Battle of Buffington Island

The Battle of Buffington Island, also known as the St. Georges Creek Skirmish, was an American Civil War engagement in Meigs County, Ohio, and Jackson County, West Virginia, on July 19, 1863, during Morgan's Raid. The largest battle in Ohio during the war, Buffington Island contributed to the capture of the famed Confederate cavalry raider, Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan, who was seeking to escape Union army pursuers across the Ohio River at a ford opposite Buffington Island.

Delayed overnight, Morgan was almost surrounded by Union cavalry the next day, and the resulting battle ended in a Confederate rout, with over half of the 1,700-man Confederate force being captured. General Morgan and some 700 men escaped, but the daring raid finally ended on July 26 with his surrender after the Battle of Salineville. Morgan's Raid was of little military consequence, but it did spread terror among much of the population of southern and eastern Ohio, as well as neighboring Indiana.

Battle of Buffington Island
Part of the American Civil War
DateJuly 19, 1863
Result Union victory
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
Edward H. Hobson John Hunt Morgan
3,000[1] 1,700[1]
Casualties and losses
25 Killed[1] 52 killed
100 wounded
750 Captured


Hoping to divert the attention of the Federal Army of the Ohio from Southern forces in Tennessee, Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan and 2,460 handpicked Confederate cavalrymen, along with a battery of horse artillery, rode west from Sparta, Tennessee, on June 11, 1863. Twelve days later, when a second Federal army (the Army of the Cumberland) began its Tullahoma Campaign, Morgan decided it was time to move northward. His column marched into Kentucky, fighting a series of minor battles, before commandeering two steamships to ferry them across the Ohio River into Indiana, where, at the Battle of Corydon, Morgan routed the local militia. With his path now relatively clear, Morgan headed eastward on July 13 past Cincinnati and rode across southern Ohio, stealing horses and supplies along the way.

The Union response was not long in coming, as Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, commanding the Department of the Ohio, ordered out all available troops, as well as sending several Union Navy gunboats steaming up the Ohio River to contest any Confederate attempt to reach Kentucky or West Virginia and safety. Brig. Gen. Edward H. Hobson led several columns of Federal cavalry in pursuit of Morgan's raiders, which by now had been reduced to some 1,700 men. Ohio Governor David Tod called out the local militia, and volunteers formed companies to protect towns and river crossings throughout the region.

On July 18, Morgan, having split his column earlier, led his reunited force towards Pomeroy, Ohio, a quiet river town near the Eight Mile Island Ford, where Morgan intended to cross into West Virginia. Running a gauntlet of small arms fire, Morgan's men were denied access to the river and to Pomeroy itself, and he headed towards the next ford upstream at Buffington Island, some 20 miles to the southeast.

Arriving near Buffington Island and the nearby tiny hamlet of Portland, Ohio, towards evening on July 18, Morgan found that the ford was blocked by several hundred local militia ensconced behind hastily thrown up earthworks. As a dense fog and darkness settled in, Morgan decided to camp for the night to allow his jaded men and horses to rest. He was concerned that even if he pushed aside the enemy troops, he might lose additional men in the darkness as they tried to navigate the narrow ford. The delay proved to be a fatal mistake.

Fitch's Fleet

USS Fairplay on the Western Rivers during 1862–65
USS Fairplay 1862-1865, Tinclad #17
Camps & anchorages the night before the battle.

The US Navy's Mississippi Squadron was involved in Battle of Buffington Island. Morgan had brought field cannons with his column. A heavy river blockade and a means was realized early in the chase while Morgan's column traveled easterly towards Cincinnati, Ohio. Lt Commander Leroy Fitch's fleet included the Brilliant, Fairplay, Moose, Reindeer, St. Clair, Silver Lake, Springfield, Victory, Naumkeag, and Queen City, which were tinclads and ironclads. A few of these steamers lagged behind to zone-up protecting against a possible doubling back of Morgan's column. The forward vessels were each assigned a patrol zone along the Mason, Jackson and Wood counties of West Virginia by Fitch's instruction. Naumkeag patrolled from Point Pleasant, West Virginia to Eight Mile Island zone and Springfield guarded from Pomeroy, Ohio towards Letart Islands. Victory's cannon balls have been found along Leading Creek, Ohio, its patrol from Middleport, Ohio to Eight Mile Island along the West Virginia river bank. The Magnolia, Imperial, Alleghany Belle, and Union tinclads and armed packets which were privateers along with others documented under Parkersburg Logistics' command. The Army's "amphibious division" officer, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside at his Cincinnati headquarters, provided intelligence of Morgan's march and turned his flagship, Alleghany Belle, over to Fitch before the battle. The "amphibious division" tinclads had four to six large jonboats (sideboats) used to fire rifles from, for landing to give chase and pickup prisoners.

