The Battle of Carnifex Ferry, 1861

September 10, 1861

The Battle of Carnifex Ferry was fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America on September 10, 1861, during the Civil War. The outcome of the battle was a Union victory. The battle is most well-known for being part of the Western Virginia Campaign.

William Rosecrans, Portrait, Civil War General

Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans’ victory at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry in 1861 contributed to the eventual Confederate withdrawal from western Virginia. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Battle of Carnifex Ferry Quick Facts

  • Date — September 10, 1861
  • Location — Nicholas County, Virginia (now West Virginia)
  • Opponents — United States of America (USA) and Confederate States of America (CSA)
  • USA Commanders — William S. Rosecrans
  • CSA Commanders — John B. Floyd
  • Winner — United States of America

Battle of Carnifex Ferry Summary

The Battle of Carnifex Ferry was fought on September 10, 1861, between Union General William S. Rosecrans and Confederate General John B. Floyd. Rosecrans led approximately 7,000 Union soldiers in an attempt to engage Floyd’s troops at Camp Gauley. However, the battle started before Rosecrans was fully prepared. Throughout the day, Rosecrans sent his brigades one by one into battle, allowing the outnumbered Confederates to repel the Union attacks. By the end of the day, Floyd chose to retreat rather than face Rosecrans’ fully assembled force the next day. The following morning, Union troops peacefully occupied Camp Gauley. The Union victory helped Union sympathizers gain control over the region, helping pave the way for the formation of the State of West Virginia.

Battle of Carnifex Ferry History and Overview

As the possibility of civil war in the United States evolved during the early months of 1861, Virginia was a divided state. Led by residents of the eastern part of the state, Virginia voted to secede from the Union rather than comply with the request of President Abraham Lincoln for each state to provide volunteer soldiers to put down the insurrection that began at Fort Sumter in April. Having little in common with their neighbors to the east, residents of the mountainous area of western Virginia started their own movement to secede from Virginia and remain in the Union.

Struggle for Control of Western Virginia

During the summer of 1861, Union and Confederate forces struggled for control of western Virginia. The area was of considerable importance 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 responded 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 new State of West Virginia in October 1861, although the federal government did not recognize West Virginia as a formal 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 the night of July 10, Brigadier General William Rosecrans led 2,000 men on a march through the mountains, flanking a Confederate stronghold at Rich Mountain. His surprise attack on the Confederate rear the next day sent the Confederates into disarray. Rosecrans’ triumph forced 3,500 Confederate troops under the command of General Robert S. Garnett to abandon their camp at Laurel Hill, tossing away supplies to lighten their loads and block the path of their pursuers as they fled south toward Beverly.

Union Victory at Corrick’s Ford

For the next two days, the Confederates and Yankees took part in a running battle. On the morning of July 13th, the Confederates made a stand at Corrick’s Ford, a river crossing on the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River. During the Union victory at the Battle of Corrick’s Ford Union soldiers mortally wounded Garnett as his troops fled in disarray.

General Robert S Garnett, Civil War
General Robert S. Garnett. Image Source: Wikipedia.

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 Lincoln summoned McClellan to the White House and offered him command of the Military Division of the Potomac. McClellan’s departure left Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans in command of most of the Union forces operating in western Virginia.

Confederate Victory at Kessler’s Cross Lanes

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

September 10, 1861 — Carnifex Ferry Battle

In early September, Rosecrans assembled a Union force of approximately 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 rest of 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.

General Henry Benham, USA, Civil War
Henry W. Benham. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Battle of Carnifex Ferry Outcome

Rosecrans sustained a much higher casualty rate than Floyd (158 to 20) at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, but the Confederate retreat further weakened the Confederacy’s influence in western Virginia. By late October, Northern forces and Union sympathizers had a firm grip on the region. On October 24, 1861, residents of thirty-nine counties in western Virginia approved the formation of the new state of West Virginia.

Battle of Carnifex Ferry, Confederate Withdrawal, Illustration
This illustration depicts Confederate troops evacuating after the battle. Image Source: Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 1, 1887, Archive.org.

Battle of Carnifex Ferry Significance

  • The Union victory at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry contributed to the eventual Confederate withdrawal from western Virginia.
  • The Union victory at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry contributed to the eventual creation of the separate state of West Virginia.

Battle of Carnifex Ferry Facts

Campaign

Military Forces Engaged

  • USA — Army of West Virginia
  • CSA — Floyd’s Brigade

Number of Soldiers Engaged

  • USA — Roughly 5,000
  • CSA — Roughly 2,000

Estimated Casualties

  • USA — 160 (killed (17), wounded, captured/missing)
  • CSA — 30 (killed, wounded, captured/missing)

Battle of Carnifex Ferry Timeline

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

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The Battle of Carnifex Ferry, 1861
  • Date September 10, 1861
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Carnifex Ferry, Western Virginia Campaign, Civil War, When was the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, Who won the Battle of Carnifex Ferry
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 16, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 16, 2024

Taxonomies