Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park in Summersville, West Virginia

Photo by Michael Kleen

This Civil War battle was crucial to ending Confederate influence in western Virginia and securing its independence as a new state.

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The Battle of Carnifex Ferry was fought on September 10, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. William Rosecrans and Confederate forces commanded by Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd in Nicholas County, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was a Union victory and resulted in approximately 188 total casualties.

After defeating an isolated Union regiment at the Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes on August 26, 1861, Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd and his 2,000-man brigade withdrew a few miles south and fortified their camp at Carnifex Ferry. Meanwhile, Union Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, camped at Clarksburg, Virginia (today, West Virginia) sought to end this Confederate threat in the Kanawha Valley.

Nearly two weeks after the defeat at Kessler’s Cross Lanes, Rosecrans marched three brigades, totaling approximately 5,000 men, to Carnifex Ferry. Despite being at a numerical disadvantage, Floyd, a former Governor of Virginia and former U.S. Secretary of War, repulsed numerous attempts to storm the defensive works for over four hours. At around 7pm, Rosecrans called off the assault, but his cannon still menaced the defenders. Floyd decided he couldn’t hold the ferry without reinforcements, so he withdrew the next morning.

Confederate forces retreated during the night, leaving behind over 30 dead and wounded. Rosecrans suffered losses of 17 killed and 141 wounded. Despite abandoning his position, Floyd considered his stubborn defense a victory and blamed the withdrawal on Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise’s failure to bring up support. The rivalry between Floyd and Wise ultimately contributed to Confederate defeat in western Virginia in 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.

One of the few publicly-preserved battlefields in West Virginia, the 156-acre Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park opened in 1935, also making it one of the oldest state parks in the country. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The park features walking trails, interpretive signs, Patterson House Museum, and hosts an annual battle reenactment. The Patterson Trail forms a 2-mile loop around the park, where you can also visit a small cemetery where Confederates buried their dead.

Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park, at 1194 Carnifex Ferry Crossing in Summersville, West Virginia, is open dawn to dusk. The Patterson House and Museum in open seasonally Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 10am to 5pm. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield Museum and Gift Shop is closed from Labor Day to Memorial Day Weekend. Call (304) 872-0825 or email carnifexferrysp@wv.gov for more information.

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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