July 11, 1861: Union Victory at Rich Mountain
On July 11, 1861, the Battle of Rich Mountain was fought in Randolph County. It was the climax of a successful Union campaign to seize control of Western Virginia early in the Civil War.
Confederate General Robert Garnett had established defensive positions at Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain. Suspecting an attack on Laurel Hill, Garnett placed only about a fourth of his men on Rich Mountain, under the command of Colonel John Pegram.
Union commander George McClellan surprised Garnett and dispatched the bulk of his force, led by General William Rosecrans, to Rich Mountain. Rosecrans trapped the Confederates and captured the mountain.
The battle had two important results. First, the victory propelled McClellan into command of the Army of the Potomac—the Union’s most significant army in the East. McClellan’s Western Virginia campaign, though, was the last of his military glory. As head of the Army of the Potomac, he was continually bested by Confederate generals Joseph Johnston and Robert E. Lee. More importantly for our state’s history, Rich Mountain ensured Northern control of the region and helped pave the way for the formation of West Virginia.