The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library commemorates a bit of Albemarle history with its new exhibition “Custer vs. Charlottesville: The Battle of Rio Hill, February 1864.” The exhibition will be on display in the downstairs gallery during regular library hours from November 7 through January 11.
According to the exhibition’s curator—Civil War Historian, Research Archivist, and founding member of the Rio Hill Civil War Exhibit Committee Ervin Jordan—the battle fought on February 29 was actually a skirmish meant to divert Confederate forces from a Federal raid on Richmond, intended to free 10,000 Union prisoners.
In the battle, General George Armstrong Custer of Little Bighorn fame led cavalry against a Confederate artillery camp on the present location of Rio Hill Shopping Center and destroyed it, but was forced to withdraw and was prevented from advancing on Charlottesville. The only casualties were horses, but the battle succeeded in liberating 100 enslaved black people from local farms.
Included in the exhibition is a letter describing sounds of the battle as well as complaining of the Confederates’ confiscation of civilian meat supplies, and a Custer letter about a hunting trip in the West three years before he met his death at Little Bighorn. There are also photographs, books, and relics, including a Confederate cavalry saber.