Fitch's flagship was the ironclad USS Moose.[2] Moose and Fitch's dispatch privateer, Imperial, were tied up within earshot of the island the night before the battle. It has been written that Fitch had the boilers fired up and shooting its large cannons at the island on first rifle fire, slightly out of range before steam could make way. Allegheny Belle was a little farther down tied up along the Ohio side. Having heard Moose's cannons, it made steam and soon brought up Burnsides' "amphibious infantry" (M. F. Jenkins 1999).

The 9th West Virginia Infantry were delivered by packets working under Fort Union (Ft Blair) to the high banked, tree lined crossings along the West Virginia shores. These were commanded by Colonel I. H. Duval under Federal Command at Wheeling, West Virginia. "The regiment was composed largely of refugees, who, having been driven from home, were fighting with a desperation that was not excelled by any troops in any army."[3] The river provided further impediment to the Confederate Cavalry during these skirmishes. It is unknown, save educated guess, how many horses and Confederate Cav Troopers drowned while facing West Virginia stationed sentry in several locations down shore stemming from the main battle. Some individuals did make the crossing without horse by foot evasion and was aided back south to home by sympathizers despite some of Col J.P.R.B. Smith's 106th militia of Jackson and Mason counties Cavalry patrols behind the sentry line. One of several smaller shoal crossings was near Ravenswood, West Virginia.[4] That sentry squad was provided a worn out cannon of which several earlier authors have anecdote. The "amphibious division" assaulted any Confederate squad found near the shores and pulled prisoners from the river.

Continuing upstream after the main battle broke into unit manoeuvre and skirmishes, USS Moose fired on a Confederate Artillery column trying to cross the river above the island at the next shoal crossing. Fitch dispatched Imperial to recover Confederate field artillery left behind there. All along the river, spotty ironclad and field cannon fire with clusters of rifle fire was heard shooting at Morgan's scouts looking for another possible ford. Meanwhile, Parkersburg Logistics terminal had sent a local armed packet with 9th Infantry sentries below Blennerhassett Island on word of the Battle's gunfire some twenty miles below. These paralleled patrols opposite the Belpre, Ohio Union Army encampment below the Ohio side of the terminal. This steamboat river harbor and large land Debarkations Camp blocked Morgan's further attempt to ford the river upstream turning his retreat northerly and away from this Ohio River area. The local support vessels were busy hauling ammunition, rations and prisoners. Belpre, Ohio had a supply receiving dockage and depot.

Unlike General William W. Loring during the Confederate overrun of Charleston's salt works, General Morgan had missed his chance farther downstream as he approached this center. It was a direct rail route from the Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Baltimore region.[5] The western states got their supplies from the east's rail depot and packet docks at the Union's Parkersburg Supply Center. Belpre and Parkersburg was also a huge Union embarkation center for union infantry being transported by conscript steam packet boats (privateers) to the Kentucky and Tennessee theatre. As the railroad Line from the East's factories, it had no bridges across the Ohio River. There were no railway bridges across the Ohio River at this time. Railroad bridges would be built across the Mississippi and Ohio rivers after the Civil War. Clearly, before Gen. Morgan left the South, he lacked detailed intelligence of the Union's logistics system on the upper Ohio Valley as some military historians have figured.

Collated and Compiled from the Official Records of the War Department:
1-Morgan's Raid into IN, KY and OH

U.S.A.-  22 Killed,  80 Wounded
26-        790 Missing or Captured

C.S.A.-  86 Killed, 385 Wounded
             3000 Missing or Captured
Lieutenant-Commander LeRoy Fitch report to Acting Rear-Admiral David D. Porter, Commanding Mississippi Squadron:

"Many places he has been in large bends in the river, where by marching 4 or 5 miles he could have struck several fords, which, by water, would perhaps be 15 or 20 miles apart. All these fords in the rear, ahead, and intermediate had to be guarded."


