Happy Sesquicentennial, West Virginia! (Wait, Ses-qui-say-what?)January 22, 2013
Nearing the 150th birthday of West Virginia (its sesquicentennial) June 20 of this year, we’re looking back at the battles that defined our state’s founding values, and planning grand celebrations of our independence.
A central locale in the fight to control the railroad-connected and salt-rich Kanawha Valley during the Civil War, the New River Gorge was erupting with conflict, history spilling across the fields and forests. Here are a few of the notable moments from the Civil War in Gorge that helped shape West Virginia’s path to statehood.
Battle of Carnifex Ferry: Paving the Way for Statehood
A strategic Union victory that defended the territory that would become West Virginia from Confederate takeover, this win set the groundwork for the break from Virginia. The new state was able to officially set the dividing line between the Southern Virginia Confederate fighters and the now-West Virginia they had defended for the Union.
When Union General William S. Rosecrans overtook Confederate General John Floyd at Carnifex, the Confederate leader blamed his co-commander, a move that drove a wedge into the leadership of the Confederates. This ultimately wore down their forces and drove them from the budding Union state.
Gauley Bridge: Bridge Burning and Still-Lost Cannon
The town was named for the covered bridge that extended across the Gauley River, which was an important passage into the Kanawha Valley during the Civil War. Control of the town alternated back and forth three times during the war. The bridge itself was burned down, then rebuilt, only to be set ablaze again.
The Battle of Fayetteville: Introducing “Indirect Fire”
The tactic of indirect cannon fire, or calculating fire from a hidden location, was first introduced to the war in Fayetteville. Corp. Milton W. Humphreys attacked Fayetteville’s Union Fort from a mile away. A brilliant mathematician, Humphreys innovatively took a guess at the needed trajectory based on his experience with his equipment and calculations. While traditional cannon shooters had been sitting targets for the opposing side, Humphrey’s tactic now allowed them to take cover as they fired.
There’s more Civil War history hidden here in the Gorge. (In fact, one account says there might even be a lost cannon out there, still undiscovered.)
Come follow the trails and tales of the war heroes of the New River Gorge, and immerse yourself in a battle that divided a nation, but created a state.