The Battle of Charleston was an engagement on September 13, 1862, near Charleston, Virginia (now West Virginia) during the American Civil War. It should not be confused with the Battle of Charleston (1861), which occurred a year earlier in Missouri.
During the summer of 1862, General William W. Loring’s Department of Southwestern Virginia (Confederate States of America) made some plans to move into the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia and take the city of Charleston. On September 6, 1862, General Loring, with 5,000 men, left Narrows, Virginia on a march toward Charleston. The Confederate troops first encountered Union forces near Fayetteville on September 10, driving them back toward Charleston. The pursuit continued all day on September 11, with the Federals splitting their forces near Gauley’s Bridge on both sides of the Kanawha River, the CSA doing the same while in hot pursuit. By late afternoon on September 13, the Battle for Charleston had begun and was over by 7:30 p.m. when Loring’s troops broke off the engagement at the Elk River. The Union forces withdrew across the Kanawha River overnight, leaving Charleston to be occupied by the Confederate forces.
Excerpt from John D. Chapla’s history of the 50th Virginia Infantry:
Reaching Colonel John McCausland at Dickerson’s farm, Loring ordered McCausland to take charge of Echols’ Brigade — Echols being sick — as well as the 22nd and 36th Virginia regiments, two artillery batteries, and Major Salyer’s cavalry detachment. With this force, McCausland was to cross the Kanawha and push on to Charleston. McCausland crossed the Kanawha at Montgomery’s Ferry and, with Salyer’s cavalry leading, began his pursuit. By the end of the day McCausland had stopped federal efforts to burn the salt furnaces and went into camp four miles from the ferry. On September 12, McCausland again pressed forward, with the federals attempting to block the roads by felling trees. Although McCausland’s lead elements and sharpshooters tried to interrupt this delaying action, it appears to have been somewhat successful. McCausland at some points fell up to three hours behind the fleeing federals. He camped that night 15 miles from Charleston.
McCausland resumed his pursuit on September 13, moving through Camp Piatt (now Belle) and Maiden to the outskirts of Charleston. Making contact with Union skirmishers near the Elk River, McCausland deployed his brigade about 3 p.m., with the 23rd Virginia Battalion in front as skirmishers and the 22nd, 50th, and 63rd Virginia (left to right) deployed on line behind the skirmishers. The 36th Virginia was in reserve. McCausland pushed forward with his left moving through the town until he reached the Elk River and discovered that the federals had retreated across the river, destroying the only bridge over it. As McCausland probed during the next several hours for crossing points, he skirmished heavily with the Union forces drawn up across from him. “The firing was terrific, and the old 50th was gallantly through the yards and fields of Charleston under a galling fire of grape shot and musket balls,” an anonymous officer in the regiment reported.”
Although McCausland was ultimately able to get his cavalry across the Elk at a ford two miles east of Charleston, he found that ford impassable for his infantry and artillery. In the end, darkness halted the fight for the brigade about 7:30 p.m. McCausland moved his troops to eat and rest as the Union garrison began a retreat out of the town.”
The occupation of Charleston by the Confederates lasted a scant six weeks, until October 28, 1862, when Loring’s troops begin withdrawing under the threat of 12,000 Union soldiers approaching from the northeast.