Prelude to the Battle of Corrick’s Ford
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 Rebels 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.
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 July 11, 1861, approximately 2,000 of McClellan’s soldiers, commanded by Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans, used a remote mountain pass to flank Pegram’s fortifications at Rich Mountain. Upon learning of Rosecrans’ approach, Pegram dispatched a force to stop the Yankees. During the heated afternoon engagement that followed, the outnumbered Rebels held off the Bluecoats for two hours before being subdued at the Battle of Rich Mountain. With Rosecrans at his back, Pegram evacuated his defenses that night.
July 13, 1861 — Clash at Corrick’s Creek
Upon learning of Pegram’s withdrawal, Robert S. Garnett abandoned Laurel Hill, marching his men across Cheat Mountain and into the Cheat River Valley. McClellan sent Morris’ Indiana Brigade in pursuit. Rugged mountain terrain, heavy rains, and muddy roads that bogged down his wagon trains slowed Garnett’s retreat. On July 13, around noon, Morris caught up with Garnett’s rear guard near Corrick’s Ford over Shaver’s Fork of the Cheat River.
In a desperate attempt to enable the bulk of his command to escape, Garnett ordered the 23rd Virginia to buy some time by making a stand at the ford. Garnett directed the main evacuation and then returned to oversee the removal of his rearguard. As he turned on his horse to order a retreat, a member of the 7th Indiana mortally wounded him with a gunshot in the back, making him the first general officer to die in action during the Civil War.
Aftermath of the Battle of Corrick’s Ford
After Garnett’s death, the Rebels continued their retreat, and McClellan called off the pursuit. The remainder of Garnett’s force escaped to Monterey, Virginia two days later.
Casualties at the Battle of Corrick’s Ford were relatively minor by later Civil War standards. The Union suffered about thirteen soldiers killed and forty wounded. The Confederacy lost twenty soldiers killed, ten wounded, and fifty captured.
The Union victory at Corrick’s Ford helped to secure federal control of western Virginia and contributed to the establishment of the State of West Virginia. In the wake of a few more Union victories in the region that autumn, residents of thirty-nine counties in western Virginia approved the formation of the new state on October 24. On June 20, 1863, officials in Washington completed the formalities and admitted West Virginia to the Union.