On September 10, 1861, a Civil War battle was fought at Carnifex Ferry in Nicholas County. The clash had been unfolding for nearly two months, after Confederate troops were forced from the Kanawha Valley. For weeks, the Southern troops had occupied the important crossroads of Gauley Bridge in Fayette County. After defeating a small Union force at Kesslers Cross Lanes in Nicholas County, some 2,000 Confederates, under former Virginia Governor John Floyd, encamped along the steep cliffs of the Gauley River.
Meanwhile, Union General William Rosecrans was assembling an army three-and-a-half times the size of Floyd’s at Summersville. Rosecrans moved south and attacked the Confederates at Carnifex Ferry. Rather than crushing Floyd’s forces, though, Rosecrans launched a piecemeal attack, allowing Floyd to escape in the night.
The Union victory was of little military consequence, but it had an important impact on the West Virginia statehood movement. Six weeks after the battle, voters in regions controlled by Northern forces voted to create a new state. A loss at Carnifex Ferry and Confederate re-occupation of the Kanawha Valley might have very well changed the outcome of that early statehood vote.