The Battle of Kessler's Cross Lanes, 1861

August 26, 1861

The Battle of Kessler's Cross Lanes — also known as the Battle of Cross Lanes and the Battle of Knives and Forks — was fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America on August 26, 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 Erastus Tyler, Civil War

General John Floyd’s Rebel forces surprised and routed Colonel Erastus Tyler’s encampment at the Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes, on August 26, 1861, during the Western Virginia Campaign. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Battle of Corrick’s Ford Quick Facts

  • Also Known As — Battle of Cross Lanes, Battle of Knives and Forks
  • Date — August 26, 1861
  • Location — Nicholas County, Virginia (now West Virginia)
  • Opponents — United States of America (USA) and Confederate States of America (CSA)
  • USA Commanders — Erastus Tyler
  • CSA Commanders — John B. Floyd
  • Winner — Confederate States of America

Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes Summary

The Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes was fought on August 26, 1861. Union Brigadier General Jacob Cox had forced the Confederates out of the Kanawha River Valley in western Virginia, prompting Confederate Brigadier General John B. Floyd to establish an entrenched encampment near the Gauley River. On August 26, Floyd launched a surprise attack on Colonel Erastus Tyler’s encampment, resulting in a Confederate victory. The battle lasted only thirty to forty-five minutes, with Tyler’s forces suffering nearly 150 casualties, including two killed, while Floyd lost around forty men. Following the battle, Floyd withdrew to the river and established a defensive position known as Camp Gauley at Carnifex Ferry.

Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes 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 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 Confederates 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.

Battle of Corrick’s Ford

Upon learning of Pegram’s withdrawal, 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 Shavers Fork of the Cheat River. During the ensuing Battle of Corrick’s Ford, a member of the 7th Indiana mortally wounded Garnett, making him the first general officer to die in action during the Civil War.

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. Following McClellan’s departure, Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans assumed control of McClellan’s forces operating in western Virginia. Rosecrans placed Brigadier General Joseph J. Reynolds in direct command of the federal force in Tygart Valley.

August 26, 1861 — Kessler’s Cross Lanes Battle

In late July, Union Brigadier General Jacob Cox led his “Kanawha Brigade” of Ohio volunteer regiments, into western Virginia and forced the Confederates out of the Kanawha River Valley.

On August 21, Confederate Brigadier General John B. Floyd countered by crossing the Gauley River with roughly 2,000 soldiers and establishing an entrenched encampment.

Four days later, Colonel Erastus Tyler marched 850 soldiers of the 7th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry from Gauley Bridge to Kessler’s Cross Lanes, fewer than three miles from Floyd’s camp.

Floyd wasted no time in responding to the federal threat. Early the next morning, August 26, his soldiers launched a surprise attack against Tyler’s encampment. The Confederates routed the Federals in a short battle that lasted only thirty to forty-five minutes.

Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes Outcome

Tyler suffered nearly 150 casualties, including two men killed. Floyd lost about forty men, including several killed.

After the Confederate victory, Floyd withdrew to the river and established a defensive position, known as Camp Gauley, at Carnifex Ferry.

Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes Significance

Confederate forces held off the Union attack and were then able to take a defensive position at Carnifex Ferry.

Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes Facts

Campaign

Military Forces Engaged

  • USA — 7th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • CSA — Confederate forces in the Kanawha Valley

Number of Soldiers Engaged

  • USA — Roughly 850
  • CSA — Roughly 2,000

Estimated Casualties

  • USA — 141 (killed, wounded, and captured/missing)
  • CSA — 40 (killed, wounded, and captured/missing)

Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes Timeline

These are the main events and battles of the Western Virginia Campaign that took place around the Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title The Battle of Kessler's Cross Lanes, 1861
  • Date August 26, 1861
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Kessler's Cross Lanes, Battle of Cross Lanes, Battle of Knives and Forks, Western Virginia Campaign, Civil War, When was the Battle of Kessler's Cross Lanes, Who won the Battle of Kessler's Cross Lanes
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 16, 2024

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