Here lies a plaque commemorating the Burning of Sutton, 1861. Contained within this plaque is an interesting Civil War era story surrounding the town of Sutton, West Virginia. It involves the burning and sacking of the city, as well as other interesting events that provide Sutton with an extensive history. Whether a passerby, Sutton native, or history buff, the history behind this plaque will give a look into the many realities Sutton residents and Civil War soldiers had to face.
In order to properly understand what
happened to Sutton during the Civil War, a little history surrounding this city
itself is needed. According to Sutton’s official website, it was first
established in 1792 by Adam O’Brien. Other settlers shortly followed O’Brien,
and in 1809 John D. Sutton settled in what is now current day downtown Sutton.
Sutton was originally named Newville, but in 1835 it underwent its name change.
One unbelievably relevant fact about Sutton is where it’s settled. Sutton sits at
the perfect place for many different transportation junctions. This fact alone
can show why Sutton itself had a major role during the Civil War. The
mentioning in the plaque of the suspension bridge the infantry units were
trying to protect demonstrates this fact. With Sutton’s history briefly
examined, a look into the event detailed by the plaque is necessary.
to the marker itself, the burning of Sutton (1861) happened after an engagement between
groups of Confederate partisans that went by the name of Moccasin Rangers and
an infantry group belonging to the Union army. The Union army was pushed out of
their fort by Capt. John L. Spriggs, and upon his return after pushing the
Union soldiers away, noticed Sutton was ablaze. According to the plaque, it’s
not certain who or what exactly started the fire, but it consumed a majority of
the town including the courthouse.
the plaque itself admitting ignorance to what caused the fire, an excerpt out
of the West Virginia Legislative Handbook
(1927) states that, “It is said that in the absence of Capt. Spriggs, sometime
within the day, that the Tunings set fire to the town and partly destroyed it.”
(The tunings we’re a Confederate regiment led by Jack Tuning). This handbook
also reveals that when Spriggs returned, many begged him to cease setting the
town ablaze, and despite his orders to his regiment, soldiers continued burning
buildings to the ground with torches in hand. More information is provided on
the Jack Tuning and his actions concerning the sacking of Sutton. According to
an excerpt within Time Trails, West
Virginia (1997), “Tuning and his brothers Al and Fred, who were also from
the area, tried to extort money from the townspeople. When they refused, the
Tunings set fire to a frame house. As the flames spread quickly to other
buildings, John Camden, a hotel proprietor and southern sympathizer, pleaded
with Tuning to stop the destruction to no avail. Finally, Spriggs returned to
town and ordered his men to put out the fire.”
to Sutton’s official website, Sutton slowly rebuilt after the destruction
caused to it by the Civil War. It gained economic notoriety when the timber
industry began booming in the region. According to the website, many of the
buildings within Sutton date only from 1890-1920. This is most likely due to
the dilapidation caused by the burning of Sutton. Sutton followed suit like
many other regions in the country and economically declined during the
depression of the 1930s. This event in the history of Sutton has definitely
left its mark, and continues to be a worthwhile read for those interested in
Civil War history as well as West Virginia history.