Explore scenic views and the scene of an early Confederate defeat at this rustic mountaintop battlefield.
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The Battle of Rich Mountain was fought on July 11, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. William Rosecrans and Confederate forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett in Randolph County, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was a Union victory, routing Confederate forces in western Virginia and resulting in approximately 340 total casualties, mostly Confederate.
Soon after Virginia seceded from the Unites States in May 1861 and joined the Confederacy, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, as commander of the Department of the Ohio, invaded western Virginia under the pretext of protecting unionists there. These western counties would later vote to secede from Virginia and form the state of West Virginia.
Following an ignominious Confederate defeat at the Battle of Philippi in early June, Confederate Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett fortified two key mountain passes: one through Laurel Mountain leading to Leadsville and the other through Rich Mountain to Beverly. The smaller force, consisting of 1,300 men and four cannon at Camp Garnett in Rich Mountain, was commanded by Lt. Col. John Pegram.
McClellan brought 5,000 men and eight cannon within two miles of Camp Garnett, where he permitted Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans and approximately 2,000 men to conduct a flanking attack, guided by a 22-year-old local unionist named David Hart. On the afternoon of July 11th, Rosecrans’ men surprised, assailed, and eventually overwhelmed the Confederate rearguard on Hart’s family farm.
Pegram realized he was nearly surrounded, so he ordered a quick retreat under cover of darkness. Pegram and Garnett were separated, and Pegram and his men surrendered. Three hundred Confederates were killed or wounded at Rich Mountain. In contrast, Union forces sustained 46 casualties at Rich Mountain and up to 53 at Corrick’s Ford. McClellan was widely praised for his victory and was given command of the Military Division of the Potomac on July 26, 1861.
Fought between Northern and Southern states from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War erupted over questions of slavery, the legality of secession, and the primacy of the Federal government. It ended with Northern victory and restoration of the Union. Nearly 850,000 people died in the conflict, the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Most of the war’s battles were fought in the South, devastating its economy and leaving generational scars.
Efforts to preserve the Rich Mountain battlefield for posterity have remained mostly in private hands. The West Virginia Department of Culture and History erected a metal sign in 1976, and in 1981, a private organization placed a stone marker at the site of the Hart house.
The site of Camp Garnett and the Rich Mountain battlefield are currently owned and protected by the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation, which together with the Civil War Trust has preserved 57 acres. There is additional signage with more detailed information about the battle, but it has been vandalized in recent years.
Rich Mountain battlefield is located off Rich Mountain Road at GPS Coordinates 38.866233, -79.934490. A gravel pull-off is available for parking. The Beverly Heritage Center is at 4 Court Street in Beverly, West Virginia, and is open Sunday through Thursday 11am to 5pm and Friday and Saturday 10am to 6pm.