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September 10, 1861: Battle of Carnifex Ferry

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On September 10, 1861, the Battle of Carnifex Ferry took place in the opening months of the Civil War at Nicholas County, Virginia (now West Virginia). The Union Army, under the direction of Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans sought to stop the advancing Confederate Army, under the direction of Gen. John B. Floyd. The battle took place near Summersville at an important crossing of the Gauley River and resulted in a strategic Union victory. The battle was an impetus to the movement that helped portions of Western Virginia break away to become the 35th state of West Virginia. Two future U.S. presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William McKinley were among the soldiers who fought at Carnifex Ferry.

Events leading up to the Battle of Carnifex Ferry had been unfolding for weeks. Confederate troops had advanced into the Kanawha Valley and launched an attack at Kessler’s Cross Lanes (just over a mile from the ferry crossing) on August 26th. Proceeding to Carnifex Ferry, they drove Henry Patterson and his family from their farmhouse which overlooked the Gauley River. Some 2000 Confederate forces then set up a defensive position on the Patterson farm and along the steep cliffs overlooking the ferry.

In order to take control of the area, Rosecrans assembled a large army of 7,000 to push the Confederates southward. As the Federals advanced, the leading brigade encountered Floyd’s pickets about 3:30 p.m. on the afternoon of September 10th at the ferry.

Rutherford B. Hayes, 38, and William McKinley, 18, both served in the Ohio 23rd Infantry. For many soldiers in the Ohio 23rd, this was their first battle experience (the unit mustered in just three months earlier). During the battle, the 23rd found themselves caught in a friendly fire incident while trying to flank the Confederate line. In the confusion and fleeting daylight, they started firing on their own men, killing two and wounding 30. The Patterson home was also caught in the crossfire from both armies and riddled with bullets. The structure still stands today at the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park.

Patterson Home

Fighting continued until dark, at which point the Confederates withdrew and the Union soldiers settled in for the night, prepared to resume the battle at daylight. During the night, Floyd, realizing that he was outnumbered and facing heavy Union artillery, decided to retreat his army across the ferry to the south side of the Gauley River and continue eastward to Meadow Bluff near Lewisburg. The Federals, exhausted from their march to Carnifex Ferry and the ensuing battle and facing adverse weather, decided against pursuit.

The conflict resulted in Union losses of 17 dead and 141 wounded. Confederate losses totaled 30 wounded with an unknown number of deaths. The Battle of Carnifex Ferry allowed the Federals to secure the Kanawha Valley and its tributaries which gave protection to those who favored secession from Virginia. Six weeks after the battle, residents of areas controlled by Union forces voted to form their own state, and in 1863, West Virginia joined the Union.

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64 Comments

  1. Jenny Ashcraft, please call or text me at (770) 876-0459 regarding something I have written about the Battle of Carnifex Ferry.

    • Did you get the date?

    • My great grandfather was a Captain during the civil war.
      He joined the 38th Illinois infantry.
      He ended his campaign in Victoria Texas and was released by captain Nicholas in 1866.
      His name is Adam L Walker.
      I’m from a farm town near effingham Illinois.
      Can you tell me anything about the Illinois 38th infantry and the battles.
      I’m attempting to write a short history for my family.
      Thanks
      I’m
      John s Rainey.
      My phone number is: 331.256.0520
      Email is [email protected]

      Call or text if anything is known.

  2. Niice work by an Ashcraft cousin. I enjoyed it.

  3. I am glad to see there is still an interest in the real American history.

  4. The lesson of West Virginia remains, if you desire to secede an area from a sovereign state to the Union (Federal Govt) that is heroic and supported without question but if you dare secede FROM the Union then you are an enemy and a “traitor” for time immemorial… SMH

    • If you can’t tell the difference maybe you should succeed from existence.

    • Go back and carefully look at the whole story. You are basing your argument on incomplete information that feeds the political agenda of the far right. Everything they promote is based on half truths and incomplete facts. If you are a true American, get the truth , the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    • James, or was it part of a sovereign state that didn’t agree with the planned/executed succession and wanted to stay/return as a member of a collection of states that felt as they did? You should read about the Wheeling Convention.

