When you think of the prominent battles of the American Revolution places such as Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga and Saratoga often come to mind, but very rarely — if ever — do people consider West Virginia. After all, it would take nearly 90 years for the Mountain State to become a reality following the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Interestingly, the first battle of the Revolutionary War may have occurred along the banks of the Ohio River in our very own West Virginia.
Mason County’s Point Pleasant is situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, making it a critical geographic location for the region – as whomever controls this town controls access to several navigable rivers.
On October 10, 1774, however, there was nothing pleasant about the point that would become Point Pleasant.
With increasing hostilities growing between the colonists and their British rulers, many Virginians felt like it was only a matter of time before tensions would escalate into a violent tipping point. The tensions also caused a high level of distrust between Virginia militia units and British regulars – who were often seen attempting to court an alliance with Native American tribes along the Ohio River as preparation for an oncoming civil uprising.
Meanwhile, in late-1774 British and Virginia forces planned a joint two-pronged attack in order to drive the Indians across the Ohio River and out of Western Virginia.
The battle plan called for Virginia militiamen, led by Colonel Andrew Lewis (who would go on to become a Revolutionary war hero) to lead roughly 1,000 Virginians into the Ohio Valley where they would meet up with British forces and battle the Native Americans for the western frontier.
The original strategy was for Lewis’ group of Virginia militiamen to float down the Kanawha River and link with British forces leaving from Fort Pitt, then known as Fort Dunmore. After joining forces, the two armies would engage hostile Indians.
Unfortunately for Lewis and his army of Western Virginia settlers, Lord Dunmore’s Red Coats never arrived and the pioneers were forced to take on the Shawnee and Mingo Indians alone.
The fierce battle raged for hours, eventually growing into hand-to-hand combat. Ultimately, units of the Virginia militia separated from the battle and flanked the Indians from the rear – lessening the intensity of the frontal assault against the colonial forces.
In total, at least 75 Virginians were killed in the battle, including two commanders – at night fall, the Indians quietly retreated back across the Ohio River.
Because the Western Virginia militia held its ground, they are technically considered to have been the winner of the battle.
The fact that British forces never arrived to aid the militia (as was planned) left many Americans to feel they had been set up by the Royal Army – who had hoped the Shawnee and Mingo warriors would eliminate the militia in case a rebellion were to break out.
Because of this, on February 21, 1908, the United States Senate passed Bill Number 160, commemorating the Battle of Point Pleasant to be the first “battle of the Revolution.”
So when you think of the Revolutionary War, just remember that in addition to Yorktown and Bunker Hill is the community of Point Pleasant, arguably the site of the First Battle of the American Revolutionary War.
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