Battle of Rich Mountain, 12 July 1861, West Virginia

Battle of Rich Mountain, 12 July 1861, West Virginia

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Battle of Rich Mountain, 12 July 1861, West Virginia

The first real battle in West Virginia during the American Civil War. The area had little in common with the rest of Virginia, and once the state voted for secession West Virginians began to campaign for their own separate state. Meanwhile Union troops had entered the state to restore control over the crucial Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the main rail link between Washington and the West. The small Confederate force blocking the railroad had been forced to retreat, first to Philippi where they were surprised on 4 June. Their retreat now took them to Beverly, twenty five miles further south, on the pass back into the Shenandoah Valley.

The Union forces in West Virginia were now commanded by General George McClellan. He now commanded 20,000 troops, of whom 12,000 were free to move against the Confederate forces at Beverly. There the Confederates had managed to scrape together an army 4,500 strong, commanded by Robert S. Garnett. Garnett had posted most of his men in the passes west of Beverly, with the largest contingent at Laurel Mountain to the north of the town, and a smaller force of 1,300 posted on Rich Mountain, to the west.

McClellan also split his army in two, leaving 4,000 men to pin Garnett in place at Laurel Mountain, and taking three brigades (8,000 men strong), to attack the Rich Mountain position. Much of the energy behind this campaign actually came from General Rosecrans. He now persuaded McClellan to adopt his plan for a flank attack. His plan showed the advantage of having local support – it involved the use of a path revealed to him by a local unionist. Rosecrans would take one brigade along this path, and attack the Confederate position from the flank, and then once the Confederates were fully engaged, McClellan would move with the remaining two brigades to complete the victory.

Rosecrans’s part of the battle went according to plan. Unfortunately, McClellan produced a characteristic performance. Hearing the sound of battle, he became convinced that Rosecrans was losing. Some commanders would have rushed his men into the attack in an attempt to restore the situation, but not McClellan. Instead he sat and did nothing, while Rosecrans went on to win the battle.

At the cost of 60 casualties, Rosecrans forced the Confederates into another retreat. The Confederates lost 170 men at Rich Mountain, and another 500 captured during the pursuit. Garnett’s 4,000 men were now trapped between two Union armies, and were forced into a desperate retreat north east across the mountains, with the Union forces in pursuit. The next day they were forced to fight at Corrick’s Ford, where Garnett became the first civil war general to be killed in battle.

Rich Mountain did not secure West Virginia for the Union. Robert E. Lee was sent to West Virginia, and given 20,000 men to drive the Union men out of Virginia. However, this did not lead to the first clash between Lee and McClellan. On 22 July 1861, George McClellan was summoned from West Virginia to take command of the Union army that had just been defeated at the First Battle of Bull Run.

Battle Of Rich Mountain

(main text) , In one of the first important Union victories of the Civil War, on July 11, 1861, Union Gen. George B. McClellan's forces defeated part of Confederate Gen. Robert S. Garnett's command here at the Hart Farm on Rich Mountain. Garnett was holding the area around Beverly, the junction of two important turnpikes: the Beverly and Fairmont and the Staunton and Parkersburg. Believing that the Rich Mountain defenses were virtually impregnable, Garnett had left a small force here under Lt. Col. John Pegram to hold this pass. Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans attacked uphill in a pouring rain and overran the Confederate position. That night, the Confederates abandoned Camp Garnett, their fortification at the western base of the mountain, and fled east through dark woods. Two days later, almost 600 of them surrendered to McClellan in Beverly. Others escaped south, guided by Stonewall Jackson's future mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss.

This small but important victory helped secure Union control of Virginia's western counties and contributed to the drive for West Virginia statehood, which was achieved in 1863. It also helped to catapult McClellan to command the Army of the Potomac.

