In the autumn of 1861, Union and Confederate troops converged in the valley of modern day Bartow, to fight the Battle of Greenbrier River. Cannon fire echoed off the mountain ranges, as the Union soldiers attacked the confederate Camp Bartow. That camp was located on the farm of Andrew Yeager at the Traveler’s Repose and still stands today.
More than 150 years later, local historians and preservationists hope to help owners of the battlefield maintain the historical significance of the area.
July 20, at the first of three meetings to discuss the battlefield, the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Alliance and team members of the Camp Bartow Preservation Plan initiated a conversation with landowners and community members.
Team Leader Michael Gioulis explained the goals of the project and how the team will assist Bartow with meeting the goals.
“The purpose of the project is to first define and identify the resources that are left on site – gun placements, buildings, trenches – all resources that are important or significant or associated with the battle and the camp,” Gioulis said. “Whether or not anything happens in the future, at least they would be identified.”
While the team was organized to identify and map important sites at Bartow, Gioulis said it is up to the landowners and the community as to what happens to the site after all is said and done.
As an example, Gioulis said if a landowner wants to put signage on their land explaining the significance of that area in the battle, the report would give recommendations on where to find funding for the sign. He added, that if someone wanted to open up the area for tours, the report would offer suggestions on how to best turn the field or building into a tourist site.
“If you have an artifact or resource on your property, such as a trench and you don’t want to see it damaged, we can help you identify how to protect it,” Gioulis said. “Or if you want to see people visit it, we can identify that. Or if you want to keep people off it, we can help keep people off it.”
Several landowners in attendance expressed concerns that the landowners were not contacted prior to the meeting.
“We will talk to the landowners,” Gioulis said. “We can’t do this report without the landowners’ cooperation. This is not the last chance that anybody will get to provide information. Besides the other meetings, this meeting is to kick this off and get some of your input.”
The initial stage of the project is simply to identify where the Battle of the Greenbrier River was fought and make a detailed map of the areas where Confederate soldiers and Union soldiers would have fought or slept.
“It’ll develop as we work on it, but basically we want to identify the resources we have,” Gioulis said. “We want to identify what is important about them. How they contribute to the history of the region and then how to identify what is significant about them to the locality and what the locality wants done.”
Those in attendance helped make a list of their goals and reasons for preserving the area.
That list will include people, settlers, soldier memoirs, day-to-day life during the war, significant stories and re-enactments.
Gioulis and the team will compile a more comprehensive list to share at the next meeting, which will be scheduled at a later date.
For more information on the project or to provide suggestions for the report, Gioulis said information may be shared on the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Alliance website at www.spturnpike.org
About the Battle of Greenbrier River
While many battles of the Civil War were fought in modern day West Virginia, and several in Pocahontas County, the Battle of Greenbrier River is interesting because both sides came away from the battle claiming victory.
The four-and-a-half hour battle began when the Federal troops left their camp on Cheat Mountain and marched toward Camp Bartow.
“The battle started at about eight a.m. the morning of October 3, 1861 when Federal troops moved into the fields near [present day] Judy Fencecraft and rolled out thirteen cannons, and opened fire,” historian Hunter Lesser said. “The confederates answered with about six guns which were spaced out around the entrenchments here at Camp Bartow.”
The gunfire and cannon fire went on, non-stop for four-and-a-half hours, until the Federal troops ran out of ammunition.
“They pulled up, withdrew and retreated back to Cheat Mountain, but not before they fired over one thousand three-inch parrot shells into Camp Bartow,” Lesser said. “The Traveler’s Repose was pierced by at least twenty-eight shots that past through it. The farm was ravaged by that battle. The Federals retreated and the Federal commander claimed victory, as did the Confederates, which is kind of interesting.”
The Federal troops were prepared for a much longer battle, although it was called a Recognizance in Force mission.
“They never really planned to overrun Camp Bartow and yet, the Confederates pointed out that the Federal dead had rations for four days in their haversacks, which was enough time for them to march all the way to Staunton, Virginia, and the Virginia Central Railroad,” Lesser said. “There were about fifty casualties on each side.”
The confederates remained at Camp Bartow until November, when they withdrew and returned to Camp Allegheny on the summit of Allegheny Mountain where they fought another battle in December 1861.
After the Confederates left, the Federal troops burned the farm to rubble, including all the buildings.
“There are some references that hint the Federals burned them to keep the Confederates from using them as block houses if they were in the area,” Lesser said. “The entire farm burned. There’s an account by an eastern Virginia soldier that talks about how different the valley looked in the fall of 1861 than it looked in the summer. I don’t think we could exaggerate the devastation and the trials in this valley.”
The Yeager family who owned the farm became refugees when they were driven from their home during the war. Many family members died of disease. Peter Yeager returned to the farm after the war and rebuilt the Traveler’s Repose.
Along with the history of the actual conflict between the Federal and Confederate soldiers, the battle is interesting and unique because the owner of the Traveler’s Repose, Andrew Yeager, predicted what would happen.
Andrew told guests who were staying at his Inn that the war would come to this secluded little valley – the peaceful valley,” Lesser said. “That armies would contend for the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike which passes through it. Andrew Yeager predicted that families would be turned out of their homes and their farms would be burnt to the ground.”
While the guests found the prediction to be inconceivable, it became all too real for the families of Bartow in the autumn of 1861.