Jones-Imboden Raid in Doddridge County
On April 20, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln signed the proclamation that gave his formal approval to the admission of West Virginia as the 35th state of the Union. Immediately after that, Confederate forces, under the command of William E. “Grumble” Jones and John D. Imboden, embarked on a month-long raid through West Virginia aimed at disabling the B&O and other railroads, disrupting the Union government at Wheeling, and capturing horses, cattle and supplies. On May 6th, 1863, those forces entered Doddridge County, one of their primary targets being the railroad bridge over the Middle Island Creek in West Union. That bridge, which we now know as the one overlooking the dam near the football field, was the longest and highest train bridge on the Parkersburg branch of the railroad.
Through newspaper articles and documents in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, I’ve been able to piece together a fair representation of what happened that day.
Union Forces Arrive
On May 4th, while encamped at Bridgeport, Col. George Latham of the 2nd W.Va. Infantry received word from the War (Middle) Department to proceed to West Union because General Jones had sent a group of rebels that way looking to destroy the railroad bridges over the Middle Island Creek. Col. Latham immediately brought six companies with him and arrived at West Union at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of May 5th. During the morning of the same day, a train arrived from Parkersburg with one company of the 11th W.Va. Volunteer Infantry. These men, along with several hundred home guards, were ready to protect the railroad bridges from destruction.
Confederate Forces Arrive
At 6:00 p.m. on May 6th, two groups of Confederate soldiers approached West Union, one coming north from Weston and the other coming west from Clarksburg, following the Northwestern Virginia Railroad.
Col. A. W. Harman of the 12th Virginia Cavalry, along with the 11th Virginia Cavalry and the 34th (Witcher's) Battalion Virginia Cavalry, were coming from Weston, and Col. Lunsford L. Lomax of the 11th Virginia Cavalry approached West Union along the railroad.
The raid, having started at 6:00 p.m., was over before dark. Several prisoners were taken on both sides and paroled that same day. Reports submitted to the War Department indicate that there were no deaths on either side, but according to the book The Jones-Imboden Raid by Darrell Collins, a Yankee deserter was killed in the fray. In the end, although two small bridges in Smithburg were burned, the main prize in West Union was saved by Union defenders.
Union Version of Skirmish
The following is what Union Col. George Latham said in his report to headquarters on May 18, 1863:
“Nothing of importance occurred here [West Union] until about 6 p.m. on the 6th instant, when two regiments of rebel cavalry made their appearance, driving in our pickets on the Weston and Clarksburg roads at the same time. They approached to within about 600 yards, as though they would attack, but a volley from our long-range rifled muskets caused them to fall back, and night soon coming on, which was very dark, they drew off having destroyed two small railroad bridges at Smithton, 3 miles east of West Union.”
Confederate Version of Skirmish
The following is what Confederate Col. Lunsford Lomax said in his report on May 30, 1863:
“Within a few miles of West Union, Captain Daingerfield was sent off to the right toward the Northwest Branch Railroad. The column moved on, an advance guard under Lieutenant [Edmund] Pendleton charging and capturing the enemy's picket, whom we found expecting us. We approached the town through a narrow gorge, precipitous and rocky on our right and low and swampy on our left. We found the enemy, 350 to 400 strong, drawn up in line on either side of the town. After occupying them in front until Captain Daingerfield had accomplished his object on the right, we withdrew, and were joined by Captain Daingerfield, who reported the destruction of the railroad bridges.”
Local Man Describes Skirmish
I have quoted many times from the diary of local pioneer, teacher and minister Flavius Josephus Ashburn (1832-1912). He wrote the following two entries in his diary in May 1863 about the Jones-Imboden Raid:
“The Doddridge Militia was called out last Saturday to guard West Union. I was not with them, for I have been discharged as unfit for military service in consequence of the deficiency of my eyesight. And I am informed that 400 soldiers came to West Union last night to defend it in case the Rebels should make an attack on it.
