During the summer of 1861, Fort Milroy on Cheat Summit was constructed on the order of Union General George B. McClellan. The fort was positioned to control the high pass of the Parkersburg and Staunton Turnpike across Cheat Mountain and was manned by a small force of approximately 1,800 Union troops.
Confederate forces in the area were commanded by General Robert E. Lee. Lee devised an elaborate plan that directed three brigades of Confederate infantry numbering 4,500 to attack the 1,800 Union infantry at Fort Milroy on Cheat Summit. A second Confederate force was directed to attack a nearby Union position at Elkwater on the Tygart Valley River.
The three Confederate brigades directed towards Cheat Summit were often confused by the dense forest, rainy weather (it rained for twenty consecutive days prior to the battle), and the confusing trail system. They failed to communicate with each other during the battle and launched poorly organized, ineffective attacks against only 300 Federal troops defending the approach to Cheat Summit. A force of three Confederate brigades had failed to defeat only 300 of 1,800 Federal troops and withdrew.