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A Battle For Calhoun
Part 26; Partisan Rangers and Union Recruits
by Maricia Mlynek

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The following story is reprinted from Boyd B. Stutler’s West Virginia in the Civil War. It is a three-part series, with the first two parts presented prior to the Sycamore Skirmish reenactment that will be presented to the public on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 19-20, at Calhoun County Park. The third part of the series will be published after the reenactment. It will give an account of events that occurred after the battle.


To be sure, as battles of the Civil War are measured by later generations, the action on the ridge at the forks of Sycamore Creek, Calhoun County, at high noon on Nov. 28, 1861, was a very minor affair. So minor that it did not get mentioned in the roll of 632 actions listed under 16 categories occurring in West Virginia during the four-year period, and would have been entirely forgotten had it not been that a volunteer reporter for the Wheeling Intelligencer wrote a highly colored, and somewhat inaccurate, story of the encounter. Then, too, there was the mellowed memories of veterans who had participated in the action who told their stories in later years, to which this narrative is indebted.

The action was an exchange of gunfire lasting about 45 minutes between Captain Perry Conley’s band of irregular Southern partisans, a splinter group of the Moccasin Rangers, and a detachment of Captain James L. Simpson’s Company C, Eleventh (West) Virginia Infantry, which had not yet been mustered into Federal volunteer service. It was probably the first time members of Co. C had come under enemy fire.

The rest of the engagement was indecisive as both combatants cleared out of the scene of action as quickly as possible, Conley’s rangers withdrawing first to get out of musket range. The number of casualties suffered by the combatants remains undetermined, the reports ranging from a loss by Conley of six dead and a number wounded, as reported by the Intelligencer correspondent, to one Union soldier wounded and one known ranger killed, as recalled by participants.

 Though Calhoun County was almost equally divided in allegiance to the government at Washington and to Virginia, the Southern dissidents seized the military initiative early in the spring of 1861. Bands of irregulars operating under self-appointed captains, generally known as Moccasin Rangers, were organized and soon spread terror to the element holding true to the old flag. Of these semi-independent groups none was more active than the one captained by Perry Conley, who had promised General Henry A. Wise 100 Yankee buttons for a good rifle.

In the fall of 1861, Capt. Simpson, of Parkersburg, set about recruiting a company in Calhoun County for a new loyal regiment, but he found the recruiting a slow process in that disturbed area where Union men feared to leave their homes and families unprotected. Within a few weeks, Simpson did get enough men together to make up the major part of a company and led them to Camp Pierpont near Elizabeth, where a Wirt County company was in process of organization. Other enlistees from the Calhoun section were signed up and funneled into Camp Pierpont, but it was not until Dec. 22, after many of the men had seen hard service chasing guerrillas in Wirt, Calhoun, and Roane counties, that Co. C was mustered into the Federal volunteer service.

(Continued Next Week)

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