The Civil War in America, Engagement between the 71st New York and an Alabama Regiment at the Battle of Bull Run. Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 31 August 1861.

Mystery Skirmish Near Ravenswood?

Just when I thought I’d found every early Civil War skirmish in Virginia and West Virginia, I came across several references to an engagement near what is today Ravenswood, West Virginia along the Ohio River in Jackson County. Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan mentions it in his July 5, 1861 report to Assistant Adjutant-General E. D. Townsend:

“Six companies occupy Wirt County Court-House, where Union men have suffered much. Four companies at Ravenswood repulsed O. J. Wise night before last. I hope that he [is] determined to renew the attempt, as in that case he will have been cut off by a column of twelve hundred men under Colonel Norton, that were to reach Ripley from Letart’s at 2 p. m. yesterday. I shall not be surprised to learn before this letter is close that he is captured.”

McClellan follows up in a July 6th telegram:

“A well-concerted movement to catch O. J. Wise, with his eight hundred men, at Ripley, on the 4th, failed in consequence of the rapidity with which the rebels fled at the first notice of the approach of danger.”

Ripley is 12 miles south of Ravenswood. McClellan mentions O.J. Wise again on July 10th:

“The companies at Glenville are safe, and favorable chance of cutting off O. J. Wise.”

As far as I can determine, McClellan is referring to Capt. Obadiah Jennings Wise (1831-1862), commander of an infantry company called the Richmond Light Infantry Blues, which joined the 46th Virginia Infantry Regiment (also called 1st or 2nd Regiment, Wise Legion) in August 1861. It became part of former Virginia governor Henry A. Wise’s brigade.

Both O. Jennings Wise and Henry A. Wise (his father) were operating in western Virginia in June and early July 1861. On July 15th, McClellan even refers to them in the plural, writing:

“I am in constant expectation of hearing from General Cox that his efforts to drive the Wises out of the Kanawha Valley and occupy the Gauley Bridge have been crowned with success.”

Unfortunately, there is no engagement or skirmish around Ravenswood in the first week of July 1861 listed in the usual sources. No other report appears in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (to my knowledge).

The Jackson County Clerk’s Civil War history website incorrectly mentions “On July 11th, the 1st Kentucky marched through Ravenswood and Ripley to a confrontation at the Mud River Bridge in Huntington, which left six dead and at least 18 wounded from both sides.” If you look at a map, you can see right away that line of march makes no sense. The 1st Kentucky was, in reality, nowhere near Huntington on July 11th.

In 1977, local historian Corinne Staats Fisher wrote about troop movements through Jackson County in early July:

“On July 5, 1861, General Henry A. Wise left Ripley and started his return trip to Charleston. He and his men marched as far as Sissonville, where they spent the night and completed their journey on the 5th. The Richmond Blues and the Kanawha Riflemen returned to Charleston on the 9th.”

So Fisher confirms the Richmond Light Blues were in the area at that time.

“The 1st Kentucky marched from Ravenswood to strike at Wise’s base at Kanawha Two-Mile. They went by way of Ripley and Sissonville as General Wise had done a few days before. The outcome of the confrontation between the Union and the Confederate soldiers was of great concern to everyone in the area.”

This makes more sense, since Ravenswood, Ripley, and Sissonville are all on a straight path toward the town of Charleston, where Henry Wise had his main supply base. She continues:

“The 2nd Kentucky Infantry entered West Virginia at the mouth of the Guyandotte River at present Huntington. First action between the Union and Confederate troops took place at a bridge across Mud River. The Union men went at the Confederates with a bayonet charge. The former were better equipped and the Confederates withdrew after a brief skirmish. A total for both sides was six men killed and eighteen or more wounded.”

This paragraph clarifies what the Jackson County Clerk’s website was referring to (same casualty figures and reference to a bridge over the Mud River). Fisher and the Jackson County Clerk’s website are referring to the same engagement: at Barboursville on July 13th. Whoever wrote that Civil War history for the Jackson County Clerk was incorrect about the unit involved (2nd Kentucky, not 1st) and the location (Barboursville, not Huntington). Both were incorrect about the casualties (most recent estimate is 4 killed, 13 wounded).

Barboursville and Huntington are also about 65 miles southwest of Ravenswood and not in Jackson County. So this does nothing to help solve our mystery. It does illustrate the difficulty of researching these early Civil War skirmishes in what became West Virginia.

I’m still looking for information about the skirmish McClellan mentioned involving the Richmond Light Infantry Blues around Ravenswood around July 3, 1861. If anyone can clarify this, it would be greatly appreciated!

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