Camp on a Civil War battlefield and explore historic Bulltown in the Allegheny wilderness along the Little Kanawha River.
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The Battle of Bulltown was fought on October 13, 1863 between Union forces commanded by Capt. William Mattingly and Confederate forces commanded by Col. William L. Jackson in Bulltown, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was a Union victory, with Confederates failing to take take their objective and cut Federal communications. It resulted in a dozen or so total casualties.
In April 1863, a small Confederate force under Brig. Gens. William E. Jones and John D. Imboden embarked on what’s become known as the “Jones–Imboden Raid” into western Virginia, a few months before West Virginia formally separated and joined the Union. They burned railroad bridges, captured supplies, and temporarily reversed Confederate military fortunes in the area. Col. Jackson had served under Brig. Gen. Imboden during the raid.
That fall, Jackson and a force of 775 men and two artillery pieces sought to capture the small Federal garrison at Bulltown in Braxton County. Capt. Mattingly had between 125 and 400 infantry with which to defend his “fort”. On October 13, Jackson divided his force and attacked piecemeal. At 8am, Jackson called on Mattingly to surrender, and he replied: “Come and take us.” Though Mattingly was wounded in the thigh, miraculously his was one of the few injuries sustained by his command all day.
The Confederates weren’t as fortunate. The surrounded Union garrison refused to surrender, and by nightfall, Jackson decided to call off his attack and withdraw. Mattingly had said, “I will fight until Hell freezes over and then fight on the ice,” and his tenacity prevailed.
Though suffering eight killed and eight wounded, Jackson failed to achieve his objective, and he retreated to join other Confederate forces in southwestern Virginia. Union forces suffered a few minor wounds in the over 12-hour-long skirmish. It was the last Confederate offensive in West 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.
Though Bulltown no longer exists, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved several log cabins and outbuildings to the site of the historic Cunningham House when the Burnsville Dam was built in 1938. Thankfully, the battlefield survives as part of the Bulltown Historic Area, and its Union fortifications were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Visitors can stay at the adjacent campground and browse a small museum and the historic structures.
A West Virginia Civil War Trail marker and the Bulltown Historic Area is located south of Burnsville Lake at Bulltown Campground, 1 Burnsville Lake Road. A West Virginia Division of Archives and History sign formerly located along the Gauley Turnpike was recently moved to the historic area, and its text was updated to reflect its current location.