After two years of empty threats from Confederate Generals Jenkins and McCausland, the Civil War finally reached the Bend Area. During the summer of 1863, General John Hunt Morgan was ordered to begin his daring raid through Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio to distract the Union army from other parts of the war.
By July 18, Morgan had made his way into the Ohio Valley, intending to cross the river at Eight Mile Island and destroy the Bend Area salt furnaces. As luck would have it, the Middleport militia had a small cannon (little more than a 4th of July novelty), and the steamer Condor was in town. Upon mistaking the approaching steamboat for a government tinclad, the Confederates chose to continue through Ohio. On the West Virginia side of the river during this encounter was one of the many Roushes, who rode to Mason yelling, “The Rebels is comin’; Git! Git! Over the river as fast as yu’ kin!” According to Anna Lederer, he was later known as Git Roush. The town of Mason responded by quickly crossing to Pomeroy, which was easier to defend.
Upon approaching Middleport, 75 of Morgan’s troops, who had been sent ahead as scouts, were captured. 85 more were captured at Syracuse, and 68 at Racine. His main force bypassed Pomeroy and proceeded through Chester, Bashan, and Portland. Smaller groups traveled along the Ohio River, and shot at the home guard guarding Wolf’s Bar (near Mountaineer Power Plant). Reaching Buffington Island near dusk on the 18th, Morgan chose to wait until morning to cross the river. This would prove to be a fatal mistake.
Morgan’s delay gave Union troops under the command of Henry Judah and Edward Hobson the time they needed to catch up and surround the Confederate camp. By morning, Morgan’s 1,700 men were facing 3,000 Union troops behind them, 3 gunboats, and at least 1,000 guards along the West Virginia shore. Among those on our side of the river were the 13th and 9th West Virginia infantries, both of which consisted of many Mason County recruits.
After fighting for much of the morning, General Morgan managed to escape, but over half of his soldiers were captured. Of the 750 prisoners, 208 were put under guard by the 13th West Virginia, “our own Mason County boys.” They were loaded onto a barge and taken to Fayetteville, but stopped at Hartford on the way. They weren’t permitted to go ashore due to fears that they might see their homes and be convinced to desert, but the townspeople were able to bring plenty of food to their starving soldiers. The rest of the prisoners were taken to Cincinnati, and those of Morgan’s troops that had escaped were captured a week later at the Battle of Salineville.
This coming Wednesday, July 19, will be the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Buffington Island.
Information for this article from the Pomeroy Weekly Telegraph, writings of Anna Lederer, Ohio History Central, and the West Virginia State Archives.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society. More information on the organization found on Facebook at Mason County Historic Preservation. The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be Tuesday, July 25 at 6:30 p.m. Location is currently being determined but will likely be in the Ashton area.