The Battle of Lewisburg took place in Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia) on May 23, 1862.
Prelude to the Battle
Virginia — A Divided State
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 agree to President Lincoln’s call 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 to 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 Union countered by sending 20,000 troops into the area under the command of Major General George McClellan. Federal victories at the Battle of Philippi (June 3), Battle of Rich Mountain (July 11), Battle of Carnifex Ferry (September 10), and the Battle of Cheat Mountain (September 12–15) left the Union in control of most of the area by the end of the year.
Frémont in Command
In March 1862, President Lincoln placed Major General John C. Frémont in command of the Mountain Department of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. When campaigning resumed in the spring, Frémont planned to cross the Allegheny Mountains and invade central Virginia and Tennessee. By mid-May, the 1,400 soldiers of Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox’s 3rd Provisional Ohio Brigade, commanded by Colonel George Crook, were encamped on the outskirts of the village of Lewisburg in Greenbrier County.
May 23, 1862 — Clash at Lewisburg
Early in the morning of May 23, 2,300 Confederate soldiers commanded by Brigadier General Henry Heth crossed the Greenbrier River, intent on driving Crook’s force away from Lewisburg. At 5 a.m. the sounds of Heth’s artillery bombarding Crook’s camp awakened the 800 residents of Lewisburg. The Union troops quickly formed battle lines and met the ensuing Confederate advance.
Federals Force Rebels to Retreat
In the one-half-hour battle that followed, the Rebel left collapsed, and Heth’s soldiers retreated across the Greenbrier River, burning the bridge behind them.
Aftermath of the Battle
Despite the Federal victory, the area remained an enclave for Southern sympathizers for most of the Civil War. The Confederacy suffered 337 casualties (80 killed and 100 wounded, and 157 taken prisoner) at the Battle of Lewisburg. The Union lost 337 soldiers 73 soldiers (13 killed and 53 wounded, and 7 missing).