(main text)
In one of the first important Union victories of the Civil War, on July 11, 1861, Union Gen. George B. McClellan's forces defeated part of Confederate Gen. Robert S. Garnett's command here at the Hart Farm on Rich Mountain. Garnett was holding the area around Beverly, the junction of two important turnpikes: the Beverly and Fairmont and the Staunton and Parkersburg. Believing that the Rich Mountain defenses were virtually impregnable, Garnett had left a small force here under Lt. Col. John Pegram to hold this pass. Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans attacked uphill in a pouring rain and overran the Confederate position. That

This small but important victory helped secure Union control of Virginia's western counties and contributed to the drive for West Virginia statehood, which was achieved in 1863. It also helped to catapult McClellan to command the Army of the Potomac.

Erected by West Virginia Civil War Trails.

Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: War, US Civil. In addition, it is included in the West Virginia Civil War Trails series list. A significant historical date for this entry is July 11, 1861.

Location. 38° 51.95′ N, 79° 56.017′ W. Marker is near Beverly, West Virginia, in Randolph County. Marker is on Rich Mountain Road (County Route 37/8) 5 miles west of Seneca Trail (U.S. 250), on the left when traveling west. On the grounds of the Rich Mountain Battlefield. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Beverly WV 26253, United States of America. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. General William S. Rosecrans (a few steps from this marker) The Hart House (within shouting distance of this marker) Battle of Rich Mountain Paid Advertisement

Places in Civil War History: The Battle of Rich Mountain

At the conclusion of the Civil War, the U.S. War Department published numerous detailed battlefield maps and atlases to document significant military engagements, such as those at Antietam, Manassas, Gettysburg, and Atlanta, to name a few. The premier cartographic work of the postwar years, however, is the U.S. War Department’s The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies (LC Civil War Maps no. 99). Initially issued in 37 parts between 1891 and 1895, it includes 178 plates and constitutes the most detailed atlas yet published on the Civil War. The maps present an especially well-balanced cartographic record of the war because both Union and Confederate sources were used in their compilation. Confederate topographic engineer Jedediah Hotchkiss, for example, supplied the editors with 123 maps for this atlas.

“Camp Garnett and vicinity, Rich Mountain, Randolph Co., Va.” Jedediah Hotchkiss, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

On July 11, McClellan successfully attacked Camp Garnett near Rich Mountain and followed up the success with another victorious skirmish at Corrick’s Ford. These military successes brought McClellan to the attention of Union military leaders and were instrumental in McClellan’s eventual appointment as overall Union commander.

“Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1891-95.” Portion of this compendium appears in “Atlas of the war of the Rebellion giving Union and Confederate armies by actual surveys by the Union and Confederate engineers, and approved by the officers in command, of all the maps herein published.” United States War Department, 1892. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

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Glad to have a cartographic seminars from the Library of Congress! You’re the best!

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Starting in May 1861, Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan advanced from Ohio into the western region of Virginia, both to protect Ohio and Pennsylvania from invasion from Confederate troops and to help the pro-Union government of West Virginia located in Wheeling defeat Confederate incursions from eastern Virginia. Following his victory at Rich Mountain, McClellan was transferred to command the Army of the Potomac, leaving Brig. Gen. William Rosecrans in command of western Virginia. Rosecrans concentrated his forces to protect the major transportation lines in the region. Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds was left in command of the Cheat Mountain district, defending the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike with four regiments totaling 1,800 men. One regiment, the 14th Indiana commanded by Col. Nathan Kimball, defended Fort Milroy on Cheat Mountain, while the remaining three were at Camp Elkwater near the Tygart Valley River, where Reynolds established his headquarters. [4]

Gen. Robert E. Lee was sent to western Virginia by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to coordinate the various Confederate forces in the region and regain lost Confederate territory. He arrived at the camps of the Army of the Northwest, commanded by Brig. Gen. William W. Loring, near the end of July although he did not replace Loring, Lee did issue orders through him. [5] After personally scouting the area around the Union positions, Lee devised a strategy that included a two-pronged simultaneous attack against Kimball's position on the summit of Cheat Mountain and against Reynolds's camp. The plan used Loring's Army of the Northwest, which was divided into six brigades for the battle. Brig. Gen. Henry R. Jackson's brigade would create a diversion in front of Fort Milroy while Colonel Albert Rust's brigade would make the main assault on the fort and Brig. Gen. Samuel Anderson's brigade would capture the turnpike west of the fort Brig. Gen. Daniel Donelson and Col. Jesse S. Burke would seize the paths behind Camp Elkwater, with Col. William Gilham's brigade in reserve. Loring was given command of Burke's and Gilham's brigades during the battle. [6]

Union Edit

West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan infantry, cavalry and artillery regiments.

