on 31 December that year, the regiment engaged Confederate forces four miles from Prestonburg. Under these conditions, I imagine Col Dills was probably in a rather large rush to get the troops officially recognized.
On 15 March 1863, Ed is listed as having deserted; on the special roster made 11 April to list soldiers present at the Battle of Beaver Creek, Ed is specifically listed as absent. As the regiment was camped very close to his own home --- within five miles, according to another soldier --- it's very likely he left to care for his wife and at the time three children, Mary Jane, Amanda, and Wilson, without officially notifying his commanding officers. He did return 1 June, and the charge of desertion was dropped under this pretense. During his absence, the 39th received special recognition as the regiment that captured Colonel French at Pikeville, as well as having made a rather gallant charge at Beaver Creek. By the time he'd returned to service, part of the regiment had been split off and sent to Gladesville, Virginia, whereupon they assisted in the capture of Colonel Caudill and his entire command. This was a very rough-and-tumble crew by all accounts, and Ed, while he did leave for a few months, absolutely pulled his weight with the rest of them.
It is unknown whether Ed joined part of his regiment in January of 1864 at Sherman's Ferry, but it is possible; during this battle, they suffered many casualties, including Lieutenants Richard Coleman and James Thornbury, as well as several captures. The following month, the regiment fought at Laurel Creek, West Virginia, under Colonel Gallup, defeating and capturing Colonel Ferguson and a number of his men, for which Gallup received congratulatory thanks from the commanding generals. In April, under the command of Brigadier General Stephen Burbridge, the 39th joined with a number of other Kentucky troops, most notably the 14th, and battled in various places with complete success.
On 2 June 1864, General John Hunt Morgan of the Confederacy launched a raid into Kentucky, aiming to divert Burbridge's forces away from attacking the saltworks at Saltville, Virginia. The 39th joined a huge forced march from the Sandy Valley to the fort at Mt. Sterling. The Confederates quickly overwhelmed the garrison on 8 June and occupied the town; however, on the following morning, Burbridge's forces arrived and launched a surprise attack, forcing Morgan's raiders to retreat with heavy losses. The Union army pursued Morgan south to the town of Cynthiana, where they engaged in battle once again.
At dawn on 11 June 1864, Morgan approached Cynthiana with 1200 cavalrymen. The town was defended by a small Union force under Colonel Conrad Garis, about 300 men altogether. Morgan divided his men into three columns, surrounding the town and launching an attack at the covered bridge. This forced Garis' forces north along the railroad. Riding into town, the Confederates set it ablaze, destroying many buildings and killing several Union troops in the process. As this fighting took place, about 750 men of the 171st Ohio Infantry under the command of Brigadier General Edward Hobson, arrived by train about a mile north of Cynthiana at Keller's Bridge. This regiment fought Morgan's forces for about six hours, in what is now known as the Battle of Keller's Bridge; during this time, Morgan managed to maneuver himself around and trapped this new Union force in a meander of the Licking River. Altogether, Morgan had around 1300 Union prisoners of war camping with him overnight.
In spite of low and dwindling ammunition, Morgan opted to remain the next day, knowing and expecting a much larger Union force to follow Ohio's 171st. Indeed, at dawn on 12 June, Brigadier General Stephen Burbridge's forces caught up with him, with a total of 2400 men from Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan, a combined force of mounted infantry and cavalry. The Union forces drove the Confederates back, causing them to flee the town, whereupon many were captured or killed. General Morgan and many of his officers managed to escape, but the defeat put a resounding end to Morgan's Last Kentucky Raid. The battle demonstrated that Union numbers and mobility were starting to take their toll on Confederate forces, showing they could no longer raid the North with impunity.
With his success in Cynthiana, Burbridge was given control over the state of Kentucky that very month, beginning with martial law authorized by President Lincoln himself. On 16 July, he issued Order Number 59, which declared: "Whenever an unarmed Union citizen is murdered, four guerrillas will be selected from prison and publicly shot to death at the most convenient place near the scene of the outrages." During this period, he directed the execution and imprisonment of numerous people, including public figures, on charges of treason and other high crimes. Many of these charges were, in fact, baseless.
