BURNSVILLE, W.Va. -- One hundred fifty years ago today, Col. William L. Jackson, a native of Clarksburg and a second cousin of Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, approached a covered bridge on the Weston and Gauley Turnpike near the Braxton County community of Bulltown.
A few days earlier, Jackson, accompanied by nearly 700 Confederate infantrymen, 75 cavalry troops, and a smaller detachment of artillerymen with a pair of 12-pound cannons pulled by mules, had departed the Greenbrier Valley and crossed over Cold Knob en route to Braxton County.
Their orders were to cut federal communication and supply lines between the Kanawha Valley and the northern portion of the new state of West Virginia. Jackson's immediate plan was to attack a Union Army strongpoint along the turnpike near Bulltown. Between 350 and 400 Union troops from the 6th and 11th West Virginia Infantry were occupying trenches barricaded with logs and fence rails on the Moses Cunningham farm.
Jackson had planned to strike the Union position from two sides, dividing his men into two columns that would converge at dawn. But the column led by Maj. J.M. Kessler arrived at the site early, "and for some reason, did not wait for Jackson," according to an account by historian Roy Bird Cook.
According to an after-action report by the Union commander, Capt. William Mattingly, Kessler's men "charged our fortifications on the northeast side" at about 4:30 a.m. "We fell back to our main fortifications," Mattingly continued. "They pursued us until within a few yards of our fortifications when we poured it into them strong and repulsed them successfully."
Jackson arrived after the first attempt to oust the federal force had broken off, and at 8 a.m., sent a note to Mattingly telling him his position was surrounded by a much larger force and urged him to surrender.
"Come and take us," the captain replied in a note of his own, and Jackson and his men attempted to do just that. Mattingly became the battle's sole Union casualty, suffering a broken thighbone from a Confederate musket ball. He relinquished command to Capt. James Simpson, who, at about 3 p.m., rebuffed another call by Jackson to surrender.
"I'll fight you till hell freezes over and if need be, retreat on the ice," Simpson replied.
Jackson broke off the attack about 4:30 p.m. and began a retreat up Bryants Fork of the Little Kanawha River, leaving eight men dead and a like number injured. The unsuccessful attack did little to discourage use of his nickmane, "Mudwall Jackson."
Also injured on the battlefield was farm owner Moses Cunningham, who was shot in the back when he "hurrahed for Jeff Davis" during the heat of the battle, according to an account by Dr. Thomas Camden of Weston, who treated both Cunningham and Mattingly at the scene.
"I dressed his wound," Camden said of Cunningham. "He recovered and became more careful in his cheering."
Traces of earthworks built by the Union troops and the Cunningham farmhouse can still be seen at Bulltown Historic District at Burnsville Lake. However, the site, administered by the Army Corps of Engineers, is currently closed due to the partial government shutdown. A re-enactment of the battle that had been scheduled for Saturday was canceled due to the shutdown.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.