    • James. Illegally taking up arms against your government is the definition of ‘traitor’, even if you are a brother. Enemy? Maybe then, when the shooting and killing was going on; now, just a brother.

    • You are correct Sir, as Americans we can argue all day about the reasons for the war of Northern aggression, It really comes down to what most wars come down too, MONEY Lincoln could have cared less about slavery, Lee had A softer spot In his heart for slaves than Lincoln ever did. Lincoln did not want to give up the tax money, goods and everything else the south contributed to the United States government, and he was right two nations separate would have been to weak to fend off foreign enemies. Slavery was wrong and God would not let it prevail, However Lincoln and his government trampled upon southern rights, He miscalculated and thought it would not last long. All the carnage could have been avoided with cooler heads prevailing .

    • Dead on correct the question of secession has has never been answered . The answer would not fit the propaganda the Union (northern states) were selling the world in 1861 . Surprisingly enough in worked
      for West Virginia because it served the the northern interest. Secession has never been proven to be unconstitutional because it not . The Federal government has used secession for its own interest many times and will continue to due so. Power never gives up easily.

    • AW, geez!

    • I agree that is the stupidity of political correctness. You just ignore the facts and trumpet what ever story that makes you feel like part of the new political-think.

  5. Jerry…what, exactly, are you talking about? Who are you replying to? What does the “far right” have to do with this article or the comments that follow?

  6. My 2nd great grandfather Charles Schroeder was there serving with the 28th O.V.I. Co. G

    • My great great grandfather was there serving in the all German 9th Ohio Regiment. Three years later he was wounded in the 2nd battle for Mission Ridge in Chattanooga. After the war he made his way to Texas where my grandfather and father and myself were born.

  7. Tyranny, taxation and States Rights
    That was the fight, that IS the fight
    End of Story

  8. Some of you are obviously brainwashed by what the government that won deseminated to justify their actions ,750 thousand deaths along with close to that number of maimed disabled veterans. The vast majority of the citizenry of the entire US still agreed that any state at any time could constitutionally secceed from the so called “Union” if they wished as evidenced in the many hundreds of publications to that affect particularly in northern newspapers up until the date and even after the date that ft Sumpter was fired upon. Several New England states came extremely close to it in the early 1800s . The north realized that since the south provided most of the revenue for the collective and surmised that they could not survive without that income so they illegally set about to subjigate and force the “rustic aggrarians” to submit and comply. State’s rights that were promised to the states were definitely violated which was the exact reason that several delegates refused in the beginning to sign the early sacred documents ( until they were assured that such tyranny as what occurred in the war of northern aggression could never happen) . This was anagous to an abused wife being continuously beaten and treated unfairly who was attempting to divorce and escape the situation or a partner in a business to discontinue the association but the other party forcably , violently and illegally preventing the agrieved party from leaving.

    • Exactly what state rights were violated prior to the firing on Sumpter? Or is this a case of “he hit me back first.”

    • Bwahaha, 80% of the manufacturing was in the north., the real downfall of the south. The money was where the manufacturing was. Any time someone breaks sovereignty there are still assets belonging to the former government. Were they just supposed to let that be? As far as the money goes Davis printed so much that they didn’t have gold or anything else to back it up rendering it pretty worthless, pretty quick.
      And yes my family fought in the Revolutionary War and The Civil War. Plus WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. We might know something about it.

    • This is correct. This is what I was taught in 8th grade by my teacher Mr. Fitch.

  9. Well stated and spot on. There are those that espouse falsehoods for fact and have no understanding of our civil war history. I guess it was rewritten somewhere during the last 50 years. Facts are Lincoln was a tyrant, Sherman was a psychopathIc killer practicing total warfare against the civilian population of the South and Grant was a Useless corrupt drunkard that subsequently initiated genocide and extermination practices against the Native Americans of the Plains.

    • Grant. I was just replying to an Ancestry Oklahoma Sooners article regarding Native Americans. Grant. Yes. Grant.

