Battle of Moorefield

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Battle of Moorefield

Other Names: Battle of Oldfields

Location: Hardy County, West Virginia

Campaign: Early's Raid and Operations against the B&O Railroad (June-August 1864)

Date(s): August 7, 1864

Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. William W. Averell [US]; Brig. Gen. John McCausland [CS]

Forces Engaged: Divisions

Estimated Casualties: 531 total

Result(s): Union victory

Description: While returning to the Shenandoah Valley after burning Chambersburg, McCausland’s and Johnson’s cavalry were surprised at Moorefield on August 7 and routed by pursuing Union cavalry. This defeat impeded the morale and effectiveness of the Confederate cavalry for the remainder of the 1864 Valley Campaign.

Battle of Moorefield Map
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West Virginia Civil War Map

Setting the Stage: Robert E. Lee was concerned about Hunter's advances in the Valley during 1864, which threatened critical railroad lines and provisions for the Virginia-based Confederate forces. He sent Jubal Early's corps to sweep Union forces from the Valley and, if possible, to menace Washington, D.C., hoping to compel Grant to dilute his forces against Lee around Petersburg, Virginia. Early was operating in the shadow of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, whose 1862 Valley Campaign against superior forces was etched in Confederate history. (Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign: A History with Maps and Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862: Confederate Military History) Early had a good start. He proceeded down the Valley without opposition, bypassed Harpers Ferry, crossed the Potomac River, and advanced into Maryland. Grant dispatched a corps under Horatio G. Wright and other troops under George Crook to reinforce Washington and pursue Early.

West Virginia became a state, breaking away from Virginia during the Civil War, on June 20, 1863. The Battle of Moorefield, also known as the Battle of Oldfields, was one of several battles fought during Early's Raid and Operations against the B&O Railroad (June-August 1864).

The Battle of Moorefield was one of several battles fought during Early's Raid and Operations against the B&O Railroad (June-August 1864). Early's Operations against the B&O Railroad, often times referred to as Early's Raid or Early's Maryland Campaign, was part of the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864 and was the second of three principal campaigns fought throughout the valley region.
 

Early's Raid and Operations Against the B&O Railroad [June-August 1864], aka Early's Maryland Campaign, comprised the following battles: Monocacy – Fort Stevens – Heaton's Crossroads – Cool Spring – Rutherford's FarmKernstown II – Folck's Mill – Moorefield.

Notable Generals at Battle of Moorefield
Notable Generals at Battle of Moorefield.jpg
Generals Averell, McCausland, and Johnson

Battle of Moorefield, West Virginia, Map
Civil War Battle of Moorefield Map.jpg
Civil War Battle of Moorefield Map

Background: Following the resounding Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Kernstown on July 24, General Jubal A. Early dispatched cavalry under Generals McCausland and Bradley Tyler Johnson to raid the towns of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Cumberland, Maryland. On the 29th the cavalry force crossed the Potomac west of Williamsport, Maryland, evading their Union counterparts under General Averell. As the Confederates moved north towards their target, Averell mistakenly assumed they would turn east to attack Baltimore and moved his force to repel such a maneuver. In doing so he allowed the Confederates to raid and burn Chambersburg virtually unopposed and then make off for Cumberland and West Virginia.
 
On August 4, the Confederate cavalry continued with their objective of disrupting traffic on the B&O Railroad by attempting to raid New Creek (present day Keyser, West Virginia). The raid proved to be unsuccessful as the small Union garrison used topography to its advantage, emplacing fortified artillery atop the mountains that surrounded the New Creek Valley. After aborting the raid the Confederates fell back towards Moorefield and made camp. Having been operating virtually unopposed since he left Virginia, McCausland felt he was in no imminent danger and carelessly set up his camp with his two divisions separated by the South Branch Potomac River.
 
While the Confederates attempted to raid New Creek, Averell's force crossed the Potomac at Hancock, Maryland, and headed for Springfield, West Virginia. Upon arriving on August 6, they learned of the Confederate raid and subsequent withdrawal to Moorefield. Averell determined not to let the Confederates escape him a second time and departed for Romney the following day, sending his scouts ahead to reconnoiter the Confederate position. By 6 p.m. that night his scouts met up with Averell at Mill Creek halfway between Romney and Moorefield. Because he was outnumbered nearly 2 to 1, Averell planned a surprise attack on the Confederates by launching a night raid. The Federals marched from Mill Creek at 1 a.m on August 7.

Battle of Moorefield Map
Battle of Moorefield Map.jpg
Map of Union and Confederate Movements

Battle: The Battle of Moorefield was a cavalry battle in the American Civil War, which took place on August 7, 1864, at Moorefield, West Virginia, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Brig. Gen. William W. Averell led Union troops to a victory over Brig. Gen. John McCausland and his Confederate troops in Hardy County, West Virginia.
 
At approximately 3 a.m. the Union vanguard led by Capt. Thomas Kerr encountered and captured the first Confederate pickets north of Moorefield. After the pickets were sent to the rear, Averell rode up and prepared for his attack, placing Maj. Thomas Gibson in the center along the Moorefield road. Two columns under Col. William Powell formed on the flanks of Gibson. Kerr again lead the vanguard. With his line formed Averell ordered the attack. Gibson's column immediately smashed into the Bradley Johnson camp. Most of Johnson's men were asleep and woke up only in time to be taken prisoner or rush off in full retreat. The commotion of Johnson's retreating men was enough to awake the men in McCausland's camp on the other side of the river who were able to form a line and meet Gibson's advance at the river. Averell had planned to meet resistance at the river and thus sent his two flanking columns to cross up and down stream respectively of Gibson's crossing. The two columns soon crossed and poured into the flank of the hastily formed Confederate line causing it to break into retreat. The Federal advance then pushed on encountering Brig. Gen. William Jackson's horse cavalry on the Winchester pike east of town. Jackson tried to bring his guns up to fire on the Federals, but because the retreating Confederates were so interspersed among them he could not get a shot off before they were overrun and captured.

Civil War Moorefield Battlefield Map
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Battle of Moorefield, West Virginia

Moorefield, West Virginia, Map
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Civil War Battle of Moorefield Map

Aftermath and Analysis: The Battle of Moorefield was a cavalry battle in the American Civil War, which took place on August 7, 1864, at Moorefield, West Virginia, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Brig. Gen. William W. Averell led Union troops to a victory over Brig. Gen. John McCausland and his Confederate troops in Hardy County, West Virginia.
 
The official reports show that Averell captured 38 officers and 377 enlisted men in addition to killing at least 13 and wounding 60. The Confederate losses to capture might have been higher, but due to the speed of the advance many Confederates initially captured were able to escape as they were sent to the rear. The victory cost Averell 11 killed, including 2 officers, 18 wounded, and 13 captured. Those captured were likely stragglers rounded up by John Hanson McNeill's partisan command, which was operating in the area. The devastating loss crippled the Confederate cavalry in the Valley. For the duration of the war in the Valley they would no longer have the dominance they previously enjoyed throughout the war. Advance to Shenandoah Valley Campaigns: The Civil War Battles.
 
Moorefield is a town in Hardy County, West Virginia, and is also the county seat for Hardy County. It was originally chartered in 1777 and named for Conrad Moore, who owned the land upon which the town was established. Moorefield is located at the confluence of the South Branch Potomac River and the South Fork South Branch Potomac River. See also West Virginia Civil War History.

(Sources listed below.)

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Sources: National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Patchan, Scott C. Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign. University of Nebraska Press; Lincoln, Ne. 2007.

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