We know how important the railroad in Parkersburg became in the war, in terms of moving troops and supplies. The Confederacy knew that to, and went all out to disrupt this vital Union resource. In the early months of the war, from June 1861 to October, we can estimate that over 30,000 troops moved through Parkersburg to be transported on the railroad to Virginia. Such movements continued throughout the war, but one of the more dramatic occurred 150 years ago in August 1862.
While we do not want to get into the larger war, way beyond our scope and knowledge, we need to provide some background for this critical railroad movement. Union Gen. Pope had his Army in Virginia on the Rappahannock at Clark's Mountain and was unaware of Confederate Gen. Lee's movements to conduct a surprise attack with unknown reinforcements coming to back him up. He had forces that could have destroyed Popes Army. Once Lee's movements were detected, Pope did two things - he started making preparation to retreat to a more defensible position and ask for reinforcements. There were not many available close at hand, so the order was sent to Cox in Charleston to send several units consisting of 7,000 troops to Popes aid.
The order arrived in Charleston on Aug. 16, 1862, for Cox's forces to march from Charleston to Pope's location. Instead, Cox recommended that the movement take place by rail from Parkersburg and was given permission to do so. His subsequent communication to the Quartermaster General in Washington is quoted here:
"Gauley Bridge - Aug. 16, 1862, to Major Gen. Meigs, Quartermaster General, Washington - By command of Maj. Gen Pope, I notify you that I shall be at Parkersburg on the evening of the 20th with 5,000 infantry, two batteries of six guns each, 300 cavalry, and the camp equipage and regimental trains complete, going to join Gen Pope. Railroad transportation will be needed for, say, 1,100 animals - including everything, 270 wagons. Please inform me what arrangements will be made and how far I go by rail. J.D. Cox - Brig Gen, Commanding Div. of the Kanawha.
This was an impressively large order for the railroad. On Aug. 22, two days after arrival in Parkersburg, the railroad reported as follows: From Baltimore Depot, Washington - to Hon. P. H. Watson, Assistant Secretary of War; Two full regiments, with baggage left Parkersburg in 30 cars, of four trains, last night, and passed Cumberland at 4:30 p.m. today in good order. We hope to get them to Washington by to-morrow (Saturday) from 9 to 12 a.m. Three more regiments loaded to-day and left Parkersburg, due in Washington Sunday. We have cars ready all day for most of the horses, for half of the wagons and for all the cannon. If remainder of the troops have reached Parkersburg they will be loaded tomorrow a.m. and started promptly. Ample cars will be ready then and there for the entire movement. W.P. Smith, B&O Railroad."
Now let's again look at the picture of Parkersburg in this period. It was just a small town of about 3,000 people and several hundred troops. Think of 7,000 troops marching in from the south (on Division Street and Pike Street) and crossing the Little Kanawha at the foot of Market Street, on a rickety wooden covered bridge with all their wagons and horses and weapons. Then having to wait in the streets and fields about town for loading. It isn't just the men, but the large equipage and horses - 7,000 troops and 1,100 horses. I hope you can see why I am impressed with what happened in this little sleepy town, back those many years ago. Can you imagine being a tavern owner in those day and the thirsty men eagerly waiting to quench that thirst? And other thirsts as well.
Again, Parkersburg was front-page news, receiving more attention than they had even received back when Aaron Burr and Harman Blennerhassett caused such a national stir with their treason conspiracy, 50 years earlier.
In Washington, still on Aug. 22, 1862, the highest ranking national military commander sent this: To: General Casey, Commanding - General: Troops from Western Virginia will arrive here to-day and to-morrow. They will immediately be sent to Alexandria to the railroad and join Gen. Pope on the Rappahannock. See that they are pushed forward with all possible dispatch. Very respectfully. H.W. Halleck, General-in-Chief.
Meanwhile, Gen. Robert E. Lee, engaged on the Rappahonnock approved another movement which would create exciting chaos and confusion across Northwestern Virginia! That's next.
And so it was in Parkersburg, Wood County, 150 years ago.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.