THE HISTORY of an HISTORIC SITE:
Preserving the Ground
of the Battle of Laurel Hill
Laurel Hill Battlefield
Where the past is present
The Civil War Battlefield of Laurel Hill, situated in Belington, WV, saw
decisive action in 1861. It was during July 7-11 that the longest battle of
the Tygart Valley Campaign was waged in what was then known as Bealington,
VA. Generals Robert S. Garnett, CSA and George B. McClellan, USA, engaged
their forces in a vital contest that sent the Confederate Armies scurrying
to anticipated safer quarters, only to result in the first war casualty of a
general during the Civil War: Garnett met his death at Corrick’s Ford. One
of his statements can be found in Rebels at the Gate, W. Hunter Lesser,
Sourcebooks, 2004: “I don’t anticipate anything very brilliant---indeed I
shall esteem myself fortunate if I escape disaster.” ---Robert S. Garnett,
The Battle of Laurel Hill is known for its pivotal role in
securing safe passage to Wheeling for the founding fathers of the present
day West Virginia, in order to prepare the necessary documents that would
establish the statehood of West “by God” Virginia.
Several decades later, the Department of Transportation, Division
of Highways, installed identifying signs in strategic locations, announcing
the significance of Laurel Hill in the Civil War and encampment locations. A
long period ensued without any further attention to these hallowed grounds.
Then, in the mid-90’s, came a collective reckoning voice that sought the
preservation of this historically valuable property. Larry Corley, Philippi,
and Kathy Hart, Belington, both members of the Battle of Laurel Hill
Foundation, met with Sen. Jon Blair Hunter, (D.14th dist.) to request
financial assistance in purchasing the battleground acreage. Through the
efforts of these dedicated pioneers and the diligence of their senator, the
state of West Virginia, under the administration of Gov. Bob Wise, agreed to
appropriate the needed monies for this endeavor.
During the period of processing paper work, having an appraisal,
survey, and an archeological dig scheduled, it was necessary to provide
matching funds to receive the T-21 grant money. The generosity of the
Benedum Foundation provided this needed contribution. Seed money for the
operating expenses of the foundation was made available by the Budget Digest
sources and were directed to the living history of Laurel Hill Battlefield.
The property owner’s of the desired portion of the battlefield, Ida
and Al Griffith, agreed to sell 50 acres and retain other ground to sustain
residence in their home. As the negotiations were in place, and as the hoped
for purchase was being arranged, the Griffith’s gave permission to the
Reenactment Committee for the Battle of Laurel Hill Reenactment to take
place. Chairmanship of this activity is a joint venture between the Battle
of Laurel Hill Reenactment Committee and the Valley Division, under
leadership of Major Roger House. Representing the committee was Kathy Hart,
President of the BLHRC. This event completed its 13th such performance this
year and is scheduled in 2009 for the 3rd weekend in July.
Finalization of the transaction was celebrated in Dec. 2003, with
the deed presented to the City of Belington in Jan. 2004. Since that time,
continued enhancement has been on-going. Key players in the development of
the battlefield were Don Richardson and W. Hunter Lesser, Don Richardson
Associates; Jeff Nelsen, Environmental Design Group and Floyd Browne Group;
Mike Gioulis of Gioulis Historic Preservation Consultants and, of course,
the City of Belington.
Some of the additions, enhancements and improvements through the
grant funding have been the interpretive signage; a ‘past and present’
bridge; walking trails, a desperately needed water well system, and flag
pole and flag installations (by the Valley Division). Valley Division also
has plans to replace a footbridge on the battlefield perimeter. Early
interpretive signs include one along the Beverly Fairmont Turnpike that
poses Ambrose Bierce, a noted American author, who is quoted as saying: “We
did well enough considering the hopeless folly of the movement, but we came
out of the woods faster than we went in…”
In an attempt to perpetuate and preserve the historic link to the
past, a series entitled, “Letters Home,” was published in the Barbour
Democrat, the Barbour County newspaper. The letters were supplied by Jane
Pendleton Wooten, Richmond, VA, and they had been written by her great,
great grandfather, Sgt. John Barret Pendleton, CSA, while he was in service
at Laurel Hill, July, 1861.
Bus tours have been to the site, from as far away as Missouri. The
pristine beauty lends an attractive and quiet reverence to the somber
envisions that are conjured up by the engagement of so long ago, but so
significant in the nature of the developments of the Civil War, the War
Between the States or the War of the Rebellion: All the titles having the
same meaning; a fight of brother against brother.
Recent efforts have been in action to secure funding to build a
visitors center on the site and even more recently, the West Virginia State
Historic Office of Preservation declared that Laurel Hill, indeed, has what
it takes to be eligible for nomination to the National Historic Registry.
Another note-worthy item is the Civil War Trails signs that was
placed on the corner of Watkins Ave. and Crim Ave. This was the first of its
kind to be installed in 2005. These signs extend from Wheeling through
Corrick’s Ford and beyond, tracing the Civil War path through VA (now, WV).
A diamond in the rough, a legacy in slumber, is in the process of
emerging to its rightful place in the tragic, historic accounting of Civil
War history. An eerie, ghostly insistence has beckoned for recognition.
These soldiers are honored by those who sense the need to continue a living
tribute to their contribution in forming this country.
Respectfully submitted for publication in CWN by,
Lynne Llewellyn Snyder
Lynne is a recent graduate of the Masters in Education program, with a
concentration in Online Learning, at Fairmont State University. As a
non-traditional student, she finished works for an RBA in 2006 and completed
her studies in 2008. She has been published in the Barbour Democrat and
World of Poetry, as well as online submissions. Lynne is a native of Folsom,
PA and makes her home in Belington, WV. She has been honored by the Barbour
County Chamber of Commerce and is involved in community service. She has
recently retired and enjoys reading and music appreciation with her husband,
Robert, and her cat, Picky.