On November 10, 1861, a Confederate cavalry force of more than 700 attacked a Union recruitment camp for the Ninth (West) Virginia Infantry regiment along the port town of Guyandotte in Cabell County. Led by Col. John Clarkson, the Confederates quickly overcame the brief resistance of the federal recruits, who numbered some 150 men. Allegedly many pro-Confederate residents in town participated in the fighting, even firing on Union troops. Casualties were minimal, but the Confederates captured around 100 Union soldiers before leaving. On November 11, the Fifth (West) Virginia Infantry, arriving too late to intervene in the battle, burned the town in retaliation for its purported role in aiding the Confederates. A large portion of Guyandotte was destroyed, including the Buffington Mill. Today the Battle and Burning of Guyandotte are commemorated with several markers and an annual series of reenactments.
At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 Cabell and
Wayne Counties were deeply divided, with residents flocking to join opposing
regiments. The small town of Guyandotte was purportedly the only town along the
Ohio River to support secession from the Union. In April 1861 citizens of
Guyandotte raised the state flag of Virginia, gave speeches, and began organizing
into volunteer companies for the Confederate Army. This included a group known
as the Border Rangers, led by Albert Gallatin Jenkins. Meanwhile just a few
miles down the river a Union regiment, the Fifth (West) Virginia Volunteer
Infantry Regiment was organized in the Unionist town of Ceredo. Once the
Confederate recruits were deployed east to the Kanawha Valley, Guyandotte was
left undefended and quickly came under the control of Union forces. In July the
Second Kentucky Infantry briefly occupied the town and several locals were made
to take an oath of allegiance to the Union.
In October 1861, Col. Kellian V. Whaley arrived in
Guyandotte and established a recruiting base for a new Union regiment, the
Ninth (West) Virginia Infantry. Around 150 men were recruited, but they
received little training during their time in Guyandotte. In early November, Confederate
Gen. John B. Floyd ordered a cavalry raid against Union positions in the
direction of the Ohio River. A force of perhaps 700 men from the Fifth and
Eighth Virginia Cavalry Regiments made their way towards Cabell County, led by
Col. John Clarkson and Col. Albert Gallatin Jenkins, respectively.
On the evening of November 10, 1861, the Confederate
force launched a surprise attack on Guyandotte and overwhelmed the outnumbered
Union recruits. Whaley attempted to mount a defense, but his troops were
untrained and the Confederates were too fast. A bridge on the Guyandotte River
in the west was captured, while another group advanced into the eastern side of
Guyandotte, encircling the Union troops. Several were shot trying to swim
across the Guyandotte River. Whaley and a small number of troops continued to
resist but were pushed back to the Forest Hotel and eventually forced to
surrender. Approximately three Confederate troops were killed and ten wounded;
ten Union soldiers were killed and around the same number wounded. 100 Union
troops were captured, including Whaley, while perhaps less than fifty escaped.
Allegedly many residents of Guyandotte participated in the raid, with some
reports of them firing on Union troops from their homes.
The following morning, November 11, Col. John
Zeigler and a detachment of Union troops from the Fifth (West) Virginia
Volunteer Infantry from Ceredo arrived in Guyandotte via the Ohio River on the
steamship Boston. They came just as
the last Confederate raiders and their prisoners were leaving, too late to
intervene in the battle. The troops of the Fifth were angered by the
casualties, prisoners, and the rumors that secessionist residents participated
in the raid. Some sources allege that Zeigler ordered the town to be torched;
others suggest the action was spontaneous. At any rate, Union troops began
setting fire to the town. Homes and businesses belonging to secessionists were
the primary target, but property belonging to Unionists was reportedly burned
as well. Much of Guyandotte was destroyed, including the Buffington Mill,
Guyandotte Baptist Church, the business district, and many homes. The Madie
Carroll House was one of the few structures to survive; Mary Carroll barricaded
herself in the home, forcing the troops to move on. As they left Guyandotte the
troops arrested sixteen residents for their alleged roles in the raid and
shipped them to Camp Chase Prison in Columbus, Ohio.
Guyandotte... has always had the reputation of being the 'ornaryest' place on the Ohio River... It was a Vicksburg on a small scale. It was the first town on the Ohio river to display a secession flag, and has always been the worst secession nest in that whole country. It ought to have been burned two or three years ago. -Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, November 13, 1861.
Over the following days the Battle of Guyandotte was
reported in many Northern papers, referred to exaggeratedly as a “massacre”
despite few actual casualties. Many also expressed support for the Fifth (West)
Virginia’s decision to destroy the town; the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer even
commented that Guyandotte was “the worst secession nest in that whole country”
and stated that it should have been burned years ago. The town was occupied by
Union forces for much of the remainder of the war, and no more Confederate
attacks were attempted on the community. Guyandotte rebuilt after the
destruction and was eventually absorbed into the new city of Huntington. In the
early 1990s the community launched an annual festival called Guyandotte Civil
War Days. Occurring each November, the multi-day festival includes a
reenactment of the battle and presentations on Civil War history.