Kessler’s Cross Lanes Battlefield in Nicholas County, West Virginia

Photo by Michael Kleen

This small and obscure battle was a rare Confederate victory in what was then western Virginia during the American Civil War.

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The Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes was fought on August 26, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Col. Erastus B. Tyler and Confederate forces commanded by Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd in Nicholas County, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The inconsequential battle, in which all Union forces were routed from the field, was a rare Confederate victory in western Virginia.

In late summer 1861, after the disastrous defeats at the battles of Rich Mountain and Corrick’s Ford, Confederate forces in western Virginia attempted to reorganize and regain the initiative. One 2,100-man brigade in the Kanawha Valley, commanded by Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd, crossed the Gauley River at Carnifex Ferry and made camp.

A lone Union regiment, the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry commanded by Col. Erastus B. Tyler, numbering some 850 men, advanced to Kessler’s Cross Lanes, approximately three miles to the north. The 7th OH was part of Brig. Gen. Jacob D. Cox’s brigade, which had been ordered to secure local river crossings.

On the morning of August 26, 1861, Floyd attacked Tyler’s regiment as its men were eating breakfast, leading some to call it the “Battle of Knives and Forks”. Company K, stationed along the road to the south of Kessler’s Cross Lanes, was quickly driven back, but the Union troops attempted to make a stand and the hills west of the crossroads. The severely outnumbered and outflanked Federals fought for 30 to 45 minutes before running for their lives. The victorious Confederates withdrew and fortified their camp at Carnifex Ferry.

When the smoke cleared, 15 Union troops lay dead, 20 were wounded, and 38 taken prisoner. Confederate casualties amounted to 40 killed or wounded. Maj. Jack Casement retreated with several hundred men through hostile territory to Charleston, while Floyd dug in at Carnifex Ferry on the Gauley River to await reinforcements. Confederates received reinforcements as well, in the form of Gen. Robert E. Lee, who waged an unsuccessful campaign to retain western Virginia.

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.

Its roads are paved now, but Kessler’s Cross Lanes hasn’t changed much in over 158 years since the battle. The original Zoar Baptist Church Cemetery still sits on the hill overlooking the old battlefield. West Virginia Archives and History erected a metal sign along Summersville Lake Road in 2010, and a Civil War Trail marker and American flag have also been added, though they are about a half mile from the actual battlefield.

The Battle of Cross Lanes and Keslers Cross Lanes historic markers are located along Summersville Lake Road, at GPS coordinates 38.233383, -80.934615. A West Virginia Civil War Trails interpretive sign is located south of the Stop-n-Go gas station at 5546 Summersville Lake Road, just north of Meadow Creek.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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