Occupation of Sutton during the Jones-Imboden Raid
Backstory and Context
Throughout the Jones-Imboden Raid’s progress through the region that became West Virginia, Confederate raiders suffered considerably from poor weather conditions that bogged down what was meant to be a lightning fast attack and left them and their horses perennially low on food. On his route along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike toward Beverly in what is now Randolph County, West Virginia, General John D. Imboden and his men struggled through snow, sleet, and rain that often slowed their march to a crawl on a 100-mile trek through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Similar weather conditions played havoc likewise with General William E. Jones thrust to the northwards from Lacey Springs, Virginia through Grant, Preston, Marion, and Monongalia Counties, forcing him to abandon all but his cavalry on the crossing of the South Potomac River and at times allowing him to move only a few miles in one day. To make matters worse the rain meant that the Confederates’ horses had little hope of receiving adequate forage, most of the grass being so waterlogged as to be inedible. By the time both generals decamped from the bivouac in Weston, Lewis County, on the morning of May 6 their men and horses were starving and had seen only six days of decent weather in the entire campaign. Jones and his men faced a march of over sixty miles to their target at Burning Springs in Wirt County, Imboden and his troops nearly the same distance toward their goal of Summersville in Nicholas County.
With the weather conditions what they were, Imboden’s forces were only able to march five miles toward their destination on May 6. Constant rain meant the roads they traveled were nearly impassable, swamped by flooding creeks and springs and churned into deep mud by the march of the men themselves. The slow march combined with their low supplies and soaked clothing convinced many of Imboden’s men to desert along the way. The general, himself a native of what became West Virginia, had insisted on including a number of units raised in western Virginia. He had hoped that such units’ presences on the campaign might convince other local residents to enlist, but instead it only made it easier for the men of such units to return to their homes. Seeking to avoid further desertions, Imboden granted furloughs to three companies of the Twenty-Fifth Virginia after reaching Bulltown in Braxton County on May 8 so that they could visit their homes nearby. The ploy evidently worked. While in Bulltown, Imboden not only retained his numbers but managed to attract a few new recruits before moving on toward the county seat of Sutton on May 10. As they left, they set fire to the Union stores they could not carry with them, the Federal garrison having evacuated the town prior to the Confederates’ arrival.
Sutton itself had already seen its fair share of action in the war. While the town and surrounding county were predominantly pro-secession, Federal forces had moved to retain control of it as part of the pro-Union “Restored Government of Virginia” in order to benefit from the strategically important Weston and Gauley Turnpike. Because that road served as a sort of backdoor into the western limits of Confederate Virginia as an alternative to the more traveled Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike further north, the area of Braxton County through which it traversed was often hotly contested. Sutton first fell victim to this contest in December of 1861, when the town caught fire during an engagement between Confederate partisans known as the Moccasin Rangers and Federal troops under Captain Weston Rowand. The town seems to have fared better the next time, when Imboden and his men arrived on May 11, 1863, the Confederates doing damage only to the Federal stores and entrenchments left behind by the Union garrison (which had again evacuated before their arrival). Imboden’s forces spent little time in the town, however, having heard that the Union garrison in Summersville had considerable foodstuffs that might still be available to the rebels if they made it to their goal before the Federals destroyed their supplies. Having cleared the way for Jones’ troops behind them Imboden’s soldiers moved on a forced march toward Summersville, which they reached on May 13.
For his own part, after successfully setting Burning Springs and the surrounding oilfields ablaze on May 9, Jones split his forces in order to secure better forage for his horses and men. On the morning of May 10, he sent a contingent under Colonel Lundsford Lomax of the Eleventh Virginia across the Little Kanawha River twenty-one miles southwest of Glenville in Gilmer County to search for food and protect the main body’s right flank. That night Lomax and his men camped at what is now Arnoldsburg, Calhoun County, while on the other side of the river Jones traveled to Glenville via Stumptown. After resting on May 11 in Glenville, Jones pushed on toward Sutton, where he reunited with Lomax on May 12. By the following day, the combined force had reached a point eight miles from Summersville, where they learned not only of the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville but of promises from Imboden that they could expect food and supplies upon reaching their destination.
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Collins, Darrell L. The Jones-Imboden Raid: the Confederate Attempt to Destroy the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and Retake West Virginia. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2007.
Kemp, Emory L. “The West Virginia Encyclopedia.” In The West Virginia Encyclopedia. West Virginia Humanities Council, November 25, 2015. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1146.
“Razing of Building Recalls Burning of Sutton during 1861.” The Charleston Daily Mail, March 27, 1938.
Sutton, John Davison. History of Braxton County and Central West Virginia. Braxton County, WV: McClain Printing Company, 1919.
Tucker, Spencer. Brigadier General John D. Imboden: Confederate Commander in the Shenandoah. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.
The Historical Marker Database
The West Virginia and Regional History Center
The West Virginia and Regional History Center