The Civil War in West Virginia

Shenandoah Valley by Currier & Ives, 1864

Shenandoah Valley by Currier & Ives, 1864

Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign – March-June 1862

This was a Confederate campaign led by Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson through the Shenandoah Valley. Utilizing unpredictable movements on interior lines, Jackson’s 17,000 men marched 646 miles in 48 days and won several minor battles as they successfully engaged three Union armies, preventing them from reinforcing the Union offensive against Richmond, Virginia. The campaign resulted in seven battles, all but one of which were in Virginia. However, the Battle of Princeton Courthouse occurred in present-day West Virginia.

Henry Clark House – May 1, 1862

The Battle of Henry Clark’s House took place in Mercer County, West Virginia, as part of Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign on May 1, 1862. On that date, Union Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, leading the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry engaged Confederates under Colonel Walter Jenifer at the site of Henry Clark’s home. Captain Richard B. Foley, commanding the “Flat Top Copperheads,” who was the “eyes and ears” of area Confederate forces, was severely wounded in action. Forced to retreat, the Confederates would later burn Princeton. The battle was not just between two armies, it also pitted two neighbors against each other.

Princeton Court House – May 15-17, 1862

Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson

The Battle of Princeton Court House took place in Mercer County as part of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign on May 15-17, 1862. By early May 1862 Union forces were positioned to breach the Allegheny Mountains and arrive into the Shenandoah Valley from two points more than 100 miles apart. Union Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy’s column marched along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike from Cheat Mountain and occupied in succession Camp Allegheny, Monterey, McDowell, and Shenandoah Mountain. Retreating before the oncoming Federals, Confederate Brigadier General Edward Johnson pulled back to Westview, six miles west of Staunton. Union soldiers of Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox’s District of Kanawha threatened the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad. By mid-May, the Federals, although ousted from Pearisburg, held Mercer County and braced for a lunge at the railroad. Confederate Brigadier General Humphery Marshall then arrived from Abingdon, Virginia with the Army of East Kentucky. Boldly seizing the initiative, Marshall bested Cox’s two brigades during three days of fighting centered around the Princeton Courthouse. Breaking contact with the Confederates on the night of the May 17-18, Cox withdrew 20 miles to Camp Flat Top. Union Colonel George Crook, commanding Cox’s 3rd brigade, marched via the James and Kanawha Turnpike and occupied Lewisburg, where on May 23rd he defeated Brigadier General Henry Heth’s brigade. Upon learning that Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s army had routed Major General N.P. Banks’ division at Winchester on March 25th and driven it across the Potomac River, Crook evacuated Lewisburg and pulled back to Meadow Bluff. The Confederate victory resulted in total casualties of about 129 men, most of whom were Union soldiers.

Maryland Campaign – September 1862

Sometimes referred to as the Antietam Campaign, this series of four battles took place in September 1862 in West Virginia and Maryland. Considered one of the major turning points in the war, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s goal was to reach the major Northern states of Maryland and Pennsylvania in order to threaten the cities of Washington and Baltimore, supply his army from the untouched farms, relieve the habitual fighting in Virginia, and hopefully make such an impact that the end of the war might be negotiated. The campaign resulted in two battles in Maryland — South Mountain and Antietam, and two battles in West Virginia  — Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown.

Battle of Charleston – September 13, 1862

The Battle of Charleston was an engagement on September 13, 1862, that took place near Charleston, West Virginia. During the summer of 1862, Confederate General William W. Loring’s Department of Southwestern Virginia made plans to move into the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia and take the city of Charleston. On September 6, 1862, General Loring, with 5,000 men, left Narrows, Virginia and began to march northwest. The Confederate troops first encountered Union forces near Fayetteville, West Virginia on September 10 and drove them back toward Charleston. With the Rebels in pursuit of the Union troops, skirmishing took place along both sides of the Kanawha River. By late afternoon on September 13, the Battle for Charleston began and lasted until about 7:30 p.m. The Union forces withdrew across the Kanawha River overnight, and Charleston was occupied by the Confederate forces. For the next six weeks, Charleston was occupied by the Confederates until October 28, 1862, General Loring’s troops began withdrawing under the threat of 12,000 Union soldiers who were approaching from the northeast counties. The city was consequently recaptured by the Union.

Harpers Ferry Arsenal Ruins

Harpers Ferry Arsenal Ruins

Harpers Ferry – September 14-15, 1862

Part of the Confederate Maryland Campaign, the large Battle of Harpers Ferry took place in Jefferson County on September 14-15, 1862. When General Robert E. Lee learned that the garrison at Harpers Ferry had not retreated after his incursion into Maryland, he decided to surround the force and capture it. On September 12, he divided his army into four columns. Lee selected Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to lead three of the columns on an assault on Harpers Ferry. The troops converged upon Harpers Ferry on September 14, where they took positions on the heights overlooking the town. As the Confederates bombarded Harpers Ferry, the town was virtually indefensible, was not properly fortified, and a force twice the size of their own dominated the higher ground on all sides.

