by James E. Weaver, Jr.
It was a rainy day in late April of 1863. The roads were more muddy than usual, but that was the least of matters on the minds of the people of Preston Co., Virginia. The country had been engaged in a bloody Civil War for the past two years. This area had seen some skirmishes and battles already. This part of Virginia did not want to secede from the Union. This part of the state had never really been part of Tidewater Virginia. All the infrastructure and laws were put in place for the people of the state east of the mountains. The people of this area, mostly small farmers, never had much in common with the big planters of eastern Virginia. When Virginia seceded from the Union, people in this part of the state started thinking about forming a new state. The legislators had been meeting in Wheeling with the idea of forming a new state, but even that was not on their minds completely in light of some troubling new news.
The word was that a large group of Confederate Cavalry was on their way to the area. The Confederate general, W.E. Jones, led the 6th, 7th, 11th, and 12th Virginia Cavalry with 3000 men. His intention was blowing bridges and burning trestles on the B&O R.R. line. The 6th W.VA. Infantry was guarding the B&O rail line but they were spread out pretty thin. There were only a few hundred troops in Rowlesburg on April 26, 1863, but the town had a lot of railroad workers. Plus they had cannons mounted on Cannon Hill overlooking the town. They had piled up cross ties along the tracks right in town and on the east side of the railroad bridge over the Cheat River. They had set up an ambush position on the old River Road south of town.
Early on April 26, John Wheeler rode into town and ran into the Meeting House, now Nassif's Place, and said the Confederates were coming to attack the town. Lt. John Holbert Carrico of Co. F, 6th WV Infantry along with all the other men, military and townspeople, sent all the women and children and what farm animals and horses they had down the river to a safe place.
The men lined up behind the
cross ties and waited for the attack. The artillery men spotted
the Confederates coming down over Hog Back Hill. The Rebs fired
a volley first and then the men of Rowlesburg fired back. The
cannons let go with a volley and several attackers fell. Several
more volleys were fired and the Rebs retreated. The same happened
at the east end of the railroad bridge. Jones heard the cannon
fire and sent two Companies of mounted men down the River Road.
But the ambush planned by Lt. McDonald who himself had been a
former RR worker turned them back time after time with deadly
fire. McDonald had cut down trees across the road. Jones tried
to cross the river two different times. McDonald's deadly fire
prevented them from doing so. The fight had lasted until dusk.
Jones decided to retreat and lose no more men. Muddy and depressed
they left the area. They left several wounded and dead soldiers
behind. It was to be the only battle that they would lose in
their one month campaign in western Virginia.
Jones and his Raiders then went on to Fairmont where they did a lot of damage to the railroad equipment. There they blew up a cast iron bridge over the West fork River that had cost a half million dollars to build in the 1850's. Several men on both sides died. They went on west to Cairo and a place called Burning Springs where they set an oil depot on fire that burned for days. When he went back south Jones had several prisoners and several hundred horses--none from Rowlesburg however.
The people of Rowlesburg have
a lot to be proud of in the actions of their ancestors that muddy,
rainy day when they saved the town and bridges from certain destruction.