West Virginia Forts

Excerpt from " History of West Virginia" by Virgil A. Lewis
Philadelphia :: Hubbard Bros., 1887

Submitted by K. Torp

A GLANCE at that part of Virginia's western domain now included within the limits of West Virginia, at the close of the Revolution, cannot fail to be of interest. In 1784, there were but five counties in all that territory : Hampshire and Berkeley, formed before the war began, and Monongalia, Ohio, and Greenbrier, created during its continuance. The log-cabin of the pioneer dotted the landscape along the banks and in the valleys of the South Branch, Cacapon, and Opequon rivers, and columns of smoke rising above the primeval forest, indicated his place of habitation on the upper tributaries of the Monongahela. Other adventurers had pushed farther west, and reared the standard of civilization on the banks of the Ohio, while at the same time frontiersmen from Augusta passed over the Alleghenies and found homes in the Greenbrier valley and on Muddy creek, Indian creek, and other tributaries of New river. Leonard Morris had led the way to the Great Kanawha valley, and reared his cabin about ten miles above where Charleston now stands, where other determined spirits soon came to live beside him. Stockades, forts, and block-houses had been erected in several localities, and in them the pioneers found refuse from the merciless storm of savage warfare.
Edwards' Fort stood on the Warm Spring mountain; Fort Pleasant was situated in the South Branch valley; Fort Frederick was located within the present limits of Berkeley county; Evan's Fort was situated within two miles of the present site of Martinsburg; Nutter's Fort had been reared near where Clarkesburg now stands; Donnally's Fort was within two miles of the present town of Frankfort, in Greenbrier county; and Fort Randolph, at the mouth of Great Kanawha, and Fort Henry, on the present site of Wheeling, both reared before the Revolution, were the most western outposts of civilization. These settlements were but spots in an unbroken and almost untrodden wilderness, for no white man had yet found a home in the valleys' of the Little Kanawha, Guyandotte, Twelve Pole, or Big Sandy rivers, and from the latter, stretching northward to Mason and Dixon's line, a primeval forest overshadowed the landscape. The close of the Revolution,brought peace and quiet to the dwellers on the Atlantic seaboard, but not to those destined to settle the wilderness. For years they were to withstand the shock of savage warfare waged by a fierce and relentless foe.

Excerpt from "The South in the building of the nation: a history of the southern states ... By Julian Alvin Carroll Chandler, Walter Lynwood Fleming...", 1909

...But now the old French and Indian War—the final struggle between the French and English for territorial supremacy in America—was at hand, and barbarian warfare was to desolate the West Virginia settlements. The colonial government of Virginia, at the head of which was the lieutenant-governor, Robert Dinwiddie, hastened preparations for defense. Col. George Washington, with the First Virginia Regiment, was sent to the West Virginia frontier. Forts for defensive and offensive operations were speedily erected.
Fort Ashby stood on the east bank of Patterson's Creek, in what is now Frankfort district, Mineral county; Fort Waggener was on the South Branch of the Potomac, three miles above the site of Moorefield, in Hardy county; Fort Capon was at Forks of Capon, now in Bloomery district, in Hampshire county; Fort Cox stood on the lower point of land at the confluence of the Little Cacapon and Potomac rivers; Fort Edwards was near the site of Capon Bridge, now in Bloomery district, Hampshire county; Fort Evans was two miles south of where Martinsburg, in Arden district, Berkeley county, now stands; Fort Ohio stood where the village of Ridgeley, in Frankfort district, Mineral county, is now situated; Fort Pearsall was on the site of the present town of Romney, in Hampshire county, Fort Peterson was on the South Branch of the Potomac, in Milroy district, Grant county; Fort Pleasant was erected on the Indian Old Fields, now in Hardy county; Fort Riddle was in Lost River district, Hardy county; Fort Sellers was at the mouth of Patterson's Creek, now in Frankfort district, Mineral county; Fort Upper Tract was in what is now Mill Run district, Pendleton county, and Fort Seybert stood on the bank of the South Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac in the same county.