  10. Well we’ve taken a nice article and turned it into political rhetoric. I guess since you’d like to compare the cause to an abused spouse trying to secure a divorce in order to separate from an abusive relationship which in your words she seems to be the sole provider in the relationship of anything and all that is good it’s looks to me as if you got bitch slapped back to the kitchen . So shut up and cook

    • Great reply Randall….I love how easy it is for people to turn history and historical events into modern day politics….and you’re right, they got bitch slapped to the kitchen……ha ha ha

  11. Dee, Jerry & Fleet,
    Y’all need to read the document called the Constitution of the United States. It specifically sets out the procedure to form a state. W.VA. did and does not comply with the rules. Who caused the War of Northern Aggression? Lincoln as he could not afford to lose the revenue (70+ % of the US income) extracted by the yankee Morrell Act from the South which was outrageous. Further, guess who had sent troops into Virginia and occupied Alexandria and other areas even before Ft. Sumpter was repossessed by South Carolina? Hint his picture in on the penny to show his worth I guess. Nothing like a d…yankee to try to tell the history of genocide against the South.

    • The truth is evidenced by Grant, Sherman, Custer and others following the end of their War of Northern aggression. If the fight was of freedom for slaves as they claim, giving them their rights as men, then what were Native Americans?
      Total warfare against their own citizenry.
      Those of the South will NEVER forget, the Eternal Light of the Confederacy still burns. Heritage not Hate

  12. The Morrill act of 1862 granted each state 30000 acres of western land for the establishment and funding of colleges dedicated to agriculture and mechanical sciences. These funds and lands to be allocated by the senators of each state respectively. Rutgers in New Jersey , Wisconsin, Iowa state and Missouri were among the first four recipients. How does this apply to your story?

  13. Thanks for the history on this Battle. We’re locals involved in the Battle? Is there any information of Civilian losses?

  14. Answer for Andrew. Idk, why don’t you ask that question of the Powhatan,Cherokee,creek, Seminole,Chickasaw, Choctaw or Natchez to names a few. By the way, your namesake was the biggest native murderer in the history of the united state . Like I said in the beginning. Was a perfectly good article to read till the foolish start saying in. Another inescapable point . There’s probably as many former “ damn Yankees” living south of the mason-Dixon than former confederates. I only hope it helps the gene pool.

    • Lol
      I am a direct descendant of
      Chief Toby West, nice try.

    • David
      States rights violated prior to firing on Ft Sumter were varied. Two that come to mind were tariffs passed by Congress in 1828 and another in1832. These tariffs protected Northern Industry while making European imports to South Carolina more costly. Once Lincoln was elected the gauntlet was thrown for the writing was on the wall.

  15. That makes your earlier statement “ the south remembers” even more ridiculous. Your also Andrew Jackson. Nice try at selective history .

    • That would be you’re not your. Perhaps you should read some of the articles from the time found in the Alabama or Georgia historical archives. Randolph county, Wilkes County and Greene County are good start points, then get back to me on selective history.

  16. As a friend once exclaimed about modern day African Americans being stymied by their slave heritage, “It’s been over 150 years since US Blacks were freed from slavery. They should just get over it!” Well I’ll say the same thing to these poor 21st century Confederates: Get over it. You can’t undo it. Get on with your lives.

  17. I’m so happy that war gain victory north army…

  18. Jenny, thank you for your great article about the Battle of Carnifex Ferry. This was new information for me.

    I love the study of history. History refers to things that happened in the past. I am dismayed at how, in the present, we cannot just learn about and discuss past events, without insulting those who have different opinions. In the end, many things are just that : opinions. I did not live in the culture of the 1860’s (or any time before the present), and I don’t believe I have the knowledge and qualifications to judge the motives and thoughts of those who did. I wasn’t there.

    • Well said. I am from Texas. My ancestors fought on the side of the Confederacy. I do not share the same mindset that the Southerners did at that time, but am not ready to pretend they did not exist. For without them, I would not be here nor would I know what not to do to prevent the same mistakes.