Confederate Edit

Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas infantry regiments.

The approaches by each of the three Confederate brigades were uncoordinated. Rain, fog, mountainous terrain, and a dense forest limited visibility to minimal distances. As a result, each of the three Confederate brigades assigned to attack Cheat Summit Fort acted independently and never made contact with either of the other two Confederate brigades. The Union defenders on Cheat Summit were very familiar with the terrain and mountain trails. Information from captured Federal soldiers was so misleading and two Federal probing attacks from Cheat Summit Fort were so aggressive that Rust and Anderson, each leading approximately 1500 Confederates at Cheat Mountain, were convinced that an overwhelming force confronted them. Rust and Anderson withdrew their 3,000 men although they actually faced only about 300 determined Federals outside the Union fortifications. At Elk Water, Reynolds's brigade faced three more Confederate brigades but refused to budge from well-prepared entrenchments. [7]

The Confederates did not press an attack after Col. John A. Washington, a member of Lee's staff, the great-grandnephew of George Washington and the last civilian owner of the first president's Mount Vernon estate, was killed during a reconnaissance of the Union right. Reynolds was so confident in the face of such timidity that he dispatched two of his own regiments from Elk Water up the mountain road to relieve the supposedly besieged fortress garrison, but the arriving Union reinforcements were unnecessary. Lee called off the attack and, after maneuvering in the vicinity, withdrew to Valley Mountain on September 17. Reynolds, meanwhile, planned an offensive against the Confederate forces stationed at the Greenbrier River. [8]

Reynolds's forces lost a total of 88 casualties (10 killed, 14 wounded, and 64 captured) Confederate casualties were unreported, but Reynolds and Kimball claimed 100 Confederates were killed and twenty were captured. [2] The battle had little effect on either the campaign or the war both forces after the battle were in positions similar to their positions before the battle. In October, Lee left Cheat Mountain for Sewell Mountain (West Virginia) in the Kanawha River valley with the troops of John B. Floyd and Henry Wise, but he was forced to cancel the offensive operations he had planned because of low supplies and bad weather. Lee was recalled to Richmond on October 30 after achieving little in western Virginia. [9]

Share Battle of Rich Mountain

After the decisive defeat of Confederate forces on June 3, 1861, at Philippi, Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett, the new Confederate commander, established two defensive positions, at Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain, near present Elkins. Suspecting that the 20,000 Union troops under Gen. George B. McClellan would strike the naturally weaker Laurel Hill fortification, Garnett took 3,200 men there, leaving Col. John Pegram and 1,300 men to defend Rich Mountain.

In fact, McClellan did the opposite, sending a diversionary force to Laurel Hill while he marched with three brigades to Rich Mountain. While Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, guided by local Unionist David Hart, made a wide flanking movement, McClellan took a position in front of the Confederate lines to complete a pincer movement. Pegram’s Confederates resisted but were soon forced to give way, most of them eventually surrendering to the Yankees. Learning of Pegram’s defeat at Rich Mountain, Garnett abandoned Laurel Hill. False information convinced him that his line of retreat along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike was cut off, and he began an arduous and circuitous retreat toward Red House, Maryland. In a rear-guard action at Corricks Ford, Garnett was shot and killed, the first general to die in the Civil War.

The Battle of Rich Mountain was fought July 11, 1861. Despite the relatively small number of troops involved, the battle had two important results. First, the victor, General McClellan, would be given command of the Army of the Potomac for the next two years. More significantly for our state’s history, trans-Allegheny Virginia was to all intents and purposes lost to the Southern cause, helping to clear the way for the formation of West Virginia on June 20, 1863.

The Rich Mountain Battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

Read the National Register nomination.

This Article was written by Jack Wills

Last Revised on March 28, 2013

Battle of Rich Mountain, 12 July 1861, West Virginia - History

William S. Rosecrans' Report From War of the Rebellion
Series I, Volume II

Numbers 5. Report of Brigadier General W. S. Rosecrans, U. S. A., of engagement at Rich Mountain.

