On October 13, 1863, Confederate forces moved north on Weston-Gauley
Turnpike under cover of early morning darkness. We start our walk on the turnpike (now
a trail), where Major Kessler and his men approached Cunningham Farm.
Commanded by Stonewall Jackson’s first cousin, Colonel William L. Jackson, two
detachments intended to take this fort and march on to the Ohio River, destroying or
controlling railroads along the way and eventually taking Wheeling, the new capital on
the Ohio in the northern panhandle. Jackson’s plan was to somewhat copy the
Jones-Imboden raid in the spring of the year, which did little to disrupt the northern
railroad, anyway, though Imboden did blow up a rail bridge in my hometown of Fairmont
and occupied Morgantown, near the Pennsylvania border.
The detachment on this side of the Little Kanawha River (led by Major Kessler) started
up this hill to the Union fort built on Cunningham’s knoll. This hill that you can see through the trees is one of two that
may have given this Jackson the nickname "Mudwall."
Dirt flung over from the digging of two levels of trenches 3 feet deep and 10 feet
wide must have made footing difficult. Slipping in the mire at 4:30 in the morning,
Confederate soldiers had seven men killed before Jackson called for a temporary truce to
bury the dead. On the opposite side of the fort on another hill across the Little Kanawha
River, a second detachment of rebels with Jackson also found wet conditions along the
water in October--some slid into the river.
An almost magical occurrence changed the temper of the battle. During the truce, soldiers
began shouting back and forth to one another. At this point, they realized that they knew
each other, had fought together before on the same side in county militias, were in
some cases even related, and this recognition dampened the spirit of the fight. Most of
the soldiers here were from this county of Braxton or neighboring Lewis County, and all
were West Virginians. Even though the battle raged for 12 hours, not another soldier
was killed on either side. Imagining the area as a farm without trees, I surmise that Union
men must have tried to miss 700 soldiers surrounding their hill!
Union commander, Captain Mattingly, was injured, and so was Moses Cunningham.
Both recovered. (Simpson took over command for Mattingly.) Confederates even left
the Federalist men they had captured with families who would care for them. A wounded
soldier was left with Moses Cunningham to be nursed back to health at Cunningham
Farm. One wounded Confederate died later.
All this slippin’ and slidin’ and shootin’ and shoutin’ actually constituted a significant
battle for West Virginia in the Civil War. Never again did Southern soldiers venture
north across the Gauley River or attempt to take Federalist positions in West Virginia!
From this time forward, the Union retained control of the railroad and all points in the
state. Even though the new northern state was officially almost 4 months old now, it
was decided here in Bulltown that the Yankee spirit would prevail. The thirty-fifth state
was still a backdoor to the South, but never again a pathway to the north or to the Ohio
River. Just 3 weeks later (November 6, 1863) at Droop Mountain, northern forces
overcame the last southern resistance in the state, and significant battles were over in
We learn all this from Judy before we begin our walk of the battlefield. As we head up
the hill to the site of the fort, we pass the log structure, St. Michael’s Church, moved here
by the Corps. Just above it are the lower trenches, where Confederates were able to take
some prisoners--whom, you remember, they left here with local families.
We are following in the footsteps of Kessler’s detachment, but we take the least steep,
northernmost approach, an attractive wooded farm road. These soldiers were supposed to
wait for a cannon shot from across the Little Kanawha (where Jackson and his men
stationed themselves) before they attacked. One of their numbers decided to yell "Charge,"
and either wittingly or unwittingly, warned the Union army, asleep in the trenches--dug by
one of Moses Cunningham’s boys using the southern sympathizer’s own oxen and finished by
hand with his shovel.
We continue up the hill to the site of the fortifications. As both levels of trenches were
dug about 3x10 feet and the dirt thrown over the cleared hill, the scenery wasn’t as
pretty then as it is today.
The upper trenches are more clearly defined than the lower ones, and we see where
Mattingly’s men were safely positioned.
One hundred soldiers usually occupied the fort, which the Union kept manned for the
entire length of the war, but on October 13, 1863, 150 were here. Jackson had counted on
only 100 men to have to overtake in their superior position. Although he had
700 troops, his position was not advantageous, and even though they
were outnumbered, federal officers refused to surrender their position. When Mattingly
was injured and command fell to Simpson, Jackson called a second time for the enemy
commander to surrender. Simpson’s famous response was, "Not until Hell freezes over!
If I have to retreat, I will do it on the ice!"
Atop the hill, we can see all positions, as the northern soldiers could at daylight. We
walk in the upper trenches all around the knoll where the fort stood.
Signs every few feet record what buildings were here and what archaeological research
has uncovered about them. We read and listen to Judy, who knows what happened to most prisoners and wounded men after
the battle. One was taken to this house, and another
died later in Huttonsville prison when his infant son was only days old.
What really strikes me is that this Union fortification was held for 4 years on the
property of Moses Cunningham, a rebel himself, with Mattingly commandeering his
home and property and his own son and equipment digging his enemies’ trenches. He
must have thought that the occupation was over when he saw the southern army on his
hill and came running out of his house yelling, "Hooray for Jeff Davis!"
I am also amazed at the ridiculous position of "Mudwall" Jackson. We see it through the
trees that weren’t here then.
Did he really think he could cross that river and ascend this hill? Cannons were fired
from here and could reach his men, and I am amazed that his force wasn’t decimated--but
then I remember that these armies didn’t really want to hurt each other anymore. It must
have been "somebody else’s war" to them. Heck, they had got along fine with the
Delaware Indians until those insidious murderers came along! In their rural home,
sheltered by mountains, neighbors were more important than abstract ideals.
The battle is reenacted each year, this year on October 9.