For a moment, we're going to take a step back and look at the overall situation of the country, both the Union and the Confederacy, at that moment in history. Ulysses Grant is the commander of all Union armies, and has confronted Robert E. Lee in numerous confrontations throughout Virginia. During a siege on Petersburg, he coordinates a series of devastating campaigns against the South launched by William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, and George Henry Thomas in other theaters. Things were beginning to look bleak for the Confederacy for the first time during the war, and there was one pivotal location that could make the Confederate Army completely collapse. As luck would have it, this location was very near the eastern border of Kentucky, in the aforementioned town of Saltville, Virginia.
Millions of years ago, the area around Saltville was submerged in saltwater, and the deposits left behind fed everything from woolly mammoths to the first humans. As early as 1567, European settlers recognized the value of the land, trading natives of the region for its bountiful salt deposits. During the Civil War, salt was essential to preserving provisions, and the Saltville mines supplied it to much of the country, especially the Confederacy. As the war progressed and Grant's forces made supplies scarce, the South became far, far more dependent on the resources coming out of Saltville.
Brigadier General Stephen Gano Burbridge knew this. Morgan's raid on Mt. Sterling was an attempt to keep him away from that potentially highly-rewarding campaign, and it was successful in diverting his attention for a few months. As his power in Kentucky extended however, Burbridge felt the need to return to that potential theater and crush the rebellion once and for all.
Partly to bolster his now failing reputation and unpopular personality, while still continuing his charge of Kentucky, Burbridge led Union troops, including, among others, the 39th Kentucky Regiment and, in a highly controversial move, the 5th and 6th US Colored Cavalry, in a major raid against the fortifications at Saltville. With more than 5000 men, including one Ed Justice, Burbridge's forces handily outnumbered Saltville's defenders, under the command of Brigadier General Alfred Jackson.
According to Confederate soldier George Mosgrove, who wrote about the battle in 1957, Saltville was a natural fortress with hills and ridges in concentric circles, which greatly aided Confederate defenses. His account of the battle begins in that summer, when rumors had it that Burbridge's forces were marching towards the saltworks on a parallel course with the forces under Morgan. This is what led to the aforementioned battles at Mt. Sterling and Cynthiana.
In late September, Mosgrove writes that scouts reported a force of six to eight thousand cavalry with six to ten pieces of artillery were coming from Kentucky, commanded by General Burbridge, General Hobson, and Colonel Charles Hanson. The scouts also reported seeing two possible colored brigades. General Basil Duke, a member of Morgan's army, also wrote on the event, noting that two other Union generals, Jacob Ammen and A.C. Gillem, were also advancing towards Saltville and slated to meet Burbridge's forces there; these forces, however, were coming from Knoxville, Tennessee.
In response to the scout's information, Colonel Henry Giltner sent Colonel Edward Trimble with 150 men to Richlands, 40 miles from Saltville, to head off Burbridge's forces. Trimble then ordered Giltner to take 100 of his men to the gap in Paint Lick Mountain to protect the main turnpike road running through it, and to provide reinforcements in the likely case that Trimble needed to fall back. The Union army sent 500 men around Paint Lick Mountain towards Jeffersonville, flanking the gap.
On the evening of 30 September, Captain Edward Guerrant made his headquarters at the home of George Gillespie, near the grounds of General Bowen. Late at night, the captain was awakened with news that the Union forces were firing at Bowen's property; he responded by sending a member of the 10th Kentucky Cavalry to warn Giltner, and by sending the 4th Kentucky Cavalry to picket towards the Union. That same day, Colonel Robert Preston also arrived in Saltville with his reserves, unaware of the strength of the Union forces approaching the town; his orders had simply been to reach Saltville as quickly as possible, according to the account of one of his reservists and friends, John Wise.
On 1 October, Burbridge's forces camped on the grounds of General Bowen, two miles outside the Confederate position within Saltville. At the time, only the Virginia reserves were stationed within the town, with little in the way of artillery. General Andrew Jackson, nicknamed "Mudwall" in mockery of the other General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, was very much disliked and did not inspire much confidence; however, General John Williams of the Confederacy was unexpectedly at Castle Woods, not far from Saltville. Burbridge became overconfident.
