Jackson County’s Role in the Civil War
Although no major battles occurred within the boundaries of Jackson County, the people living within local communities at the time were intimately affected. Much of the impact of the war has been commemorated with the West Virginia Civil War Trails project. Troops were initially called by Governor John Letcher of Virginia to assemble on April 29, 1861, with West Point graduate Christopher Q. Tompkins and Lt. Col. John McCausland assuming command of the inexperienced volunteer forces for the Confederacy then assembling within the Kanawha Valley.
Kanawha Valley Riflemen
1861 Preamble and Resolution
Jackson County residents William L. McMahan, Nicholas Fitzhugh, Henry W. Rand, and William C. Gillaspie were among the “Kanawha Riflemen,” a company led by Captain George S. Patton Sr. The following preamble and resolution was published by Patton in the Kanawha Valley Star on April 23, 1861:
“Whereas an unjust and unnecessary war had been forced on the country by the administration at Washington, in which our State may be required to take part; we, the Kanawha Riflemen, hereby declare it to be our fixed purpose never to use our arms against the State of Virginia, or any other Southern State, in any attempt by said administration to coerce or subjugate them; and we hold ourselves ready to respond to every call that may be made on us to defend our State and section from hostile invasion; therefore, be it unanimously resolved,
That we hereby tender the services of this Company, to the authorities of the State, to be used in the emergency contemplated in the foregoing preamble:
Which preamble and resolution were unanimously adopted.
On motion, resolved, that these proceedings be published in the Kanawha papers, and that a copy thereof be sent to the Adjutant General of the State.
George S. Patton, Pres’t.
John Dryden, Sec’y.”
Guerilla Forces in Ripley
Despite efforts at organizing Confederate forces, many sympathetic to the rebel cause operated on a guerilla basis in this region. Two companies of Union troops from the Seventeenth Ohio headed in to surround Ripley’s guerilla forces on April 29, 1861. This confrontation resulted in the capture of the Ripley postmaster and a local lawyer, along with dozens of additional secessionists. Those who refused to swear allegiance to the Union were imprisoned in Parkersburg.
Home Guard Established
As the strain became increasingly tense, Home Guard companies were established to help defend local communities throughout Jackson County against individuals acting outside the interests of law. Jackson County’s Home Guard was led by Joel Cunningham with 37 men under his charge. As a border state, divisiveness marked the relationships between residents of Jackson County throughout the entirety of the Civil War.
War Comes to Jackson County
Throughout the summer of 1861, Union troops from Kentucky and Ohio continued marching through the local region, including Jackson County. On July 11th, the 1st Kentucky marched through Ravenswood and Ripley to a confrontation at the Mud River Bridge in Huntington, which left six dead and at least 18 wounded from both sides. Then, on the 16th, Union forces engaged in brief conflict at Scary Creek with withdrawal of Confederate troops on the 24th and subsequent surrender of Charleston to the Union, but the fighting had only just begun. Several Jackson County men proceeded to organize with Confederate forces and went on to participate in larger land battles throughout the war, including the July 21-22 Battle of Bull Run and others in which Union forces were defeated.
Moccasin Ranger Attack on Ripley
The night of December 19, 1861 was a dark one for Jackson County. Ripley was ambushed by “Moccasin Rangers” (a guerilla band from Calhoun County led by Daniel Duskey). The jail and courthouse were looted of arms, the post office was ransacked, personal homes robbed and homeowners forced to prepare meals for the raiders at gunpoint. Citizens of Ripley placed blame for the defenselessness of Ripley on Dr. O.G. Chase who had confiscated all the firearms from citizens of Ripley within the three weeks leading up to the raid. Jackson County communities were raided on several additional occasions throughout the war.
Skirmish at Ravenswood
Ravenswood was thrown into chaos with men, women, and children running to and fro with the approach of both Union and Confederate soldiers on September 3-4, 1862. Although Union loyalists fled across the Ohio River, a short firefight ensued between the two sides. Although the incident was ultimately rather uneventful, it resulted in several injuries and the raising of the Confederate Flag over the Ohio River.
Kanawha Valley Campaign
Charleston had been left without adequate defense after Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox and approximately 5,000 soldiers were ordered to leave the Kanawha Valley and head to eastern Virginia on August 11, 1862. The period from September 6-16, 1862 saw 96 Jackson County men of the Confederate forces, along with nearly 5,000 others under Major General Wm. Loring raid the Kanawha Valley. Confederate forces then sacked Charleston on September 3rd and burned all they could not carry with them and destroyed the bridge at Elk River. Loring pursued the fleeing Union wagon train headed by Colonel Joseph A. J. Lightburn over the Ohio River at Ravenswood, but abandoned the pursuit shortly thereafter. By the end of October, Charleston was returned to Union control.
Jones-Imboden Raid and The Destruction of the Burning Spring Oil Field
From April 24-May 22, 1863, Confederate forces led by Brig. Gens. William E. Jones and John D. Imboden, looted the western part of the state, damaged bridges, and killed dozens. By May 9th, the Burning Springs oil field on the Little Kanawha River, one day’s travel from Jackson County, was reached and utterly destroyed by fire with flames visible all the way to Parkersburg. This raid struck terror into the hearts of local citizenry at the time. Although Confederate cavalry troops ultimately took a different route and spared Jackson County, the ongoing campaigns of death and destruction throughout the region ultimately helped seal the fate of the Confederacy.
Jackson County solemnly remembers local lives lost from amongst our own throughout the Civil War. May they forever rest in peace – and may war never again touch the soil of Jackson County, West Virginia.