- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

In a state known for its natural wonders, Greenland Gap may be West Virginia’s most beautiful place.

Flanked by the towering 800-foot bluffs of Patterson Creek Mountain, the North Fork of the stream has cut a narrow milelong canyon through the Tuscarora Sandstone that today is the haunt of anglers, bird-watchers and hikers. Few of these people, however, are aware that the pass on the old Allegheny-Moorefield Turnpike has an interesting Civil War history.

When the conflict started, most of the mountain folk living near the gap chose to remain loyal to their country rather than follow their secessionist cousins in other parts of Virginia. By Aug. 28, 1861, Capt. Daniel Schell had formed a company of home guards to defend the locale from Rebel raiders looking for horses or a quick way to strike the B&O; Railroad at New Creek and Rowlesburg, W.Va., or Oakland, Md.

Although Schell’s men scouted the area that fall, it wasn’t until early winter that some had their first real action. On Dec. 29, according to diarist Pvt. Reuben Vance, about 150 Rebels attacked the Federal camp at the western end of the gap. The 25 or so Unionists took cover in a log fort and held out until Dec. 31, when two companies of Yankee cavalry rode in from New Creek (Keyser) and drove the Southerners off.

Not long after, Schell and his mountaineers marched away to join the 7th (West) Virginia Infantry. All was quiet on that western front except for an occasional guerrilla scare or the rare Union patrol passing through until September 1862, when the community learned of a terrific fight in the “Bloody Lane” at a place called Sharpsburg. Among those killed was Schell.

On the night of April 4, 1863, a mysterious episode occurred when Abijah Dolly, a local farmer, captured an Englishman, George Lawrence. A well-known author in his homeland, Lawrence had left Oakland, Md., guided by E.M. Shipley, and he “intended to rove about among the Confederate troops and then find my way back to Winchester.” Lawrence described the incident when he eventually reached Washington and was questioned as a supposed spy by Judge Advocate L.C. Turner:

“We were hailed a second time and I replied. … There was a rifle-shot, killing my horse under me. My guide made his escape … but was captured the next day. I was taken to the station at Greenland.” Whether or not Lawrence was a scout for the upcoming Rebel raid into Northwestern Virginia that month has never been determined.

Two weeks after Lawrence’s capture, Union Capt. Martin Wallace and 53 officers and men of Company G, 23rd Illinois Infantry were wrapping up a three-day stay at the pass. Suddenly, a citizen rode in with word that a large force of Rebels was somewhere to the east. Wallace dispatched two mounted scouts to search and to alert five other soldiers at a picket post over a bridge half a mile away. The other infantrymen promptly began fortifying a two-story log church.

About four hours later, Capt. Jacob Smith and 34 soldiers of Company A, 14th (West) Virginia Infantry arrived. Wallace promptly ordered the captain to barricade a nearby cabin. Smith quickly put his men to work, knocking out the chinking between the logs. A little later, however, the soldiers became lax and the Confederate 7th Virginia Cavalry galloped into camp. In an interview in 1933, Pvt. James Richards (14th West Virginia) commented on the scene: “We had no thought of their arriving so soon. I was seated on the banks of the stream when they came upon us, bathing my feet in Patterson’s Creek.”

Wallace had his own riflemen ready, however, and smashed the attack. When the smoke cleared, three Rebels were dead, 10 wounded and about 20 horses lay scattered about the small clearing. Nevertheless, some Rebel troops had made it past the church and now blocked any chance of retreat. Wallace was unconcerned, supposing he was probably just fighting partisans who would soon ride off, and he chose not to take heavy casualties in a frontal assault.

Soon, a lone grayback approached the church under a flag of truce. He told Wallace that he was facing the cavalry brigade of Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones and that he was to surrender immediately or face the consequences. Wallace defiantly refused that offer as he would later reject two more.

Finally, about 9 p.m., Jones launched an onslaught against the church. Three waves of Rebels attacked in about half an hour, setting the structure ablaze. When Wallace and his men emerged from the inferno, some Maryland Rebels insisted on killing them. Confederate Capt. Frank Bond wrote, “Under the circumstances, our men were much incensed, and it was all I could do to protect the prisoners, and one I know was killed.”

The sudden appearance of Jones halted the ruckus immediately. Smith’s West Virginians, not under attack until the sanctuary fell, also surrendered about this time.

