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Rich Mountain Reenactment Commemorates 150th Anniversary

The Battle of Rich Mountain was fought on July 11, 1861 near Beverly, Virginia. The pivotal battle of the First Campaign of the Civil War would determine the fate of West Virginia.

Now, 150 years later, the public is invited to learn about and commemorate this event at the 150th Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Rich Mountain, to be held July 9 and 10.

“The Battle of Rich Mountain was a small affair compared to the devastating combat that the nation would witness over the next four bloody years,” said Rick Wolfe, president of the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation and member of the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission. The battle’s strategic importance, however, was large, Wolfe said.

“It pushed the Confederates away from the B&O Railroad and established Union control of other transportation routes, disrupted Confederate recruiting and changed the minds of ‘fence sitters’ on the issue of secession.” The battle also put Gen. George B. McClellan in command of the Army of the Potomac and set the stage for West Virginia statehood, he said.

In the battle, Union regiments under the overall command of Gen. McClellan attacked and defeated Confederate troops defending a strategic mountain pass on the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. In a surprise flank march around the Confederate Camp Garnett fortifications, nearly 2,000 Union troops defeated 310 Rebel troops. The Confederates held off federal forces for more than two hours at the pass on the top of Rich Mountain with only one cannon.

The battlefield and Camp Garnett today are owned and protected by the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation, which is commemorating its twentieth year in 2011. The Foundation is holding a series of educational and commemorative events July 6 through July 11 in honor of the 150th Anniversary. In addition to the reenactment July 9 and 10, activities include evening speakers on July 6 and 7, and a concert by the Blue and Gray Choir July 8. A commemoration ceremony will be held at the battlefield at 6 p.m. July 11, the actual battle date.

Capping off the series of anniversary activities, the reenactment will take place July 9 and 10 at the Rich Mountain Battlefield Civil War Site. Reenactors will honor the original participants in the campaign by sharing with the public many of the compelling stories from 150 years ago. Living history scenarios, demonstrations, and “first person” impressions will include military units such as the 9th Ohio “German” Infantry, Michigan Loomis Artillery, and the Upshur Grays. Civilians, including a laundress and dentist as well as Gov. Pierpont, will also be represented. Reenactors will demonstrate a Civil War period field printing press and telegraph.

Reenactment highlights July 9 include living history and demonstrations from 1 to 5 p.m. with the “Skirmish for the Pike” battle reenactment at 3:30 p.m. The public is invited to stay for a Bar-B-Q dinner at 6 p.m. Reservations and tickets are needed for the $8 meal, which will be followed by an 8 p.m. dance featuring the Rich Mountain String Band. Period dances will be taught, beginners welcome.  

Sunday activities will begin with a period church service at 11 a.m. Soldiers will prepare for battle at 1 p.m. and participate in a short memorial ceremony at 1:30 p.m. The Battle of Rich Mountain reenactment will begin at 2 p.m.

All of these reenactment activities take place at the western side of the Rich Mountain Battlefield Civil War Site, about 7 miles west of Beverly. Guided tours of the battlefield at the top of the mountain will be offered from 11 a.m. until just before the scheduled battles.

Located in Beverly, the Beverly Heritage Center will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with Civil War living history interpretations Friday morning, and the U.S. Signal Corps demonstrating telegraph operations Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

For more information, directions, or a complete schedule, visit Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation at www.richmountain.org or call 304-637-7424.

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* All photographs are courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives
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