Beverly, Va., July 19. 1861.

MAJOR: In obedience to the order of the major-general commanding, I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the First brigade, consisting of the Eighth and Tenth Indiana Volunteer Militia, the Thirteenth Indiana U. S. Volunteer Infantry, and the Nineteenth Ohio U. S. Volunteer Militia, which resulted in dislodging the rebel forces from their entrenched position at camp Garnett, on Rich Mountain.

After the armed reconnaissance was over, by direction of the major-general I ordered the Eighth Indiana to bivouac in advance of the camp at Roaring Creek, and the Tenth and Thirteenth into camp. About 10 p. m. I came to the headquarters with a plan for turning the enemy's position. The general having considered it, and heard the information on which it was based, was pleased to direct me to carry it out, and for that purpose ordered Colonel Sullivan, of the Thirteenth Indiana, and Burdsal's cavalry, temporarily attached to the brigade, and that the movement should begin at daylight of the next morning. The troops were ordered to parade in silence, under arms, without knapsacks, with one day's rations in their haversacks, and their canteens filled with water. By inadvertence, the assembly was sounded in the Nineteenth Ohio Regiment, and lights put in several tents. When I discovered it, they were promptly extinguished. The pickets relieved, the regimental camps and guards, with the sick and a few men of each company remaining, orders were given that the reveille should be beaten at the usual hour, and the column formed and moved forward in the following order and strength:

1. Eighth Indiana, under Benton. 242 strong
2. Tenth Indiana, under Manson. 425 "
3. Thirteenth Indiana, under Sullivan. 650 "
4. Nineteenth Ohio, under Beatty. 525 "
Total infantry. 1,842
5. Burdsal's cavalry. 75
Aggregate. 1,917

Colonel Lander, accompanied by the guide, led the way through a pathless forest, over rocks and ravines, keeping far down on the south-eastern declivities of the mountain spurs, and using no ax, to avoid discovery by the enemy, whom we supposed would be on the alert, by reason of the appearance of unusual stir in our camp, and the lateness of the hour. A rain set in about 6 a. m. and lasted until about 11 o'clock a. m. with intermissions, during which the column pushed cautiously and steadily forward, and arrived at last and halted in rear of the crest on the top of Rich Mountain. Hungry, and weary with an eight hours' march over a most unkindly road, they laid down to rest, while Colonel Lander and the general examined the country. It was found that the guide was too much scared to be with us longer, and we had another valley to cross, another hill to climb, another descent beyond that to make, before we could reach the Beverly road at the top of the mountain. On this road we started at 2 o'clock, and reached the top of the mountain, after head of the column, in rectifying which the Tenth Indiana took the advance.

Shortly after passing over the crest of the hill, the head of the column, ordered to be covered by a company deployed as skirmishers, was fired on by the enemy's pickets, killing Sergeant James A. Taggart and dangerously wounding Captain Christopher Miller, of the Tenth.

The column then advanced through dense brushwood, emerging into rather more open brush-wood and trees, when the rebels opened a fire of both musketry and 6-pounders, firing some case shot and a few shells. The Tenth advanced and took position at A, Plan Numbers 1 (The "plans referred to in this report are not found.), with one company deployed as skirmishers covering its front. The Eighth advanced, and halted in column of fours at B. The Thirteenth advanced to C, in an old road, where it was ordered to occupy the heights with three companies at d d d, and skirmish down the hill, keeping strong reserves on the top. Three companies were ordered back to E, to cover the debouche up the valley on the left. The companies of the remainder were to fill the space in the line marked # # #, the remaining two companies standing in column at t. The nineteenth Ohio came down the road and halted in column at h.

Owing to misunderstanding orders, Colonel Sullivan occupied the hill with his whole regiment, and it took forty minutes to correct the error and get into the proper position, as indicated. The command " Forward " was then given, and another company from the right of the Tenth deployed as skirmishers, leaving an interval through which the Eighth could pass in column and charge the rebel battery on the left of their position at Z as soon as our fire had told properly. At the same time Colonel Sullivan was to take his four companies and charge around the road on the left.