Buffington Island Battlefield Ohio
Map of Buffington Island Battlefield core and study areas by the American Battlefield Protection Program.
Buffington Island battlefield monument
The battlefield monument

On the foggy morning of July 19, two Federal brigades under August Kautz and Henry M. Judah finally caught up with Morgan and attacked his position on the broad flood plain just north of Portland, nearly encircling the Confederates as another column under James M. Shackelford arrived on the scene. In the spirited early fighting, Maj. Daniel McCook, the 65-year-old patriarch of the famed Fighting McCooks, was mortally wounded. Nearly 3,000 Federals were soon engaged with Morgan's outnumbered and exhausted men. In addition, two Union gunboats, the U.S.S. Moose and the U.S.S. Allegheny Belle, steamed into the narrow channel separating Buffington Island from the flood plain and opened fire on Morgan's men, spraying them with shell fragments. Soon they were joined by a third gunboat.

Morgan, his way to the Buffington Island ford now totally blocked, left behind a small rear guard and tried to fight his way northward along the flood plain, hoping to reach yet another ford. It proved to be an exercise in futility, as Morgan's force was split apart by the converging Federal columns and 52 Confederates were killed, with well over one hundred badly wounded in the swirling fighting. Morgan and about 700 men escaped encirclement by following a narrow path through the woods. However, his brother-in-law and second-in-command, Col. Basil W. Duke, was captured, as were over 750 of Morgan's cavalrymen, including his younger brother John Morgan. Duke formally surrendered to Col. Isaac Garrard of the 7th Ohio Cavalry.

Morgan's beleaguered troops soon headed upstream for the unguarded ford opposite Belleville, West Virginia, where over 300 men successfully crossed the Ohio River to avoid capture, most notably Col. Adam "Stovepipe" Johnson and famed telegrapher George Ellsworth. General Morgan, who was halfway across the ford, noted with dismay that his remaining men were trapped on the Ohio side as the Federal gunboats suddenly loomed into view. He wheeled his horse midchannel and rejoined what was left of his column on the Ohio riverbank. Over the next few days, they failed to find a secure place to cross the river, and Morgan's remaining force was captured on July 26 in northern Ohio following the Battle of Salineville.

Many of those captured at Buffington Island were taken via steamboat to Cincinnati as prisoners of war, including most of the wounded. Morgan and most of his officers were confined to the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. Morgan, Thomas Hines, and a few others would later escape and return safely to Kentucky.

Battlefield preservation

Buffington Island
Battle of Buffington Island is located in Ohio
Battle of Buffington Island
Battle of Buffington Island is located in the United States
Battle of Buffington Island
Nearest cityPomeroy, Ohio
Coordinates39°0′9″N 81°46′30″W / 39.00250°N 81.77500°W
Area4 acres (1.6 ha)
NRHP reference #70000508[6]
Added to NRHPNovember 10, 1970

Comparatively little changed on the Buffington Island battlefield in the first century after the fighting; the only substantial difference was the placement of a stone obelisk marking the battle. In 1929, the Ohio Historical Society took ownership of the property.[7] In 1970, the battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Embracing approximately 4 acres (1.6 ha) near the river, the designated portion of the battlefield was the county's first location to be recognized as this type of historic site.[6]


  1. ^ a b c National Park Service Battle Summary
  2. ^ "Operations of the Mississippi Squadron during Morgan's Raid" by Mark F. Jenkins [1]
  3. ^ Source: Loyal West Virginia 1861-1865, by Theodore Lang
  4. ^ Claudia Lynn Lady, Five Tri-State Women During the Civil War: Views On the War, Volume 43, Number 4 (Summer 1982). Morgan's troops attempted to cross the Ohio River into West Virginia near her home in Ravenswood. Henrietta Barr letter, "firing of musketry and cannon continued about three hours".
  5. ^ Matheny, H. E. Wood County, West Virginia, in the Civil War Times; With an Account of the Guerrilla Warfare in the Little Kanawha Valley. Parkersburg, West Virginia, Trans Joseph M. Sakach, Jr., Trans Allegheny Books Inc., 1987.
  6. ^ a b National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  7. ^ Owen, Lorrie K., ed. Dictionary of Ohio Historic Places. Vol. 2. St. Clair Shores: Somerset, 1999, 985-986.


