This Historic Park And Battlefield In West Virginia Is Where The Civil War Began
The Civil War defined not only the current state of America, but is also responsible for the formation of West Virginia. But more than the war in general, it is one particular battle that began a chain of events which made the formation of West Virginia possible.
In the first year of the Civil War, a major strategic goal in western Virginia, for both Confederate and Union forces, was the control of major transportation routes.
In June of 1861, Confederate soldiers commanded by General Robert S. Garnett, fortified two key passes along major transportation routes. One of these was Camp Garnett, a battle fort that overlooked the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike at Rich Mountain.
Camp Garnett was directly commanded by Confederate Lt. Col. John Pegram. Surrounded by deep entrenchments, the fort was battle ready, awaiting the inevitable movement of Union troops through the territory. It was manned by 1,300 troops and four cannons.
Aware that an attack might also come from the rear, Pegram sent 310 troops and one cannon to the Joseph Hart homestead near the base of the mountain.
The homestead remained standing until a fire destroyed it in 1940. Today, a marker sits where the Hart house used to be.
What Pegram didn't count on was that the Harts were not very keen on having a confederate regiment on their land. When they became aware of an approaching Union force commanded by Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans, Joseph Hart's son, David, volunteered to lead the force - comprised of 2,000 men - up the mountain. Rosecrans, aware that Davis was familiar with the terrain, accepted the young man's offer.
The stage was set. The Hart Homestead is located on the far right of the map, indicated by the broken line, while Camp Garnett is on the top left, beside the North marker. Between the two areas was dense forest. That was their path.
The trek through the woods was harsh. The men were drenched with pouring rain which, combined with missed directions and a tiring uphill climb, delayed their arrival at the camp. They had left the camp in the early morning hours of July 11, and did not arrive until around 2:30 that afternoon.
At the top of the hill, the attack commenced. Rosecrans and his troops were first met by skirmishers at the top of the hill and opened fire. As the explosion of gunfire rang out, the soldiers at the fort sprang into action.
Pegram and the troops at the camp were able to fend off the union force for two hours, but the surprise of the attack, combined with being greatly outnumbered, caused Pegram to call for a retreat, which occurred in the middle of the night.
By the morning of July 12, Rosecrans took possession of the fort. That was the beginning of a continual forward push by Union Forces that ultimately forced a full Confederate retreat from the territory.
Under the command of General McClellan, whose victory at Rich Mountain cemented his appointment as general of the Army of the Potomac, Western Virginia was free from Confederate control, allowing the counties of the region, and specifically the town of Wheeling, to form a new state. Additionally, it was McClellan and his army that eventually defeated the forces of General Robert E. Lee, crushing the confederacy and ending the war.
It all started at Rich Mountain. This historic mountain is now open for all to visit and enjoy. Labeled with historic markers that indicate the prominent locations of the battle, you can follow in the footsteps of the combatants who risked life and limb to bring freedom to the region and made it possible for our beautiful state to be born.
Rich Mountain Battlefield is located on Rich Mountain Rd. (Rt. 37/8), five miles northwest of Beverly.
To learn more about Rich Mountain Battlefield, visit their website
Have you ever been to Rich Mountain? Were you previously aware of its significance to the creation of West Virginia? Feel free to comment below and join the discussion.
But the story does not end here. If the Battle of Rich Mountain began McClellan’s campaign of Union victory in West Virginia,
this battle ended it.
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