On the morning of September 15, Union commander Colonel Dixon S. Miles and his troops raised white flags of surrender about 9:00 a.m. Just minutes later, a stray Confederate shell exploded directly behind Colonel Miles, mortally wounding him. Brigadier General Julius White then made the arrangements for the Union surrender. Jackson captured over 12,000 Union troops at Harpers Ferry – the largest single capture of Federal forces during the entire war. The Confederates also seized 13,000 arms and 47 pieces of artillery. The Confederate victory resulted in total estimated casualties of 12,922. Of the Union, 44 were killed, 173 were wounded, and 12, 419 were captured. The Confederates suffered 39 killed and 247 wounded.

Shepherdstown – September 19-20, 1862

The Battle of Shepherdstown also called the Battle of Boteler’s Ford, took place during the Maryland Campaign in Jefferson County on September 19-20, 1862. On September 19, a detachment of Union Major General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps pushed across the river at Boteler’s Ford, attacked the Confederate rearguard commanded by Brigadier General William Pendleton, and captured four guns. Early on the 20th, Porter pushed elements of two divisions across the Potomac River to establish a bridgehead. Major General A.P. Hill’s division counterattacked while many of the Federals were crossing and nearly annihilated the 118th Pennsylvania Regiment, inflicting 269 casualties. This rearguard action discouraged Federal pursuit. On November 7, President Abraham Lincoln relieved Major General George B. McClellan of command because of his failure to follow up Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s retreating army. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside then rose to command the Union army. The Confederate victory resulted in total estimated casualties of 625.

Battle of Hurricane Bridge – March 28, 1863

This skirmish between Union and Confederate forces occurred in Putnam County, West Virginia on March 28, 1863. On March 27, about 500 Confederate troops under Brigadier-General Albert G. Jenkins, left from Hamlin, West Virginia to make their way to Point Pleasant to attack a large federal fort located there. They went on foot because their horses were in North Carolina for the winter. They reached the Hurricane Bridge the next day where they met the 13th Volunteer Virginia Infantry under Colonel W.R. Brown, who were camped on the west side of the creek. The Rebels then sent a request to Brown for him to surrender, but the request was declined, resulting in a battle that lasted for the next five hours. The Confederates surrounded the federal troops on three sides and shot down on them from the nearby hills. The Union infantry of about 150 men held their positions until Jenkins withdrew his forces and continued on his way up the Kanawha Valley by way of Hurricane Creek Road. The Union casualties included four dead and three wounded. Confederate General Jenkins left his wounded behind and these men were captured.

Battle of Bulltown – October 13, 1863

This battle occurred in Braxton County, West Virginia when the Confederates were trying to disrupt Federal communications between the Greenbrier and Kanawha Valleys. In the fall of 1863, William Lowther Jackson, the cousin of “Stonewall” Jackson, led a raiding party of 800 men into central West Virginia to capture the strategic “fort” at Bulltown which overlooked an important crossing of the Little Kanawha River. The Union garrison at Bulltown included about 400 men, under the command of Captain William Mattingly, who manned a “fort” of makeshift log barricades and shallow trenches. In the early morning hours of October 13, Jackson and his men secretly converged on the fort from two different directions and quickly captured the Federal pickets. They would have taken the entire garrison by surprise but one Confederate, who was originally part of the Union fired his gun and alerted the Union troops. He was then shot and killed. A skirmish then erupted that lasted almost 12 hours, after which Jackson retreated back towards the Greenbrier Valley. Casualties were light considering the length of the battle. There were no fatalities on the Union side, but Captain Mattingly was wounded in the thigh and there were some other slight wounds in the Federal camp. The Confederates lost eight killed and about the same number wounded.

Averell's Raid by Nick Korolev

Averell’s Raid by Nick Korolev

Averell’s Raid on the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad – August-November 1863

Averell’s Raid of August 1863 was the first of three Union cavalry raids launched from West Virginia toward Confederate railroads and troop and supply concentrations in western Virginia during the latter half of 1863. The second raid in November culminated in a Union victory in the Battle of Droop Mountain, while the third, known as the Salem Raid, took place in December and resulted in the partial destruction of the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, a key Confederate communications link.

