"...drank all the whiskey and burned all the oil"
— Jones-Imboden Raid —
On April 20, 1863, Confederate Gens. William E. "Grumble" Jones and John D. Imboden began a raid from Virginia through present-day West Virginia on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Taking separate routes, they later reported that they marched 1,100 miles, fought several engagement, captured 700 Federals, seized about 1,200 horses and 4,000 cattle, and burned 4 turnpike bridges, more than 20 railroad bridges, 2 trains, and 150,000 barrels of oil. Most bridges were soon repaired. Confederate losses were slight. By May 26, both commands had returned to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
On May 9, 1863, Confederate Gen. William E. "Grumble" Jones led his cavalrymen here to Burning Springs (Oiltown) before continuing southeast. His men set the oil fields afire, and the burning oil turned the Little Kanawha River into a sheet of flames for eight miles. The light from the fire was visible in Parkersburg, forty-two miles away. One witness remarked that Jones's Confederates "ate all the food, drank all the whiskey and burned all the oil." Jones reported that "all the oil, the tanks, barrels, engines for pumping, engine-houses, and wagons—in a word, everything used for raising, holding or sending it off was burned. ?Men of experience estimated the oil destroyed at 150,000 barrels." Jones's raid caused delegates to West Virginia's first nominating convention, held in Parkersburg, to flee briefly for fear he would attack the city.
Jones's raid was not the only engagement here. As the first oil field boomtown in the nation, producing oil primarily for the lubrication of machinery, the military importance of the site was obvious. After Union Gen. George B. McClellan occupied Parkersburg in May 1861, he sent troops here to drive off Confederate guerrillas. This engagement, which occurred on June 19, was the first of several fights here. In May 1862, Confederate guerrillas attacked nearby Fort Hill, Col. John C. Rathbone, 11th West Virginia Infantry (US), whose family owned the oil field, had posted a detachment to protect it, but it was driven off and the fort was burned.
(lower left) Burning Springs Oil Field afire Courtesy Oil and Gas Museum
(upper right) Gen. William E. Jones Courtesy West Virginia State Archives
Col. John C. Rathbone Courtesy Oil and Gas Museum