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A Battle For Calhoun
Part 8; Arnoldsburg Skirmish
by Maricia Mlynek
     

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147th Anniversary of Arnoldsburg Skirmish

May 6 was the 147th anniversary of the Arnoldsburg Skirmish. The following account of the battle is reprinted from a 1927 issue of the Chronicle that was written by Louis E. Ayers of Grantsville. A connection between Louis E. Ayers and Major Michael Ayers has not been found, but I would be surprised if they did not share a branch or two from the same family tree. Both of these men have done the county a great service through their writings and stories.

 

Arnoldsburg Skirmish
by Louis E. Ayers

Calhoun County, during the Civil War, was the scene of a few keen engagements between the contending forces. The following narrative of the sharp action that occurred near Arnoldsburg is the recollection of the writer, as he heard it described by his father, who participated in the fight on the northern side. There are perhaps many details connected with the affair that escaped the attention of the narrator. The following account is his version of the engagement:

At the time of this action, Calhoun County was being occupied to a great extent by irregular troops of both armies. To stamp out the guerrilla warfare, if possible, was the intent in stationing Capt. James L. Simpson, with 80 men of Co. C, 11th West Virginia Infantry, at a point on the Hays’ farm, just below the present site of Arnoldsburg. Capt. Simpson’s camp was on the broad bottom, just below the large two-story log residence occupied by the family of Col. Peregrine Hays.

The father and grandfather of the writer were members of Capt. Simpson’s company. My grandmother, accompanied by the wife of Benjamin Barnes, was visiting relatives at the camp. They had procured and set up a cook stove on which they made coffee and assisted in the preparation of meals for the troops. Arising one morning just at dawn, they discovered the gray jackets of the Confederate Capt. Mitchell’s command, defiling down the hillsides on both sides of the West Fork and almost completely surrounding the sleeping camp. These women each took a tent row and ran the entire length of the camp shouting, “The Johnnies are coming.” The startled troopers, seized muskets and cartridge boxes and rushed from their tents. The alarm became general and pandemonium reigned throughout the camp. Officers shouted, “Fall in! Fall in men! Fall into line!”

It was impossible to control the panic stricken men who made a rush for the Hays’ mansion, which the bulk of them entered, knocking out windows with their musket butts and opening fire on the advancing confederates. Lieut. James Robinson, with a squad of 10 men, made a sortie up a wooded point and, on reaching the crest, came face to face with a body of Confederates under the direct command of Mitchell. A volley was exchanged at close quarters and Mitchell fell mortally wounded. His men gave way. Lieut. Robinson then deployed his men behind logs and trees and engaged in sharpshooting during the remainder of the engagement. The fire from the Hays’ house was steadily maintained and, after a time, the Confederates withdrew.

Many of the men composing the Federal company were from Calhoun, Gilmer and Ritchie counties. The late William Cunningham of Sycamore was in Lieut. Robinson’s squad and, in the interchange of volleys on the hilltop, received a musket ball in the right wrist which came out at the elbow. Lieut. James F. McDonald, Jasper Ball, Peter Booher, Oscar Kelley, Wesley Poling, Nicholas Poling and a number of others whom we cannot now recall participated in this engagement. While these sterling old veterans have long since answered the last roll call, many of their descendants are embraced in Calhoun County’s present population.

As the tourist or traveler motors over our splendid state road, past this daisy strewn meadow, he little dreams that in the misty past, this now peaceful valley reverberated with the roll of musketry, blended with the shouts of charging squadrons, and that its green sward was dyed with the blood of the victims of this fratricidal strife.

Military actions:

April/May, 1862, the 11th Infantry had four companies (approx. 400 men) at Camp McDonald in Arnoldsburg.

May 5: approx. 50 Rangers came from Braxton Co. to attack the camp; one unit came down the West Fork, the other down Beech.

Battle of Arnoldsburg, May 6, 1862: Moccasin Rangers under George Downs vs. 11th Va. Infantry under Major Trimble; lasted about 3-1/2 hours; Union victory; surprisingly few casualties.

May 6, a.m., Rangers fired into the camp from the hills, heavy morning fog limited visibility and little damage was done. Union squads moved out to attack Ranger strong points; 11th Inf. had superior weapons, including artillery, and forced the Rangers to retreat once the fog lifted.

Known casualties: 11th Inf., wounded, Pvt. Cunningham of Co. C.; Rangers, wounded, Cpl. Martin Douglass; died of wounds, Rev. Elim Mitchell (believed buried under church in Arnoldsburg); killed, Joseph Burson (Calhoun County was organized at a meeting held in the Burson home; his house was also the site of the first circuit court session and was a polling place).

Battle of Arnoldsburg aftermath:

May 8, Col. Rathbone, in Parkersburg, was given the wrong information about the battle. He telegraphed his superior, Gen. Kelley, in Weston, that the 11th had been defeated by 400 Moccasin Rangers at Arnoldsburg, and that regimental headquarters in Spencer had been captured.

Parkersburg went into a panic, expecting an immediate attack. Businesses and families evacuated to Belpre and Marietta; city officials asked for help from Ohio militia units.

Gen. Kelley reported the news to his superior, Gen. John C. Fremont, and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.

Union troops poured into the area to “retake” Arnoldsburg and Spencer (the Rangers were forced to move operations and camps to Braxton and Webster counties).

Official Federal war records still list the Battle of Arnoldsburg as a Confederate victory.

Results: Moccasin Ranger influence in Calhoun was never the same. Rangers couldn’t operate freely in Calhoun and surrounding counties due to increased number of Union troops. It was a severe blow to the morale of all CSA partisan bands in Western Virginia.

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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