The 64th Virginia Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Smith with 250 men, and the 10th Kentucky Cavalry were both on the summit of Flat Top Mountain, guarding possible entrances to Saltville. Following a skirmish with Union troops, the regiments were forced to fall back to Laurel Gap, where the 4th and 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles, more Confederate forces, were already posted. Laurel Gap is surrounded on either side by tall cliffs and was thought to be inaccessible, not to be scaled; however, the Mounted Rifles were posted as far up the left cliff as possible, and the 64th Battalion took station on the right. Colonel Trimble was also sent up behind the mountain with his battalion. Late in the afternoon, Union forces secured passage through the mountain by pushing the 64th from its position and crossing on the right; the remaining Confederate forces retreated to Saltville.
At Broadroad, the road into the town forked and split into two separate roads, both leading southward into the valley toward Saltville. Giltner took the 64th Virginia and the 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles across the Holston River, and ordered Trimble to take the 4th and 10th Kentucky Cavalry down the main river road, thus covering both avenues of approach. By midnight, the entirety of Burbridge's force crossed the mountain through Laurel Gap.
Burbridge's attack the morning of 2 October was uncoordinated and piecemeal, attacking pickets and skirmish lines. The 4th and 10th Kentucky Cavalry crossed over to ground occupied by Giltner to act as reinforcements; Trimble's men then attacked the Union forces, falling back slowly. Meanwhile, the Union forces charged the 4th Kentucky Cavalry, skirmishing with them for half an hour. Part of the 4th occupied a position high on a hill near "Governor" Sanders' house, and there General Felix Robertson's brigade of 250 men arrived to reinforce the Confederate units.
All accounts of this portion of the battle are muddled, with much confusion as to which regiment moved where; ultimately however, the Confederate forces ended up positioned along the ridges. General John Williams, having joined to reinforce the Confederate position as well, was on the high ridge near Sanders' hill, and Giltner was pushed back to the bluffs along the Holston River. The 10th Kentucky Cavalry was on the bluff at the ford, with the 10th Mounted Rifles to their left. The 64th Virginia reserves were to the left of that regiment, and the 4th Kentucky Cavalry were to the left of them. At the extreme end of the line were Colonel Preston's reserves. Another battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Smith and Major John Prather were barricaded around Sanders' home. Burbridge's forces advanced on the Confederate line.
Mid-morning, the Union forces formed into three columns and attacked the reserves surrounding Sanders' house. The 13th Battalion of Virginia Reserves stationed there fought, but the Union forces were able to push them back to Chestnut Ridge. The Union troops stormed the yard and followed the Reserves to the Ridge, where they were met by the Confederate brigades of General Robertson and Colonel George Dibrell.
The three Union columns then moved to attack Trimble's position at the ford. One column went directly down Sanders' hill, another moved along the river, and the third swept across the wide bottom of the hill. They crossed the ford, scaled the opposite cliff, and attacked Trimble's position; in response, the 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles and the 64th Virginia were sent to support Trimble. His forces fell back, and Trimble himself was killed in this offensive.
The Union forces were then repulsed on all sides. The column led by Colonel Hanson was on the far left side of the mountain; his brigade eventually met up with the 4th Kentucky and Preston's reserves. Active firing ceased around five in the evening, and at that point the Confederates were able to hold the mountain pass at Hayter's Gap, the most direct route out of Saltville; the Union troops, on the other hand, continued to hold their position one mile out from Saltville until nightfall.
Generals John Breckenridge and John Echols arrived after nightfall, with the brigades of Generals Basil Duke, George Cosby, and John Vaughn. According to Duke's memoirs, Vaughn was left at Carter's Station, while Cosby and Duke had been ordered by Echols to head on to Bristol on 30 September; however, the following day they received word from Echols that they were to head to Saltville. With the fresh brigades, the Confederates were reinforced and intended on resuming the offensive in the morning.
The aforementioned Mosgrove noted that he saw at least four hundred members of the United States Colored Corps in the battle during the day. That evening, Dibrell told Mosgrove that his men had fought 2500 Yankees during the battle, and had taken down 200 of those men. After dark, Captain Guerrant and Mosgrove also met up with General Robertson, who claimed that his men had "killed nearly all the negroes."
3 October began with a Union retreat ordered by Burbridge early in the morning, still during the dark. The troops abandoned their position without taking much of their equipment, and even leaving many wounded behind on the field in order to gain ground on the expected Confederate pursuit. General Breckenridge ordered a scout to locate the Union forces; Captain R.O. Gaithright was sent to pursue them from the rear, while General Williams was sent with the brigades of Duke, Cosby, and Vaughn through Hayter's Gap to intercept them. Colonel Giltner's brigade was also sent in pursuit, but was instructed not to follow too close to allow General Williams enough time to advance beyond the Union movements. Ultimately, while Confederate troops did manage to catch up with their adversaries, it was too little too late; Burbridge's forces managed to escape, and the first battle for Saltville was over.