The French, with their savage allies, bore down with resistless fury upon the West Virginia border, and around these primitive forts were enacted many of the tragedies and dramas of the wilderness. The Tygart and Foyle settlements on Tygart's Valley River, together with those of the Eckarlys on Cheat River, and of the Deckers on the Monongahela, were destroyed, and many persons killed on Greenbrier River. Fierce battles were waged in the vicinity of Fort Edwards, Fort Riddle and Fort Pleasant; bloody massacres occurred at Fort Upper Tract and Fort Seybert, and many a West Virginia family became victims of savage barbarity. After seven years of war, hostilities were ended; then came the conspiracy of Pontiac in 1763, and with it the Muddy Creek massacre in the Greenbrier Valley, in which the entire settlement was destroyed by a band of Shawnee Indians.

Other WV Forts

Ashby's Fort in Mineral County

Ashby's Fort
Ashby's Fort at Alaska, Frankfort Community

[The old log fort owned and occupied as a dwelling by Thomas F. Pyles is now owned by the D.A.R.]

Source: The Northwestern Turnpike
Bulletin, Vol. 49-68 By West Virginia. Dept. of Agriculture

Built in 1755, Ashby's Fort was established by orders of Colonel George Washington.

It stood on the east bank of Patterson's Creek on the site of the present village of Alaska, formerly Frankfort, in Frankfort district, Mineral County.
Erected by Lieutenant John Hacon under orders from Colonel Washington, in 1755. December 21, 1773, Captain Charles Lewis of Fredericksburg assumed command at this fort in which he found a garrison of twenty-one men to whom Lieutenant Bacon, whom he had appointed adjutant, read the Articles of War. On the 11th of October, Colonel Washington received letters from Captain John Ashby regarding conditions there.

The next spring—May 23, 1756—Colonel Washington issued orders to Lieutenant Colonel Adam Stephen to have Fort Ashby fully supplied from Fort Cumberland, Maryland, distant twenty-five miles. In August, that year, Lieutenant Robert Rutherford, with a company of Rangers was defeated here by the French Indians. Soon after Captain John Ashby made a remarkable escape from the Indians, reaching the fort in safety.

[Source: "Biennial report of the Department of Archives and History of the State of West Virginia" WV, Dept. of Archives and History, Ohio Valley Historical Association, Virgil Anson Lewis, Henry S. Green, 1906 Sources.—See De Hass' "History of the Early Settlements and Indian Wars of Western Virginia," p. 204; Kercheval's "History of the Valley," p. 126 (First Edition) ; Toner's Edition of "Washington's Journal over the Mountains, 17478" ; "Journal of Captain Charles Lewis," printed in "Collections of the Virginia Historical Society," Vol. XI, p. 216, (new series) ; "Dinwiddie Papers," Vol. II, p. 239 ; Sparks' "Writings of Washington," Vol. II, pp. 125, 163, 167.]

Fort Ashby sheltered settlers for many years under the command of Col. John Ashby. George Washington had his last connection with Fort Ashby in 1791, when, as President of the United States, he ordered troops there to take part in suppression of the "Whiskey Rebellion".

The town of Frankfort was named Fort Ashby in 1932.

The last owner of the fort was about to tear it down when the Potomac Valley Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution at Keyser bought it on July 28, 1927. They remain the current owners. The fort is open for special tours.

On Dec 12th, 1970, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

[Wheeling, Ohio Co, WV]
Fort Henry 1777

Fort Henry stood immediately on the left bank of the Ohio, about a quarter of a mile above Wheeling creek. It is said to have been planned by General George Rogers Clarke, and was constructed under the superintendence of Ebenezer Zane and Jphn Caldwell. It was originally called Fort Fincastle, and was a place of refuge for the settlers in Dunmore's war. The name was afterwards changed to Fort Henry in honor of Patrick Henry. The fort was built on open ground, and covered a space of about three-quarters of an acre. It was a parallelogram, having a blockhouse at each corner, with lines of stout pickets, about eight feet high, extending from one block-house to another. Within the enclosure were a store-house, barrack-rooms, garrison-well, and a number of cabins for the use of families. The principal entrance was through a gateway an the eastern side of the fort, next to the then straggling village of Wheeling, consisting of some twenty-five log-houses.

