Soon after Virginia seceded from the Unites States in May 1861 with the intention of joining the Confederacy, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, as commander of the Department of the Ohio, invaded western Virginia. On June 3, he sent Confederate militia fleeing from the town of Philippi, and in July, he smashed a Confederate force at Rich Mountain.
Following defeat at the Battle of Rich Mountain, Confederate Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett attempted to retreat from his camp on Laurel Hill to Beverly, but was misinformed about a Union presence there and fled northeast toward the Cheat River. “They have not given me an adequate force,” Garnett lamented. “I can do nothing. They have sent me to my death.” His words would be prophetic.
On July 13th, Garnett arrived at Corrick’s Ford on the Cheat River with 4,500 men. As they crossed, Union Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris’ brigade attacked. Col. William B. Taliaferro of the 23rd Virginia Infantry Regiment reported:
“By the time the Georgians had crossed the river, and before some of the companies of that regiment who were thrown out to ambuscade the enemy could be brought over, the enemy appeared in sight of our troops, and immediately commenced firing upon them.”
The 23rd VA fought a delaying action against Morris’ brigade until they were almost out of ammunition, then endeavored to join their comrades.
“After continuing the fight until early every cartridge had been expended, and until the artillery had been withdrawn by General Garnett’s orders, and as no part of his command was within sight our supporting distance, as far as I could discover, nor, as I afterwards ascertained, within four miles of me, I ordered the regiment to retire.”
While looking for another route to escape across the river, Garnett was shot and killed. His army abandoned its wagons, cannon, and supplies and fled.
Twenty Confederates were killed or wounded at Corrick’s Ford, including Garnett, who was the first general officer to fall in battle during the Civil War. Six hundred went missing and probably deserted. In contrast, Union forces sustained 53 casualties at Corrick’s Ford. McClellan was widely praised for his victory and was given command of the Military Division of the Potomac on July 26, 1861.
Read primary sources from this dramatic event in American history:
- Jul. 13 Report of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan
- Jul. 14 Report of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan (1st)
- Jul. 14 Report of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan (3rd)
- Jul. 15 Report of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan
- Jul. 15 Letter from George B. McClellan
- Jul. 16 Congratulatory address from General McClellan
- August 10th Report of Colonel W. B. Taliaferro, Twenty-third Virginia Infantry