After an advance of fifty yards and some heavy firing from our line, the enemy showed sings of yielding, and I gave orders to the Eighth, and sent them to the colonel of the Thirteenth, to charge in column. The Eighth made a mistake and got into line at B, where, in consideration of their abundant supplies of ammunition, I left them. The Thirteenth went into column at D, Plan 2. Seven companies of the Nineteenth Ohio deployed into line at H, and delivered two splendid volleys, when the enemy broke. Meanville I rode round to the Thirteenth, and drove them into charge up across the road, as shown at I. the tenth charged by fours at J. The Eighth came down and carded upon the rebel front at K.

The battle was over, the enemy dispersed one piece of cannon taken at A, another at B, and their dead and wounded scattered over the hillside.

Learning from a captive that the forty-fourth Virginia and some Georgia troops and cavalry were below, and finding it too late to continue the operations against the rebels' position that evening with troops as much exhausted as were ours, and threatened, too, succors, the troops were bivouacked in the position shown on Plan Numbers 2, Lieutenant-Colonel Hollingsworth going down on the ridge with six companies to the position mentioned within half a mile of the rebel pickets.

The two brass 6-pounder s captured were put in order, and, under command of Captain Konkle, Nineteenth Ohio, placed, one looking down the Beverly road at C, the other at D, looking towards Camp Garnett. During that rainy night our men bivouacked cheerfully, and turned out with great promptitude whenever the rebels by their movements alarmed our pickets.

About 3 o'clock in the morning of the 12th our pickets brought in a prisoner from the rebel camp, from whom I learned their forces were disorganized and probably dispersing. This determined the disposition for the attack on the camp. I ordered Colonel Beatty, with all the Nineteenth, to proceed along the bridge and take their position on the south side of the road, and directed Burnsal's cavalry, accompanied by one company of the Tenth Indiana, to reconnoiter down the road. Colonel Sullivan, with the Thirteenth, was to follow the movement promptly, and by his skirmishers to clear the hillside north of the road.

These orders were obeyed, and, finding the position abandoned, Burdsal's cavalry and Company C, Tenth Indiana Regiment, entered the camp about 6 o'clock a. m., where they found and took prisoners 10 officers, 5 non-commissioned officers, and 54 privates the descriptive list of which is hereto attached, and marked A.

Colonel Beatty entered the upper camp about the same time, and occupied it, Taking charge of the property, among which were two brass 6-pounders and some eighty tents, four caissons, and one hundred rounds of ammunition. Colonel Sullivan, of the Thirteenth Indiana, came in and occupied the camp on the north side of the road, and took charge of the horses, wagons, tents, tools and implements of the rebels there. The Eighth and Tenth Indiana were left in position on the battle-field, and were charged with the duty of burying the dead. They remained until next morning, the 13th, when the whole force moved forward to their present encampment at Beverly.

Having given the details, I close my report by the following summary of the movement:

With strong detachment from the Nineteenth Ohio, the Eighth, Tenth, and Thirteenth Indiana, and Burdsal's cavalry, amounting to 1,912 rank and file, I set out at 5 a. m. of the 11th, and by a circuitous route, through a trackless mountain forest, reached the Beverly road at the top of Rich Mountain, where I found the enemy advised of my approach and in force, with two 6-pounder field-pieces, and infantry, from various circumstances, judged to have been from 800 to 1,200 strong, though probably not all of them in action. We formed at about 3 o'clock under cover of our skirmishers, guarding well against a flank attack from the direction of the rebels' position, and after a brisk fire, which threw the rebels into confusion, carried their position by a charge, driving them from behind some log breastworks, and pursued them into the thickets on the mountain. We captured twenty-one prisoners, two brass 6-pounders, fifty stand of arms, and some corn and provisions. Our loss was 12 killed and 49 wounded.