In September, 1777, the savages, variously estimated at from 380 to 500 warriors, having been abundantly supplied with arms and provisions by the British Governor, Hamilton, at Detroit, and led on by Girty, were brought before the walls of Fort Henry, before Colonel Shepherd, the commandant, knew of their real design. Some symptoms of their propinquity having been discovered, the settlers in the vicinity had, the night previous, sought shelter in the fort.

The garrison numbered only forty-two fighting men, all told, counting those advanced in years as well as those who were mere boys. A portion of them were skilled in Indian warfare, and all were excellent marksmen. The storehouse was amply supplied with muskets, but was sadly deficient in ammunition.
The next morning Colonel Shepherd despatched a man, accompanied by a negro, on an errand a short distance from the fort. The white man was brought to the ground by a blow from the firelock of an Indian; but the negro escaped back to the fort, and gave intelligence that they had been waylaid by a party of Indians in a corn-field.

As soon as the negro related his story, the colonel despatched Captain Samuel Mason, with fourteen men, to dislodge the Indians from the field. Captain Mason with his party marched through the field, and arrived almost on the bank of the creek without finding the Indians, and had already commenced a retrograde movement when he was suddenly and furiously assailed in front, flank, and rear by the whole of Girty's
army. The captain rallied his men from the confusion produced by this unexpected demonstration of the enemy, and instantly comprehending the situation in which he was placed, gallantly took the lead, and . hewed a passage through the savage phalanx that opposed him. In this desperate conflict more than half the little band were slain, and their leader severely wounded. Intent on retreating back to the fort, Mason pressed rapidly on with the remnant of his command, the Indians following closely in pursuit. One by one these devoted soldiers fell at the crack of the enemy's rifle. An Indian, who eagerly pursued Captain Mason, at length overtook him ; and to make sure his prey, fired at him from the distance of five paces; but the shot, although it took effect, did not disable the captain, who immediately turned about, and hurling his gun at the head of his pursuer, felled him to the earth. The fearlessness with which this act was performed caused an involuntary dispersion of the gang of Indians who led the pursuit; and Mason, whose extreme exhaustion of physical powers prevented him from reaching the fort, was fortunate enough to hide himself in a pile of fallen timbers, where he was compelled to remain to the end of the siege. Only two of his men survived the skirmish, and they, like their leader, owed their safety to the heaps of logs and brush that abounded in the cornfield.

As soon as the critical situation of Captain Mason became known at the fort, Captain Ogle, with twelve volunteers from the garrison, sallied forth to cover his retreat. This noble, self-devoted band, in their eagerness to press forward to the relief of their suffering fellow-soldier's, fell into an ambuscade, and two-thirds of their number were slain upon the spot. Sergeant Jacob Ogle, though mortally wounded, managed to escape with two soldiers into the woods, while Captain Ogle escaped in another direction, and found a place of concealment, which, like his brother officer, Captain Mason, he was obliged to keep as long as the siege continued. Immediately after the departure of Captain Ogle's command, three new volunteers left the garrison to overtake and reinforce him. These men, however, did not reach the corn-field until after the bloody scenes had been enacted, and barely found time to return to the fort before the Indian host appeared before it. The enemy advanced in two ranks, in open order, their left flank reaching to the river bank, and their right extending into the woods as far as the eye could reach. As the three volunteers were about to enter the gate a few random shots were fired at them, and instantly a loud whoop arose on the enemy's left flank, which passed as if by concert along the line to the extreme right, until the welkin was filled with a chorus of the wildest and most startling character. This salute was answered by a few well-directed rifle-shots from the lower block-houses, which produced a manifest confusion in the ranks of the besiegers. They discontinued their shouting and retired a few paces, probably to await the coming up of their right flank, which, it would seem, had been directed to make a general sweep of the bottom, and then approach the stockade on the eastern side.

