The Battle of Camp Allegheny, 1861

December 13, 1861

The Battle of Camp Allegheny — also known as the Battle of Allegheny Mountain — was fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America on December 13, 1861, during the Civil War. The outcome of the battle was a Confederate victory. The battle is most well-known for being part of the Western Virginia Campaign.

General Edward Allegheny Johnson, Civil War

Colonel Edward Johnson’s heroics during the engagement earned him the nickname “Allegheny” Johnson. Image Source: Museum of the Confederacy.

Battle of Camp Allegheny Quick Facts

  • Also Known As — Battle of Allegheny Mountain
  • Date — December 13, 1861
  • Location — Pocahontas County, Virginia (now West Virginia)
  • Opponents — United States of America (USA) and Confederate States of America (CSA)
  • USA Commanders — Robert H. Milroy
  • CSA Commanders — Edward “Allegheny” Johnson
  • Winner — Confederate States of America

Battle of Camp Allegheny Summary

The Battle of Camp Allegheny was fought on December 13, 1861, when Confederate forces under Colonel Edward Johnson defended their position on the Allegheny Mountain in Virginia against a Union assault led by Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy. The Confederates successfully repelled the Union attack from both flanks. Prior to the battle, Confederate General William W. Loring had ordered Johnson to abandon Camp Allegheny, but after the successful defense, Johnson was instructed to hold the camp throughout the winter. Johnson’s bravery during the battle earned him the nickname “Allegheny Johnson.” This outcome was significant as it secured Confederate control over the strategic Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike until Johnson withdrew in the spring of 1862.

Battle of Camp Allegheny History and Overview

During the summer of 1861, Union and Confederate forces struggled for control of western Virginia. The area was highly important because gaps in the Appalachian Mountains connected the East to the Midwest. The Virginia Militia acted quickly, disrupting traffic on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and taking control of turnpikes through the mountains.

The U. S. War Department countered by sending 20,000 troops into the area under the command of Major General George McClellan. McClellan’s forces pressed the Confederate troops in the area throughout the summer and fall, gradually driving the Confederates out of the region, paving the way for the creation of the State of West Virginia in October 1861, although the federal government did not formally recognize the new state until June 1863.

George B. McClellan, General, USA, Civil War, LOC
George B. McClellan. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Battle of Philippi

On June 3, 1861, Union troops commanded by Brigadier General Thomas A. Morris surprised a Confederate encampment at Philippi, Virginia, and scored a Union victory. Many historians consider the Battle of Philippi to be the first significant land engagement in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.

Battle of Rich Mountain

On June 15, 1861, the Confederate government placed Brigadier General Robert Selden Garnett in charge of the forces opposing McClellan in western Virginia. Garnett deployed his troops at two key passes through the mountains at Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain.

In early July, McClellan feigned an attack against the Confederates at Laurel Mountain, while deploying the bulk of his forces against the Confederates at Camp Garnett at Rich Mountain. On the night of July 10, McClellan sent 2,000 men commanded by Brigadier General William Rosecrans on a flanking march over the mountain. The next day, Rosecrans defeated a small Confederate force near the crest of the mountain at the Battle of Rich Mountain and then prepared to attack the Confederate rear on July 12.

With Rosecrans at his rear, the commander at Camp Garnett, Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram, ordered an evacuation during the night. Roughly one-half of the retreating Confederates made it to nearby Beverly, but pursuing Federals captured Pegram and the others on July 13.

Upon hearing of Pegram’s retreat, Garnett abandoned his position at Laurel Hill. As his troops retreated south, Union soldiers mortally wounded Garnett on July 13, while directing his rearguard Garnett’s death made him the first general officer to die in the Civil War. Following Garnett’s death, Confederate President Jefferson Davis transferred General Robert E. Lee to western Virginia to coordinate Confederate activities in the region.

Changes in Leadership

Following Garnett’s death, Confederate officials transferred General Robert E. Lee to western Virginia to coordinate Confederate forces in the region. Lee would later emerge as one of the South’s greatest generals, but even he could not salvage the Confederate situation in western Virginia.

On the Union side, President Abraham Lincoln summoned McClellan to the White House and offered him command of the Military Division of the Potomac. Following McClellan’s departure, Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans assumed control of McClellan’s forces operating in western Virginia. Union officials placed Brigadier General Joseph J. Reynolds in direct command of the federal force in Tygart Valley.

Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lane

In late July, Union Brigadier General Jacob Cox led his “Kanawha Brigade” of Ohio Volunteer Regiments into western Virginia and drove Confederate forces out of the Kanawha River Valley. Confederate Brigadier General John B. Floyd countered by crossing the Gauley River with 2,000 soldiers and routing Colonel Erastus Tyler’s 7th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes on August 26,  1861. Floyd then withdrew to the river and established a defensive position at Carnifex Ferry known as Camp Gauley.

