Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park
Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park preserves the history of a significant Civil War battle that occurred here while also offering recreational opportunities and breathtaking views of the rim of Gauley River Canyon. The battle of Carifex Ferry took place on September 10, 1861. In this battle, Union troops led by Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans engaged Confederate forces and forced them to evacuate their position on the Henry Patterson Farm that overlooked Carnifex Ferry. The Confederate commander, Brigadier General John B. Floyd, retreated across Carnifex Ferry to the south side of the Gauley River and then eastward to Meadow Bluff near Lewisburg. This Civil War battle represented the failure of a Confederate attempt to regain control of the Kanawha Valley. As a result, the movement for West Virginia statehood proceeded following the battle without a serious military threat from Confederate soldiers who remained in the area.
Backstory and Context
In July of 1861, the Union troops successfully pushed a small Confederate army out of the Kanawha River Valley in the Battle of Carnifex Ferry. The battle was a result of a Confederate movement into the Union-controlled area along the Gauley River. General John Floyd, C.S.A., was attempting to regain ground in western Virginia. General William Rosecrans responded to the Confederates by moving his 7,000 federal troops to challenge Floyd and force him out of the area. The first volleys of the battle began on September 10, 1861. The West Virginia Archives provides an account by Confederate Colonel A.W. Reynolds, of the Fiftieth Virginia Infantry, which states:
"On the morning of the 10th, in obedience to orders from Brigadier General Floyd, I moved my regiment from our temporary camp, which was about one mile in advance of the main camp at Gauley, and took post in the center of the line of log breastworks, and on the left of the earthworks and the battery of four guns. The regiment formed in line behind the breastworks at 2:30 P.M. Within a few minutes after I was informed of the rapid approach of the enemy. At 3:00 P.M. a heavy column moved forward to attack us, which was gallantly repulsed by the right wing after a sharp exchange of fire lasting about twenty-five minutes, the enemy then taking shelter behind some houses and haystacks beyond the range of our fire, and from which position they continued to fire on us with the Enfield rifles. At 3:30 P.M. the enemy, having placed their artillery in position, opened upon my line a terrific fire of shells, grape, shrapnel, round shot. and with a rifled cannon, which was continued with little intermission until 5 P.M. At about 5 P.M. a heavy column (supposed to be an entire brigade) advanced to assault our center. Our fire was reserved until the enemy approached to within one hundred yards, when a well- directed fire from our whole line checked their advance. After a contest of forty-five minutes, the enemy (notwithstanding the efforts of the officers to rally them) broke and ran. About 6:00 P.M. a third attempt was made to force our center, which met with the same result as the preceding, our regiment awaiting the approach coolly and routing them completely. In the early part of the battle, the fire of the enemy's artillery was high. They attempted to enfilade my line, which they failed to do in consequence of their guns being disabled, by the fire from the battery in the earthwork. At 7:10 the firing ceased and the enemy retired from the field."
That afternoon, Rosecrans' troops noticed Camp Gauley and began firing upon the Confederates. Rosecrans did not utilize all of his troops, and as a result, the Confederates were able to repel the initial attack. Rosecrans decided it would be best to wait until the next morning, since darkness was soon to come, and planned a second attempt to dislodge the well-entrenched Confederate force.
Floyd realized that once morning came, the Union soldiers would attack with far superior numbers. Under the cover of darkness, Floyd's Confederate troops successfully retreated and escaped the Union attack which deprived the Union of a potential victory that might have persuaded fewer residents of this region to support the Confederacy early in the war. Rosecrans' troops had 28 fatalities and 130 injured men. Owing to their defensive positions, Floyd's Confederates escaped without any fatalities and only 30 injuries. This technical Union victory secured the area for the Union and reversed the previous momentum by Confederates who sought to gain control of the Kanawha Valley. This was politically significant as it allowed the growing momentum for West Virginia statehood to proceed without an external military threat from Confederate forces.
Carnifex Ferry Battlefield is located in West Virginia near the Summersville Locks and Dam and overlooks the Gauley River Canyon. The battlefield is named for Carnifex Ferry, a small ferry at the confluence of the Meadow and Gauley Rivers. The state park houses the battlefield and also the Henry Patterson House that was caught in the crossfire during the battle; the house is preserved and you can still see the damage caused from the battle. The reenactment of the battle of Carnifex Ferry occurs on odd-numbered years. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park offers three overlooks of the Gauley River, picnic tables and shelters, hiking, and playground equipment.
“The Battle of Carnifex Ferry Historical Marker.” 2006. Accessed September 14, 2016. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=20876. 3. “Share Battle of Carnifex Ferry.” 2016. Accessed September 14, 2016. http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/971.
“Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park.” 2014. Accessed September 14, 2016. http://www.carnifexferrybattlefieldstatepark.com/.
1. Cook, Roy Bird. The Battle of Carnifex Ferry, West Virginia Archives and History. November 1st 1931. Accessed June 11th 2021. http://www.wvculture.org/history/civilwar/carnifex01.html.
McGee, Ted. Carnifex Ferry State Park, National Register of Historic Places. October 25th 1973. Accessed June 11th 2021. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/nicholas/74002018.pdf.
"Carnifex Ferry." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed October 5, 2020. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=20843.