  19. I like Judy’s comment.

  20. I had 5 of my ancestors who fought for the south. General Lee spent his entire life fighting for the United States Including Fighting with Teddy at Jan Juan Hill. He was grey and close to ending his career. All anyone can is 3 or 4 years as General of the Southern Army.

    • Robert E. Lee died in 1870 & Battle of San Juan Hill was in 1898. Simple googling. People who get overly emotional about praising a traitor to the United States make mistakes.

  21. True historians always try very hard to deal in verifiable “facts”. Of course, those nuggets are filtered through the lenses of our own personal prejudices and biases. The key to understanding is to know and acknowledge that we have them and that they play a vital role in our own interpretation of the “facts”. They are a by-product of every individuals upbringing and are as natural to the human condition as breathing. When growing up, it sounds like Jackson and Randall missed that lesson of life. They must have also been absent the day the difference between US and Them were taught. Knowing we are imperfect creatures helps to center us in our lives. Always remember that it is very important to know the background of a writer/speaker/producer of the information we expose ourselves to because it helps us as consumers of “facts” to understand what lenses they are filtering their “facts” through as they deliver their message to us.

  22. Not here to continue this discussion. Frankly as a Southern that had ancestors that fought on both sides of the Civil War/Northern Aggression/War between the States or whatever you want to call the War that just about tore our United States apart, the above discussion could go on forever. I think though if y’all are going to refer to the Fort out in the harbor of Charleston that where the shot that start that war, PLEASE use the correct spelling. That fort’s name is FORT SUMTER. was then and still is spelled
    S-U-M-T-E-R! Not Sumpter – there is NO “P” in the name of Fort Sumter.

  23. Scott H….Cotton was king in the South and prospering until their states rights were being trampled on. As usual, like now, evil invaded and destroyed livelihoods, killing innocents, destruction, plundering and looting, also like now. My family fought in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, The Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, and Desert Storm. So what is your point??? This piece was about History, that will remain the same, whether you like it or not

  24. My family fought in the early Indian Wars, in the Revolution where some family members went to Canada, but they are still my family. My family fought for the North, for the South, with Teddy Roosevelt, in World War I, in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the latest cousin is now in the Army. My family still loves and gets along regardless of who decided for which side or for which branch of the military. My family has/had members in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force. We family members are of Anglo, Japanese, Mexican, and Black heritage. So stop fighting the wars. Start celebrating and enjoying your varied heritage and your family, your relatives.

  25. I don’t usually agree with confederate sympathizers but I do agree that the Civil War was fought over state rights… state rights to keep slaves. As a Tennessee boy, that’s not something I can be proud of or support.

  26. Well said Mary Walker, coming from the other side of the pond, I don’t have a dog in this hunt, but as a history buff, that’s American, British, and European history, I’ve been dismayed at the amount of Sumpters for Sumter, succeeds for secede, and the star prize goes to whoever thought that Bob Lee went up San Juan Hill in 1898, after being buried in 1870, in Lexington VA.!
    I always thought that there was a very mild undercurrent of misplaced dislike for Yankees by modern day Southerners, but a few years back, when I parked my rental with NY plates in the parking lot at Andersonville POW camp in GA, and was sneered at by a cracker with AL plates, I felt that I had to explain where he’d gone wrong.
    I said, “If you really want to badmouth me, do it for the right reasons, my ancestors were probably here in the 1770s, fighting to hold on to both the North and the South.”

  27. A very complex situation and war. Readers would be well-served by studying it today. My people in Wood Co. WV and Wirt Co. WV all joined the Confederacy, mostly the 17th VA Cavalry. They never owned slaves. I don’t know their precise reasons for supporting succession but the 17th VA Cavalry’s motto on their regimental flag was “Liberty Or Death”. Viewing them as traitors through a modern lense is easy and shallow hindsight. Trying to understand them might keep us out of a civil war tomorrow.

  28. Basil, just like today… the poor were convinced by the wealthy to go to war on their behalf. Regardless of what the common soldier in the field thought or felt, the articles of secession clearly point to slavery as the reason for leaving the Union and going to war.

