Civil War: Gen. Jones’ destructive visit

On May 9, 1863, Gen. Grumble Jones and his raiding party of 1,500 cavalry, after creating havoc all along the railroad from Grafton to Cairo, decided to give up plans on attacking Parkersburg. At Cairo they turned south toward home with their booty of horses and cattle.

News of this successful raid reached Washington, causing Chief of Staff Halleck to demand answers as to what was happening to the blockhouses and garrisons he had ordered for troops protecting this critical railroad.

Jones left Cairo at daybreak on May 9 and it was reported his troops took from daybreak till 10:30 to disappear, leaving absolute ruin behind. Their travel to Burning Springs took them south to Cisco, along the Staunton to Parkersburg Turnpike and then south about where current day state Route 53 goes to Elizabeth. At the junction of Standing Stone creek, they turned east along Deevers Fork run toward Burning Springs, stopping along the way on modern day state Route 5, at a place called “Cherry” to hold their booty till they had conducted their raid on Burning Springs, just a couple of miles away. Jones would have known about its oilfield, one of the largest in the country, from fellow Confederate and former Camden partners William L. Jackson and James Bryne. We believe the Burning Springs oilfield was not their original target. If destroying oilfields was their objective, they would have had a chance to do that at both Petroleum and California, between Cairo and Burning Springs. Both locations had full-blown oilfields in operation and they were only a few miles away.

Jones’ goal, while not in his written plan, was to capture Parkersburg if he could, but turned south when he heard of the military protection at Parkersburg. Afterward, he just happened on Burning Springs.

The local citizens had been forewarned and and had fled the small town of maybe 1,000 people with horses, household goods, cattle, and importantly, whisky. One story is J.V. Rathbone offered Jones money not to burn the fabulous oilfield, but there is no confirmation of this story.

Usually there were troops stationed at Burning Springs for protection from guerilla raiders. Remember, one of the first battles of the Civil War took place there back on June 19, 1861. Then guerillas had burned the fort there in May 1862. But on this occasion, with the threat on Parkersburg, the troops were sent to Parkersburg and then stationed on the railroad for its protection.

We have a few firsthand accounts of what happened during the raid. From one local’s diary he relates: “Gen Jones in at Burning Springs with 1,000 cavalry, Burned all the oil and wells, drank all the whiskey and ate all the provisions!”

From Gen Jones’ official report, he stated they “destroyed 150,000 barrels of oil.” A vast overstatement. We have calculated that at most they could only have burned 20,000 barrels – still a huge amount. He went on, “In a word, everything used for raising, holding or sending it off, was burned. This included the derricks, tanks, barrels, pumping engines, engine houses, wagons and flatboats.” The ensuing fire raged down river for eight miles.

Jones reported five of his raiders were killed when they lit an oil tank and it exploded.

In Parkersburg, Col. Frost put the town under martial law, even though the political convention was going on, which required a military pass to get in and out of the beleagued town.

The Parkersburg Gazette reported there were 4,000 in the raiding party, and the big losers in property by all the major Parkersburg oil players. They also reported “at times the whole country would be enveloped in one vast rolling surging mass of pitchy smoke, streaked here and there with quivering tongues of flame'” 300 to 400 laborers were put out of work by the damage.” The Gazette further reported “they commenced firing the oil wells, from 88 to 100 in number. These were all burned, together with about 30 engines, all the oil tanks, barrels, oil boats and cooper shops, with all the implements connected in any way with the oil business. The principal sufferers are Mr. C. Rathbone of this city; Camden & Bynes; Mr. Llewellyn of N.Y.; Gambrill, Braiden & Co. of Parkersburg; John H. Ware of Kentucky; The Washington Oil Co.; Gordon & Co of Kentucky; Patterson, Karnes & Co. of Pennsylvania; Jones & Co. of Penn.; McCosh & Co. of Wheeling; McFarlan & Bros. of Pennsylvania; Gordon & Styles of Kentucky; Wait & Co.; C. Shattuck of Pennsylvania; and Camden & Rathbone of this place There are others who have suffered largely but we have not been able to procure their names.”

By about 1 a.m. the next morning, Jones, his forces and booty began leaving the area. He then headed for Summersville and back to Virginia

One of his final quotes in the official report was, “Had our original plan been carried out, we could have cleared Northwestern Virginia to the Ohio.

Back in Washington, this devastating raid caused a priority to be placed on building forts and barricades along the railroad from Grafton to Parkersburg at all bridges and tunnels. Further, priority was then placed on finishing Fort Boreman in Parkersburg. In all more than 700 troops were assigned to this construction duty in response to Gen. Halleck’s original orders back in February.

And remember, on the same day back in Parkersburg, we had elected fellow townsman Arthur I. Boreman as governor-elect of the 35th state-to-be, West Virginia.

And so went the most exciting day in Parkersburg’s history 150 years ago.

To celebrate this and other West Virginia statehood events, the Oil & Gas Museum has opened a new gallery of original Civil War newspaper art from Harpers Weekly and other newspapers, in addition to adding many new items to the Civil War collection. We also had a great commemoration of the Jones Raid at Burning Springs, with members of Carlin’s Battery and the 17 Confederate Virginia infantry regiment in attendance.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.