Battle of White Sulphur Springs – August 26–27, 1863

Part of Averell’s Raid Against the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, this skirmish took place in Greenbrier County, West Virginia on August 26–27, 1863. In August 1863, General William W. Averell and his troops were moving through the Shenandoah Valley for the purpose of destroying bridges on the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad and demolishing the Salt Works in Smythe County, Virginia. His force was made up of 1,300 mounted infantry, cavalry, and light artillery. Having crossed the mountains, Averell made his way to into West Virginia, where the Confederates had taken over in the southern part of the state. Confederate Colonel George H. Patton and 2,000 troops were on guard, blocking the road at White Sulphur Springs, about 12 miles east of Lewisburg. On August 26, the forces collided and a battle ensued through the next day as Union forces tried to find a weak spot on the Confederate flanks. However, the Union troops failed to break the Confederate line and on the morning of August 27, with ammunition nearly depleted, Averell decided to retreat to his base. The Confederate victory resulted in 218 Union casualties — 26 killed, 125 wounded, and 67 captured. The Confederate force of 2,000 had 167 casualties, 20 killed, 129 wounded, and 18 missing.

Droop Mountain – November 6, 1863

The Battle of Droop Mountain occurred in Pocahontas County on November 6, 1863. In early November, Union Brigadier Generals William W. Averell and Alfred Napoleon Alexander Duffié embarked on a raid into southwestern Virginia to disrupt the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad.  While Duffié’s column destroyed military property en route, Averell encountered and defeated a Confederate brigade under Brigadier General John Echols at Droop Mountain. The Union columns reunited at Lewisburg the next day but were in no condition to continue their raid. After this battle, Confederate resistance in West Virginia collapsed. The Union victory resulted in estimated casualties of 526.

Jubal A. Early

Jubal A. Early

Early’s Raid and Operations against the B&O Railroad – June-August, 1864

In 1864, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was concerned about Union Major General David Hunter’s advances in the Shenandoah Valley, which threatened critical railroad lines and provisions for the Virginia-based Confederate forces. He then sent Jubal Early’s corps to sweep Union forces from the Valley and, if possible, to menace Washington, D.C., hoping to compel General Ulysses S. Grant to dilute his forces against Lee around Petersburg, Virginia. Early was operating in the same area that Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had in his successful 1862 Valley Campaign. Early got off to a good start, driving down the Valley without opposition, bypassing Harpers Ferry, crossing the Potomac River, and advancing into Maryland. However, General Grant dispatched a corps under Horatio G. Wright and other troops under George Crook to reinforce Washington and pursue Early. Several battles were fought in Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C., and one in West Virginia — the Battle of Moorefield.

Moorefield – August 7, 1864

The Battle of Moorefield also called the Battle of Oldfields, took place in Hardy County on August 7, 1864. While returning to the Shenandoah Valley after burning Chambersburg, Pennsylvania Confederate Brigadier General John McCausland and General Bradley Johnson’s cavalry were surprised at Moorefield on August 7 and routed by pursuing Union cavalry under Brigadier General William W. Averell. This defeat impeded the morale and effectiveness of the Confederate cavalry for the remainder of the 1864 Valley Campaign. The Union victory resulted in total estimated casualties of 531.

Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign – August-December 1864

Army of the Potomac

Army of the Potomac

Union General Ulysses S. Grant finally lost patience with Union Major General David Hunter after he “allowed” Confederate General Jubal Early to burn Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Grant knew that Washington D.C. remained vulnerable due to Early’s effectiveness and found a new commander aggressive enough to defeat Early — General Philip Sheridan. Sheridan, who was the cavalry commander of the Army of the Potomac, was then given command of all forces in the area, calling them the Army of the Shenandoah. The campaign resulted in several battles in Virginia, and one in West Virginia – the Battle of Smithfield Crossing.

Summit Point – August 21, 1864

The Battle of Summit Point also called the Battle of Flowing Springs, or the Battle of Cameron’s Depot, occurred in Jefferson County during Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign on August 21, 1864. The battle occurred when Union Major General Philip Sheridan concentrated his army near Charles Town, and Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early and Major General Richard Anderson attacked the Federals with converging columns. General Early then moved east via Smithfield against the Union VI Corps and Anderson struck north against Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s Union cavalry at Summit Point. In addition to cavalry fighting near Berryville, the Federals fought effective delaying actions before withdrawing to near Halltown on the following day. The inconclusive battle resulted in an estimated number of casualties of 1,000.

Smithfield Crossing – August 29, 1864

The Battle of Smithfield Crossing was fought in Jefferson and Berkeley Counties as part of Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign on August 29, 1864. On that date, two Confederate infantry divisions crossed Opequon Creek at Smithfield and forced back Brigadier General Wesley Merritt’s Union cavalry division along the road to Charles Town. James Ricketts’s infantry division was brought up to stop the Confederate advance. The inconclusive battle resulted in an estimated 300 casualties.

Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, November 2018.

Union Soldier in West Virginia

Union Soldier in West Virginia

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