In April 1861, Charleston was in a chaotic condition. Men on every side differed in opinion. They soon found themselves confronted with a sea of gray from the East. Citizens held mass meetings; local military units began to drill and polish up obsolete arms. One company, known as the Kanawha Riflemen, had been organized in 1856. It was commanded by the gallant Captain George S. Patton, a promising young lawyer, who later lost his life at Winchester, in 1864. Dr. John P. Hale organized a battery, and various other units were formed.
A. Welch represented Kanawha County in the Virginia Assembly. Dr. Spicer Patrick and George W. Summers were sent to Richmond to the noted Virginia Convention where they voted against secession. Summers, a most able man, asked only that western Virginia be let alone, but this could not be. After their return, Spicer’s son took the opposite side from his father, and became a Confederate surgeon.
The Federal government made preparations to send troops from the West to the Ohio River, ready to cross at a moment’s notice. The Confederate government, on the other hand, made preparations to oppose this advance. George McClellan arrived in Grafton with the Federal Advance. John McCausland, a young teacher of twenty-four from Virginia Military Institute, a native of the Kanawha Valley, was sent to this section to bring together the local companies that had assembled at Charleston and Buffalo. He was followed by Colonel C. Q. Tompkins, a West Point graduate from Gauley Mount, Gauley Bridge, who was placed in command of the Kanawha Valley.
The Twenty-second and Thirty-sixth Infantry Regiments, part of the Sixtieth, and sections of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Cavalry were formed in the Kanawha Valley for the Confederate service. The Union men, however, were not idle and many enlisted in the Federal Army. The Seventh Cavalry, under John H. Ohley, was especially noted.
Federal troops under General Jacob D. Cox arrived at Gallipolis. Without delay, the Confederates sent Ex-Governor Henry Wise into the Kanawha Valley with forces gathered in the East. Wise, a small thin-lipped, stern man, the “stormy petrel” of the war, rode into Charleston with a staff of twelve men. By July 8, 1861, he had gotten together 2,599 men.
Wise’s main camp was established at the Littlepage home at Kanawha Two Mile. It is believed that he at once set about to fortify the junction of the Ripley-Ravenswood road with the Point Pleasant road. Entrenchments were thrown up on the rise back of the Littlepage home, making a fort about one hundred feet square. This so-called fort commanded the roads in both directions, and traces may still be seen. However, in the intervening years locust trees and other vegetation have almost covered it. Fort Fife, named in honor of Captain William Fife of Buffalo, a large landowner and commander of the company from this section, was erected on the heights across Kanawha Two Mile.
Wise had ten pieces of artillery; one, an old iron six-pounder was made at Malden. He stationed 1600 men at Charleston, and sent the remaining ones to “Camp Tompkins,” located at the junction of the Winfield road below St. Albans. Wise then believed he could “whip the world.”
In the meantime, Cox sent one regiment around by Barboursville, and another by Ripley. With his main command, he moved up the Kanawha River, the trains being sent by road and the men on little steamers that peacefully plowed along the river through the beautiful valley. Arriving at the mouth of Poca River, he prepared to attack the Confederates who had taken up a position along Scary Creek, on the south side of the Kanawha.
The Federals crossed the Kanawha and attacked the Confederates shortly after noon on July 17. Each side had two pieces of artillery on the ground, and an active engagement took place during the afternoon. Neither side gained much advantage until a flanking column which was finally sent around to the rear, was lost. Later, the Federals made a direct charge, crossing the bridge, but Albert G. Jenkins arrived on the scene with a company of cavalry and drove them back. James Welch of Hale’s Battery on the Confederate side, was killed. The Federals lost fourteen killed, who were buried in a trench north of the mouth of Scary Creek. After the war, the bodies were moved to the national cemetery at Ironton, Ohio.
On the following day, a flanking party from Cox’s Army moved in on Wise and his command at Tyler Mountain. Some Confederates from Camp Tompkins — part of the body retreating up the river — had started up stream on the steamer Julia Maffitt. They stopped near present Dunbar to gather wheat. A Federal detachment fired on the boat with artillery. The Confederates set fire to the steamer and rapidly retreated up the south side.
Wise at once brought his command together. After taking up some flooring and attempting to cut a cable on the bridge over Elk River, he moved out of Charleston in the night. On his way out of the valley, he later burned the bridge over Gauley River. Cox moved into Charleston, crossing the Elk by means of barges, and followed Wise for a short distance. Cox and his staff were met by Mayor J. H. Goshorn and some other citizens of Charleston who desired to surrender the town.