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
The first volleys of the battle began on September 10, 1861.
The West Virginia Archives website 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 that 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.
Cook, Roy B. “The Battle of Carnifex.” The Battle of Carnifex Ferry, www.wvculture.org/history/civilwar/carnifex01.html.