Averell’s Raid of August 1863 was the first of three Union cavalry raids launched from West Virginia toward Confederate railroads and troop and supply concentrations in western Virginia during the latter half of 1863. The second raid in November culminated in a Union victory in the Battle of Droop Mountain, while the third, known as the Salem Raid, took place in December and resulted in partial destruction of the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, a key Confederate communications link. The commander of all three raids, Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell (1832–1900), regarded the Salem Raid as the greatest success.
Averell in 1863 was a 31-year-old career officer, eight years out of West Point, where he was remembered more for his horsemanship than his academic performance. He had an adventurous early career, but as a field commander he had been less than successful. His posting to West Virginia amounted to a punishment for failures during the Chancellorsville campaign, and he would be removed from command again by Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan for his performance in Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign.
Averell’s West Virginia command, consisting primarily of cavalry and mounted infantry from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, was ordered south from Moorefield on August 12, the objectives being to destroy saltpeter works near Franklin, to disperse Confederate troops from the Greenbrier Valley, and to capture the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals library in Lewisburg for the new state of West Virginia. The raiders accomplished the first two objectives—destroying the works at Franklin on August 19 and forcing Confederate Gen. William L. ‘‘Mudwall’’ Jackson out of Pocahontas County on August 22. In addition they destroyed a supply base and another saltpeter works in nearby Virginia. But when Averell turned toward Lewisburg he encountered resistance. At Rocky Gap near White Sulphur Springs on August 26, he met a Confederate force commanded by Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones. After a two-day engagement, Averell withdrew, leaving Jones in command of the field. Despite considerable harassment from rebel guerrillas during his retreat, Averell reached Beverly on August 31, with his command intact but without the law books.
Source: Williams, John Alexander. "Averell's Raid." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 31 October 2010.
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