The Battle of White Sulphur Springs

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This month marks the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, also known as the Battle of Dry Creek. As rival armies moved across the Greenbrier Valley and camped in close proximity of one another, it is not surprising that several battles and small skirmishes took places in Greenbrier County. The bloodiest battle was the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, which took place on August 26-27, 1863.

Union troops under General William W. Averill were marching from Covington, Virginia by way of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike with the purpose of capturing the law library in Lewisburg. Believing that Averill’s target was the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, members of the Confederate army under Colonel George Patton and Colonel George Edgar marched down Anthony’s Creek Road toward the junction of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike. Determined to head off the Union army, Patton’s army marched for nearly 24 hours. Col. Edgar ordered his men to tear down a split-rail fence and create a barricade. Even so, the bodies of dead and wounded soldiers quickly filled the road. At the end of the first day, the two armies rested barely 300 yards apart. Fighting renewed the next morning with Averill ordering a retreat to Beverly. The Union army suffered approximately 218 casualties while the Confederates lost approximately 167 men. Wounded soldiers were treated at the Old White Hotel at White Sulphur Springs.   

A historic Marker commemorating the battle now stands at the intersection of Route 92 and US Route 60 – yards from where the fighting took place.

The 25th Annual Battle of Dry Creek Re-Enactment will be held this Saturday and Sunday August 17th and 18th, 2013 in the Greenbrier State Forest. There will be a Saturday morning tactical at the park and a live artillery demonstrations at 1:30pm. On Sunday at 2pm, the Battle of Dry Creek will be held. There is no charge and the public is invited to come out and enjoy the day. For more information on this event, go to battleofdrycreek.org.

 

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Fort McCoy Project in Williamsburg Underway

 By Dr. Kim A. McBride

When is a barn much more than a barn – when it has a two story log house/fort inside, such as with McCoy’s Fort in Williamsburg.  According to McCoy Family tradition, the William McCoy house house/fort was built in 1769, making it one of the oldest standing structures in Greenbrier County.   It is the only standing log fort we know from the region, and as such, an incredible historic resource. Frontier forts were crucial to the continued occupation of West Virginia during Lord Dunmore’s War and the American Revolution. Without them many settlers would likely have abandoned the region for safer lands to the east.

McCoy’s Fort was briefly attacked following the Battle of Fort Donnally in May 1778, but local militia repulsed this attack. Sometime after the Indian Wars the McCoy family built a larger house nearby and the old log house/fort was transformed into an outbuilding and eventually enclosed in a frame barn. This barn helped the fort to survive for nearly a century and a half, but weakened by a tornado circa 2006 and the windstorm of June 2012, the outer barn is collapsing.

The Williamsburg District Historic Foundation, with support from the Daniel K. Thorne
Intervention Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Summers County Historic Landmarks Commission, the Greenbrier Historical Society, Preservation Alliance of WV, and the WV Humanities Council, is undertaking research and restoration of this important piece of history.  Efforts are underway to dismantle the outer barn and the inner log structure.  The latter will be restored, and reassembled on-site.  But first, as soon as the structures are removed, archaeological studies will be conducted to provide information on the early structure of the fort site.

On July 17, 18, 19, 22 and 23, 2013, scouts from the Reaching the Summit Community Service Initiative of the National Scout Jamboree will come to McCoy’s Fort to conduct archaeology, led by Drs. W. Stephen and Kim Arbogast McBride.  Support and volunteers are always needed, even with with future archaeology.  Anyone interested in helping please contact Dr. Kim Arbogast McBride at kim.mcbride@uky.edu, or (859) 233-4690. Those interested in helping with other aspects of the project can contact Carolyn Stephens at cbstephens23@aol.com.  Interested members can also follow the project via updates in Appalachian Spring, or digitally on the Greenbrier Historical Society’s Facebook page or Blog at greenbrierhistorical.wordpress.com.

Civil War in Greenbrier County: The Battle of Lewisburg

At 5 o’clock on the morning of May 23, 1862, the inhabitants of Lewisburg awoke to the firing of weapons and the yelling of Confederate troops, who confidently stood in battle formation along the eastern edge of town. The Confederates of the 22nd and 45th Virginia, as well as the untrained Finney’s Battalion, were under the order of General Henry Heth, a professional solider from the West Point Class of 1847. They were prepared to defend the town of Lewisburg against the raiding 3rd Provisional Ohio Brigade under the command of Colonel George Crook.

