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Rosser's West Virginia Raid

  • Time Period: November 28, 1864
  • Area: New Creek, West Virginia

A series of Union forts and depots in Maryland and West Virginia guarded the vital Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Garrisoned by thousands of Union soldiers, these installations, clustered at strategic points, protected repair crews and bulging warehouses from Confederate raiders and guerrillas. The protection of the garrisons and rialroad was a constant problem for Union authorities throughout the war.

No place along the railroad seemed more secure than New Creek, West Virginia, a supply depot described as the finest in the department. Located at the intersection of New Creek Valley and the Potomac River Valley, New Creek sat on a ridge at the northern end of a narrow valley between 2 mountains. Its Fort Kelley, with a garrison of nearly 800 men and 5 cannons, had defied any Confedertae attempts at capture. Within the confining New Creek Valley as the only route of approach, Confederates considered the depot and fort impregnable.

On November 26th, Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Rosser and 2 brigades of cavalrymen abandoned their camp in the Shenandoah Valley for another Confederate raid against New Creek. Reaching Moorefield, West Virginia, the next morning, Rosser's command, numbering between 500 and 600, encountered a detachment from New Creek. The Confederates scattered the Federals in a running fight, but most of the Federals escaped to sound the alarm. Rosser, who had been told earlier by 2 scouts, that success depended on secrecy and surprise, rode with his men all night.

The Confederates halted at dawn, 6 miles from New Creek near Harrison's Gap, where Rosser convened a council of war. The Confederate officers decided to attack the garrison, and the entire command soon remounted. Cautiously, they advanced at a walk, led by 20 troopers in blue Union overcoats. Encountering a Union picket, the Confederates claimed that they were a returning Union scouting party. The surprised Federals were quickly captured along with a second post only 2 miles from the fort. With the road cleared, the raiders slowly approached the base of the ridge when the charge was sounded.

The Confederates galloped toward Fort Kelley. Unbelievably, only a few sentinels manned their posts; most of the Union soldiers were eating lunch or resting in the camp area. The garrison's commander, Col. George R. Latham, though forewarned of Rosser's presence at Moorefield, had failed disgracefully to place his command on alert. Within 30 minutes, the Confederates had seized the fort and captured more than 700 Federals.

The Confederates ransacked the warehouses, indulging in the tons of foodstuffs before burning the buildings. Rosser inexplicably did not wreck the railroad or destroy a bridge. Late in the afternoon, they retraced their route, disappearing into the woodlands. Pursuing Federals never caught up to Rosser's troopers, who arrived at their camp on December 2nd. In January 1865, Latham was found guilty of neglect of duty and dishonorably discharged. Two months later, however, Latham, now a Republican congressman, had his dismissal revoked and was honorably mustered out of service.

Campaign Battles

See 1861 Battles, 1862 Battles, 1863 Battles, 1864 Battles and 1865 Battles for more battles)

  • New Creek
  • Fort Kelley
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