In late June 1861, the 20th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment (3 Months) led by Col. Thomas Morton was headquartered at Fairmont, Virginia along the Tygart River and Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Marion County. Its mission was to protect that strategically important railway connecting Washington, DC with the Midwestern states.
Company I of the 20th Ohio was stationed in the town of Mannington, approximately 13 miles west of Fairmont along the B&O Railroad. Its commanding officer, Capt. David F. Cable, had received several reports from “persons of the highest respectability” that a group of rebels were camped at Coon’s Creek (or Coon Run) and assembled for drill at the residence of a man named Peter Baker Righter, a well-known secessionist, near the Marion/Harrison County line.
Peter B. Righter and John Righter lived on either side of Coon Run in what is today the community of Francis, two miles east of West Fork River and the town of Enterprise in Marion County. Peter B. Righter was a wealthy farmer, and his son John would become a Confederate captain commanding Company No. 4 of the Virginia State Rangers in 1862 (he later commanded Company D, 19th Virginia Cavalry in 1863). But in that early summer of 1861, his troop was an ill-trained local militia.
On June 20th, Capt. Cable took a detachment of 27 men to Shinnston, approximately 13.5 miles south of Fairmont along the West Fork River in Harrison County. There they found several local guides to lead them to Righter’s farm. Cable left ten men in Shinnston as a guard and apparently rejected assistance from the local Unionist Home Guard. At around 3am on the morning of Friday, June 21st, Capt. Cable, 17 of his men, and two or three locals arrived at Righter’s House.
A guide approached the house and encountered a man on guard duty. Both returned to their respective sides and reported what they had seen. Capt. Cable arrayed his men in a semi-circle around the house and knocked on the door. Someone blew a horn, and firing erupted from the house and a nearby orchard. Several, including a local guide, John Nay, were wounded. Cable ordered his men to withdraw to a nearby house where he sent for reinforcements.
In a letter to the Wheeling Intelligencer, Capt. Cable said four of his men were severely wounded, and they killed four of the enemy and wounded six. He took seven prisoners. One of the prisoners, Banks Corbett (or Corban) was shot and killed trying to escape. When they returned to Righter’s House at daylight, it was abandoned. The Union soldiers confiscated anything of military value, then set fire to the house.
Like many early skirmishes, newspaper reports of the Action at Righter’s House were exaggerated and full of hearsay and inaccuracies. It was just one of many tragedies to play out in northwestern Virginia as neighbor turned against neighbor.