Durbin area rich with Civil War history
During late 1861 to spring 1862, residents of northern Pocahontas County found themselves in a 10-mile wide twilight zone when Union troops occupied Cheat Mountain and Confederates dug in on Allegheny Mountain.
After the outbreak of war, the U.S and C.S.A. fought for control of western Virginia. The Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike was the main road into central Virginia from the pro-Union, northwestern counties. After victories at Philippi, Rich Mountain and Corrick's Ford, Union forces sought to press ahead into central Virginia.
Confederates defended the turnpike with two defensive positions on Allegheny Mountain. Most rebels occupied Camp Bartow, at the base of the mountain, while another position, named Camp Baldwin (also known as Camp Allegheny), was built where the turnpike crossed the top of the mountain.
After victories in Tygart Valley, U.S. forces advanced to the summit of Cheat Mountain, where they built Fort Milroy, overlooking the turnpike.
Fort Milroy, at 4,000 feet, and Camp Allegheny, at 4,400 feet, were the highest camps for both sides during the war. Neither commander planned a long stay at their respective mountaintop camps. Both hoped to attack toward distant objectives.
U.S. General William S. Rosecrans hoped to press into lowland Virginia and seize Staunton, a critical supply depot for the Army of Northern Virginia.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee, having arrived in Pocahontas County in August 1861, intended to drive U.S. forces off of Cheat Mountain, out of the Tygart Valley and continue the attack to Grafton, aﾠ major railroad hub.
But a six-month stalemate ensued and both sides endured a miserable winter in their high elevation outposts.
During September 11-13, 1861, Lee launched a multi-prong offensive against Union positions at Fort Milroy and Elkwater and Huttonsville in Tygart Valley. The West Virginia offensive was Lee's first of the Civil War and a miserable failure.ﾠ
Two Confederate brigades, approximately 1,500 men each, moved to attack Fort Milroy. Colonel Albert Rust's brigade was responsible for the main attack. Rust was ordered to move onto high ground west of Fort Milroy and launch an assault from there.
Rust's attack gotﾠ bogged down - literally - in the difficult terrain of Cheat Mountain. Heavy rains had turned paths into quagmires and the Georgia and Virginia lowlanders had great difficulty moving through the dense spruce forest.
Part of Rust's brigade reached the turnpike west of Fort Milroy and captured empty Union supply wagons moving toward Huttonsville. About 300 U.S. troops were dispatched from Fort Milroy and made aggressive, probing attacks on the disorganized rebel unit. Rust incorrectly surmised he was greatly outnumbered and ordered his brigade to withdraw. The rebel soldiers fled from the mountain, in disarray, to Shavers Fork.
Many years after the war, lumberjacks discovered muskets, packs, and other equipment discarded by rebel troops retreating off the mountain.
The attacks on Elkwater and Huttonsville were equally unsuccessful. Nine U.S troops were killed and an estimated 100 rebels killed and wounded during the abortive attacks and three days of skirmishes that followed.
Confederate troops returned to Camp Bartow and Camp Baldwin. Two weeks later, U.S. forces attempted to force them from their strongholds on Allegheny Mountain.
On October 3, 1861, approximately 5,000 Union troops launched an attack on 1,800 Confederates firmly dug in at Camp Bartow.
A rebel outpost at the North Fork bridge delayed the Union advance by about an hour, and then withdrew to the fortifications.
Union artillery moved into range of Camp Bartow and cannons exchanged fire for about an hour. Three rebel artillery pieces were disabled by the superior U.S. firepower. A West Virginia artillery battery, commanded by Captain Philip Daum, was commended for gallantry in action during the battle.
Despite the U.S. artillery advantage, infantry attacks on the flanks of the heavily fortified position were unsuccessful and the Union force returned to Fort Milroy.
Eight Union troops were killed and 35 wounded in the engagement. The rebels suffered six killed and 33 wounded.
On November 22, 1861, the rebels abandoned Camp Bartow and consolidated their force at Camp Baldwin atop Allegheny Mountain.
A report from Confederate commander Colonel Edward Johnson, printed in the November 30, 1861, Richmond Daily Dispatch reads:
"Day before yesterday our forces at Camp Bartow withdrew eastward, part stopping here on top of the Alleghany mountains, and the rest taking up quarters in Crab Bottom and Monterey. It is snowing; the wind is blowing a hurricane; it is as cold as the North Pole; and of all the dreary and desolate places on earth, this is entitled to be the palm. Yet, the boys are in spirits, their loud halloo, jocund laughter, and occasionally the enlivening sound of the fiddle bravely throwing off Dixie to the echo of these hills, break on my ears above the flapping of tents and the whistling of the tempest."
Despite the inclement weather, Brigadier General Joseph Reynolds, commanding Union troops on Cheat Mountain, launched an attack on Camp Baldwin.
On December 13, 1861, two U.S. brigades followed separate routes to make a planned simultaneous attack on Camp Baldwin. One brigade of about 1,000 troops followed the turnpike from abandoned Camp Bartow. Another brigade, of roughly equal size, moved to Boyer and followed a side road up the mountain from the east.
Reynolds intended a surprise attack, but the rebels had guarded the side road and were not surprised. The U.S. brigades assaulted piecemeal and Colonel Johnson repelled them in turn. The Union attack force returned to Fort Milroy.
U.S. losses were 20 dead, 107 wounded and 10 missing. Confederate losses were 20 dead, 98 wounded and 28 missing.
Confederate troops were never forced from Camp Baldwin. Instead, they abandoned the position in April 1862, when operations shifted toward the Shenandoah Valley. Camp Milroy was abandoned the same month. Many of the units that fought in northern Pocahontas County would square off again at the Battle of MacDowell, in May 1862.
Visitors to northern Pocahontas County for Durbin Days or a ride on the Durbin Rocket should consider visiting the area's three interesting Civil War sites.
Seven miles west of Durbin on U.S. Route 250, at Cheat Summit, remnants of Fort Milroy can be seen. The mountaintop location is very beautiful and nature lovers will enjoy the scenery and cool mountain air. The Forest Service has erected signs describing different parts of the fort. A viewing platform gives a 360-degree view that a Union soldier may have scanned looking for rebels.
In Bartow, at the intersection of State Route 92 and U.S. 250, visitors can see earthworks from Camp Bartow and Traveller's Repose, an historic inn located adjacent to the fortification.
Civil War buffs can follow the original Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike from Traveller's Repose for eight miles to Camp Baldwin (Camp Allegheny). The dirt and gravel road is difficult in bad weather.
At Top of Allegheny, signs have been erected describing different areas of the camp and battlefield. A parking lot and picnic area are available at the south end of the site. There has been little human encroachment and the area looks much as it did during the Civil War.