By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2013-2014, All Rights Reserved
Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the September 2013 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.
On June 6, 1863, General John Hunt Morgan and over 2,000 Confederate cavalrymen left McMinnville, Tennessee and headed north. On July 2, this unit entered Morgan’s beloved Kentucky and continued northward. On July 8, Morgan and his troops crossed the Ohio River into Indiana and then turned east. On July 13, Morgan and his men entered Ohio and became the first Confederate soldiers to set foot on Ohio soil. Except Morgan and his men were not the first Confederate soldiers to enter the Buckeye State. That distinction belongs to Albert G. Jenkins and his band of 550 cavalrymen. Jenkins beat Morgan into Ohio by almost nine months.
In the early months of the Civil War, the Confederacy suffered some serious setbacks in northwestern Virginia. These defeats secured this territory for the Union and eventually led to the formation of the state of West Virginia. In an attempt to recapture this territory, William Loring, the Confederate commander in that area, sent Albert Jenkins and his cavalry unit on a raid in order to disrupt the region as a prelude to a larger invasion. On August 22, 1862, Jenkins and his troops departed from a point in the southeastern part of what is now West Virginia and headed northeast. After several days, Jenkins turned west toward the Ohio River. While moving in this direction, Jenkins and his men defeated some Union units, took numerous prisoners, captured supplies and munitions (and destroyed what they could not take with them), and even captured over $5,000 from a Union paymaster. After resting for a day near the Ohio River, Jenkins and his men crossed the river on September 4, 1862 and became the first Confederate troops to tread on Ohio ground. Their incursion into Ohio was very short, only about 20 miles, and they accomplished nothing of note other than the psychological trauma of placing enemy soldiers in Union territory. After their return to West Virginia, Jenkins’ men created more havoc on a circuitous route, and on September 12, after a raid of 500 miles, Jenkins’ unit took position in the Kanawha River valley. On October 31, 1862, more than two months after his departure, Jenkins was driven back to Confederate-held territory. Although Jenkins failed to accomplish one of his main objectives, that is, the destruction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Jenkins’ commander, William Loring, pronounced the raid a success because of the disruptive effect it had in the region. However, the territory never returned to Confederate control, and less than a year later West Virginia was admitted to the Union.
Albert Jenkins had a personal stake in retaining control of West Virginia for the Confederacy, because he was born there along the Ohio River in 1830. As a young man, he attended college in Pennsylvania and then graduated from Harvard Law School and was admitted to the bar. He became active in politics and was a delegate to the 1856 Democratic National Convention (which means that he may have been partly responsible for the nomination of James Buchanan). Jenkins also served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. After he resigned from Congress to align himself with the Confederacy, he returned to his homeland where he raised the unit that he led on his famous raid. This unit was intended to serve as a home guard, and it was doing so in the summer of 1861 prior to its lengthy raid. During this time the unit took part in a battle near the Kanawha River, and in that battle Jenkins took command of the Confederate force after the commander of that force was wounded. The person whom Jenkins replaced was George S. Patton, the grandfather of the famous World War II general.
After the 1862 raid, Jenkins’ unit was sent to guard the Shenandoah Valley. In the summer of 1863 Jenkins’ unit was attached to Richard Ewell’s Corps for Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North. Jenkins’ cavalry became the vanguard for the Army of Northern Virginia during its penetration into the North and even went as far north as three miles outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where they skirmished with Union militia. During this time Jenkins and his men came under criticism for what the military report termed “irregularities,” a euphemism for stealing and destruction of civilian property. Jenkins’ unit was present for the battle of Gettysburg, and on July 2 it was assigned to guard the left flank of Ewell’s Corps, which, in fact, was the left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia. But Jenkins’ unit never arrived at its assigned position. While the unit was moving there, Jenkins ventured in front of Confederate lines and began to observe the Union position with his field glasses. For this reconnaissance Jenkins went onto a small elevation known as Blocher’s Knoll, although this place is now known as Barlow’s Knoll because of what happened there the previous day. While Jenkins was on the knoll, Union artillery saw him and began firing. Shrapnel from an exploding shell killed Jenkins’ horse and wounded him. Because Jenkins’ unit failed to carry out its assignment, Ewell was forced to cover his left flank with two infantry brigades, brigades that Ewell could have used when his corps attacked Culp’s Hill later that day.
In the autumn of 1863 Jenkins had recovered from his wound and resumed command of his unit. By this time, the unit had returned to its original mission of detached service in West Virginia. Although military commanders are almost never enthusiastic about relinquishing troops from their command, the officers above Jenkins’ unit were not disappointed to see this unit leave the Army of Northern Virginia, because Jenkins’ men were considered too undisciplined to function as part of a larger force. After several months of independent operations in the mountains of West Virginia, Jenkins became aware of a Union force that moved into the area in early May 1864. This force was commanded by George Crook and included two future U.S. Presidents: Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley. Jenkins’ men and Crook’s force clashed on May 9, 1864 in the battle of Cloyd’s Mountain. Jenkins was outflanked, and after vicious hand-to-hand fighting the Confederate lines began to break. As the Confederates started to fall back, Jenkins sensed a rout was about to ensue. In order to ensure the withdrawal of all his surviving men, Jenkins stayed to the last to direct the retreat. This proved fatal, because Jenkins’ arm was shattered by a bullet. He could not be carried from the field and fell into Union hands.
Jenkins’ wounded arm was amputated by a Union surgeon, and he died twelve days later on May 21, 1864. Ironically Jenkins received his mortal wound one day short of one year after the death of Stonewall Jackson, another Virginian whose birthplace, like that of Jenkins, was excised from their home state when West Virginia was made a state. Like Stonewall, Jenkins was wounded in the arm, had his arm amputated, and lived for several days more before dying. One of Albert Jenkins’ subordinates paid stirring tribute when he wrote about his deceased commander, “No more on his proud steed shall he sweep o’er the plains, cheering by his ringing voice and flashing eye his struggling cavaliers to deeds of daring, breasting with the foremost the storm of battle.” While Ohioans may have difficulty with the thought of an enemy force entering their state, someone who is described like that by one of his comrades is certainly worthy to be the first Confederate to lead an incursion into Ohio.