|From Gauley Bridge|
The town of Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, like many others along The Midland Trail (US Rt. 60), attracts few visitors. Sited where the confluence of the Gauley River and the New River form the Kanawha River, the town probably sees little excitement these days. But when armies of the North and South contended for western Virginia in 1861, the town was an ideal location for a supply depot, while the bridge from which it derives its name controlled access to the Kanawha and New River valleys along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike.
Federal forces under General Jacob D. Cox advanced along the turnpike from Charleston Toward Gauley Bridge following McClellan’s victory at Rich Mountain in July 1861. Confederate Brigadier General Henry Wise, commanding a rag tag assortment of troops styled “Wise’s Legion,” abandoned Gauley Bridge, burning the bridge behind him. Troops of the 11th Ohio Infantry had established a reputation at effective bridge builders during Cox’s advance through the Kanawha Valley, and he tasked them with finding a way to repair the Gauley River crossing. Judging the 350’ span too difficult to rebuild, the resourceful Ohioans anchored cables to the stone abutments and constructed a ferry capable of carrying “two hundred men or four loaded army wagons and their animals, or two guns and their caissons” (Newell, Clayton, Lee vs. McClellan, p. 194).
Other sites of interest along US RT. 60 in West Virginia include Sewell Mountain, where forces of both sides entrenched during the later stages of the campaign. Here Lee struggled to find an opening to assault the Federal position, only to find as he finally marshaled his troops for an assault that the Federals had slipped away in the night. As a consolation, perhaps, Lee first saw Traveller on the slopes of Sewell Mountain. A state historical marker now stands nearby. Also not far from Gauley Bridge, Carnifex Ferry State Park preserves the site of a large skirmish between Federal troops under Rosecrans and the Confederate brigade of John B. Floyd.
The West Virginia campaign of 1861, featuring engagements best characterized as minor skirmishes by late war standards, nevertheless offers a fascinating glimpse into the character of the early war and the early careers of important leaders including Robert E. Lee and George Brinton McClellan.