At this moment the garrison of Fort Henry numbered no more than twelve men and boys. The fortunes of the day so far had been fearfully against them ; two of their best officers and more than two-thirds of their original force were missing. The exact fate of their comrades was unknown to them, but they had every reason to apprehend that they had been cut to pieces. Still they were not dismayed; their mothers, sisters, wives, and children were assembled around them ; they had a sacred charge to protect, and they resolved to fight to the last extremity, and confidently trusted in Heaven for the successful issue of the combat.

When the enemy's right flank came up Girty changed his order of attack. Parties of Indians were placed in such of the village houses as commanded a view of the block-houses; a strong body occupied the yard of Ebenezer Zane, about fifty yards from the fort, using a paling fence as a cover, while the greater part were posted under cover in the edge of the corn-field, to act offensively or serve as a corps of reserve as occasion might require. These dispositions having been made, Girty, with a white flag in his hand, appeared at the window of a cabin, and demanded the surrender of the garrison in the name of his Britannic Majesty. He read the proclamation of Governor Hamilton, and promised them protection if they would lay down their arms and swear allegiance to the British crown. He warned them to submit peaceably, and admitted his inability to restrain the passions of his warriors when they once became excited with the strife of battle. Colonel Shepherd promptly told him in reply that the garrison would never surrender to him, and that he could only obtain possession of the fort when there remained no longer an American soldier to defend it Girty renewed his proposition, but before he finished his harangue a thoughtless youth in one of the block-houses fired a gun at the speaker, and brought the conference to an abrupt termination. Girty disappeared, and in about fifteen minutes the Indians opened the siege by a general discharge of rifles.

It was yet quite early in the morning, the sun not having appeared above the summit of Wheeling hill, and the day is represented to have been one of surpassing beauty. The Indians, not entirely concealed from the view of the garrison, kept up a brisk fire for the space of six hours without much intermission. The little garrison, in spite of its heterogeneous character, was, with scarcely an exception, composed of sharp-shooters. Several of them, whose experience in Indian warfare gave them a remarkable degree of coolness and self-possession in the face of danger, infused confidence into the young; and, as they never fired at random, their bullets, in most cases, took effect. The Indians, on the contrary, gloated with their previous success, their tomahawks reeking with the blood of Mason's and Ogle's men, and all of them burning with impatience to rush into the fort and complete their work of butchery, discharged their guns against the pickets, the gate, the logs of the blockhouses, and every other object that seemed to shelter a white man. Their fire was thus thrown away. At length some of their most daring warriors rushed up close to the block-house, and attempted to make more sure work by firing through the logs; but these reckless savages received, from the well-directed rifles of the frontiersmen, the fearful reward of their temerity. About one o'clock the Indians discontinued their fire, and fell back against the base of the hill.

