Two Future U.S. Presidents Fought at Kernstown
Colonel James A. Mulligan's Union command of 1,800 men encamped on these heights on the night of July 23-24, 1864. When Confederate cavalry drove Union cavalry back toward Kernstown on the morning of the 24th, Mulligan deployed two cannon on this hill checking the Confederate advance. Mulligan subsequently advanced his small command to support the Union cavalry south of Kernstown.
Mulligan's immediate superior, Major General George Crook, doubted several reports indicating the presence of Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early's entire Confederate army at Kernstown. Instead, Crook ordered an attack. Future U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes led his 1,300 Ohioans and West Virginians into position on the east side of the Valley Pike, advancing in unison with Mulligan. Minutes later, Major General John C. Breckinridge's Confederates advanced from behind the ridge to the east (containing present-day I-81), striking Hayes in his flank and rear and throwing most of his troops into the utmost confusion. Colonel Hayes rallied what men he could on Pritchard's Hill, while Mulligan's men made a brief stand along the lane at the foot of the hill.
From the hill, Hayes saw the 13th West Virginia Infantry fighting alone in an orchard to the east (near the modern commercial area along U.S. Route 11). Hayes sent his young aide Lieutenant William McKinley, another future U.S. President, to retrieve the "Mountaineers" from the orchard before they were overwhelmed. Riding amidst a torrent of artillery and rifle fire, McKinley reached them and delivered Hayes's order to withdraw. The 13th West Virginia fired one last volley and retreated to Winchester.
As the last Union troops abandoned Pritchard's Hill, Breckinridge's victorious troops swarmed up the eastern slope. While the Confederate ranks contained no future presidents, several interesting personas led Breckinridge's brigades in battle. Colonel George S. Patton was the grandfather of America's WWII hero of the same name. Colonel Augustus Forsberg was one of the few Swedish-born Confederates to obtain high rank in the Southern armies. Colonel Thomas Smith was the son of Virginia governer and Confederate Brigadier General William "Extra Billy" Smith.
(Left Sidebar, with portrait of Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes):
Born in Delaware, Ohio in 1822, Hayes received an appointment as a major of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in 1861. After being seriously wounded at the Battle of South Mountain in 1862, he returned to the army and successfully led his troops throughout the 1864 Valley Campaign, earning a general's star. He was elected President by the House of Representatives in the disputed election of 1876 and served for one term.
(Right Sidebar, with portrait of Lieutenant William McKinley):
In 1861, McKinley enlisted as an 18-year-old private in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and rose to the rank of major by the war's end. He was elected President of the United States in 1896 and 1900 before being assassinated by an anarchist in 1901.