Winfield in Putnam County, West Virginia — The American South (Appalachia)
The Civil War in Putnam County
— River to Ridges Heritage Trail —
Historians use the word microcosm as shorthand to show that a piece is representative of the whole. “A house divided against itself,” Putnam County sent approximately 10% of its population to war, nearly half to each army. Civilians experienced the privations of war: occupation, theft, and loss. Soldiers had family in the opposing army and their units met on the battlefield. They endured boredom, fighting, imprisonment, and the death of those surrounding them. The wartime experiences of soldiers and civilians in Putnam County are an apt representation of the experiences of soldiers and civilians throughout the nation during the Civil War.
The Worst of War: Guerillas and Prison
Putnam County experienced extensive guerilla warfare even though it did not witness any major battles. Rather than fighting battles, these partisan rangers conducted raids, foraged from civilians, attacked at night, captured boats, and burned bridges. Their goal was to strike quickly and leave. If not enlisted as regular soldiers, many of these activities were illegal. In an 1862 effort to spare captured partisans from execution and make them Confederate soldiers, Virginia Governor John Letcher declared “the loyal citizens in Western Virginia are earnestly invoked to form guerilla companies and strike when least expected for the state that gave them birth.” Frequently, these actions disguised crimes as warfare and became civilians’ worst experiences.
Buffalo: Recruits for both armies
Lt. Col. John McCausland established camp at the Buffalo Academy and recruited Confederate soldiers at Buffalo from May to June 1861 including the Buffalo Guards which became Company A, 36th Virginia. After his retreat, the Union army established a camp at Buffalo and recruited the 7th WV Cavalry. Sterret, Fife, Bias, and Reynolds, each began his Civil War experience there.
Skirmish at Hurricane Bridge
In the spring of 1863, Col. Albert G. Jenkins raided the Kanawha Valley with 800 soldiers to capture a supply depot and horses at Point Pleasant. Near the current junction of US 60 and WV 34, he found 400 soldiers of the 11th and 13th West Virginia. Jenkins demanded the surrender of the Union forces, who refused. Confederate soldiers opened fire from a distance to avoid taking casualties. Fighting lasted five hours until Jenkins withdrew and proceeded to Point Pleasant. The Federal force was not captured and the Confederate force was not defeated resulting in a draw.
The Brothers’ War
The American Civil War divided families just as it divided a nation. Of the 602 soldiers whose roots can be traced to Putnam County, 311 (51.7%) joined the Confederacy while 291 (48.3%) joined the Union.
A family slave named Ned
George’s war did not end in 1865. His mother welcomed him home, but it took years to fully reconcile with his family. Undoubtedly each soldier from Putnam County personally knew someone wearing the other uniform, and many called that other man brother, father, or son. Some even shot at him during battle.
Battle of Atkeson Gate (Battle of Buffalo)
In the fall of 1862, Confederate forces camped on multiple farms in the Buffalo area below (north) and above (south) of the Atkeson farm. On September 26, 1862, the 91st Ohio under Col. John A. Tinley engaged the 16th Virginia Cavalry under Maj. James H. Nounnan. Nounann’s split forces merged on the Atkeson farm, where the family witnessed fighting along the turnpike approximately 100 yards from their front door. Years later, the young Atkeson boy who witnessed the battle claimed there were no casualties. His 16 or 47 year old sister, Samantha, painted the battle from memory just a few days later. The figure on horseback in the center is believed to be Maj. James H. Nounnan, and if so, is probably the only wartime image of him.
Battle of Scary Creek
On July 17, 1861, 900 Confederate soldiers under Col. George S. Patton attempted to stop the advance of 1500 Union soldiers under Col. John Lowe. Soldiers on both sides experienced the chaos of their first battle. Eventually, Union soldiers retreated and Confederate
Units Putnam County Soldiers Served In
Union: 3rd West Virginia Cavalry • 5th West Virginia Cavalry • 7th West Virginia Cavalry • 11th West Virginia Infantry • 13th West Virginia Infantry • 181st Militia •
Confederate: 2nd Virginia Cavalry • 8th Virginia Cavalry • 16th Virginia Cavalry • 22nd Virginia Infantry • 36th Virginia Infantry • 36th Battalion Virginia Cavalry
Battles Putnam County Soldiers Fought In
Union: Cheat Mountain, McDowell, Cross Keys, Cedar Mountain, 2nd Bull Run, Droop Mountain, Shenandoah Valley operations, Port Republic, Averill's Raids, Cloyd's Mountain, Kernstown, Berryville, Opequan, Cedar Creek, Hatcher's Run, Petersburg, Appomattox.
Confederate: Scary Creek, Western Virginia operations, eastern Tennessee operations, Shenandoah operations, Carnifex Ferry, Cross Lanes, Cloyd's Mountain, Piedmont, Waynesborough, Fort Donelson, Gettysburg, Droop Mountain, Appomattox.
Civilians Experience War
Putnam County civilians took sides as they sent Emily into each army. 19 year old Sarah. Francis Young wrote, “It is my birthday. And oh! What may transpire before my next. Our country is in danger of Civil War and it makes me shudder to think of it. May our blessed Union be preserved in spite of traitors.” Within a few months, her father enlisted.
