The Battle of Point Pleasant was fought in October 1774 between Virginians led by Andrew Lewis and Shawnee led by Cornstalk. It was the only major engagement of Dunmore’s War and the most important battle ever fought in present West Virginia.
In response to hostilities along the Ohio River that spring, Lord Dunmore, the last colonial governor of Virginia, assembled two armies to attack the Shawnee villages in Ohio. The northern army, led by Dunmore himself and composed of militia from Berkeley, Hampshire, and Frederick counties, departed from Cumberland, Maryland, and proceeded to Fort Dunmore (present Pittsburgh). The second army, commanded by Col. Andrew Lewis, was made up of militia from Augusta, Bedford, Botetourt, Culpeper, and Fincastle counties. Lewis’s force gathered at Camp Union (present Lewisburg) and journeyed down the Kanawha River to its mouth at Point Pleasant, arriving on October 6. The plan was for the two armies to meet at the mouth of the Hocking River, ascend that river, and attack the Indian towns together. Each army numbered about 1,000 men.
The Shawnee had reconnoitered both armies from the time of their departure. In an effort to prevent their meeting, Cornstalk decided to attack the southern army first. During the night of October 9–10, his 900 warriors crossed the Ohio River above the mouth of the Kanawha, hoping to attack before the soldiers awoke. However, two men, James Robinson and Valentine Sevier, left camp early the morning of the 10th to hunt, wandered into the Shawnee force, and sounded the alarm. Lewis then sent two columns of 150 men each, under his brother, Col. Charles Lewis, and Col. William Fleming, up the bottomland to meet the enemy. Musket fire mingled with fog obscured the battlefield, and the hand-to-hand fighting was fierce.
A flanking movement along Crooked Creek to the hill above the battlefield, led by Lt. Isaac Shelby, later the first governor of Kentucky, was mistaken by Cornstalk to be the arrival of militia reinforcements. The Shawnee retreated late in the afternoon, dumping the bodies of their dead in the river. Within a few days, Cornstalk signed an armistice with Governor Dunmore at Camp Charlotte, near the Shawnee towns. The treaty was formalized at Pittsburgh in 1775.
There is a tradition that the Battle of Point Pleasant was the first battle of the Revolutionary War. Most historians disagree, given the nature of the struggle and the lapse of time before hostilities began in New England. While many Virginians were upset with Dunmore’s dissolution of the House of Burgesses in 1773, they still fought willingly under the British colonial governor in defense of their homesteads. There is no need to make lavish claims, since the Battle of Point Pleasant had its own singular results. Most importantly, it pacified the Ohio Valley for more than two years. Failure to defeat the Ohio tribes would have meant fighting a two-front war during the critical early stages of the Revolution before the Saratoga victory, October 17, 1777, and the resulting French alliance. Such a two-front war might have brought defeat to the infant independence movement.
The Point Pleasant Battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
Read the National Register nomination.
This Article was written by Philip Sturm
Last Revised on June 06, 2013
Lewis, Virgil A. History of the Battle of Point Pleasant. Charleston: Tribune Printing, 1909, Reprint, C. J. Carrier Co., 1974.
Thwaites, Reuben Gold & Louise Phelps Kellogg. Documentary History of Dunmore's War, 1774. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1905.