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Operations in Western Virginia
In the first campaign of the Civil War Union forces attempted to maintain control of the B&O Railroad, a vital link between the East Coast and the Western Theater of Operations.
Even before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter the Union Army knew the mountainous area we call Appalachia would be more pro-Union than the surrounding lowlands. Early plans called for working with Unionists to assist the Army in scouting, perhaps even using local militia to support regular Army troops and Western Virginia was a good place to start. Local citizens began making pro-Union advances with the First Wheeling Convention in May, 1861.
On June 3rd the Union and Confederate Armies met for the first time at the town of Philippi. Union forces scored a victory in the first battle of the Civil War. McClellan arrived after receiving assurances from the commander of the Kentucky militia, Simon Bolivar Buckner that Kentucky intended to remain neutral. With 11,000 men McClellan advanced into the rugged Appalachians of West Virginia.
After detaching 4,000 men under Thomas Morris to nearby Laurel Hill, McClellan advanced to a Confederate position in front of Rich Mountain held by Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram. Outnumbered 5 to 1, Pegram gave battle before withdrawing to Beverly, on the Tygart Valley River. Pegram's withdrawal, however, was ill-advised. Wandering along muddy roads without food, his men were open targets for the federal army or Unionists. On July 13th, Pegram surrendered.
Now attention turned to Laurel Hill. With his rear threatened, General Robert S. Garnett withdrew. Garnett, Robert E. Lee's adjutant, was killed directing a rear-guard action, but most of his men escaped. On July 17, Brigadier General Henry Wise[CS] fought a delaying action at Scarey Creek. Outnumbered, his men were quickly forced to withdraw.
McClellan was in Beverly, West Virginia when he received by telegraph word of the defeat at Bull Run and orders to return to Washington "without delay" and William S. Rosecrans assumed command of the Department of the Ohio.
In August, General Robert E. Lee returned to West Virginia, eventually assuming command from W. W. Loring, who had succeeded General Garrett. Meanwhile, General John Floyd was ordered to assume command of a second force in the Great Kanawha Valley. Early in September, 1861, the battles for western Virginia heated up. Rosecrans began a move toward Carnifix Ferry while Lee tried a complex plan to attack Union forces in the Cheat Mountain area. Although casualties in both battles were light, they spelled an end to Confederate attempts to retain control of the western Virginia area.
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Operations in Western Virginia was added in 2005
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