Battle of Carnifex Ferry

In early September, Rosecrans assembled a Union force of roughly 7,000 soldiers and marched on Floyd’s soldiers at Camp Gauley. The leading elements of Rosecrans’ force came into contact with Floyd’s men near Carnifex Ferry after noon on September 10. Before Rosecrans could concentrate his troops for engagement, a battle erupted. Rosecrans spent the day sending in his brigades one at a time as they arrived at the battlefield, allowing the outnumbered Confederates to repulse the piecemeal Union attacks. When the fighting ended that night, Floyd withdrew rather than face Rosecrans’ fully assembled force the next day. The following morning, Union troops occupied Camp Gauley without incident. The Union victory at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry left western Virginia under the control of Federal troops.

Battle of Cheat Mountain

After the Union victory at the Battle of Rich Mountain, McClellan divided his forces and sent roughly 10,000 men east into Pocahontas County, and established a fort on the eastern face of Cheat Mountain. In early September, Lee left Sewell Mountain and joined Brigadier General William W. Loring’s 11,000-man Army of the Northwest at Valley Mountain in Pocahontas County. The two Confederate generals planned an offensive against the Federal forces at Cheat Mountain. The plan called for three Confederate brigades to attack Cheat Summit Fort on September 12. Bad weather and rugged terrain created poor communication between the three brigades, resulting in an uncoordinated and ineffective assault. The Confederate force probed the Federals for three days during the Battle of Cheat Mountain before giving up and withdrawing to Valley Mountain.

Battle of Greenbrier River

On the night of October 2, Brigadier General Joseph Reynolds led two Union brigades from Cheat Mountain toward a Confederate encampment near the Greenbrier River. The Confederates dashed Reynolds’ attempt to surprise them the next morning when their pickets detected his force before they reached the main encampment. The Federals drove the Confederate pickets back in the morning, but after sporadic fighting throughout the rest of the day proved futile, Reynolds withdrew to Cheat Mountain, ending the Battle of Greenbrier River.

December 13, 1861 — Camp Allegheny Battle

In December 1861, Colonel Edward Johnson’s Confederate forces occupied the summit of Allegheny Mountain near the town of Bartow in Pocahontas County, Virginia (now West Virginia). Johnson aimed to defend the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike, which connected the upper Shenandoah River valley with the Ohio River.

During the night of December 12, Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy’s Union force advanced in two columns toward Johnson’s outpost. Milroy intended to attack each flank of Johnson’s line simultaneously, but his left column marching up the turnpike encountered the Confederate right flank and attacked first. After several hours of close-quarter fighting, the Confederates drove the Federals back. Shortly after that, the Union right column arrived and attacked the Confederate left. Once again, the Confederates prevailed and Milroy retreated to his camps near Cheat Mountain.

General Robert H. Milroy, Civil War, USA
General Robert H. Milroy (USA). Image Source: Library of Congress.

Battle of Camp Allegheny Outcome

The Union suffered about 140 casualties (killed, wounded, missing/captured) during Milroy’s unsuccessful assault on Camp Allegheny. The Confederacy lost 162 men.

A few days before the battle, Confederate General William W. Loring ordered Johnson to abandon Camp Allegheny. Following Milroy’s assault, Loring reconsidered and ordered Johnson to hold the camp throughout the winter.

Johnson’s heroics during the engagement earned him the nickname “Allegheny Johnson.”

Battle of Camp Allegheny Significance

  • In December 1861, Colonel Edward Johnson’s Rebel forces occupied the summit of the Allegheny Mountain near the town of Bartow in Pocahontas County, Virginia (now West Virginia).
  • During the night of December 12, Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy’s Union force advanced in two columns toward Johnson’s outpost.
  • After several hours of close-quarter fighting, the Rebels drove the Yankees back. 
  • Colonel Edward Johnson’s heroics during the engagement earned him the nickname “Allegheny” Johnson.

Battle of Camp Allegheny Facts

Campaign

Military Forces Engaged

  • USA — Milroy’s brigade
  • CSA — Johnson’s brigade

Number of Soldiers Engaged

  • USA — Roughly 2,000
  • CSA — Roughly 1,200

Casualties

  • USA — 140 (killed, wounded, captured/missing)
  • CSA — 162 (killed, wounded, captured/missing)

Battle of Camp Allegheny Timeline

These are the main events and battles of the Western Virginia Campaign that took place around the Battle of Camp Allegheny.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Battle of Camp Allegheny, 1861
  • Date December 13, 1861
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Camp Allegheny, Battle of Allegheny Mountain, Battle of Allegheny Mountain, Western Virginia Campaign, Civil War, When was the Battle of Camp Allegheny, Who won the Battle of Camp Allegheny
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date February 27, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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