The stock of gunpowder in the fort having been nearly exhausted, it was determined to seize the favorable opportunity offered by the suspension of hostilities to send for a keg of gunpowder which was known to be in the house of Ebenezer Zane, about sixty yards from the gate of the fort. The person executing this service would necessarily expose himself to the danger of being shot down by the Indians, who were yet sufficiently near to observe everything that transpired about the works. The colonel explained the matter to his men, and, unwilling to order one of them to undertake such a desperate enterprise, inquired whether any man would volunteer for the service. Three or four young men promptly stepped forward in answer to the call. The colonel informed them that the weak state of the garrison would not justify the absence of more than one man, and that it was for themselves to decide who that person should be. The eagerness felt by each volunteer to undertake the honorable mission prevented them from making the arrangement proposed by the commandant; and so much time was consumed in the contention that fears began to arise that the Indians would renew the attack before the powder could be procured. At this crisis a young lady, the sister of Ebenezer and Silas Zane, came forward and desired that she might be permitted to execute the service. This proposition seemed so reckless that it met with a peremptory refusal ; but she instantly renewed her petition in terms of redoubled earnestness, and all remonstrances of the colonel and her relatives failed to dissuade her from her heroic purpose. It was represented to her that either of the young men, on account of their superior fleetness and familiarity with scenes of danger, would be more likely than herself to do the work successfully. She replied that the danger which would attend the enterprise was the one reason that induced her to offer her services, for, as the garrison was very weak, no soldier's life should be placed in needless jeopardy, and that if she were to fall her loss would not be felt . Her petition was ultimately granted and the gate opened for her to pass out. The opening of the gate arrested the attention of several Indians who were straggling through the village. It was noticed that their eyes, were upon her as she crossed the open space to reach her brother's house, but seized perhaps with a sudden freak of clemency, or believing that a woman's life was not worth a load of gunpowder, or influenced by some other unexplained motive, they permitted her to pass without molestation. When she reappeared with the powder in her arms, the Indians, suspecting, no doubt, the character of her burden, elevated their fire-locks and discharged a volley at her as she swiftly glided toward the gate, but the balls flew wide of the mark, and the fearless girl reached the fort in safety , with her prize. The pages of history may furnish a parallel to the noble exploit of Elizabeth Zane, but an instance of greater self-devotion and moral intrepidity is not to be found anywhere.

About half-past two o'clock the Indians put themselves again in motion, and advanced to renew the siege. As in the first attack, a portion of their warriors took possession of the cabins contiguous to the fort, while others availed themselves of the cover afforded by Zane's paling fence. A large number posted themselves in and behind a blacksmith shop and stable that stood opposite the northern line of pickets ; and another party, probably the strongest of all, stationed themselves under cover of a fence and several large piles of fallen timbers on the south side of the fort. The siege was now reopened from the latter quarter - a strong gang of Indians advancing under cover of some large stumps that stood on the side of the declivity below the fort, and renewing the combat with loud yells and a brisk fire. The impetuosity of the attack on the south side brought the whole garrison to the two lower block-houses, from which they were enabled to pour out a destructive fire upon the enemy in that quarter. While the garrison was thus employed, a party of eighteen or twenty Indians, armed with rails and billets of wood, rushed out of Zane's yard and made an attempt to force open the gate of the fort. Their design was discovered in time to defeat it; but they only abandoned it after five or six of their number had been shot down. Upon the failure of this scheme the Indians opened a fire upon the fort from all sides, except that next the river, which afforded no shelter to a besieging host. On the north and east the battle raged most fiercely; for, notwithstanding; the strength of the assailants on the south, their unfavorable position prevented them from prosecuting with much vigor the attack which they had commenced with such fury.

The rifles used by the garrison towards evening became so much heated by continuous firing that they were rendered useless; recourse was then had to muskets, a full supply of which was found in the store-house. As night set in the firing of the savages grew weaker, though it was not entirely discontinued until next morning. Shortly after nightfall a party of Indians advanced within sixty yards of the fort, bringing with them a hollow maple log, which they had-converted into a field-piece, by plugging up one end with a block of wood. To give it additional strength, a quantity of chains, taken from the blacksmith shop, encompassed it from one end to the other. It was heavily charged with powder, and then filled to the muzzle with pieces of stone, slugs of iron, and such other hard substances as could be found. This piece of primitive artillery was elevated carefully so as to discharge its contents against the gate of the fort when the match was applied it burst into many fragments ; and although it had no effect upon the fort, it killed or wounded several of the Indians who stood by to witness the discharge. A loud yell succeeded the failure of this experiment and the crowd dispersed. By this time the Indians generally had withdrawn from the siege and fallen back against the hill to take rest and food. Numbers of stragglers, however, lurked about the village all night, keeping up an irregular fire on the fort, and destroying whatever articles of furniture and household comfort they chanced to find in the cabins.