The presence of an enemy army or partisan rangers meant that civilians of every allegiance endured occupation and occasionally they were refugeed. When Confederate soldiers left Buffalo, including her brother, Virginia Hansford wrote, “Then came the question—what should I take and what should I leave. I could take very little, and necessarily it was mostly clothing. ... These are the times that tried women’s hearts, but I had to be brave and strong, and never a tear did I shed, Had I been allowed to stay I would have done so, but everyone had refugeed.”
The most frequent interaction between civilians and soldiers was foraging (stealing). The laws of war allowed soldiers, under the direction of officers; to take anything of use to the army from civilians in exchange for a receipt. Such receipts were utterly worthless when written by the opposing army and even loyal citizens found their own armies reluctant to pay. A soldier in the 34th Ohio recorded “Having failed to find any armed rebels, the Zouaves decided to do the next best thing, which was, in their opinion, to get chickens for supper. The poor feathered tribe was doomed to a fearful end. More than a thousand of them were sacrificed to appease the stomachs made hungry by a fatiguing march.”
Skirmish at Winfield
Seeking to control Red House Shoals, Capt. Phillip J. Thurmond and a band of 400 partisan rangers attacked Capt. John M. Reynolds 80 man Company D of the 7th WV Cavalry at 3 a.m. on October 26, 1864. The raid resulted in nothing but noise until Thurmond was mortally wounded an hour into the fight. He was buried near the original location of Judge Hoge’s house (300 yards north). In 2010, the body was relocated to the present site of Judge Hoge’s house. The skirmish was a Union victory as it resulted in the death of a partisan leader and prevented the capture of the shoals.
Capturing A General
Union General Eliakim P. Scammon directed the steamboat Levi to take him from Point Pleasant to Charleston on the night of February 2, 1864. The captain advised waiting until morning to leave because the boat could not pass Red House Shoals at night, but the general insisted on moving quickly. Confederate Major James H. Nounnan learned of the steamboat’s presence at 3 a.m. on the 3rd when he entered Winfield. He directed a lieutenant and 12 men to board the Levi which led to Scammon’s capture along with medical supplies, weapons, several other soldiers, and the eventual destruction of the boat. The West Virginia Herald complained, “We hope our General who succeeds Scammon will go down and view the country and see the necessity of troops at Hurricane to prevent another raid soon. Troops at Winfield are no protection to the Union citizens of Putnam or Mason county.”
Divided In Peace: When Did the Civil War End?
Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865 marked the beginning of the end. Officially, the American Civil War ended on August 20, 1866 with President Johnson’s statement “that peace, order, tranquility, and civil authority now exist in and throughout the whole of the United States of America.” In reality, daily life was far more complicated, especially in the closely divided state of West Virginia. On May 24, 1866 the West Virginia legislature passed a law stating “No person who ... has given or shall give voluntary aid or assistance to the rebellion against the United States, shall be a citizen of this state, or be allowed to vote...” For five years, West Virginia made a distinction between Union citizens and former Confederates as non-citizens. On April 17, 1871 West Virginians passed the Flick Amendment guaranteeing black West Virginians the right to vote. A rider on the amendment also allowed ex-Confederates to vote and again be citizens.
Erected by West Virginia Humanities Council.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: War, US Civil.
Location. 38° 31.956′ N, 81° 53.465′ W. Marker is in Winfield, West Virginia, in Putnam County. Marker is at the intersection of Courthouse Drive and Emergency Lane / Sabre Street, on the right when traveling south on Courthouse Drive. It is at the Historic Poge House site. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Winfield WV 25213, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Historic Hoge House (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Putnam County War Memorial (about 600 feet away); Winfield / Battle of Winfield (about 600 feet away); Red House Shoals / Civil War Action (approx. 0.9 miles away); Coal Mining in Putnam County (approx. 1.8 miles away); A Park for the Coal Miner (approx. 1.8 miles away); Andrew & Charles Lewis March (approx. 1.9 miles away); George Washington (approx. 1.9 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Winfield.
More about this marker. The interpretive panel contains a number of illustrations and photographs. They are captioned as follows:
• Advertisement seeking Confederate soldiers in the Kanawha Valley.
• Samuel Alexander Sterret, 36 VA, CSA, ca. 1865
• The 7th West Virginia at Buffalo. Pictured as an infantry unit; they later became a cavalry unit. Evidence indicates the original photograph was taken by Buffalo Doctor Claudius Pitrat in the spring of 1862. It was later turned into a postcard and colorized. This postcard is dated circa 1905.
• An immediate postwar photograph of some Kanawha Rifleman (36 VA, CSA) officers. Standing: Capt. Nicholas Fitzhugh, Samuel A. Miller, Col. Tom Smith, Maj. Thomas L. Broun; seated Col. William Fife (of Putnam County), Capt. John Swann, Capt. Dick Laidley, William A. Quarrier, Sergeant Joe Watkins.
• George Washington Smith, 13 WV, USN
• a map of Putnam County showing the Kanawha River and principal towns
• Capt. John Valley Young, 3 WV Cav and 11 WV, USA
• John K. Thompson, 22 VA, GSA, postwar
• The battle of Atkeson Gate (Buffalo)
• William Van Buren, 7 WV, USA
• Lt. Harvey Reynolds, 7 WV Gay: USA
• Lt. Col. Andrew R. Barbee, 22 VA, GSA, postwar.
Credits. This page was last revised on July 31, 2019. It was originally submitted on July 31, 2019, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. This page has been viewed 196 times since then and 13 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on July 31, 2019, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.