The rebels had some 20 wounded on the field. The number of the killed we could not ascertain, but subsequently the number of burials reported to this date is 135 - many found scattered over the mountain. Our troops, informed that there were one or two regiments of rebels towards Beverly, and finding their hour late, bivouacked on their arms amid a cold, drenching rain, to await daylight, when they moved forward on the enemy's entrenched position, which was found abandoned by all except 63 men, who were taken prisoners. We took possession of two brass 6-pounders, four caissons, and one hundred rounds ammunition, two kegs and one barrel powder, 19,000 buck and ball cartridge, two stands of colors, and a large lot of equipments and clothing, consisting of 204 tents, 427 pairs pants, 124 axes, 98 picks, 134 spades and shovels, all their train, consisting of 29 wagons, 75 horses, 4 mules, and 60 pairs harness.

The enemy, finding their position turned, abandoned entrenchments, which, taken by the front, would have cost us a thousand lives, and dispersed through the mountains, some attempting to escape by the way of Laurel Hill and others aiming for Huttonsville. Among the former were the command of Colonel Pegram, which, unable to join the rebels at Laurel Hill, surrendered to the major-general on the 13th.

Our loss in the engagement killed and wounded is shown in the statement hereto appended, marched B. The list of prisoners taken is shown in the paper hereto appended, marched D. The invoice of property captured and turned over to the post quartermaster is hereto annexed, marked E.

In closing this report, I deem it proper to observe that, considering the rawness and inexperience of both officers and men, the fact that one-fourth were on picket guard the previous evening, and had made a most fatiguing march through the rain and with only inadequate supplies of food, their conduct was admirable.

Among those who are entitled to special mention are Colonel Lander, who with the guide led the way into the very midst of the action Colonel Manson, of the Tenth Indiana, who was everything along his lines, inspiring the men by his voice and presence, and who bravely led the charge of his regiment. Colonel Benton was ready to obey orders, and moved among his men with alacrity. Colonel Sullivan charged with his command as the rebels were dispersing, and captured several of the prisoners. major Wilson, of the Eighth, was conspicuous for coolness and promptitude of action. Lieutenant-Colonel Colgrove, of the Eighth, deserves especial mention for his coolness while forming his lines of the regiment under fire. Major Fortes, of the Thirteenth, showed coolness and self-possession in forming a portion of his men under the fire of the cannons.

My thanks are due Captain Kingsbury, my assistant adjutant-general, and to Captain A. Irwin Harrison, for their valuable and efficient aid in carrying orders under fire.

The Tenth Indiana was under fire for an hour and a half. The Nineteenth Ohio distinguished itself for the cool and handsome manner in which they held their post against a flank attack, and for the manner in which they came into line and delivered their fire near the sloe of the action. I consider Colonel Beatty to have managed his well, and to have been ably seconded by Colonel Hollingsworth and Major Buckley.

For the individuals who distinguished themselves under the eyes of their regimental commanders I respectfully refer to the reports of colonels of regiments, herewith submitted.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, U. S. Army.
Asst. Adjt. General, U. S. Army, Hdqrs. Army West Virginia.

Battle of Rich Mountain (July 11, 1861)

As the possibility of civil war in the United States evolved during the early months of 1861, Virginia was a divided state. Led by residents of the eastern part of the state, Virginia voted to secede from the Union rather than accede to President Lincoln’s call for each state to provide volunteer soldiers to put down the insurrection that began at Fort Sumter in April. Having little in common with their neighbors to the east, residents of the mountainous area of western Virginia initiated their own movement to secede from Virginia and to remain in the Union.

For much of 1861, Union and Confederate forces struggled for control of western Virginia. The area was of considerable importance because gaps in the Appalachian Mountains connected the East to the Midwest. In early May, General Robert E. Lee, in Richmond, ordered Colonel George A. Porterfield to Grafton to organize an army of volunteers and to seize control of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as well as turnpikes through the mountains. On May 24, Porterfield occupied the town of Grafton, located on the B&O railroad in northwestern Virginia, with fewer than 500 men. The next day, the Rebels burned two B&O railroad bridges near Farmington.

