In June of 2020, we visited the area near Summersville, West Virginia and Fayetteville, West Virginia to see the New River Gorge Bridge. The three days in the area were not enough, we saw a lot of the sites, but there were so many more places to explore. I had lists of places that I wanted to see but we ran out of time. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield was one of those places. In less than four months, we were back to see some of what we missed on our first visit.
The civil war battle in 1861 that took place near the Carnifex Ferry was a mystery to me. I had never heard of this battle and I wanted to learn more. Nestled in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia, this battleground is often overlooked as people chose to visit the larger more well known Civil War historical locations. However, this battlefield is a great historical stop for the person that is in the area enjoying the kayaking, hiking and gorgeous mountain top views that the New River and Gauley River areas offer.
The West Virginia State Park: Carnifex Ferry Battlefield
The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield is a small State Park near Summersville, West Virginia. The area draws tourists who vacation on the Summersville Reservoir, boat the Gauley and nearby New Rivers, come to see the mighty New River Gorge Bridge or visit the multiple parks (national and state) in this area. An area that is a playground for the nature lover and outdoorsman.
The grounds of this park have been preserved in memory of a civil war battle that took place in September of 1861. To fully understand the battle however, we need to back track a few days in time before the battle.
The Battle of Carnifex Ferry
In August of 1861, a contingent of the Confederate Army encamped in the area near the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield. The roughly 1,800 men settled onto the land near the Patterson Farmhouse. In early September, the union army arrived with nearly 7,000 troops. In the afternoon of September 10th, the Union army advanced upon the heavily entrenched confederate army. Both sides fought valiantly and it was the Union army that retreated at the end of the day.
When the union general was pushed back he must have realized his error. You see, he had only advanced a small portion of his available men to attack this confederate camp. When he retreated, he knew it was only for the night and that in the morning that he would be attacking with his full force of me.
Riding high on his troops ability to push back the Union army on the first day of fighting, the confederate general knew that he was seriously outnumbered. He assessed the risks and the benefits and that night in the cover of darkness he withdrew his troops and retreated.
The Union army claimed victory for this battle. They held the ground that they had fought for and the Confederate Army had retreated. However, the Confederate Army did not see it that way. They claimed that they rightfully held the victory due to the fact that they sustained far fewer casualties and absolutely no fatalities during this battle. A claim that could not be made by the Union Army.
Near the Patterson House on the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield is a single grave. This grave is a stark reminders that risk of being a troop in the Civil War was not confined to times of battle. Sickness in the encampments was a very real problem and this grave is testament to that. On September 7th, only three days before the battle a young soldier died of sickness within that encampment. Granville Blevins had been in the army for less than 3 months when he passed away. His brother and friends gave him a proper burial on the Patterson land. While many men died of sickness while encamped here, this is the only known gravesite.
Other activities at the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield
This state park also offers a few other neat tidbits of interest. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield can boast of a fabulous overlook that gives visitors a breathtaking view of the river far below. This battlefield offers a 2 mile trail that circles that battlefield and will take a visitor near all points of interest within the battlefield. The multiple picnic shelters and the softball field round out the variety of activities that this park offers.
A trip to the Gauley River and the New River would not be complete without at least a quick stop to see the hallowed ground of this battlefield. During the summer months, the gift shop and museum is open for visitors (weekends and holidays). If you enjoy watching reenactments, you can visit in early September during an even numbered year and take in the thunder of guns as this battle for control of the valley takes place. During our visit we split our day at Carnifex Ferry Battlefield with a trip to the Babcock State Park to see the gorgeous Glade Creek Grist mill! Thanks for the great visit West Virginia State Parks!
I have heard so much about the New River Gorge Bridge! Jason had always wanted to see the the bridge and I had grown interested through hearing about him talk about this bridge. We were in Western West Virginia to visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and realized that the New River Gorge was only an hour away. We had to go! Completed in 1977, The New River Gorge Bridge opened as the worlds longest single span arch bridge. It held that record for 26 years. Even now, it remains the fourth largest single span bridge. The bridge was built as a means of traveling from one side of the gorge to the other. Before the completion of this bridge traversing from one side to the other required a 40 minute trip down to the bottom of the gorge and back up the other side. The new bridge reduced the travel time to roughly one minute.
National Park Service Visitor Center
We arrived at the new river gorge around lunch time. We couldn’t wait to lay our eyes on this bridge that we had heard so much about! We immediately headed to the National Park Service Visitor Center parking. I knew that the actual visitor center was closed due to the pandemic, but the website had indicated that the boardwalks and overlooks were open. While it would have been nice to be able to see and learn more about the bridge , I was grateful that I would still be able to visit the overlooks. After all, that was what I came for! We parked in the parking lot at the National Park visitors center. We were ready to get our first taste of the New River Gorge Bridge!
There were signs that indicated the direction to the overlook. The path quickly turns into a wooden boardwalk. The walk is easy and in just a few short moments you will come to the first overlook. We could see the bridge and we stood in awe for a bit.
AThis boardwalk trail was not over though. There are a series of steps that head down to a second overlook. We didn’t have to ponder long. Although as we headed down there was a bit of trepidation about the return climb up the steps. Halfway down the steps there is a nice area that includes some benches if you need a break. We reached the bottom and the view was spectacular. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized exactly how deep this gorge is and how utterly mammoth this bridge really is.
The hike back up isn’t too bad. We were out of breath but it only took a few minutes. We decided to walk a bit around the visitor center area and we came to a second overlook. This on also had some neat displays showing information about the bridge.
After we had explored all we could see we headed out. It wasn’t until the next day that we explored the bridge more fully.
Fayette station road
The road that up until 1977 had been the primary means to get from one side of the gorge to the other is called the Fayette Station Road. It is still open and the visitor center offers audio tours of this road. I knew from my pre-trip research that we could stream the audio tour in lieu of going into the visitor center (which was closed). Perfect! We happily headed on this tour. The audio tour is well done. It gives the history and background of this road that winds down and then back up the mountain utilizing switchbacks while carrying you by sheer rock walls and waterfalls.
Along the way there are ample opportunities to stop to view the New River Gorge Bridge. Each different view and angle only reinforces the mammoth proportions of this bridge. At the bottom of the gorge there is camp/day use area with plenty of parking. This allowed us the chance to view up close the river that runs through the gorge. We saw kayakers drop into the water, fisherman fishing and swimmers enjoying the cool temperature of the water on a hot day. We took the opportunity to walk back to the bridge that spans the water at the bottom of the gorge. It was here that we were given a full view of the bridge.
andThe Fayette Station Road has a few pull offs that are at trailheads. We hiked one of the trails for a bit, enjoying the flowing water of streams and the gushing waterfalls that the trail took us too.
The overlooks located at the visitor center and the views of the new River Gorge bridge from the Fayette Station were spectacular and made the bridge experience a most amazing part of this trip! The new River Gorge is definitely a must see location!
For More West Virginia travel, visit the Museum of American Glass in Weston, WV and Thurmond and abandoned town in the New River Gorge Area.
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!