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
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
STOP 1 - Strategic
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
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
STOP 3 - Defending
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
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
STOP 5 - The
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
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
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
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
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
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: