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Divided We Stand:

The Civil War in West Virginia

Article by Kathleen Walls


While the War Between the States divided families and pitted brother against brother (see Hatfield  McCoy Feud) only one state is a direct result of the conflict that tore families, a nation and a state apart. West Virginia was born of that conflict and the labor pains were excruciating. 

Since West Virginia's process of separating from Virginia and becoming the state of West Virginia was a lengthy legal process culminating on June 20, 1863 when West Virginia was officially admitted to the union. However for the sake of wordage, I will refer to the sites that later became West Virginia as if they were already that state throughout this article.

Besides being the first (and only) state created as a direct result of the War Between the States, West Virginia was the site of many firsts. In fact, West Virginia was the scene of many extremes, "first", "only" and  "most" are common descriptive terms when it comes to talking of the Civil War in West Virginia.

The first attempted capture of a U.S. Amory for the purpose of freeing slaves  began before the war was officially declared. It occurred October 16, 1859 at Harpers Ferry when John Brown led his "army' of abolitionists in a disastrous slave revolt at Harpers Ferry at was to become part of West Virginia. (See more)

John Brown's Fort at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
John Brown's Fort at Harpers Ferry  photo credit Pat Straka
The War Comes to West Virginia

Officially war began at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina on April 12, 1861. Five days later, Confederates planned to capture the armory and arsenal  at Harpers Ferry. To prevent it falling into southern hands, Union troops set fire to it. April 18 was the date the first arsenal was deliberately blown up to prevent it being captured. It would not be the last throughout the war.

Things to see and do  in and around Harper's Ferry:

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Check in at the Visitors Center or Lower Town Information Center  for Ranger guided tours held  daily at 2:00p.m. The tours and living history events will take you back as far as the town's beginnings when Robert Harper built a ferry there. There is lots of John Brown and Civil War history including John Brown's firehouse/fort.

Harpers Ferry, the town itself is a step back in time. It is filled with museums and carefully preserved to appear as it ding in the 19th century. There are many other attractions,. a wax museum, historical buildings and bookstores. The town offers a good choice in restaurants Parking in the historical section is limited so try to arrive before 9:00 a.m. Plan on spending at least a day here to get the full experience.

Just about 15 miles northwest of Harper's Ferry is Martinsburg, the home of Marie Isabelle Boyd, better known as, Belle Boyd, the famous Confederate spy. Berkeley County Historical Society operates the home as a museum. The main ballroom is done as it would have been in the days Belle plied her dangerous trade in it as Union officers relaxed and danced the nights away. Little did they realize when they dropped hints of their important feats and secrets, the charming hostess would soon relay the information to Thomas Stonewall Jackson to aid the Confederate cause. 

In the addition to the Greek revival home, you will find a replica of Belle's Father, Ben Boyd's Store. The store is a treasure chest of books and journals related to the Civil War.

Belle Boyd House is located on East Race Street in Martinsburg, West Virginia

Several vintage locomotives at Cass Railroad State Park in Pocahontas County, West Virginia
Cass Railroad State Park in Pocahontas County  honors the part
railroads played in West Virginia's development. Here you can ride the rails
Photo credit West Virginia Department of Commerce 
Railroads in the War

Railroads were becoming important in West Virginia and throughout the nation as the war heated up. For the first time, troops could be easily transported longer distances faster. The troops arrived at the battle site rested not exhausted from forced marches as in the past. The first Union troops to be transported by train  during the Civil War were three companies of the 14th Ohio Infantry on May 30th, 1861. They came to protect Clarksburg, and the vital North Western Virginia Railroad. On June 19th, the 8th Indiana Infantry arrived to support the Ohio troops. Together they built the fortifications on Lowndes and Pinnicinick Hills. The soldiers who worked on these trenches were billeted in camps in town.

Stonewall Jackson's stature in downtown Clarksburg, WV
Stonewall Jackson's stature in downtown Clarksburg
Things to see and do  in the Clarksburg area:

Of course, the Railroad Depot is something you will want to see.

The earthworks and trenches that the Union troops constructed on Lowndes Hill, about half a mile from the downtown courthouse square, are still in existence. To see them visit Lowndes Hill Park. The site is marked with a Civil Wars Trails plaque.

Clarksburg is the birthplace of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. There is a stature commemorating this in the courthouse square. A plaque makes the site of his birth home. There is a Jackson family cemetery in Clarksburg where many other Jacksons are Buried. Stonewall Jackson is buried in Lexington, VA.

McWhorter Cabin at Jackson's Mill near Clurksburg, WV
McWhorter Cabin at Jackson's Mill
About 20 miles south of Clarksburg in Weston you can visit Jackson's Mill, the boyhood home of Stonewall Jackson. As an orphan he and his sister were sent there to the home of his uncle, Cummins Jackson. An old mill is the only remaining structure from the original Jackson homestead but there are many other authentic 18th and 19th century building that have been moved to the site.

The site is extensive offering lodging, dining as well as demonstrations of many lost skills such as grist milling, weaving, spinning, basket making, candle dipping, wood working, blacksmithing, paper marbling and others.

Historic covered bridge at Philippi
Photo credit West Virginia Department of Commerce 
The first campaign

The first campaign, The Western Virginia Campaign, began in May 1861. Union forces under Major General George B. McClellan invaded West Virginia. By May 28, McClellan had placed about 3,000 troops under the command of Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris. Morris's main objective was to protect the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that were vital for supply lines. Confederate Colonel Porterfield prepared to meet the enemy by organizing a force of 775 new recruits. As the Union forces approached, the recruits hastily retreated to Philippi.

 The first land battle of the war was fought in Philippi  on the morning of June 3, 1861. Porterfield's new recruits were not prepared. After only a few volleys, they fled about 45 miles south to Huttonsville. The retreat was so hasty that one journalist dubbed it "The Philippi Races."

Reenactment of Battle of Laural Hill
Photo credit West Virginia Department of Commerce 
Another first occurred at Philippi, the war's first of countless amputation. Confederate J. E. Hanger was struck in the leg by a cannonball. He was taken prisoner and a Union doctor amputated his mangled leg. Hanger later created an artificial limb for himself out of barrel staves with a hinge at the "knee." He later founded Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc.  That company is still one of the largest manufacturers of prosthetic in the world.

Still one more first occurred on June 3. Colonel Benjamin Kelley was shot becoming the first Union officer wounded by a Confederate. Proving fact even stranger than fiction one more first occurred.  Thornbury Bailey Brown was shot in an altercation with a Confederate soldier as he attempted to cross the bridge between Grafton and Pruntytown. He was the first Union soldier to be killed by a Confederate soldier.

Sign at the Carnifex Ferry Battle Site in West Virginia
Sign at the Carnifex Ferry Battle Site
Following the retreat from Philippi, Col. Porterfield was replaced by Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett as commander of the Confederate forces in West Virginia.

In June 1861,Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan stepped in as commander of the Union forces in West Virginia. He began moving his troops out of Clarksburg and headed south to confront  Lt. Col. John Pegram's Confederates. The two forces clashed near Rich Mountain on July 9. Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris's Union brigade had left Philippi and attacked Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett's Confederates  at Laurel Hill. The next two days saw Brig. Gen. William Rosecrans men seizing the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike in Pegram's rear. About half of the Confederates surrendered and the others escaped.

After Pegram's defeat,  Garnett had no choice but to retreat from Laurel Hill. Union Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris pursued. On  July 13, Garnett was killed by a Union volley at Corrick's Ford on the Cheat River., Garnett was the first general officer to be killed in the war.

From this point on the area that was to become West Virginia was firmly in Federal hands. This cleared the way for the area to pursue statehood as West Virginia.

Overlook for battlefield site at Fort Boreman park in West Virginia
Overlook for battlefield site at Fort Boreman Park

There were several other battles in the Western Virginia Campaign; Kessler’s Cross Lanes, Carnifex Ferry, Cheat Mountain and Camp Allegheny. They did nothing for the Confederate advances in the area but they did set a few records.

In August 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis met with General Robert E. Lee, his senior military advisory. Following that conference, Lee was sent to take command and reverse the Confederate defeats in  western Virginia. The Sept 12-14 Battle of Cheat Summit was the first time Robert E. Lee commanded troops in battle as a commanding general The resulting failures in West Virginia earned the first use of his derogatory nickname,  "Granny Lee."