The Union government countered by sending 20,000 troops into the area under the command of Major General George McClellan. McClellan immediately deployed Colonel Benjamin Franklin Kelley and 1,600 Federal soldiers from Wheeling to protect the B&O bridge over the Monongahela River. By May 28, McClellan had ordered a total of approximately 3,000 troops into western Virginia and placed them under the overall command of Brigadier General Thomas A. Morris. Morris set off to engage the small Confederate force occupying Grafton, but as he approached, Porterfield withdrew to Philippi, seventeen miles to the south, where some more volunteers joined his command. On June 3, Morris deployed two columns of Northern troops in a pre-dawn attack against a Confederate encampment at Philippi. The Union soldiers routed the Rebels and forced Porterfield to retreat south to Beverly, thirty-five miles away.

On June 8, the Confederate government placed Brigadier General Robert Selden Garnett in charge of the forces opposing McClellan in western Virginia. Garnett inherited a difficult situation. With just 4,600 soldiers, he was expected to stem a Federal onslaught that was gradually pushing the Rebels south and east. Garnett deployed his troops at two key passes through the mountains. He sent Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram, in charge of roughly 1,300 men, to guard the pass at Rich Mountain, just west of Beverly. Garnett took personal command of the remainder of his force, which was guarding the pass at Laurel Hill north of Beverly. Under the direction of Colonel Jonathan M. Heck, the Rebels constructed a fortified position at Rich Mountain, known as Camp Garnett.

While Garnett’s men were busily erecting fortifications at Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain, McClellan arrived at Grafton on June 23, 1861 to coordinate an attack upon the Confederates. McClellan moved three divisions south from Clarksburg and ordered Morris’s brigade at Philippi to join him.

On July 6, McClellan set out toward the Confederate strongholds. After meeting light resistance from Rebel skirmishers, he established his headquarters at Roaring Creek, two miles west of Camp Garnett, on July 9. McClellan devised a plan calling for Morris’s brigade to demonstrate in front of Laurel Mountain, keeping Garnett in place, while McClellan sent the bulk of his force against Pegram at Rich Mountain.

Unsure of Pegram’s strength, McClellan was reluctant to order a frontal attack against the Confederate defenses at Rich Mountain. As McClellan deliberated, a local Union sympathizer, David Hart, apprised the Federals of a remote route that led to his family’s farm near the crest of Rich Mountain. Upon learning this, Brigadier General William Rosecrans convinced McClellan to allow Rosecrans to lead a force over the mountain to attack Pegram from the rear.

Leading a force of 2,000 soldiers, Rosecrans began his expedition at 4 a.m. on July 10. His orders were to subdue a small Rebel contingent at the Hart farm and then to move down the mountain to attack Camp Garnett. While Rosecrans was performing his flanking movement, McClellan was establishing his position in front of Rich Mountain to catch the Confederates in a pincer movement.

Meanwhile, Pegram learned of Rosecrans’s flanking maneuver and detached two companies of the 20th Virginia to reinforce the position at the Hart farm. The rugged trail and bad weather prevented Rosecrans from reaching the Hart farm until after two in the afternoon. When he arrived, he encountered stiff resistance from approximately 300 Rebels commanded by Captain Julius A. De Lagnel. The two forces engaged at 3 p.m., and De Lagnel's greatly outnumbered soldiers held off the Federals for two hours before being subdued.

After securing the Hart farm, Rosecrans orders were to turn and attack Camp Garnett, but the hour was so late that he decided to wait until morning. Having lost communication with Rosecrans and not hearing any sounds indicating an attack on Pegram’s rear, McClellan assumed the worst. Although his command of 4,000 soldiers greatly outnumbered the 1,000 Rebel defenders left at Camp Garnett, McClellan called off his attack and pulled back to his encampment at Roaring Creek.

Pegram, realizing that Rosecrans was at his rear, ordered the evacuation of Camp Garnett during the night. About one-half of the retreating Rebels made it to Beverly, but pursuing Federals captured Pegram and the others on July 13. Upon hearing of Pegram’s withdrawal, Garnett abandoned his position at Laurel Hill. As his troops retreated, Garnett was mortally wounded while directing his rear guard, on July 13, making him the first general officer to die in the Civil War.

