Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park
Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park, located just out of Summersville, is a significant historical site. A Civil War battle was fought in this area that resulted in Union control of northwest Virginia for virtually the remainder of the war. Control of the transportation routes made it difficult to supply Confederate units and ensured the safety of West Virginia statehood leaders meeting in Wheeling.
During the first weeks of the war, the Confederate government of Virginia recruited troops in western Virginia, assigning Colonel George A. Porterfield to Grafton, which was connected to most of northwest Virginia by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. As Union troops under General George B. McClellan advanced, Porterfield drew his forces back to Philippi. As McClellan neared the region, he sent Colonel Benjamin F. Kelley and the First Virginia Provisional Regiment (later the First West Virginia Infantry) as an advance guard. On the morning of June 3, 1861, Kelley’s troops attacked Porterfield’s forces at Philippi, resulting in a Confederate retreat. This is considered by many to be the first land battle of the Civil War.
To prevent Union troops from advancing further up the Tygart Valley, reinforcements led by General Robert S. Garnett joined the retreating Confederates and established strongholds at Laurel Hill in Tucker County and Rich Mountain in Randolph County. On July 11, Union General William S. Rosecrans won a decisive battle at Rich Mountain and days later, the Confederates were pushed from Laurel Hill. On July 14, the retreating Confederates were routed at their position at Corrick’s Ford and Garnett was killed.
While the Confederates were easily defeated in the northern part of present-day West Virginia, they mustered a better effort in the Kanawha Valley. Former Virginia governor Henry S. Wise, now a general, had established his forces at the mouth of Scary Creek in Putnam County. On July 16, Wise pushed back an attack by forces under General Jacob D. Cox. After the arrival of reinforcements, Cox’s men drove Wise up the valley to Gauley Bridge and eventually into Greenbrier County. The North suffered a setback in August as General Rosecrans’ advance forces were defeated at Kessler’s Cross Lanes in Nicholas County while marching toward Gauley Bridge. Another former Virginia governor, General John Floyd, established his troops on a bluff at the Henry Patterson farm which overlooked nearby Carnifex Ferry.
Union troops attacked Floyd on September 10. Although the Unions casualties totaled 158 compared to 20 Confederate, the larger number of northern forces drove both Floyd and Wise back into Greenbrier County. A significant factor leading to the southern defeat was a long-standing political rivalry between Wise and Floyd.
The battle of Carnifex Ferry placed the important Kanawha Valley in Union hands for the early part of the war. In only a few short months, the North had gained control of northwestern Virginia and the Kanawha Valley.
This battle is reenacted every year at Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park. Our cabins are located adjacent to the park and are the most convenient lodging to the park and all of its amenities, Summersville Lake, and the Gauley River.