Another record claimed by West Virginia was the highest battle of the Civil War, the Battle at Camp Alleghany on Dec 13, 1861. It occurred at 4400 ft above sea level. Today, it is one of the best preserved battlefields of the war.

Things to see and do  in the area of the First Campaign:

Philippi Covered bridge was built in 1852. The bridge and surrounding area saw heavy fighting during the Battle of Philippi and was even used as a barracks by Union troops for a time. It was damaged by fire in 1989 but has been restored to its 1861 condition and is one only a handful of covered bridges used in the present federal highway system. 

The Barbour County Historical Museum is a treasure trove for a Civil War buff. It has an extensive collection of cannons, rifles, pistols, knives and other weapons used in the war. It also has an extensive collection of manuscripts of the period and lots of railroad artifacts. The downtown historical District and the Blue and Gray Park are part of Philippi's heritage sites. Philippi holds an annual Blue and Gray Reunion when they do a reenactment of the Battle of Philippi on the first weekend in June.

West Virginia National Cemetery at Grafton is the burial place of many of the soldiers killed in the first campaign including that of Private T. Bailey Brown, the first Union soldier killed by a Confederate.

Rich Mountain Battlefield Civil War Site  is where the two forces clashed just after the Confederate retreat at Philippi. The battle site, Camp Garnett, and the portion of the original turnpike connecting the two sites is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Beverly Heritage Center on Court Street in downtown Beverly has a small museum and is another place to visit for information about this battle and the surrounding area.

Earthworks, gun positions and chimney falls from the encampment are preserved at Camp Allegany , war's highest battle site. Location: From U.S.250 near the Virginia/WV state line, turn south at sign on County Rd. 3, turn right at the T junction, then go 2 more miles (Road may be closed due to snow in winter.) Open: year-round, dawn to dusk. NR & CWDT, Disabled Access parking & interpretive area, Brochure Available.

Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park on the rim of the Gauley River Canyon near Summersville is the site of one of the battles that earned General Robert E. Lee his nickname  of "Grannie Lee." Carnifex Ferry Battle will be reenacted on September 13-14, 2014.The two-day event includes living history demonstrations such as camp life, military drill, and a re-enactment of the Federal assault on the center of the Confederate line. 

bridge over the New River Gorge in Fayetteville, West Virginia
The bridge over the New River Gorge is an engineering marvel
as well as the focus for much of Fayetteville's adventure activities
New River Gorge Area

Another first occurred in Fayetteville near the New River Gorge. A historic marker at the courthouse square recognizes Fayetteville as the site of the first use of indirect fire during a battle.

Most of the Civil War cannons were muzzleloaders requiring a crew of a gunner and seven artillerymen. Add to that the wagon and horses needed to deploy the gun and it created a big target to draw return fire. Up to that time, cannoneers, realizing what a tempting target they provided the enemy, attempted to lessen their danger by setting up the cannon in a dip in the ground's surface where just the muzzle of the cannon was exposed and the men could take cover behind the rise of earth in front of them. If the slope is deep enough, the recoil of the gun' firing causes it to back up even deeper behind the earthen cover.

Until a small battle at Fayetteville, West Virginia this was as close to indirect firing as anyone had accomplished.  At the battle  an 18-year-old Confederate sergeant, Milton Wylie Humphreys, would change the use of cannon firing forever. On May 16, 1863, Bryan's Battery, Humphreys unit, under the command of Colonel John McCausland,  attacked attack the Federal fort at Fayetteville.

What happened next was recorded by Humphreys in his book, Military Operations in Fayette County, West Virginia. "The infantry went down into the woods toward the works," he wrote. "The road to Raleigh (now Beckley, West Va.) after running in a straight line nearly three-fourths of a mile from Fayetteville, turns square to the left, and ascends to a small cleared plateau with a hill on the right. On this ridge were posted Bryan's third and fourth. The second piece (mine) was posted on the plateau at the end of a straight opening which had been cut in the woods and ran directly toward the Federal Fort.

