Just three days ago, on the 13th, the Confederate army took Charleston, second only to our own Bend Area in salt production. In a battle that lasted nearly all day, Confederate cavalry under General William Loring and one of our own, Col. John McCausland, forced the Union army under Col. Joseph Andrew Jackson Lightburn to abandon the town. Lightburn attempted to burn the salt works and town to keep it out of Confederate hands, but McCausland quickly forced the Union army back to the Elk River, leaving them with only one option. To keep their supplies out of enemy hands, Lightburn would have to safely get a 700-wagon supply train to the Ohio River.
Word reached Point Pleasant almost as soon as Loring began his march into the Kanawha Valley, and our local militias soon organized in Point Pleasant. By the 14th, there were over 500 men from the 13th WV Infantry and approximately 400 from the 106th militia awaiting orders at the county courthouse.
It’s commonly thought that Lightburn’s Retreat followed the Kanawha River, which is no doubt what both the Confederates and our local militia expected as well. However, eyewitness accounts say otherwise. A local doctor, Thomas H. Barton of Syracuse, was a hospital attendant in the 4th WV Infantry, part of Lightburn’s army. Throughout the war, he kept a journal which he later turned into an autobiography. His account of the battle states that the Union army crossed the Elk River at 1:00 on the 13th, while setting fire to any supplies that couldn’t be moved. At the same time, the wagon train left for Ravenswood. As darkness set in, the army began following the supply train, setting up camp near Sissonville on the 14th. The next day got them to Ripley. Finally, at close to midnight, they reached Ravenswood on the 16th of September. The next morning, they traveled by steamboat to Racine, where many soldiers took the opportunity to visit their loved ones. Dr. Barton even went so far as Chester to visit his wife and kids. The next day, on the 18th, they traveled by steamboat to Point Pleasant. Civilians and liberated slaves who followed Lightburn’s army continued on to Gallipolis, which was quickly overwhelmed by the massive numbers of refugees.
With over 6,000 soldiers now in Point Pleasant, Lightburn began fortifying the town with entrenchments and barricades due to rumors that Loring and McCausland were going to continue their attack, but this threat never materialized. Had they shown up, they would have been in for a rude awakening. Many soldiers from the 4th, 9th, and 13th WV Infantries were from our region, so Lightburn had what we would call home-field advantage.
On the 11th of October, while preparing to retake Charleston, the Union army held a grand military inspection in the fields near Henderson. The 4th WV, 13th WV, 34th OH, and 91st OH Infantries were inspected by Col. Lightburn, Lt. Col Russell of the 4th, Col. Brown of the 13th, Col. Toland of the 34th, and Col. Turley of the 91st. Russell and Brown were both well-known in Mason County, and the local newspapers speak admirably of their regiments.
Less than a week later, the army began its march up the Kanawha Valley, only to find that the Confederates had already evacuated Charleston.
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 held at the County Library, in Point Pleasant, at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 23.