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General clashed with Yankees in Putnam

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- When Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins and about 400 members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry neared the Putnam County town of Hurricane Bridge on a late March morning 150 years ago, fond memories of a previous visit to the community must have darted through the Confederate commander's mind.

It was at Hurricane Bridge (now known as Hurricane) that Jenkins, a lawyer and son of a Cabell County plantation owner, won an 1856 debate against incumbent U.S. Rep. John S. Carlile, a Republican stalwart who would later become a leader in West Virginia's statehood movement.

Bouyed by favorable press coverage of the debate, Jenkins, a Democrat, went on to win his party's nomination and challenge Carlile for his seat in Congress. During the 1857 election, he won by a 1,000-vote margin.

But after serving two terms in the House of Representatives, Jenkins declined to run for a third term, opting instead to fight for the Confederate cause. In early 1861, he raised a company of mounted partisans, called the Border Rangers, from Cabell and Mason counties. The Border Rangers were soon absorbed into the 8th Virginia Cavalry.

In June of 1861, during the Battle of Scary Creek near St. Albans, Jenkins rallied a group of retreating Confederates who had been overpowered by a federal force sweeping into the Kanawha Valley. His action helped turn what had been shaping up to be a Confederate defeat into a victory.

In September of 1862, Jenkins led a raid through Spencer and Ravenswood that continued across the Ohio River, where he captured the Ohio town of Racine and became the first Southern commander to plant the Confederate flag in a northern state.

After spending the winter of 1862-63 camped in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Jenkins and his men returned to what is now West Virginia, camping in the Hamlin area before marching on toward Point Pleasant. But as they entered Putnam County, they encountered a man with a two-horse team hauling a load of bacon to what he said was an encampment of Union troops at Hurricane Bridge. Jenkins decided to serve the federal troops lead, instead of bacon, for breakfast, if they resisted an invitation to surrender.

Shortly after dawn on March 28, 1863, Jenkins' force arrived at a partially completed fort the Union force at Hurricane had erected.

Under the cover of a truce flag, he sent a courier with a message to the Union commander, Capt. James W. Johnson of the 13th West Virginia Infantry.

"I have now an overwhelming force so disposed as to completely surround you and cut off your retreat," Jenkins wrote. "A humane desire to avert the loss of life induces me to demand your surrender. In the event of your compliance, and the surrender in good faith of all in your command, they shall receive the treatment warranted by the usages of war, and both officers and men will be paroled. Twenty minutes will be allowed, for the consideration of this note and to return a reply."

Johnson replied with a note informing Gallatin that surrender would not take place, at least not without first seeing "an exhibition of your boasted strength."

As Johnson positioned his 150 men within the fort, "the enemy appeared in force and opened a furious fire upon us simultaneously on three sides and from as many different hills," the Union captain wrote in an after-action report. Due to the high elevation of the hills surrounding the fort, "the unfinished condition of our works exposed our men to a most galling cross-fire, which they withstood and returned with the firmness of veterans."

The two sides traded small arms fire for about five hours until Jenkins decided he would be unable to dislodge the federal troops without artillery, which he lacked. According to Johnson's report, three Union soldiers were killed outright in the gun battle, and a fourth died of injuries a short time later. According to a history of the 8th Virginia, Gallatin's force had one man killed and several others injured.

Jenkins bypassed the fort and continued on to Buffalo, where he commandeered a pair of flatboats and floated his force down the Kanawha River to Point Pleasant. The following day, he unsuccessfully tried to capture the steamboat "Victor No. 2" which was believed to have been carrying a Union paymaster and quantity of payroll cash.

The steamboat crew warned the Union garrison in Point Pleasant of the presence of the approaching Confederates, prompting them to hole up in the Mason County Courthouse. Jenkins' force attacked the courthouse and another extended small arms duel ensued, this time with no casualties on either side.

Jenkins and his regiment broke off the attack and made their way to an encampment in Cabell County.

A few months after his skirmishes in Hurricane and Point Pleasant, Jenkins was wounded by shrapnel during the Battle of Gettysburg. In May of 1864, during the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain in Virginia, a bullet pierced his left arm, which had to be amputated. He died a short time later.

Jenkins' family plantation, Green Bottom, which stretched along the shore of the Ohio River near the Cabell-Mason County line and relied on the labor of up to 50 slaves, is now the state-managed Greenbottom Wildlife Management Area. The Jenkins family's home has been stabilized and partially restored, and can be seen from W.Va. 2.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

 

 


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