Sunrise of 3 October began a grisly spectacle. Mosgrove wrote that Colonel Hanson of the Union Army was lying wounded in the field hospital at nearby Emory and Henry College, having been shot by a minie ball; he was "heavily medicated" (read: drunk) and swearing at the hospital staff. While surgeon William Gardner tended to the Union wounded, three armed Confederate soldiers stormed into the hospital and fatally wounded a number of specifically black soldiers. This number differs over multiple accounts, between five and seven, all previously wounded in battle and entirely incapable of defending themselves.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, where many of the wounded from the previous night lay immobile, Confederate soldiers shot and killed numerous other soldiers rather than taking them as prisoners, especially and, again specifically, the black men. Mosgrove claimed to have witnessed a great deal of slaughtering of members of the USCC on the fields, primarily by two Tennessee brigades under the command of General Robertson and Colonel Dibrell. Another Confederate Private later recalled, "We surely slew Negroes that day." A wounded Ohio cavalryman who managed to escape with his life remembered "watch[ing] in horror as a Confederate guerrilla, the notorious Champ Ferguson, calmly walked about the battlefield killing white prisoners as well as blacks." While the exact number killed in this manner is heavily disputed, General Burbridge's report listed of the members of the 5th USCC, 22 men were known to be killed, 37 wounded, and 90 were missing entirely. Captain Guerrant noted that he heard the continuous sound of rifle fire which meant the death of "many a poor negro who was unfortunate enough not to be killed yesterday." He also wrote that his men did not take any black prisoners. The incident came to be known as the Saltville Massacre, and may well be the largest single racially-motivated hate crime incident in American history, depending on how the numbers are interpreted.
Ed Justice, along with most of the 39th Kentucky Infantry, managed to escape from this battle unscathed, but he certainly bore witness to its atrocities. Meanwhile, the failure prompted Burbridge's removal from command in favor of Union General George Stoneman.
General Stoneman recognized, as Burbridge had, the strategic importance of Saltville. Disregarding the difficulty they'd faced there previously, he led another set of battalions comprised of General A.C. Gillem's men, General Burbridge's Kentucky battalions --- including a portion of the 39th Infantry, of which Ed Justice was again a part --- the 5th and 6th USCC once again, and the 10th Michigan, a total of around six to seven thousand men, on a raid on Saltville on 20 December. Their objective was the same as Burbridge's had been that October: to destroy the saltworks.
The Confederate army pursued Stoneman's army from Marion. General Breckenridge ordered one column to take the road to the left into Rye Valley, but this proved problematic as the company lost their way several times during the nighttime passage. In the morning, the company continued down the mountain into Rye Valley, marched throughout the day, ending at Mount Airy.
Two roads led into Saltville: the Glade Spring road lay to the southwest, and the Lyon's Gap road led from the southeast. Three hills about a mile out from Saltville barricaded the convergence of these two roads. On these hills, protecting these roads, the Confederates had constructed two forts in the two and a half months: Fort Breckenridge to protect Glade Spring, and Fort Statham to guard Lyon's Gap. Colonel Robert Preston was stationed in Saltville with 500 men, charged with protecting these two fortifications. With him was Captain John Barr, who commanded the artillery. With these limited resources, Preston picketed both roads to try and meet the approaching Union troops.
General Basil Duke with a detachment and Captain Tom Barrett with men from the 4th Kentucky Mounted Rifles were also en route to Saltville to head off the coming raid. By the time Breckenridge's forces reached Preston mansion on the outskirts of Saltville on the evening of the 20th, Duke and Captain Calvin Morgan were already there, watching Saltville burn.