Late in the evening, Francis Drake, a son-in-law of Colonel Shepherd, arrived from the forks of Wheeling, and was shot down by the Indians before he could reach the gate of the fort. About four o'clock next morning, September 28, Colonel Swearingen with fourteen men arrived in a periogue from Cross creek, and was fortunate enough to fight his way into the fort without the loss of a man.

About daybreak Major Samuel McColloch, with forty mounted men from Short creek, came to the relief of the garrison. The gate was thrown open, but McColloch was not permitted to pass the gate-way: the Indians crowded around him and separated him from his party. After several ineffectual attempts to force his way to the gate, he wheeled about, and galloped with the swiftness of a deer in the direction of Wheeling hill.
The Indians might easily have killed him, but they cherished towards him a most frenzied hatred; for he had participated in so many encounters that almost every warrior personally knew him. To take him alive and glut their fell revenge by the most fiendish tortures was their object. They made almost superhuman exertions to capture him. He put spurs to his horse, but was soon completely hemmed in on three sides; on the fourth was an almost perpendicular precipice of 159 feet descent, with Wheeling creek at its base. Supporting his rifle in his left hand, and carefully adjusting the reins with the other, he urged his horse to the brink of the bluff, and then made the leap which decided his fate. The next moment the noble steed, still bearing his intrepid rider in safety, was at the foot of the precipice. McColloch dashed across the creek and was soon beyond the reach of the Indians.

After the escape of Major McColloch the Indians concentrated at the foot of the hill, and soon after set fire to all the houses and fences outside the fort, and killed about three hundred head of cattle belonging to the settlers. They then raised the siege, and took up their line of march to some other theatre of action.

During the investiture not a man within the fort was killed, and only one wounded. But the loss sustained by the whites during the enemy's inroad was severe. Of the forty-two men who were in the fort on the morning of the 27th, no less than twenty-three were killed in the cornfield before the siege began. Two men who had been sent down the river in a canoe, the night previous, were intercepted by the Indians and killed also; including Drake in the list, the loss sustained by the settlement amounted to twenty-six killed and four or five wounded. The enemy's loss was from sixty to one hundred. According to their ancient custom, they removed their dead from the field before the siege was raised; the extent of their loss is therefore merely conjectural.

The defence of Fort Henry, when we consider the extreme weakness of the garrison and the forty-fold superiority of the host besieging it, was admirably conducted. Foremost on the list of the brave defenders was Colonel Shepherd, whose good conduct on this occasion gained for him the appointment of county-lieutenant from Governor Patrick Henry. The brothers, Silas and Ebenezer Zane, and John Caldwell, men of influence in the community, and the first settlers at Wheeling, contributed much to the success of the battle. Besides the names already mentioned, those of Abraham Rogers, John Linn, Joseph Biggs, and Robert Lemmon must not be omitted, as they were among the best Indian-fighters on the frontier, and aided much in achieving the victory of the clay. The wife of Ebenezer Zane, together with several other women in the fort, undismayed by the sanguinary strife that was raging, employed themselves in running bullets and preparing patches for the use of the men ; and, by their presence at every point where they could make themselves useful, and their cheering words of encouragement, infused new life into the soldiers, and spurred them on in the performance of their duty. The noble act of Elizabeth Zane inspired the men with an enthusiasm which contributed not a little to turn the fortunes of the day. The affair at Fort Henry was unquestionably one of the battles of the Revolution. The northwestern Indians were as much the mercenary troops of Great Britain as were the Hessians and the Waldeckers, who fought at Bennington, Saratoga, and in New Jersey. If the price received by the Indians for the scalps of American citizens did not always amount to the daily pay of the European minions of England, it was, nevertheless, sufficient to prove that the American savages and the German hirelings were precisely on the same footing as part and parcel of the British army;
"Howe's Historical Collections" pp. 409, 410, 411,412,413.

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