West Virginia: Early Chases Averell

December 22, 1863 – A new Confederate force moved into West Virginia to stop Federal raiding in the region, and endured freezing cold in the process.

Brig Gen W.W. Averell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

This month, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry continued efforts to destroy the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad linking Virginia to the west. In bitter cold, Averell led his troopers from New Creek in southwestern West Virginia, with Brigadier General Eliakim P. Scammon’s Federal cavalry moving from Charleston toward Lewisburg in support.

Averell clashed with Confederates on the 10th, while another Federal raid began from Harpers Ferry. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, responded by assigning Major General Jubal Early to stop this raiding in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia. Early led two infantry brigades and Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry brigade from Lee’s army, as well as Brigadier General John D. Imboden’s cavalry already operating in the Valley.

Early’s Confederates left Hanover Junction on the 15th to block Averell’s troopers at nearby Millborough. The next day, Averell surprised the residents of Salem by riding through the town and destroying its railroad depot and nearby bridges. Averell’s Federals then fell back upon learning that Early was heading their way. The Confederates pursued Averell until the weather turned too cold for active operations. Imboden recalled that on the 22nd:

“It was an awful night for men to be out. Our clothes and beards were loaded down with ice. The roads were very rough and freezing rapidly, but in many places not yet hard enough to bear the horses and gun carriages. Through all the dreary hours we pushed on. I heard that two of Fitz Lee’s men froze to death that night, and just before daybreak one of mine was reported frozen to death. Many of my men had no overcoats and only ragged blankets. Fearing more would freeze, I halted in a rich man’s lane, two miles long, and ordered the men to make piles of the rails on either side and set fire to them, thaw the ice off their clothing and get themselves warm.”

Averell’s Federals returned to Beverly on Christmas Eve, ending their third raid of West Virginia. Major General Samuel Jones, commanding the Confederate department, was ultimately removed due to his inability to stop Averell and other Federals from operating in the region. Activity soon ended as the bitter winter began in West Virginia.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382, 384-85

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