The Confederates, believing it an easy victory, informed some Lewisburg residents of their plan to attack the Union Brigade. Assuming a southern advantage in numbers and artillery, the townspeople of Lewisburg prepared a great feast in honor of the Confederates “soon to be” victory. General Heth’s Brigade had previously marched from Pearisburg, through Monroe County and seized the Greenbrier Bridge in Caldwell before advancing on Lewisburg.

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         General Henry Heth

General Heth planned to take the Union soldiers who were camped upon a hill in Lewisburg by surprise, but his plan was discovered by members of the 44th Ohio Division who quickly alerted Colonel Crook. The Union officer ordered his 44th and 36th Ohio men to advance toward the Confederate battle line. The confident Southerners opened fire on the advancing skirmishers and shouts of “Scatter!”and “Lie down!” were heard throughout the town. As the Union men began to fall back against the might of the Confederate soldiers, Colonel Crook divided his soldiers to attack the southerners at three different points.

General Heth split his forces to combat these advancing troops. Against the advice of his artillery men, Heth ordered that the cannons be moved into town. Lt. Col E.H. Harman, Heth’s advisor, suggested that the cannons remain on the high ground in order to overlook the town and reach the Union lines.

As the fighting began, the inexperienced Finney’s Battalion was the first to fall. The untrained militia came under heavy fire from Ohio’s 44th and sustained heavy losses. The collapse of Finney’s Battalion exposed the 45th and 22nd Virginia to a hailstorm of bullets from the Ohio troops. Private George Caldwell recalls “the balls flew like hail…you ought to have heard the balls whiz past us.” With no choice left, General Heth ordered for the remainder of his troops to retreat. The Confederates sped across the Greenbrier River, burning the covered bridge to prevent any Union troops from pursuing.

Colonel George Crook

Colonel George Crook

The Battle of Lewisburg lasted twenty-seven minutes, with the Confederate casualties greatly outnumbering their rivals. Eighty Confederate lay dead, one hundred were wounded, and an additional one hundred fifty-seven were taken prisoner. Colonel Crook recovered over three hundred small arms, twenty-five horses, and four artillery pieces, including an old 12-pounder cannon that was taken from the British at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. In comparison, the Union only suffered thirteen dead, fifty-three wounded, and had seven taken prisoner.

As the sound of gun shots faded and the smoke cleared, a local sniper shot and killed a Union soldier who was returning to camp. Colonel Crook was furious, threatening to burn the entire town and hang all of the snipers found. An investigation led the colonel to the home where the shot had been fired, but the Confederate supporter had long fled. The home was burned, but no person was executed for the crime.

Under order of Colonel Crook, the people of Lewisburg were not allowed to bury the Confederate dead. The soldiers were laid out in a trench at Old Stone Presbyterian Church and slowly a sense of peace and quiet returned to Lewisburg – but it never forgot the battle fought that early morning in May.

 

After the war, the remains of 95 Confederate soldiers were removed from the churchyard and respectfully buried in a cross-shaped mass grave in what is now known as the Confederate Cemetery in Lewisburg. The Union soldiers who died in the battle were buried on an unidentified hill north of town. After the war, they were reinterred and laid to rest in the National Cemetery in Staunton, Virginia. The Confederates, who were captured as prisoners during the Battle of Lewisburg, traveled to Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio and were later exchanged for Union prisoners in September 1862. Colonel Crook received much praise for his victory in Lewisburg and became a prominent general in a number of Civil War battles. Although General Heth was harshly criticized and blamed for what took place at Lewisburg, he remained highly regarded by Robert E. Lee. No other man would see more action in the Civil War than Henry Heth.

The Civil War in Greenbrier County: An Overview

Greenbrier County was not immune to the hardships of war. Over 2,000 Greenbrier County men fought for the Confederacy throughout the course of the war, the vast majority enlisting within the first two years. Located on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike, once a major stagecoach route, Greenbrier County saw an estimated 60,000 Union and Confederate troops move through the area— at times meeting in a number of engagements and often setting up encampments across the countryside.