  • Adams, James T., Dictionary of American History, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940.
  • Bennett, B. Kevin and Roth, David, "Battle of Buffington Island," Blue & Gray magazine, April 1998.
  • Cahill, Lora Schmidt and Mowery, David L., Morgan's Raid Across Ohio: The Civil War Guidebook of the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail. Columbus, Ohio: The Ohio Historical Society, 2014. ISBN 978-0989805438.
  • Duke, Basil Wilson, A History of Morgan's Cavalry. Cincinnati, Ohio: Miami Printing and Pub. Co., 1867. On-line version
  • Horwitz, Lester V., The Longest Raid of the Civil War. Cincinnati, Ohio: Farmcourt Publishing, Inc., 1999. ISBN 0-9670267-3-3.
  • Mingus, Scott L., "Buffington Island," CHARGE! Magazine, Volume 4, August, 2004, pages 14–17. Text used by permission of the Johnny Reb Gaming Society.
  • Mowery, David L., Morgan's Great Raid: The Remarkable Expedition from Kentucky to Ohio. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1609494360.

External links

Coordinates: 38°59′28″N 81°46′17″W / 38.99111°N 81.77139°W

2nd Ohio Cavalry

The 2nd Ohio Cavalry was a cavalry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

5th Indiana Cavalry Regiment

The 5th Indiana Volunteer Cavalry was a cavalry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

7th Ohio Cavalry

The 7th Regiment, Ohio Cavalry was a regiment of Union cavalry raised in southern Ohio for service during the American Civil War. Nicknamed the "River Regiment" as its men came from nine counties along the Ohio River, it served in the Western Theater in several major campaigns of the Army of the Ohio.

9th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment

The 9th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Buffington Island

Buffington Island is an island in the Ohio River in Jackson County, West Virginia Near the town of Ravenswood, United States, east of Racine, Ohio. During the American Civil War, the Battle of Buffington Island took place on July 19, 1863, just south of the Ohio community of Portland.

The Ohio Historical Society maintains a four-acre park adjacent to the island that features a monument about the battle. It also features signs that tell of the events at the battle.

Cincinnati in the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, the Ohio River port city of Cincinnati, Ohio, played a key role as a major source of supplies and troops for the Union Army. It also served as the headquarters for much of the war for the Department of the Ohio, which was charged with the defense of the region, as well as directing the army's offensives into Kentucky and Tennessee.

Edward H. Hobson

Edward Henry Hobson (July 11, 1825 – September 14, 1901) was a merchant, banker, politician, tax collector, railroad executive, and an officer in the United States Army in the Mexican–American War and American Civil War. He is most known for his determined pursuit of the Confederates during Morgan's Raid.

Fighting McCooks

The Fighting McCooks were members of a family of Ohioans who reached prominence as officers in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Two brothers, Daniel and John McCook, and thirteen of their sons were involved in the army, making the family one of the most prolific in American military history. Six of the McCooks reached the rank of brigadier general or higher. Several family members were killed in action or died from their wounds. Following the war, several others reached high political offices, including governorships and diplomatic posts.

Ford (crossing)

A ford is a shallow place with good footing where a river or stream may be crossed by wading, or inside a vehicle getting its wheels wet. A ford may occur naturally or be constructed. Fords may be impassable during high water. A low water crossing is a low bridge that allows crossing over a river or stream when water is low but may be covered by deep water when the river is high.

George Ellsworth

George A. Ellsworth (1843–1899), commonly known as "Lightning" Ellsworth, was a Canadian telegrapher who served in the cavalry forces of Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. His use of the telegraph to spread disinformation to the Union forces was declared by The Times as the greatest innovation to come out of the war.

George Sigourney Acker

George Sigourney Acker (December 25, 1835 – September 6, 1879) was a Union Army officer in the American Civil War.

Early in the conflict, Acker enlisted in the 1st Michigan Cavalry and was commissioned as captain of Company I. He participated in the battles in the Shenandoah Valley in spring 1862 and the Second Battle of Bull Run. In late 1862 he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. In early 1863 he was assigned to the 9th Michigan Cavalry. He then participated in the operation against the raids of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan in Kentucky and Ohio. He participated in the Battle of Buffington Island in Ohio. After the capture of Morgan, Acker was posted with his regiment in the forces of General Ambrose Burnside in eastern Tennessee.