After leaving a doctor to take care of his wounded and sending the prisoners to Moorefield, Jones and his men rode west to attack the B&O; Railroad. During the next few weeks, Federals stationed troops at Greenland, hoping to catch Jones and his raiders backtracking through the pass. Jones did not return, but the Yankees had their hands full with prowling guerrillas.

With most of the fighting farther east that summer, things returned to normal. Horse thieves occasionally plagued the locals, but Rebels didn’t return in force until Jan. 31, 1864. On that day, the 7th Virginia Cavalry guarded the pass while the rest of the brigade, now commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas Rosser, scoured the Patterson Creek Valley, gathering cattle, horses and mules.

The bold winter raid embarrassed the Federals, and on Feb. 4, Col. James Mulligan of the 23rd Illinois Infantry suggested a quick remedy for future Rebel incursions. “I would build block-houses at both mouths of the gap and erect favorable earthworks for the artillery.”

He also recommended stationing a permanent force there. His ideas were readily accepted, and a few weeks later cold soldiers were trudging through the snow to build the fortifications.

That spring, several units manned the new defenses. On May 27, the 154th Ohio Infantry arrived at Greenland, and the 90-day men were impressed by the gap’s beauty. One wrote, “The mountain range was grand and majestic, clothed with a heavy coat of pine, fire, and hemlock. … The air was healthful and invigorating. … The scene was beautiful to behold and unsurpassed in loveliness.”

Duty was easy, and by early July the Midwesterners and the “Union-loving people in and around the gap” were spending their time preparing a barbecue in celebration of Independence Day. The repast featuring mule meat, salt horse and sow belly was postponed, however, when the regiment was unexpectedly ordered back to New Creek.

As the war began winding down, local men once again formed a militia unit. Organized and led by Capt. John Yoakum, these Hardy County Independent Scouts quickly acquired an unsavory reputation because of their highhanded way with the populace. On Aug. 29, some alarmed citizens sent Gov. Arthur Boreman a petition requesting Yoakum’s dismissal. “This company is composed of the most lowest & most disreputable characters this county affords,” they wrote. “Capt. Yoakum appears to be impressed with the idea that he has full power, to rule this district anyway he pleases.”

Angered, Boreman replaced Yoakum on Sept. 14 with Capt. James Rohrbaugh. The new captain commanded the scouts for the rest of the war, but his job was difficult. Not only did state officials in Wheeling ignore his repeated requests for better arms and more supplies, many of his men wanted Yoakum back and shirked their duty.

Late on the evening of Nov. 28, Rohrbaugh and most of the men were away patrolling in Pendleton County when Rosser and 2,000 Rebel cavalrymen camped overnight at Greenland after defeating the Yankee garrison that day at New Creek.

The new year got off to a bloody start on Jan. 10, 1865, when a band of 50 marauders raided many homes. On the 15th, Rohrbaugh wrote the governor that the Rebels had stolen much property and had killed two men, Isaac Hartman and Michael Yoakum. About Hartman’s brutal murder, the captain wrote, “After pursuing him some distance into the woods, [the Rebels] killed him, apparently after he had surrendered because he was shot in the face, on the left side of the nose.”

In early February, the guerrillas were becoming so bold that Rohrbaugh petitioned Wheeling to issue his Scouts 16-shot repeaters. Emphasizing the danger that the militiamen were in, he wrote, “Hearing that we were looking after them, they used the most violent threats that we would be exterminated by them.”

Nonetheless, in the next few months there was little trouble, and most of the soldiers became more interested in getting their back pay than in combing the mountains for the few die-hard graybacks that were still about.

After the war, the mountaineers returned to their normal lives, and over the course of time, Greenland Gap’s role in the conflict faded from memory. In 1927, however, preservation efforts began when Wheeling businessman D. Allan Burt bought the property. In the following years, he also bought other adjoining acreage to help protect the site.

Today, Greenland Gap faces another struggle.

The route of Corridor H, the long-promised superhighway through the mountains, is scheduled to pass about one-quarter mile west of the place. For the past few years, Burt’s grandson and his wife, Dr. Allan and Debbie Kunkle, aided by a number of environmental and Civil War preservation groups, have been trying to persuade state authorities to reroute the road or build it in such a way that the roar of nearby traffic will be muffled.

If they are successful, future generations of Civil War enthusiasts and nature lovers will owe them their thanks.

Steve French is a teacher in Martinsburg, W.Va., and a member of the Harpers Ferry Civil War Round Table.

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