Rivers a vital part of W.Va.’s past

PARKERSBURG – The Ohio and Little Kanawha rivers have played an important role in Wood County history including serving as troop and supply transport routes during the Civil War.

Moving supplies, and sometimes troops the rivers were vital transportation routes.

“By the end of the war, Parkersburg was a departure point for those soldiers who were shipping out to be discharged,” said former Wood County commissioner Bob Tebay, a history buff himself and member of the Fort Boreman Historic Park. Tebay noted in addition to guarding the vital rail lines, the location of Fort Boreman’s Civil War fort also allowed the troops to keep an eagle eye on the rivers below.

In his book Wood County West Virginia in Civil War Times, H.E. Matheny notes when hostilities began in 1861, gunboats were needed in the upper Ohio Valley so steamboats were seized and armed with cannon, “some with 42-pounders which fired shells weighing 42 pounds, early in the war and at least two were ordered to patrol the Wood County waters by June.”

“Some gunboats on the Ohio fired shells weighing 90 pounds,” Matheny said.

“These battleship-type gunboats were eventually moved to the Mississippi River where they were used to destroy forts and halt Confederate shipping. In 1862 and 1863 probably 50 or more navy ships were constructed or rebuilt. The heavy gunboats were tried on the upper Ohio, but were useless in shallow water so lighter craft were deployed,” according to Matheny.

“The gunboats were only a small part of navy operations. Other vessels were mortar boats, tugs, towboats, transports, barges, rams, supply boats, quartermaster boats, wharfboats, harbor headquarter boats, snag boats, dredges and others,” according to Matheny. “At one time there were 24 boats often under army control in Wood County.”

“Parkersburg had a shipbuilding dock and launching slip on the Little Kanawha River, owned in part by General (Samuel) Karns. He became active in gunboat construction and conversion for West Virginia early in the war. Many Wood County residents owned interests in river shipping; some families owned more than one boat,” Matheny said.

“The Confederacy had many spies in the shipyards, travelling by steamboat. For that reason, very few boats were permitted to operate independently on the upper Ohio,” Matheny said.