160 Years Ago Today: A Skirmish at Glenville

It had been two months and 11 days since Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan invaded northwestern Virginia, and additional volunteer regiments arrived weekly to reinforce him. It had been over a month since Confederate forces fled from Philippi. Their commander, Col. George A. Porterfield, was replaced with Robert E. Lee’s adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett. He proceeded to fortify positions at Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain in Barbour and Randolph counties to guard the two main mountain roads leading into the Shenandoah Valley.

As Maj. Gen. McClellan maneuvered his forces into position in front of Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain to confront Garnett, he spread his forces across what was then northwestern Virginia, protecting vital transportation routes and providing legitimacy for the fledgling Unionist Restored Government of Virginia in Wheeling.

Members of the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, led by Col. John M. Connell, initially enlisted for three months in and around Lancaster, Ohio in April 1861. They were sent to Parkersburg, Virginia (today, West Virginia) along the Ohio River to root out secessionist militias in Jackson County. In early July, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan attached the 17th Ohio to Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ brigade. They then marched approximately 94 miles east to Buckhannon, to guard supply trains.

As elements of the 17th Ohio were moving through the small town of Glenville along the Little Kanawha River, 42 miles west of Buckhannon, they were attacked by the 1st Cavalry Regiment, Wise Legion commanded by Col. Robert Alexander Caskie. Glenville, population 398 in 1860, was the seat of Gilmer County.

Col. John M. Connell, who had returned to Buckhannon by the time the fighting started, described what happened next:

“Thirty-five men first attacked and fired upon our pickets without injuring them. They returned the fire effectually, and got safely into camp. All of our pickets got safely in during the night. The advance of the enemy was composed of about 160 well-armed and disciplined men, and dark last night our little force was surrounded, the enemy covering the three roads leading past the Court-House.”

Accurate reports of the skirmish are difficult to find, but evidently it continued the next day. Connell’s men were able to get a scout through to Buckhannon, and Maj. Gen. McClellan sent the 7th and 10th Ohio regiments to relieve them. The Confederates, realizing they were about to be outnumbered and with no reinforcements of their own in sight, hastily withdrew. There were no reported casualties on either side.

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