Skirmish at South Branch
Skirmish at South Branch Bridge, (West) Virginia
Thomas Richards, Arlington, Virginia.
OCTOBER 26, 1861
It would be difficult today for the citizens of Allegany County, Maryland, to imagine making an armed invasion of neighboring Hampshire and Mineral Counties in West Virginia.(1) Nine decades ago this was not so. Then the thin thread of the Potomac River separated two conflicting ideas of state sovereignty. These ideas had embroiled our nation in the horror of Civil War, and many pro-Union citizens of Western Maryland were willing to aid in the suppression of the Southern Secessionists. Time has cooled the passions of the moment, but it is of interest to examine the events and follow the Alleganians as they marched to stamp out the fires of rebellion.
Hampshire County and Romney, its seat, represented an area of vital importance to both armies during the Civil War. Should Confederate troops control the county, they would be in a strategic position to cut the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad along a sixty mile right of way, as well as to disrupt shipping along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal between Cumberland and the Little Capon River. Both of these moves would aid in isolating Washington and the East from the Mid-West. Union occupation of the area would give the Federals control of the Northwest Turnpike (Route 50) with access to the Shenandoah Valley, as well as the upper reaches of the South Branch and Patterson Creek. Hampshire County's wealth in agricultural products made it an additional prize for both armies.(2)
Realizing the importance of the area, General Winfield Scott, on October 24, 1861, ordered General Benjamin F. Kelley, stationed at Cumberland, (3) to mass his troops at New Creek, Virginia (now Keyser, West Virginia) and to descend in force on Romney by way of the Northwest Turnpike and Mechanicsburg Gap. The order was swiftly executed, and early the morning of the 26th an expedition, consisting of twenty infantry companies, three pieces of artillery and the Ringgold Cavalry (22 Pennsylvania Cavalry) began the advance.(4)
1 - West Virginia was created from Virginia and entered the Union in 1863. Mineral County was created from Hampshire County in 1866.
2 - Official Records, 1 ser., V, pp. 200-201. MacDonald to Cooper.
3 - Official Records, 1 ser., V, p. 625. Scott to Kelley.
4 - Official Records, 1 ser., V, pp. 378-379. Kelley to Scott.
Ruth Enlow Library, Oakland
22 x 15 cms
United States--History--Civil War
Maryland, West Virginia, 1862-1865