Early in 1861 the Confederates attempted to permanently occupy the country south of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway in Virginia. They were placed under the command of R. S. Garnett, a meritorious soldier, who was in the war with Mexico, and was brevetted for gallantry at Buena Vista. He made his headquarters at Beverly, in Randolph county, and prepared to prevent the National troops from pushing through the mountaingaps into the Shenandoah Valley.
The roads through these gaps were fortified. At the same time ex-Governor H. A. Wise, with the commission of a brigadier-general, was organizing a brigade in the Great Ranawha Valley, beyond the Greenbrier Mountains. He was ordered to cross the intervening mountains, and cooperate with Garnett. General McClellan took command of his troops in western Virginia, at Grafton, towards the close of May, and the entire force of Ohio, Indiana, and Virginia troops under his control numbered full 20,000 men. With these he advanced against the Confederates. He sent Gen. J. D. Cox with a detachment to keep Wise in check, while with his main body, about 10,000 strong, he moved to attack Garnett at Laurel Hill, near Beverly. At the same time a detachment 4,000 strong, under General Morris, moved towards Beverly by way of Philippi. while another body, led by General Hill, was sent to West Union, to prevent the escape of any Confederates by that way over the Allegheny Mountains, to join Johnston at Winchester.
Garnett was then strongly entrenched at Laurel Hill, with about 8,000 Virginians. Georgians, Tennesseeans, and Carolinians. To this camp, Morris nearly penetrated, but not to attack it%u2014only to make feints to divert Garnett while McClellan should gain his rear. There was almost daily heavy skirmishing, chiefly by Colonels Dumont and Milroy, on the part of the Nationals. So industrious and bold had been the scouts, that when McClellan appeared they gave him full information of the region and the forces there. During a few clays, so daring had been the conduct of the Nationals that they were regarded almost with awe by the Confederates. They called the 9th Indiana%u2014whose exploits were particularly notable %u2014" Swamp Devils." While on the road towards Beverly, McClellan ascertained that about 1,500 Confederates under Col. John Pegram, were occupying a heavily entrenched position in the rear of Garnett, in the Rich Mountain Gap, and commanding the road over the mountains to Staunton, the chief highway to southern Virginia. Pegram boasted that his position could not be turned; but it was turned by Ohio and Indiana regiments and some cavalry, all under the command of Colonel Rosecrans, accompanied by Colonel Lander, who was with Dumont at Philippi. They made a detour, July 11, 1861, in a heavy rainstorm, over most perilous ways among the mountains for about 8 miles, and at noon were on the summit of Rich Mountain, high above Pegram's camp, and a mile from it.
Rosecrans thought his movement was unknown to the Confederates. Pegram was informed of it, and sent out 900 men, with two cannon, up the mountain road, to meet the Nationals, and just as they struck the Staunton road the latter were fiercely assailed. Rosecrans was without cannon. He sent forward his skirmishers: and while these were engaged in fighting, his main body was concealed. Finally Pegram's men came out from their works and charged across the road, when the Indianians sprang to their feet, fired, and, with a wild shout, sprang upon the foe with fixed bayonets. A sharp conflict ensued, when the Confederates gave way, and fled in great confusion down the declivities of the mountain to Pegram's camp. The battle lasted about an hour and a half. The number of Union troops engaged was about 1,800, and those of the Confederates half that number. The former lost 18 killed and about 40 wounded; the latter 140 killed and a large number wounded and made prisoners. Their entire loss was about 400. For his gallantry on this occasion, Rosecrans was made a brigadier-general.
Garnett was a prey to the Nationals. In light marching order he pushed on towards Beverly, hoping to escape over the mountains towards Staunton. He was too late, for McClellan moved rapidly to Beverly. Garnett then turned back, and, taking a road through a gap at Leedsville, plunged into the wild mountain regions of the Cheat Range, taking with him only one cannon. His reserves at Beverly fled over the mountains. Meanwhile Rosecrans had entered Pegram's deserted camp, while the latter, dispirited and weary, with about 600 followers, was trying to escape. He surrendered to McClellan July 14.
Major General George B. McClellan assumed command of Union forces in western Virginia in June 1861. On June 27, he moved his divisions from Clarksburg south against Lieutenant Col. John Pegram's Confederates, reaching the vicinity of Rich Mountain on July 9. Meanwhile, Brigadier General T.A. Morris's Union brigade marched from Philippi to confront Brigadier General R.S. Garnett's command at Laurel Hill. On July 11, Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans led a reinforced brigade by a mountain path to seize the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike in Pegram's rear. A sharp two-hour fight ensued in which the Confederates were split in two. Half escaped to Beverly, but Pegram and the others surrendered on July 13.
Hearing of Pegram's defeat, Garnett abandoned Laurel Hill. The Federals pursued, and, during fighting at Corrick's Ford on July 13, Garnett was killed. On July 22, McClellan was ordered to Washington, and Rosecrans assumed command of Union forces in western Virginia. Union victory at Rich Mountain was instrumental in propelling McClellan to command of the Army of the Potomac.
This Union victory, west of the town of Beverly (then county seat of Randolph County, Virginia), gave the Federal forces control over much of Appalachian northwestern Virginia, and allowed these counties to form the government that eventually led to the creation of a new state -- West Virginia.