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Battle of Lewisburg

May 23, 1862

The Battle of Lewisburg took place in Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia) on May 23, 1862.

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, Virginians voted to secede from the Union rather than to 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.

During the summer of 1861, Union and Confederate forces struggled for control of western Virginia. The area was of considerable importance because gaps in the Appalachian Mountains connected the East to the Midwest. The Virginia Militia acted quickly, disrupting traffic on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and taking control of turnpikes through the mountains. The Union countered by sending 20,000 troops into the area under the command of Major General George McClellan. Federal victories at the Battles of Philippi (June 3), Rich Mountain (July 11), Carnifex Ferry (September 10) and Cheat Mountain (September 12-15) left the Union in control of most of the area by the end of the year.

In March 1862, President Lincoln placed Major General John C. Frémont in command of the Mountain Department of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. When campaigning resumed in the spring, Frémont’s command was positioned to breach the Allegheny Mountains and to invade central Virginia, as well as Tennessee. By mid-May, the 1,400 soldiers of Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox’s 3rd Provisional Ohio Brigade, commanded by Colonel George Crook, were encamped on the outskirts of the village of Lewisburg in Greenbrier County.

Early in the morning of May 23, 2,300 Confederate soldiers commanded by Brigadier General Henry Heth crossed the Greenbrier River, intent on driving Crook’s force away from Lewisburg. At 5 a.m. the sounds of Heth’s artillery bombarding Crook’s camp awakened the 800 residents of Lewisburg. The Union troops quickly formed battle lines and met the ensuing Confederate advance. In the one-half-hour battle that followed, the Rebel left collapsed, and Heth’s soldiers were forced to retreat across the Greenbrier River, burning the bridge behind them.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Lewisburg included:

Infantry units:

36th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

44th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

The Battle of Lewisburg cost the Confederacy 337 soldiers (eighty killed, one hundred wounded, and 157 taken prisoner). The Union lost seventy-three men (thirteen killed, fifty-three wounded, and seven missing). Despite the Federal victory, the Lewisburg area remained an enclave for Southern sympathizers for most of the Civil War.

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