In July 1861, Union forces pushed the Confederates out of the Kanawha Valley and occupied the strategic Gauley Bridge area. In August the Confederates launched a counterattack to regain control of the Kanawha Valley and disrupt the attempts to separate Western Virginia from Virginia. Confederate troops under the command of Gen. John Floyd crossed the Gauley River and defeated a small Union force at Keslers Cross Lanes. Floyd then retreated to an encampment along the steep western cliffs of the Gauley River at Carnifex Ferry. Union Gen. William Rosecrans assembled a force of 7,000 to drive the 2,000 Confederates away. Marching south from Summersville, Rosecrans’s force made contact with Floyd on September 10, 1861. Instead of concentrating his force for an overwhelming assault, Rosecrans spent the day sending in his brigades one at a time as they arrived at the battlefield, allowing the outnumbered Confederates to repulse the piecemeal attacks. During the night, the Confederates decided to retreat before they could be defeated in the morning. Floyd managed to get away before Rosecrans knew he was gone.
Casualties were light on both sides, but the battle had an important political effect. Beginning in May 1861, meetings had been held to organize a loyal Unionist government for Virginia to be headquartered at Wheeling. In October, just after the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, there was a vote in areas controlled by federal forces to decide whether to create a new state. The favorable vote was a key step in the formation of West Virginia. A loss at Carnifex Ferry and Confederate occupation of the Kanawha Valley might have changed that vote.
This Article was written by David Bard
- Title: Plan of the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, West Virginia.
- Summary Carnifex Ferry is located on the Gauley River east of the town of Gauley Bridge. Floyd’s Confederate forces are positioned with their backs to the Gauley River, and the Union is shown attacking chiefly in the center and on the left.
- Contributor Names Sneden, Robert Knox, 1832-1918.
- Created / Published [1861-1865]
The Union forces were fought under Genl. Benham and Capt. Hartsuff and Genl. Scammon. Col. Lytel [sic] with the 10th and 12th Ohio Regts. charged the Rebel position in left centre. Col. Smith, the extreme right of the batteries. Col. Lowe directly in front. Col. McCook extreme left of Enemy’s position. Col. Lytel [sic] lost a leg. Col. Lowe was killed. McCook fought from 6 to 9 PM. and all laid on their arms during the night. Floyd evacuated his position during the night, leaving all his tents and camp equipage, wagons, horses, large amount of ammunition, 16 guns and 50 head of cattle. Floyd was wounded in the arm. He retreated with great haste, 15 miles on the Charleston road, thence to the Green River. Benham’s command lost most during the battle.”–Page caption.
- Title Battle at Carnifax Ferry
- Created / Published c1862 March 5th.
Description: “Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1862 by J. Nep. Roesler in the clerk’s office of the District Court of the Southern District of Ohio. Sketched from nature and drawn on stone by J. Nep. Roesler Corpl. Of Color Guard Comp. G 47th Regt. O.V.-U.S.A. Printed by Ehrgott, Forbriger Co., Cincinnati.”
Additional Reading Links:
State Park Website: https://wvstateparks.com/park/carnifex-ferry-battlefield-state-park/
State Archive Reading: http://www.wvculture.org/history/civilwar/carnifex01.html
American Battlefields: https://www.battlefields.org/visit/heritage-sites/carnifex-ferry-battlefield-state-park