"My piece opened first and was immediately answered, and my third or fourth round cutting away the Yankee colors, they shelled us so vigorously and accurately with several guns that we were compelled to move to a place nearby where we could not be seen for the timber in front of us and the smoke behind us rising from the woods beyond the road which were on fire."

Civil War cannon at the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston
Civil War cannon at the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston much
like the one used by Sergeant Humphreys or lost by Captain Abbott
It was the perfect place to try out his theory. Humphreys stationed a man on a nearby hill to direct him. Since he knew the approximate distance to the fort and was used to his cannon's trajectory it worked. He continued his firing for the remainder of the day until the Union  sent out a patrol to determine where the fire was originating and then prudently withdrew. Humphreys wrote: "The term 'indirect fire' is firing upon a point or place (A) from a point (B) which is not visible to people at (A). It is necessary, of course, that the trajectory or path of the projectile should pass above the top of the 'mask' or intervening object. At Fayetteville, May 19 and 20, 1863, the writer used a grove as a mask, but at Winchester, Va., Sept. 19, 1864, he successfully used a low hill. I claim no credit for the 'invention'; the thing is so obvious. In fact, if I invented it, I did not do it at Fayetteville, but in my day-dreams when I was about 8 years old."

Another unusual incident occurred near the New River Gorge in September of 1862. Captain Joel Abbott and a small group of Confederate soldiers set out to destroy a bridge across the Gauley River in West Virginia. They traveled along the cliffs of Cotton Hill, just off the banks of the Gauley River. The Confederates succeeded in destroying the bridge but in the heat of battle they mislaid something that  has not ever been found.

One can only imagine trying to explain that to a commanding officer.  Abbott later stated, “trying to get the gun back and finding it a difficult job, we hid it in a deep ravine, and it is there yet.”

If you are ever exploring in the depths of the New River Gorge and come across a old cannon, it may be the very one Captain Abbott mislaid. So far as I can find out, the only cannon mislaid and never found in the course of the war.

Things to see in Fayetteville:

New River Gorge National Park Visitors Center is the best way to get an overall view of the New River Gorge.

But if you are more adventurous take a Bridge Walk or visit On Bridge Day.

If you really want to search for that lost cannon, you will need to take a hike or horseback excursion into the gorge. There is lots of adventure fun in the gorge.

Exhibits at Burning Spring Park Oil and Gas Museum near Pakersburg, West Virginia
Exhibits at Burning Spring Park Oil and Gas Museum
First Oil Field:

We tend to think of oil fields as modern military targets but the first oil field to become a military target  was Burning Springs Oil Field near Parkersburg, West Virginia. A highway marker at the site states that the Rathbone Well was begun in 1859 and completed in May 1860. It is the oldest producing well in the world. The well was drilled with a "Spring Pole" near the mouth of Burning Spring Run and produced about 100 gallons per day. Confederate General Jones fired the well and all the storage containers destroying about 20,000 gallons of oil.

Things to see and do in Parkersburg:

 A self-guided tour at Burning Spring Park Oil and Gas Museum tells stories of the nation’s first oil and gas field. See the world’s oldest producing oil well and learn more about the role it played in West Virginia statehood and the Civil War.

Anna Jarvis Birthplace Musuem in West Virginia.
Anna Jarvis home
Fort Boreman Historical Park, the site of a Civil War fort built by Union troops to protect the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad terminal and important river facilities in the valley . It was named for West Virginia’s first governor, Parkersburg citizen Arthur I. Boreman. It is the home of Carlin's Battery D - 1st West Virginia Light Artillery, a reenactment group that acts as county ambassadors.

Anna Jarves Birthplace Museum was used as a field headquarters by General McClellan in the summer of 1861 during the Western Virginia Campaign. The museum is the home of Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day.

One room contains information related to McClellan's stay in the home. It is located in Grafton.


West Virginia was comprised of almost as many Confederate supporters as Union in spite of its official stance. It was the only state having  approximately  the same number of Union (562) and Confederate (563) veterans attending the first the Battle of Gettysburg reunion in 1913. They were the only state to have such an equal representation, Just one more  symbol of the state's extremely divided nature during the Civil War.


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