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Historic Fort Mulligan

The valley of the South Branch of the Potomac River saw an incredible amount of troop activity and action during the Civil War. Its story is hauntingly similar to that of the famed Shenandoah Valley, albeit on a smaller scale. Indeed, if the Shenandoah was the granary of the Confederacy, then this bountiful region may well have been known as its stockyard, for it managed to supply stock to Confederate forces in Virginia at least as late as November 1864.

The Valley was a middle ground, situated beteen the all important Middle Shenandoah Valley and the Upper Potomac region with its vital coal resources and the B&O Railroad infrastructure centered around Cumberland, Maryland. The railroad itself cuts across the lower South Branch Valley and its adjacent drainages. In addition to offering agricultural products to the South, it offered a mostly sympathetic populace and innumerable remote avenues of approach for a mobile force bent on the destruction of the B&O Railroad.

Though Lee's army was locked in a stalemate many miles to the south at Petersburg, Virginia, by June of 1864, and the Shenandoah Valley was under complete Federal control by November of 1864, this area continued to be a dangerous territory for Federal troops until the war ended.

Federal or Confederate troops occupied this hill and its surrounding area beginning at least as early as August 1861, and were on the ground for at least part of every year of the war. Federal forces time and again tried to use this strategic point as a choke hold against raids on the B&O to the north, and as a "jumping-off" point for their own raids further south. The reasoning is clear and is twofold: First, the intersection of the road network at Petersburg and Moorefield and second, the support of the civilian population and Homeguard units in the ridges to the west and north provided a sharp counterpoint to the hostility of the civilians in Petersburg and Moorefield and areas east and south.

The Fort as it exists today, was constructed August-December 1863, by troops under the command of Colonel James A. Mulligan, from Chicago, Illinois. Infantry, cavalry and artillery from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Illinois carried out the backbreaking labor.

The rugged earthworks bear silent witness to the sacrifices of the thousands of Americans who marched, dug, fought, froze and died here during the war. The tide of war ebbed and waned across the South during the war, but when troops were in the South Branch, they were always "at the front."

As you follow the walking trails:

STOP 1 - Strategic Location:
The strategic importance of the site becomes evident as one observes the surrounding terrain. Roads leading north to New Creek, west to Beverly, Buckhannon and Grafton, south to Franklin, Harrisonburg and Staunton and east to Moorefield, Winchester and Harrisonburg all come together here and this height dominates them all.

STOP 2 - Infantry Quarters:
Tents would have dominated the view here for much of 1861-1865. Nearly 20,000 Federal troops under Major General John C. Fremont camped in the surrounding fields in the spring of 1862. The fall and winter of 1863-1864 saw large numbers of troops quartered in the area during the construction of Fort Mulligan. Directly beneath this point part of the infantry of Mulligan's Irish Brigade made their winter quarters. It is likely that this was the camp of the ill-fated First West Virginia Infantry. As you continue, notice the strength of the outer works of the fort.

STOP 3 - Defending the Fort:
Clearly one of the fort's entrances, it is believed that this "sally port" was needed here to rush men and perhaps cannons out to defend against an assault up the ravine on your left.

STOP 4 - Winter Huts:
Below this stop on a terrace are the clear remains of several winter quarters hut sites. These were log huts, built into the hillside, partially covered with dirt. The roofs were usually canvas shelter cloths, the floors and sometimes chimneys were made from bricks taken from a local church burned during the war. This group of hut emplacements, much smaller and more isolated than the infantry camp below Stop 2, was occupied by men of Battery D, First West Virginia, or Battery L, First Illinois Light Artillery.

STOP 5 - The Western Side:
This is the western end of the fort. The acute angles at this end of the works were clearly designed to be occupied by several artillery pieces that could cover the Seneca Road and the ravine to the southwest.

STOP 6 - A Commanding View:
Near the middle of the fort, its sheer size becomes apparent. It is approximately 700 feet east to west and 400 feet north to south at its widest point. If your view was unobstructed, you could see that there isn't another point within two miles that commands the area as this one does.

STOP 7 - Protecting Supplies:
The fort's role as a forward post and depot becomes apparent. These intricate inner works are bombproofs. You are standing between two and a third, much larger, is directly in front of you. The remains of a fourth exists to the left of the water tank.

STOP 8 - Largest Bombproof:
The bombproof structure in front of you is most impressive in its size. While no engineering plans have yet been discovered which might reveal its original interior dimension, its current outside dimensions are 200 feet by 55 feet. Research is currently being done to ascertain if there are others in existence that can rival it.

STOP 9 - The Undoing of the Fort:
The dominating nature of the fort is again obvious from this gun position. There are at least six gun positions in this fort, this one certainly dominated the crossroads at the sleepy village of Petersburg, and its important ford on the South Branch River. Confederate Major General Jubal Early indicated that these works were very impressive and included entangling wood obstructions surrounding the fort called abatis.

In 1993, the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites acquired the nearly six-acre site through the generous donation of Mr. William G. VanMeter. The APCWS, founded in 1987, was a nonprofit land trust dedicated exclusively to protecting historic landscapes associated with the American Civil War. In November 1999, the APCWS merged with the Civil War Preservation Trust. The Civil War Preservation Trust began working in partnership for preservation and interpretation with the South Branch Valley Civil War Society Inc., McNeill's Rangers Camp #582, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the 7th W.V. Infantry Camp #7, Sons of Union Veterans. This brochure, the walking trail, monument, rail fence signage and parking lot are the result of this partnership.

You can help us preserve this site by sending a donation to the South Branch Valley Civil War Society, Inc. at the following address: SBVCWS, Inc., c/o Grant County Bank, 3 North Main Street, Petersburg, WV 26847. If you have any information about the fort, please send it to this address. Thank you for becoming a friend of Fort Mulligan by supporting Civil War preservation.

For more information on the Civil War Preservation Trust write: CWPT, 11 Public Square, Suite 200, Hagerstown, MD 21740 or visit their website at: www.civilwar.org

McNeill's Rangers
Camp #582 SCV

South Branch Valley Civil War Society Inc.

7th W.V. Camp #7 SUV

Last Updated
June 6, 2013

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