This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. The harrowing battle raged for four years, pitting brother against brother at the cost of more than 600,000 lives. Out of the war, however, there was born a new state, the only one created as a direct result of the war – West Virginia. Did you know that over time, the Civil War has been called and referred to as The Lost Cause, The Brothers’ War, Mr. Lincoln’s War, The Yankee Invasion, The Confederate War, The Great Rebellion, The War of Secession, The War for the Union, The War for Abolition, The Southern Rebellion, The War for Separation, The War of the Sixties, The War of the Rebellion, The War Against Slavery, The War for Nationality, The War of the Southrons, The War for States’ Rights, The War for Southern Rights, The War for Southern Freedom, The War of the North and South, The Second American Revolution, The Second War for Independence, The Civil War Between the States, The War for Southern Nationality, The War of the Southern Planters, The War for Southern Independence, The War for Constitutional Liberty, The War Against Northern Aggression, The War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance and I’m sure there are many more that I’ve missed.
As you drive about West Virginia and her neighboring states this summer you’ll see a special marker of red, white and blue…the Civil War Trail marker. The Civil War Discovery Trail links more than 1000 sites in 16 states to inspire and teach the story of the Civil War and its lingering impact on America. The Trail includes battlefields, historic homes, railroad stations, cemeteries and parks. Civil War Discovery Trail sites are specifically selected for their historic significance and educational opportunities. The Trail is an initiative of The Civil War Trust, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, state agencies and local communities. West Virginia is a part of the Civil War Discovery Trail that also covers Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Currently, there are over 1,000 sites in the program and more than 3,000 map guides are downloaded weekly from the program’s website, www.civilwartrails.org.
In Pocahontas County, five sites have been identified and now have signage. They include Camp Bartow, Camp Northwest, Huntersville, The First Campaign, The Great Raid – Overview, and Union Camp. Today it’s difficult for us to imagine what life then would have been like but standing and reading these thoughtful summaries of that time makes one realize the suffering, and anguish that went on during that time. In the spring of 1861, Union forces rushed into northwestern Virginia to secure the vital Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, protect important turnpikes, and support Unionists against Confederates. From the marker at Huntersville Jail these words come “The two sides fought numerous engagements between June and December. They included Philippi (the war’s first land battle), Rich Mountain, Corricks Ford, Cheat Summit Fort, Carnifex Ferry, and Camp Allegheny. The many Union victories made Gen. George B. McClellan’s reputation and damaged that of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee—a situation reversed in 1862. Despite later Confederate raids, today’s West Virginia remained largely under Federal control for the rest of the war.”
We can all learn a great deal about the battles fought on the ground that we travel every day and take for granted along the way. Rather than me telling you about each battle or encounter how about you pack a picnic, a camera, and the kids and spend a weekend discovering some of West Virginia’s history.
Preservation of Pocahontas County’s historic sites is accomplished largely through their remoteness. There are no vendors or consignees selling t-shirts, hard back books, or colored post cards. No over-sized American flag, no asphalt covered parking lots with cars from adjoining states. While you’re at any of these markers, you may very well be the only one. But then, you might have the best experience.
Camp Allegheny still contains some of the foundations where the camps were for the First Campaign. From Bartow you can still see the actual trenches where men fought and died. Many Civil War sites can be seen as you drive through Huntersville where General William W. Loring’s troops launched his ill-fated campaign against General Robert E. Lee. After the defeat, Huntersville was used as base camp for much of the War. The old Presbyterian Church was used as a field hospital and many of those killed either through battle action or disease are buried on a hill south of the church or in a second cemetery only a few hundred yards away.
Today there is an eerie silence in these battlefields. Can you hear whispers of battle cries, did you see something along that ridge, and could you tell you were in a hallowed place if there were no signs?
Whether you visit a Civil War site that is well advertised and maintained or one that most people drive right pass without any acknowledgement, enrich your life and that of your children by visiting the battlefields that are close to you.