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Rich Mountain battle was key to W.V. statehood

Courtesy Richard Mountain Foundation

The Union victory at the Battle of Rich Mountain on July 11, 1861, during the first major campaign of the Civil War secured Union control of a strategic mountain pass on the vital Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike.

It also gave federal forces control over much of northwestern Virginia, enabling the counties to later break away and create the new state of West Virginia.

The victory also propelled the Union commander, Gen. George B. McClellan, to national prominence.

“It was a very small battle but very significant,” said Chelley Depp, executive director of the Rich Mountain Foundation.

The foundation can arrange for a step-on guide to take groups to the preserved battle site in Randolph County, about five miles from the historic town of Beverly.

“The battlefield is two different sites,” said Depp. “The historic battlefield itself, which has interpretive signs and walking trails, and Camp Garnett, which was a Confederate encampment with earthworks and trenches.”

The campsite is about a mile and a half over the mountain from the battlefield.

“It was one of the earliest battles [of the war],” said Depp. “The actual fighting in western Virginia began in June at Philippi, about 40 miles from here. They then moved down the turnpike. The first real fighting took place here; Philippi was more of a skirmish. Although the casualties totaled less than 100, it was the first major bloodshed.”

A new exhibit installed last fall at the Beverly Heritage Center, a complex of four historic buildings in downtown Beverly, tells about the Civil War and the battle.

“If focuses on the first campaign of the Civil War, primarily the battle of Rich Mountain, but also about West Virginia statehood, its development and the breaking off,” said Depp.

The exhibit includes interpretative panels, an interactive map, artifacts, displays about camp life, guns, and a terrain model of the layout of Rich Mountain and how the battle took place.

Docents are available to explain the battle in detail to groups.