“I was informed today by the citizens of West Union and the soldiers that an army of rebels burnt the bridge below Smithton yesterday and cut the telegraph wires and captured a number of cattle and horses belonging to S.P.F. Randolph and others. They came in sight of West Union and the Union soldiers fired on them and they left - perhaps only to attack the town on the other side. They thought that there were about fifteen hundred of the rebel soldiers.”
West Union Described in Civil War
I had often wondered what West Union looked like during the Civil War, but since no photos are known to exist, I could only guess. However, I recently found a fascinating article on the subject in the October 4, 1862 issue of The Wheeling Intelligencer. The following is how one Union soldier described our county seat at that time:
“For the benefit of our friends in Wheeling and elsewhere, permit me to address you a few lines for publication in your ever welcome paper, giving you a short account of Company K, Captain Reese of the 6th [West] Virginia Regiment.
“Our company has been at Camp Wilkinson's, Clarksburg, since the 14th of September, but a great many reports having been in circulation lately concerning guerillas, horse thieves and other kinds of rebels doing pretty much as they please in Doddridge and Ritchie counties, and owing to these reports, Company K was ordered from Clarksburg to West Union to restore peace and happiness and Union men's horses to their homes once more.
“So we arrived here all safely on the evening of October 1st. It is the intention of the majority of our company, I believed, to break the backbone of rebellion in this part of Virginia, and Captain [John] Carroll, with 40 of his men, (who are stopping here with us,) and Lieut. Faris with the same number of Company K, are going to Glenville, thirty miles distant, on a reconnoitering expedition this morning.
“Captain Carroll, I understand, is perfectly familiar with the country he is going in, and if our reconnoitering party are not successful in breaking the backbone of rebeldom this time, I'll bet $2 if they find any Rebels on their route they will break the backbones of some of them.
“The report here is that the rebels are in strong force at Glenville, but I cannot ascertain their number, neither can anybody else. That's an impossibility. There might be 600 and there might be only six. So you can’t expect me to tell you how many there are. If I could, I would not hesitate an instant.
“I'll give you a few brief remarks concerning the town of West Union, where our company is encamped. Our tents are pitched near the Railroad Depot near the center of the place. If I were to tell you that West Union in Doddridge County was a pretty little place, I would then be telling you a lie and I don't want to do that. If I was asked to describe West Union I would answer: -- West Union, the capital of Doddridge County, is a dirty, dingy, dilapidated, dusty, one-horse town situated on the Middle Island Creek and the N.W.Va.R.R, surrounded by as uneven and rough a country as you will find anywhere in West Virginia.
“And now I must speak of our regimental hospital, now under the assistant surgeon Dr. John T Horton. The building is situated on an eminence above the town and there is continually a pleasant breeze about it, and plenty of good cool water convenient. I visited the hospital yesterday and I was surprised to find everything in such good order and in fine condition. Everything about the building and grounds is kept very clean and in splendid condition. What few are in it are doing very well. …”
Well, I must admit that “a dirty, dingy, dilapidated, dusty, one-horse town” was not exactly how I had envisioned our town back then, but at least we now have a pretty good idea of what West Union looked like in 1862, seven months before the Jones-Imboden Raid. I wrote in an earlier article about the Regimental Hospital being located in the West Union Academy building, which was situated on present-day Church Street directly facing Emmanuel Methodist Church. Apparently this was the cleanest place in town.
In collaboration with the Doddridge County Heritage Guild, the West Virginia State Archives & History is making preparations to place a historical roadside marker in West Union to commemorate the Jones-Imboden Raid. In this way, an event that has long been but a footnote to history will be given the recognition it deserves. You can retrace the historical route that the Confederates took along the railroad by walking or biking the beautiful North Bend Rail Trail from Smithburg to West Union. The two bridges that you cross before you get to West Union are replacements of the bridges burned during the raid.
(NOTE: This article, written by Heritage Guild member Jennifer Wilt, originally appeared in The Doddridge Independent as part of her weekly column “Our Heritage: The REAL History of Doddridge County.”)
These are the replacement bridges for the two that were burned during the Jones-Imboden Raid.