  29. Jenny & Bernie are on to what most of you are doing…”Present Mindedness”
    Looking at Historical Events thru the Prism of our Present Culture & Knowledge.
    Therefore it becomes “Interpretation” of History…. Not Historical Fact !
    Its tricky to distinguish…but “How You Feel Now” is not “Historical Fact Then”.

  30. A very good article. Many battles of the civil war were fought in West Virginia. My ancestors were born in Virginia in Pittsylvania County and Boone County. Boone County became part of WV and my Great-Great-Great Grandfather was one of the ones who fought for the Union and was instrumental in pushing for WV to become its own state. My other Great-Great Grandfather from Pittsylvania County moved to WV after the war from the South! My grandparents and parents were born, raised, and died in WV. So was I. Men fought and died in that war standing up for their beliefs. My parents both served in World War II–my mother was in 8 different battles in Europe including the Battle of the Bulge. She was an Army Nurse and saw the horrors that war brings. Being critical of them now is ignorance! We have to read and know our true history whether good or bad. That’s the only way to not make the same mistakes again. Whether black, brown, red, yellow, or white, we are all God’s children and we are all created in His image. Everyone who has responded and called others liars should re-read the true history for themselves and shut up!

  31. This was a very interesting article that brought attention to information that I knew nothing of. Thank you for sharing. My father’s family/families fought for both sides divided by their beliefs and geographical locations, and it is history that we hope is never repeated. I hope that all readers will take away the sense of loss that was experienced by both sides no matter who was declared the successor.

  32. Slavery was the bear in the room during the continental convention and became an ever growing elephant in the room when Congress was formed. It grew so large the walls of the government could not contain it, every decision made, every law passed had to appease both sides of the slavery fight.

  33. Thank you. As a former journalist — 20-plus years– I enjoyed your research and your writing. Very engaging.

  34. Just a reminder for all the northern lectures on right and wrong,no slave ever came to this country on a southern ship. They were all from New England states and English.
    More blacks and freed men at that were hung in a single day in New York after the emancipation proclamation than had been hung in the south.
    Name one southern ship that transported slaves or cotton out of and into the port of Charlotte. You can’t
    there weren’t any.

  35. I find it very disturbing that some of the arguments trying to support one side or the other on the causes or catastrophes of this conflict in our history do so while viewing it though a very narrow lens. We can select “facts” that further our present day “opinions” as to these causes that were not present in the thinking of many citizens of that time. I fear that this kind of thinking has the potential to once again tear this nation apart in what could become another form of revolution or civil (?) war resulting from the current political polarity. Facts must be distinguished from opinions.

    Most of the ancestors in the families of both my wife and I were living in the area that became the United States long before this nation came into being. Many fought for its existence in every war since that time, some having different views of the conflicts than others. We both have great grandfathers who fought on different sides in the war between 1861 and 1865 for reasons of geography, politics, and family history that were extant in that time and place. I seems to me that we have no right to be declaring ourselves to be the final arbiters of that conflict without the background of the historical facts of that time. The view through the tinted lens of today’s society and politics should not be trusted without serious knowledge of the history of those times.

    The complexities of the causes of wars and other conflicts do not lend themselves to the very clear “right or wrong” simple explanations that enable us to encapsulate these events in the few words we attempt to use to define them from our personal points of view. Please consider looking at both sides to get a more realistic view.

  36. Folks, the shots fired to & from Fort Sumter were not the beginning of the Civil War. Actually, the Fort Sumter battle was the beginning of the end of the cultural civil war conflict between the North and the South that started before 1776 and the Revolutionary War that followed.

    Have a good day everyone, and remember that America is the greatest country on earth, in spite of our historical failures.

  37. There was a book written several years ago ” Loyal Western Virginia” I forget the author
    Perspective is most revealing to those who will care to see.
    Indians say” walk a mile in my moccasins , then tell me understand”

    This book I believe reveals the true nature of the divide. Lets study the history from more than one
    side before we make a broad side.
    Tis my wooden nickel`s worth . respectfully submitted Kenro

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