New Sources Found in Greenbrier Ambush

The Action at Greenbrier River is among those “minor” incidents in the early months of the American Civil War that got lost among more dramatic events. It occurred a few days after Confederate resistance collapsed in northwestern Virginia and a few days before the First Battle of Bull Run.

In summary, Sgt. William D. Gault of Burdsall’s Dragoons led a seven-member patrol from Cheat Mountain east toward the Greenbrier River in what is today Pocahontas County, West Virginia. As they were resting their horses at a stream, they were bushwhacked by an unknown number of Confederate sympathizers. Sergeant Gault was killed outright, one man mortally wounded, and two wounded. Their compatriots escaped and returned with a larger force to collect their casualties.

On a hunch, I searched newspapers for a few keywords in the July-August 1861 time frame and came across some new information. I still don’t have a specific location for the ambush, but these articles paint a surprising clear and consistent picture of what happened (no one agrees on the exact date, however).

The Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, Vol. 1 listed July 17, 1861 as the date Sgt. William D. Gault was killed and the others wounded. However, an article in the New Orleans Daily Delta stated the incident occurred on the 19th. Writing in The Evansville Daily Journal, a member of the 14th Indiana Regiment said the ambush was “yesterday.” His letter was dated July 21st. Sgt. William D. Gault’s Find a Grave profile and his grave registration card says he died on July 19th.

So based on this new information, I can say with some confidence that Sgt. Gault’s patrol was ambushed on July 19, 1861. But ambushed by whom? That remains a mystery.

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