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North and South fight indecisive battle at Carnifex Ferry

Confederate forces withdraw from the Kanawha Valley in western Virginia after fighting an indecisive battle at Carnifex Ferry in the early months of the war.

During the summer of 1861, the two sides had struggled for control of western Virginia as the Union tried to secure the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and control the region’s river transportation. Meanwhile, the counties of western Virginia were trying to secede from their own state. Since residents of the mountainous region had little in common with the rest of the state, and slavery was rare, a referendum was set for October 24 to create a Unionist state.

After defeating a Union force at Cross Lanes on August 26, Confederate General John Floyd occupied the bluffs overlooking Carnifex Ferry on the Kanawha River. General William S. Rosecrans commanded Union forces in the area. On the morning of September 10, a Yankee detachment under General Henry Benham stumbled into the main Confederate force and the rest of Rosecran’s army soon showed up to expel the Rebels from their positions on the bluff. Some 2,000 Confederates faced a Union force about three times their size. The battle lasted until nightfall, but the Yankees, who sustained 158 casualties to the Confederates’ 20, were unable to penetrate the Southern lines. Nevertheless, Floyd was unable to hold his position in the face of the larger Yankee contingent. By retreating, he left Union forces in control of Kanawha Valley and most of western Virginia. This facilitated the formation of West Virginia.

The combatants at Carnifex Ferry included many men who later achieved fame, such as 23rd Ohio Infantry members and future U.S. presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.

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