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Matthew A. Perry: The occupation of Cassville

October 11, 2018

The men of the Fifth West Virginia were hard at work during September and October of 1861 turning the tiny hamlet of Ceredo into a habitation fit for a fighting regiment. The Fifth was stationed at Ceredo to protect the abolitionist townspeople from Confederates in and around the area.

The first task for any regiment setting up is finding a suitable place for camp; the men decided on a tiny knoll on the northern end of town that overlooked the Ohio River. This camp would be named Camp Pierpont after one of the leaders of the West Virginia statehood movement, Francis Pierpont. The location still holds importance for the people of Ceredo today as it is the site of the city hall, the police department, and the fire department complexes.

As the men of the Fifth worked to make Ceredo a more suitable base of operations, the surrounding area was a pot being brought to a boil. As the allegiances of the people in the county were decidedly mixed, it indeed was neighbor against neighbor in Wayne County.

Colonel Ziegler was often sent messages from citizens who claimed northern loyalties. These people would beg him to send out detachments and to rid the area of rebels, rebels who were almost always their neighbors, with the resulting high tensions over perceived backstabbing. The region of Wayne County that was having the most trouble with Confederate guerillas going unchecked was the tiny town of Cassville, Virginia (WV), present-day Fort Gay.

Colonel Ziegler of the Fifth sent the major of the regiment, Ralph Ormsted, along with five companies to Cassville to show the rebels the type of force the Fifth could muster and to try and rid the area of Confederate bushwhackers. There was a strategic reason for this campaign. The town of Cassville is on the Big Sandy River, which is a tributary of the Ohio River. Rivers played a significant role in the Civil War because of the ease of movement of men and equipment the rivers afforded. Each side during the war would do their best to control as many river towns as possible both vast and small.

Cassville was situated directly across the river from Louisa, Kentucky and that is believed to be the route that so many Confederates used to go in and out of the area. While Kentucky proclaimed neutrality, the eastern counties on the border with Virginia had an adamant pro-south leaning, and there were many rebel sympathizers in the area.

When Ormsted arrived in Cassville in the middle of September of 1861, it seemed at first that things were going to go quite well; there was a short skirmish when the men first arrived, and they badly wounded two rebels, while taking only one minor casualty themselves. Ormsted decided to set up camp in a wheat field just outside of town and work on getting a feel for the population.

The soldier who would recount this campaign in the Ironton, Oh Register would give the impression that most of the people in Cassville were Confederate sympathizers, going as far as to say that the women of the town were begging Ormsted to spare their homes from the men of the Fifth.

Ormsted and his men would not defile any of the households in the Cassville area and would spend the middle days of September 1861 camped in the wheat field with nothing significant happening during that time. Finally, Ormsted believed that he had sent the messages to Confederates that the Fifth was quite willing to come down to southern Wayne County and that the loyal people of Cassville would be protected, so he ordered his men to prepare to return to Camp Pierpont.

There are conflicting sources as to the date of which Ormsted picked up camp and left Cassville. One record in Ormsted’s file at the National Archives had the date on Sept. 21, 1861, but, on the muster roll for Lieutenant James Baisden, the date was listed as Sept. 23. Regardless of the date, the events of that day would shake the Fifth.

As Ormsted was making arrangements for his companies to march back to Ceredo, he rode ahead of his column to attend to some business in the suburbs of the city. As a fellow officer, Lieutenant James Baisden rode up to talk with Ormsted; they were fired upon from the bushes beside the road just outside of Cassville. Ormsted and Baisden would only live for a few moments before they became the first deaths reported in the Fifth West Virginia.

The men of the companies marching home were left in disarray as they were left without two of their officers. They were on high alert for the bushwhackers, but they were never to find them. It would take the entire day and into the next day’s pre-dawn hours before the Fifth would arrive back to Ceredo with the task of picking up the pieces from their costly campaign into the southern end of the county.

Colonel Ziegler would be brief in his explanation of the incident to the Adjunct General. In October of 1861 he would write, “Ralph Ormsted, Major of the Fifth Regiment Virginia Volunteer Infantry, and James Baisden, 2nd Lieutenant in Company “F,” were both shot dead while passing along the road near Cassville, Virginia on the 2nd {sic}[ ] day of September 1861.”

Matthew A. Perry is a history teacher at C-K Middle and writes about the odd side of history at www.theoddpast.com.

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