Acker was injured November 14, 1863 at Bean's Station. Recovered from his injuries, he returned to the ranks as a colonel in the spring of 1864. He participated again in an operation against the troops of General Morgan and fight in Kentucky and Tennessee until October 1864. After this campaign, he was assigned to General William Tecumseh Sherman and participated in the march to the sea and the countryside of the Carolinas. He received a brevet promotion to Brigadier General on March 13, 1865.

Colonel Acker died on September 6, 1879 in Kalamazoo, Michigan and is buried in Union City, in the state of Michigan.

James M. Shackelford

James Murrell Shackelford (July 7, 1827 – September 7, 1907) was a lawyer, judge, and general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He has the distinction of having captured Confederate cavalry commander John Hunt Morgan in mid-1863, effectively ending "Morgan's Raid".

John Hunt Morgan

John Hunt Morgan (June 1, 1825 – September 4, 1864) was a Confederate general in the American Civil War.

In April 1862, he raised the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry Regiment, fought at Shiloh, and then launched a costly raid in Kentucky, which encouraged Braxton Bragg's invasion of that state. He also attacked the supply-lines of General William Rosecrans. In July 1863, he set out on a 1,000-mile raid into Indiana and Ohio, taking hundreds of prisoners. But after most of his men had been intercepted by Union gunboats, Morgan surrendered at Salineville, Ohio, the northernmost point ever reached by uniformed Confederates. The legendary "Morgan's Raid", which had been carried out against orders, gained no tactical advantage for the Confederacy, while the loss of his regiment proved a serious setback.

Morgan escaped from his Union prison but his credibility was low, and he was restricted to minor operations. He was killed at Greeneville, Tennessee, in September 1864. Morgan was the brother-in-law of Confederate general A. P. Hill.

Lebanon Township, Meigs County, Ohio

Lebanon Township is one of the twelve townships of Meigs County, Ohio, United States. The 2000 census found 1,029 people in the township.

Meigs County Courthouse (Ohio)

The Meigs County Courthouse is a local government building in Pomeroy, Ohio, United States. Built in the 1840s in this Ohio River village, it serves as the seat of government for Meigs County, and it is one of Ohio's oldest courthouses still used for its original purpose.

Ohio in the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, the State of Ohio played a key role in providing troops, military officers, and supplies to the Union army. Due to its central location in the Northern United States and burgeoning population, Ohio was both politically and logistically important to the war effort. Despite the state's boasting a number of very powerful Republican politicians, it was divided politically. Portions of Southern Ohio followed the Peace Democrats and openly opposed President Abraham Lincoln's policies. Ohio played an important part in the Underground Railroad prior to the war, and remained a haven for escaped and runaway slaves during the war years.The third most populous state in the Union at the time, Ohio raised nearly 320,000 soldiers for the Union army, third behind only New York and Pennsylvania in total manpower contributed to the military and the highest per capita of any Union state. Several leading generals were from Ohio, including Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Philip H. Sheridan. Five Ohio-born Civil War officers would later serve as the President of the United States. The Fighting McCooks gained fame as the largest immediate family group ever to become officers in the U.S. Army.The state was spared many of the horrors of war as only two minor battles were fought within its borders. Morgan's Raid in the summer of 1863 spread fear but little damage. Ohio troops fought in nearly every major campaign during the war. Nearly 7,000 Buckeye soldiers were killed in action. Its most significant Civil War site is Johnson's Island, located in Sandusky Bay of Lake Erie. Barracks and outbuildings were constructed for a prisoner of war depot, intended chiefly for officers. Over three years more than 15,000 Confederate men were held there. The island includes a Confederate cemetery where about 300 men were buried.

Ravenswood, West Virginia

Ravenswood is a city in Jackson County, West Virginia, United States, along the Ohio River. The population was 3,876 at the 2010 census.

Stovepipe Johnson

Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson (February 6, 1834 – October 20, 1922) was an antebellum Western frontiersman and later an officer in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. Johnson obtained notoriety leading the Newburgh Raid using a force of only about 35 men. Johnson and his men confiscated supplies and ammunition without a shot being fired by tricking Newburgh's defenders into thinking the town was surrounded by cannons. In reality, the so-called cannons were an assemblage of a stove pipe, a charred log, and wagon wheels, forever giving the Confederate commander the nickname of Adam "Stovepipe" Johnson. Permanently blinded during a skirmish in 1864, Johnson in 1887 founded the town of Marble Falls, Texas, which became known as "the blind man's town."

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