General Gillem reached Saltville first, attacking Preston's pickets on the Glade Spring road. Shortly thereafter, General Burbridge's men --- of which Ed was notably a member --- attacked at the Lyon's Gap road. The Union forces crested both Fort Statham and Fort Breckenridge, and moved into the town and descended on the saltworks. Preston called the surviving members of his reserves into retreat, evacuating the town. The Union soldiers destroyed 1000 of the 3000 boiling kettles and burned a number of evaporating sheds before moving on to rip up sections of the nearby Virginia and Tennessee Railroad; however, they failed to damage any of the actual salt wells, and the remaining kettles and sheds were sufficient to continue the needed salt production until the end of the war. While the second raid was considered a Union victory by all accounts, ultimately they failed in their primary objective to fundamentally cripple the Confederate Army. Generals Stoneman and Gillem fell back into Tennessee, while General Burbridge and his men retreated through Pound Gap and into Kentucky.
Why, then, with the job left unfinished, had the Union forces retreated? The answer was all in the timing of the raid. Stoneman, while successful in attacking and defeating the Confederate forces in Saltville, made the absolutely insane decision to lead the charge --- into the mountains of southwest Virginia, mind --- in the dead of winter. The Confederate forces at Saltville were lessened in number purely because they didn't believe anyone to be stupid enough to attempt the raid. Ultimately, the Union casualties to the weather made the attack almost as devastating in numbers to the raid in October; this time, Ed was not so lucky. While he was not injured by the enemy, he did suffer a severe degree of frostbite in his feet.
Jacob Nelson, a close friend of Ed's, would later recall: "The skin of his feet came off, his toe nails dropped off and the frozen proud flesh sloughed off, and was in such fix that the officers sent him home for treatment. Said Justice lived about 4 or 5 miles from camp. He reported often, but said Justice did no duty for about three months on account of said frozen feet. Being a private in same company as said Justice in the same mess and eat and slept with him.[sic] I was not in said raid having been left as camp guard at Lexington KY. I arrived at Louisa Kentucky about the same time that said Justice returned from said raid and the first time that I saw him his feet were in the condition above stated. After said Justice's return to duty, I slept with him and during the night he would groan and complain greatly of his feet paining him. He had an unnatural gait in walking and when walking seemed to be in distress all the time."
Ezekiel Prater, another of Ed's comrades-in-arms and his step-brother, stated of his condition: "Edward Justice got both of his ankles very badly frozen & frost bitten & when he returned to camp at Louisa, KY [he] was excused from duty on account of frozen feet & ankles & was let go to his home where he stayed 2 months. I took him home on my horse & I stayed with him some 5 or 6 days & helped to wait on him. He was entirely helpless & not able to do any thing." I feel it pertinent to note, in regards to this later testimony of Ed's condition, Ezekiel could not read or write; he'd dictated it to a Clerk of Courts, meaning it was additionally substantiated by two witnesses who could read and write. These two witnesses were two of Ed's commanding officers: Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Ferguson, and the man who mustered the 39th Kentucky Infantry, Colonel John Dills, Jr.
After the difficulties encountered with the second raid on Saltville, the 39th didn't see much more in the way of battle, though they did see innumerable skirmishes from just being where they were. They were ultimately mustered out at Louisville 25 September 1865. Ed suffered the results of his frozen feet the remainder of his life, and further developed pains in his knees and hips as a result of untreated injuries from the exposure during that same raid.
After his service, Ed and his family relocated many times. In 1883, he filed for pension for his service in the military, claiming an inability to work due to his frostbitten feet; due to the resounding testimony of his own commanding officers, as well as admittance records from the regimental hospital for the same injuries, this was granted to him rather swiftly.
With as many children as he eventually had, and with how quickly both Mary Jane and Amanda, his first daughters, married --- Mary Jane, first to Eli Fultz in 1875, then to William Justice/Owens in 1885; Amanda, to Farris McFarland in 1874 --- he often left his own home for days at a time to visit his children and their families. On one such visit, to the McFarland household in December 1892, Ed fell ill one evening, a fact that prompted his desire to return home the following morning. This never happened; less than sixteen hours later, on the morning of 24 December, Ed died of his illness. Farris assisted in building his coffin and the burial was swift; Louana, his now widow, only just managed to make it to the McFarland's in time to witness it. As she and Ed had lived in Carter County, and the McFarlands lived in Greenupsburg on the Ohio River, it's remarkable she made it there as swiftly as she had.
Officially owning nothing of her own, Louana was granted control of Ed's pension, paid on a monthly basis until she passed 20 April 1919 of a spinal injury from falling. The remainder of the pension owed was paid as reimbursement for her final expenses to her youngest son, William Harrison Justice.