Casualties at the Battle of Rich Mountain were light by later Civil War standards. The Union lost forty-six men (killed, wounded, and captured/missing), and the Confederacy lost 300 soldiers (mostly prisoners). The Union victory at Rich Mountain was instrumental in securing Federal control of western Virginia and in contributing to the establishment of the state of West Virginia. In the wake of a few more Union victories in the region that autumn, residents of thirty-nine counties in western Virginia approved the formation of the new state on October 24. On June 20, 1863, officials in Washington completed the formalities and admitted West Virginia to the Union.

Garnett Killed in the Federal Pursuit

Garnett was eating supper outside his tent on the evening of July 11 unaware of the disaster that had taken place at Rich Mountain. Federal guns to his front were shelling him as part of the feint against his position while the main attack occurred to the south. One of the shells slammed into the ground near Garnett, spraying dirt into his coffee. He nonchalantly dumped out the coffee and continued to eat his meal.

Later that evening a messenger arrived with news of the tragedy that had befallen Pegram’s force. At Laurel Hill, Garnett ordered his men to break camp immediately on the night of July 11. Despite a driving rain, his force was able to get their wagons on the road south to Beverly. When Garnett’s column reached the outskirts of Beverly on the morning of July 12, however, their scouts mistook Confederate soldiers retreating from Rich Mountain for Federal troops. Garnett had to think quickly. He countermarched toward Laurel Hill and then turned northeast on a back road along Leading Creek.

Union rifle fire killed Confederate Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett as he directed rearguard forces at Corrick’s Ford in the retreat from Rich Mountain. He was the first general killed in combat in the American Civil War.

Garnett’s retreating column not only would have to contend with poor roads, but have to cross several rivers that might be flooded because of the continuing rain. Moreover, Garnett would have to contend with the Federals who were sure to pursue his column. Garnett did his best to lead his army to safety, but Federal troops attacked the rear of his column repeatedly on July 13. Morris assigned Captain Henry Benham of the U.S. Army to lead a brigade-sized force to overtake the fleeing Confederates. A running battle occurred along Shaver’s Fork of the Cheat River during which Garnett was slain by Federal troops.

Rich Mountain

The battle of Rich Mountain took place here where the Staunton-Parkersburg turnpike crossed the crest of the mountain. About 2:30 pm, the Union forces began their attack down the hill on your right. The 310 Confederate troops on guard here with their one cannon took cover behind hastily erected log breastworks, farm buildings, and the rocks in the stable yard across the road.

After over two hours of fighting, the larger Federal force charged again and captured the cannon. The Confederates retreated into the woods and during the night abandoned Camp Garnett. General McClellan's army then took control of the turnpike and of northwestern Virginia.

Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: War, US Civil. In addition, it is included in the Battlefield Trails - Civil War series list. A significant historical month for this entry is July 1814.

Location. 38° 51.973′ N, 79° 56.06′ W. Marker is near Beverly, West Virginia, in Randolph County. Marker is on Rich Mountain Road / Files Creek Road (County Route 37/8), on the right when traveling east. Located near the parking area for the Rich Mountain Battlefield. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Beverly WV 26253, United States of America. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker

. Welcome to Rich Mountain Battlefield (a few steps from this marker) Battle of Rich Mountain (within shouting distance of this marker) The Stable Yard (within shouting distance of this marker) General William S. Rosecrans (within shouting distance of this marker) Battle Of Rich Mountain (within shouting distance of this marker) The Hart House (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line) Rich Mountain / Hart House (about 300 feet away) Site of Old Hart House (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Beverly.

Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. To better understand the relationship, study each marker in the order shown.

Also see . . . Rich Mountain Battlefield History. An overview of the battle. (Submitted on October 24, 2009, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)

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Battle of Rich Mountain, 12 July 1861, West Virginia - History

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan assumed command of Union forces in western Virginia in June 1861. On June 27, he moved his divisions from Clarksburg south against Lt. Col. John Pegram's Confederates, reaching the vicinity of Rich Mountain on July 9. Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris's Union brigade marched from Philippi to confront Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett's command at Laurel Hill. On July 10-11, Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans led a reinforced brigade by a mountain path to seize the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike in Pegram's rear.

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