Historian reclassifies Civil War "skirmish" as an all-out battle

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Historian reclassifies Civil War
Far more than a few soldiers were engaged in the Battle of Hurricane Bridge. (Illustration courtesy Phillip Hatfield)

HURRICANE, W.Va. — Early research on a Civil War engagement at Hurricane Bridge tended to underestimate the number of soldiers involved, leading historians to mislabel the "battle" as a "skirmish," according to Hurricane native and historian Dr. Philip Hatfield, Ph.D.

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“A skirmish implies this small, sort of insignificant affair, but there were actually many more troops involved,” says Hatfield, who is the author of , published in 2019. 

A historical marker near the Hurricane Covered Bridge pays homage to the battle fought there.

There were between 800 and 1,000 troops who fought at the battle of in 1863, says Hatfield.

Military records, in particular the regimental muster rolls, indicate the Confederates had approximately 600 men, and the Union had between 240 and 300 men in an earthen fort the morning of the battle, with approximately 80 more in the regimental field hospital located at Hurricane Bridge.

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On March 28, 1863, after five hours of continuous fighting, Union troops of the 13th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry under Captain James William Johnson defeated General Albert Jenkins’ Confederates, who then retreated toward Point Pleasant. 

“The outcome of the battle had a longer lasting significance, in that it enabled the Union army to maintain control of the James River and Kanawha Valley Turnpike, which was a major supply line,” Hatfield says.

The officers of the 13th West Virginia involved in the fighting referred to it as a battle themselves, Hatfield says. Regimental records at the West Virginia State Archives list principal battles and engagements fought during the war, with the first cited being the battle at Hurricane Bridge.

“I think the logic is if the soldiers who fought there called it a battle, then we should, too,” Hatfield says. “It was significant enough that they included it on a list of their major engagements.”

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The 13th West Virginia later fought in the Shenandoah Valley at Winchester, Kearnstown, and Cedar Creek.

“Those were very bloody, large engagements, and so this wasn’t anything comparable in terms of the size, but in their minds, they saw it as a very important action,” Hatfield says.

“The Union regiments from West Virginia get so little attention and credit in the bigger Civil War literature, and so I just think it’s important that we tell these stories,” he says.

Hatfield uncovered evidence for the battle, Union garrison and the nearby field hospital in his research.

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“More recently we’ve dug quite a few musket balls on the lands around that area that show us where the fighting occurred,” he says. “We have a really good idea of the troop locations and the intensity in the scale of the battle from that, as well as what’s been written about it. The original sources talk a lot about the troop position.”

The reporter's ancestor, private John A. Miller of the 8th Virginia Cavalry, fought at the battle.

Steps away from the site of this Civil War battle, which intersects modern US-60 and WV-34, the City of Hurricane is building a park that will include space to honor the history of the ground.

City officials, such as Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards, are working with Civil War Trails to put in historical markers and signage when the park is complete in the next couple of years.

“We’re working with the Civil War Trails, and then there’ll be more marketing around the why, why is it called Hurricane Bridge,” Edwards says. “We want it to be complete.”

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So far, the park—purposefully named after the Civil War battle—has state-of-the-art fields, fencing, a goalpost, and a press box for Hurricane Youth Football, as well as walking trails, pickleball courts, and an all-wood playground. The 67-acre park will also house baseball and softball fields.

For information on visiting the battlefield, contact the


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