July 13, 1861
Fought on July 13, 1861, in Tucker County, Virginia (now West Virginia), the Battle of Corrick's Ford was instrumental in securing Federal control of western Virginia and in contributing to the establishment of the State of West Virginia.
As the possibility of civil war in the United States evolved during the early months of 1861, Virginia was a divided state. Led by residents of the eastern part of the state, Virginia voted to secede from the Union rather than accede to President Lincoln’s call for each state to provide volunteer soldiers to put down the insurrection that began at Fort Sumter in April. Having little in common with their neighbors to the east, residents of the mountainous area of western Virginia initiated their own movement to secede from Virginia and to remain in the Union.
For much of 1861, Union and Confederate forces struggled for control of western Virginia. The area was of considerable importance because gaps in the Appalachia Mountains connected the East to the Midwest. In early May, General Robert E. Lee, in Richmond, ordered Colonel George A. Porterfield to Grafton to organize an army of volunteers and to seize control of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as well as turnpikes through the mountains. On May 24, Porterfield occupied the town of Grafton, located on the B&O Railroad in northwestern Virginia, with fewer than five hundred men.
Federal officials countered by sending twenty thousand troops into the area under the command of Major General George B. McClellan. By May 28, McClellan had ordered a total of approximately three thousand troops into western Virginia and placed them under the overall command of Brigadier-General Thomas A. Morris. On June 3, 1861, Morris' force routed Porterfield's command during a pre-dawn attack against the Confederate encampment at Philippi.
On June 15, the Confederate government placed Brigadier-General Robert Selden Garnett in charge of the forces opposing McClellan in western Virginia. Garnett inherited a difficult situation. With just 4,600 soldiers, he was expected to stem a Federal onslaught that was gradually pushing the Rebels south and east. Garnett deployed his troops at two key passes through the mountains. He sent Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram, in charge of roughly 1,300 men, to guard the pass at Rich Mountain, just west of Beverly. Garnett took personal command of the remainder of his force, which was guarding the pass at Laurel Hill north of Beverly.
On July 11, 1861, approximately two thousand of McClellan's soldiers, commanded by Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans, used a remote mountain pass to flank Pegram's fortifications at Rich Mountain. Upon learning of Rosecrans' approach, Pegram dispatched a force to stop the Yankees. During the heated afternoon engagement that followed, the outnumbered Rebels held off the Bluecoats for two hours before being subdued at the Battle of Rich Mountain. With Rosecrans at his back, Pegram was forced to evacuate from his defenses that night.
Upon learning of Pegram’s withdrawal, Garnett abandoned Laurel Hill, marching his men across Cheat Mountain and into the Cheat River Valley. McClellan sent Morris' Indiana Brigade in pursuit. Garnett's retreat was slowed by rugged mountain terrain, heavy rains, and muddy roads that bogged down his wagon trains. On July 13, around noon, Morris caught up with Garnett's rear guard near Corrick's Ford over Shavers Fork of the Cheat River.
In a desperate attempt to enable the bulk of his command to escape, Garnett ordered the 23rd Virginia to buy some time by making a stand at the ford. Garnett directed the main evacuation and then returned to oversee the evacuation of his rearguard. As he turned on his horse to order a retreat, a member of the 7th Indiana mortally wounded him with a gunshot in the back, making him the first general officer to be killed in action during the Civil War.
After Garnett's death, the Rebels continued their retreat, and McClellan called off the pursuit. The remnants of Garnett's force escaped to Monterey, Virginia two days later. Casualties at the Battle of Corrick's Ford were relatively minor by later Civil War standards. The Union suffered an estimated thirteen soldiers killed and forty wounded. The Confederacy lost twenty soldiers killed, ten wounded, and fifty captured.
Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Corrick’s Ford included:
6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Despite being relatively small engagements, the Union victories at Rich Mountain and Corrick's Ford were instrumental in securing Federal control of western Virginia and in contributing to the establishment of the State of West Virginia. In the wake of a few more Union victories in the region that autumn, residents of thirty-nine counties in western Virginia approved the formation of the new state on October 24, 1861. On June 20, 1863, officials in Washington, D.C., completed the formalities and admitted West Virginia to the Union.