At the base of Rich Mountain, the trenches and earthen walls that surrounded the 1,300 Confederate troops at Camp Garnett are still visible in the woods. In the battlefield atop the mountain, where nearly 300 Confederates and 46 federal troops were killed or wounded, large sandstone boulders bear inscriptions carved by veterans of the battle.
Other stops on the second tour include Elkwater, where Union troops, including future president Rutherford Hayes, camped during the Battle of Cheat Mountain, and where Gen. Robert E. Lee's aide-de-camp, John A. Washington, a descendant of the first president, was killed by Union gunfire.
The third driving tour includes a stop at Cheat Mountain Summit, or Camp Milroy, where, at an elevation of 4,000 feet, Union troops established a fort along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike that Lee and his troops failed to capture in September 1861. Lee's failure here led to his vilification in the Southern press, from which he received such nicknames as "Granny Lee" for his indecisive leadership early in the war.
Earthworks are still visible at Cheat Summit, as they are at another stop on the tour, Camp Allegheny -- a Confederate bastion about 15 miles to the east, atop another 4,000-foot mountain crossed by the old turnpike. There are trenches, firing pits for artillery pieces and the foundations of cabins used to house Confederate troops who fought off both a Union attack and hypothermia in December of 1861.
"These early battles facilitated West Virginia statehood," said Lesser. "The great issues dividing North and South in 1861 also divided Virginia. So it was fitting that the first campaign of the Civil War would be fought here, in the mountains of 'western' Virginia."
Lesser said many of West Virginia's seldom-visited Civil War encampment and battle sites are fairly well preserved, with Rich Mountain, Camp Bartow and Camp Allegheny among the most pristine.
"If you're interested in the Civil War, you can only go to places like Gettysburg and Antietam so many times without seeing the same thing over and over," Lesser said. "When you visit these untrammeled sites, there's an air of mystery and a sense of discovery that you don't get at a place that's peppered with signs and monuments. There's better scenery, too."
"The First Campaign: A Guide to Civil War in the Mountains of West Virginia, 1861," published by Quarrier Press of Charleston, retails for $15.95. It is available in selected bookstores or through West Virginia Book Company at 304-342-1848 or www.wvbooks.com.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.