Ravenswood Skirmish Debunked

Back in 2021, I thought I had stumbled upon a skirmish along the Ohio River in Western Virginia fought between Confederate forces commanded by Capt. Obadiah Jennings Wise and Union forces commanded by Col. Jesse S. Norton. It took place somewhere around Ravenswood in what is today Jackson County, West Virginia.

This was based on reports by Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan and regimental history for the 21st Ohio Infantry, but statements like the following lacked specifics:

“After reaching Ravenswood, the 21st and other Union forces advanced to Ripley, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia) and attacked Confederates under the command of O. Jennings Wise. The Northerners routed the Southerners in this engagement. The 21st then boarded steamships and returned to Gallipolis.”

I couldn’t find any contemporary newspaper articles about a skirmish in this area in early July 1861. Rumors abound in war, from phantom enemy movements to exaggerated casualty figures. This was certainly true during the early days of the American Civil War, when newspapers eagerly printed every account, no matter how unsubstantiated, from the “seat of war.” I find it hard to believe that a skirmish had taken place near Ravenswood and received no mention in the press.

Then there is this from Capt. Obadiah Jennings Wise’s record book, as printed in A Famous Command: The Richmond Light Infantry Blues by John A. Cutchins:

“July 4th. General Wise [Henry A. Wise] and Staff arrived today with reinforcements and the line of march was back again to Ripley, Jackson County. Arrived on the 6th in Ripley and at night was called to arms, but it proved to be a false alarm. Remained at Ripley, but was awakened by another false alarm.”

“July 5th. It was the intention of our commander to make an attack on the Yankees at Ravenswood, 11 miles distant, but then concluded not to do so, and started on our return to Charleston and returned as far as Seissonville, or Sessionville.”

So according to the Confederates, they intended to attack the 21st Ohio at Ravenswood but reconsidered and began withdrawing toward Charleston. From the Union perspective, this might have seemed like Col. Jesse S. Norton and the 21st Ohio drove the Confederates away.

In a July 6th telegram, George McClellan wrote:

“A well-concerted movement to catch O. J. Wise, with his eight hundred men, at Ripley, on the 4th, failed in consequence of the rapidity with which the rebels fled at the first notice of the approach of danger.”

I’m inclined to believe this version of events; that Capt. O. Jennings Wise and his Richmond Light Infantry Blues marched to Ripley, reconnoitered the area, and upon discovering that an entire Union regiment was heading his way, reversed course and returned to Charleston. There was no skirmish.

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