CONFEDERATE SYMPATHIES
One of the largest and wealthiest counties in western Virginia, Greenbrier County had no desire to split from the commonwealth of Virginia and form a separate state. No Greenbrier County delegates attended the First or Second Wheeling Conventions, which began the movement toward West Virginia statehood, and Greenbrier, like other southern and eastern counties, became part of the newly formed state for strategic reasons. Despite new political boundaries, most of the citizens of Greenbrier County remained southern sympathizers, with 81% of eligible men enlisting with the Confederacy. Greenbrier County was even home to a number of Confederate Post Offices, operating at various times in Frankford, Lewisburg, and White Sulphur Springs.

LOCAL ENCAMPMENTS
With the Shenandoah Valley to the east, the Kanawha Valley salt mines to the west, and the railroads of southwestern Virginia close by, the Greenbrier Valley was a strategically important location for both armies. Throughout the war, troops spent anywhere from a few nights to a few months camped on the farms across the valley.

The Blue Sulphur Spring Resort

The Blue Sulphur Spring Resort

The Blue Sulphur Spring Resort, once located 12 miles outside of Alderson, closed in 1859 and was used as a campsite and hospital throughout much of the war. Most notably, a Confederate regiment from Georgia camped at the spring in the Winter of 1863. Not accustomed to the climate, approximately 100 of them became ill and died. They were buried high on a hill about 200 yards northwest of the Blue Sulphur Spring. In 1864, Union troops burned, either deliberately or by accident, all that remained of the former Blue Sulphur Spring Resort with one exception—the Greek-style springhouse.

SALT PETER CAVES
During the Civil War, one of the Greenbrier Valley’s greatest contributions was saltpeter which is used in the manufacture of gunpowder. Saltpeter, archaically spelled “salt petre,” is a nitrate mineral found naturally in local caves. In Greenbrier, Monroe, and Pocahontas counties, 28 caves have been discovered that contain definite evidence of saltpeter mining.  Saltpeter was obtained by filling wooden hoppers with the “peter-dirt” and leeching water through the dirt. The water would come out of the hopper and be collected to boil down with lye to convert the cave nitre into true saltpeter or potassium nitrate. Gunpowder was made by mixing 75% true saltpeter, 15% sulphur, and 10% charcoal.

A hopper from Crowder's Cave used in the production of Salt Peter

A hopper from Crowder’s Cave used in the production of Salt Peter

Saltpeter was particularly important to the Confederacy, who needed to use domestic resources to supply their army with gunpowder. The Greenbrier region, part of Confederate Nitre District Number 4, produced a large amount of saltpeter which was transported to Union, in Monroe County, then to Dublin, Virginia to be loaded on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, and finally to the large powder mill in Augusta, Georgia. Constant raids by the Union Army slowed the manufacturing of saltpeter in the area. Although some caves were mined under the supervision of the Confederate government, others were mined by private individuals— often those too young or old to enlist, or those wanting to make a profit on the high prices paid by the Confederate government. 

Civil War Display at North House

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Did you know that the Greenbrier Valley was a strategic military location during the Civil War? Or that Greenbrier County was a major supplier of Salt Peter which is used in the manufacture of gunpowder? In honor of the Sesquicentennial, the Greenbrier Historical Society created a display discussing the Civil War in Greenbrier County, featuring a sabre used at the Battle of Lewisburg, a chair from a civil war encampment, and personal items from local men who fought for the Confederate army.

We invite everyone to visit the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum, located at 301 W. Washington Street, Monday – Saturday from 10am to 4pm. For more information, contact 304.645.3398 or info@greenbrierhistorical.org.

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Item of the Week – June 28, 2013

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Item of the Week: Greenbrier County Land Warrant Entry Book
The archivists at the Greenbrier Historical Society are currently preserving the original Greenbrier County land warrant entry book.  Ranging from 1780 to 1839,  the book contains over 700 pages of land surveys. The goal is to make this resource available to researchers.

ITEM OF THE WEEK – June 21, 2013

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ITEM OF THE WEEK: 1869 portrait of Mattie Ould.
Mattie was chosen as Belle of the Old White Resort because of her outstanding beauty, charm and wit.  But her story has a tragic ending.  Mattie eloped with a penniless Richmond artist that her father did not approve of.  Her father disowned her and she died in childbirth shortly after.  She begged to see her father one last time, but he refused and she died without his forgiveness.  This hauntingly beautiful portrait is on display at the North House Museum