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The Hidden History Of The Battle Of Point Pleasant - Part 1

POINT PLEASANT, WV (WOWK) - When people think of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the tragedy of the Silver Bridge or the mystery of the Mothman often come to mind.

But before there was a Point Pleasant, a West Virginia, or even a United States, the land where the Kanawha River meets the Ohio River was the site of one of the most pivotal battles on the American frontier.

From the time white explorers first discovered the mighty Ohio River, it's wide, the fertile valley had been seen a prize worth fighting for. 

Control of the valley became a near-constant source of conflict between white settlers and native tribes. 

Dr. Kevin Barksdale, Professor of American History at Marshall University says "Whites want to buy and speculate in land, want to expand their agricultural economy...and the natives basically want to protect their homelands and their villages...so the Ohio Valley is a contested region...a region that had been torn apart by violence."

The British government thought they had solved the issue at the end of the French and Indian war in 1763 when the Iroquois - a confederation of tribes centered in Upstate New York - pledged peace in the Ohio Valley. Much like their colonial adversaries, however, the Ohio Valley tribes were chafing under foreign control. 

"The Ohio Indians just sort of say hey, we weren't invited, we weren't asked our opinion, these are affecting us...and so they begin to increasingly sort of reject those treaties and act out on their own," said Dr. Barksdale.

The increasing violence in the valley came to a head in April of 1774, when a group of Mingo, including the brother of their chief, Logan, were slaughtered under the guise of peace near what is now Wheeling, WV. The massacre brought retaliation, intensifying the cycle of frontier violence. 

Virginia's Colonial Governor, Lord Dunmore, had to act.

"He is facing pressure from sort of Virginia's colonial elite...these would be your Lees, your Byrds, your Washingtons....who have deeply and heavily invested in land speculating," said Dr. Barksdale.

Those investments were worthless if they could not sell the land to settlers for fear of Native attacks.

With the fortunes of his colony at stake, Lord Dunmore planned a two-pronged attack against the Ohio Valley tribes.

One force, led by Dunmore, would form up near Fort Pitt and advance down the Ohio River.

A second force, led by Andrew Lewis, whose family helped found Lewisburg, would advance overland from the Greenbrier Valley and west along the Kanawha River.

They were to meet and Point Pleasant, join forces, and advance on Native villages in the Scioto Valley. 

Dunmore's combined force consisted of nearly 3-thousand elite militiamen, many of them French and Indian war Veterans. Most were Virginian, but included men from every corner of the American Colonies. 

According to Dr.  Barksdale, "These are sort of the green berets of the American colonies at this time. They had all the battle experience, they had dealt with Native Americans."

To confront this unprecedented threat - the Ohio Valley Indians rallied around the great Shawnee Chief Cornstalk. Cornstalk was a respected leader and renown warrior who had led many bloody raids against settlements in the Ohio and Greenbrier Valleys - though he did not welcome war with Dunmore. 

Craig Hesson, a historian and reenactor, said "originally he [Cornstalk} did not want to go to war. He tried to prevent it. But when they decided to go to war, he said: 'then I'll lead you."

Cornstalk rallied a force of nearly 1,000 warriors and had scouts track and harass the advancing colonial forces. 

The force under Andrew Lewis reached what is now Point Pleasant several days ahead of Dunmore. Lewis ordered his men to make camp, rest, and wait for Dunmore. For Cornstalk, it was an opportunity. 

"Cornstalk's plan was actually to attack the smaller army, Lewis' army, and after defeating them, wiping them out, then going up and attacking Dunmore's army, or giving them a reason to seek peace," said Hesson.

And so on the night of October 9th, 1774, Cornstalk led his army across the Ohio River - the opening move of the Battle of Point Pleasant. 

Keep an eye out for The Hidden History Of The Battle Of Point Pleasant - Part 2.


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