The Battle of Bull Town was a minor engagement in the Civil War when compared to larger conflicts such as the Battle of Antietam and Gettysburg, but it was one of great significance for both the Civil War and for West Virginia. The fort at Bulltown was situated along the Weston-Gauley turnpike and overlooked the Little Kanawha River which made it a valuable military asset. Had the Confederate troops succeeded in taking the fort, they could have cut communications between troops in Northern West Virginia and the lower half of the state. This would have pushed the front further north and created the opportunity for the Confederates to march on Wheeling, the heart of Union support in West Virginia.
The Battle of Bulltown was fought on October 13, 1863 at the
farm of Moses Cunningham. Although the battle was strategically
significant, there were only a handful of casualties. This becomes more
striking when considering the duration of the conflict. The exact number varies
with the source, but somewhere around 7-8 Confederate soldiers were killed with
a few more being injured during the 12 hour engagement.
The Confederate offensive was led by Colonel William Lowther
Jackson. Federal troops often referred to him as “Mudwall” Jackson to
distinguish him from his cousin “Stonewall” Jackson. Colonel Jackson split his
party of nearly 800 men into two groups that were to converge on the fort at
daybreak, however, something went wrong with the plan. The first group to reach
their position was led by Major J.M. Kessler. The Major decided not to wait for
Jackson’s group to arrive and began his advance at 4:30 a.m., but was forced to
fall back to their own fortifications by Federal troops.
When Jackson arrived, he set up headquarters on an elevated
position on the opposite side of the river. At 8:00 a.m. Jackson sent a note to
the Federal troops saying “my forces have now entirely surrounded you, is very
largely superior to yours and it is useless for you to contend” to which they
instructed Jackson “to come and take us.”
The engagement continued throughout the day with neither
side gaining any advantage. At 3:00 p.m. a flag of truce was raised and another
message was sent from the Confederates demanding the Federal troops to
surrender. Once again the demand was refused and the battle resumed. The conflict lasted until 4:30 p.m when Jackson ordered a retreat. That
evening just around dark a detachment of the Fourth Virginia Calvary came
riding down to the turnpike to reinforce the garrison, but they were too late to
engage the Confederates. With the retreat of the Confederates, this strange and
obscure conflict ended with a Union victory.
Though a small conflict, the Battle of Bulltown was very
important for the Military History of West Virginia. Had the Confederates
succeeded in cutting the lines of communication, the progression of the war in
West Virginia would have been dramatically different.