Where did the Ambush at Greenbrier River take place?

The Ambush at Greenbrier River occurred on Friday, July 19, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Sgt. William D. Gault and an unknown Confederate irregular unit in present-day Pocahontas County, West Virginia. But where, exactly? It’s hard to know for certain, but we can make an educated guess based on the primary sources.

Most contemporary accounts estimated the distance from the Union camp at Cheat Mountain, which was their nearest reference. From there, the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike meandered down the mountain toward what is today Durbin, West Virginia, where the West and East branches of the Greenbrier River merge. Durbin is approximately 7.5 miles from Cheat Summit Camp along the old Turnpike route.

A member of the 14th Indiana who was among the men to retrieve their wounded comrades, writing to the Evansville Daily Journal, said “We made the march through the mountain defiles in less than two hours.” I think it’s safe to say, marching down hill with a sense of urgency, they probably averaged a 16-18 minute mile, which means they would have been able to go 7 miles in around two hours.

That would place the ambush site just west of Durbin along the West Fork of the Greenbrier River. W. Hunter Lesser, in his book Rebels at the Gate (2004), said they were fired on from “hanging rock” above a ford over the river. Recently, the Upper Pocahontas Community Cooperative erected a sign about the ambush near an iron bridge over the river near 38.550117, -79.831509.

Looking at a terrain map, you can see why that spot would be ripe for an ambush. High peaks tower over the river from every direction. I have doubts as to Lesser’s accuracy when it comes to this event, but even if “hanging rock” wasn’t the exact firing point, there are plenty of others to choose from.

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