In western Virginia, Brigadier General Henry A. Wise’s Confederate “Legion” had relinquished the Kanawha Valley by retreating over 100 miles from Charleston to White Sulphur Springs. Brigadier General John B. Floyd, whose Confederate Army of the Kanawha was just west of Lewisburg, wanted Wise to join forces with him to take back the Valley, but Wise resisted. Both men were former Virginia governors who did not get along with each other. Their forces were about 14 miles apart.
Major General Robert E. Lee, military advisor to President Jefferson Davis, was headquartered about 70 miles north of Floyd and Wise at Valley Mountain. Wise had asked Lee to allow him to remain separated from Floyd, but Lee believed that only by joining forces could they hope to drive the Federals out of the Kanawha Valley.
At the same time, Floyd went over Lee’s head to Davis, stating his belief that if Wise would join him, they could hold back any Federal advance from the Valley. However, Floyd alleged “great disorganization amongst the men under General Wise’s command,” and hoped to “remedy the evil.” Floyd then announced that since he outranked Wise, he would assume overall command of both his and Wise’s men. Whether Wise would comply remained to be seen.
Floyd ordered Wise to join him at Meadow Bluff, west of Lewisburg. Wise replied that he would be moving soon and asked Floyd to send him some wagons for his supplies. One of Wise’s regimental commanders protested orders to move, arguing that “these troops are now decimated by disease and casualties occurred by weeks of exposure.” Wise forwarded this protest to Floyd and informed him that he would not be joining up with him after all, as the men were plagued by typhoid and measles.
Even if the two forces united, Floyd would have less than 4,000 men fit for duty. The Federals opposing them numbered about 3,000 under Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox. They were posted at Gauley Bridge. Another three Federal regiments were about 20 miles northeast near Summersville, heading to reinforce Cox. The overall Federal commander in western Virginia, Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans, was preparing to lead another 5,000 men to join Cox.
Despite this, Unionist politician John S. Carlisle sent a frantic message to Secretary of War Simon Cameron: “For God’s sake, send us more troops and a general to command, or else we are whipped in less than ten days.” Carlisle estimated enemy strength at 20,000 men, with 8,000 at Monterey and 8,000 west of Huntersville, as well as an army of “considerable size” under Floyd and Wise advancing on Wheeling.
The Federals may have held a numerical advantage in the Kanawha sector, but the Confederates had the edge in the Cheat Mountain sector, about 70 miles north. But they only had 12,000, not the 16,000 that Carlisle estimated, in positions east of Cheat Mountain. And Floyd and Wise were nowhere near Wheeling, nor had they any realistic chance of ever getting there. And most importantly, torrential rains had slowed active operations almost to a halt.
On the 16th, Wise finally began moving his Confederates toward Floyd. Before moving out, Wise had instructed his men to disregard any orders coming from Floyd unless approved by Wise first. Floyd asked Wise to revoke the order. He then ordered Wise’s cavalry to join him, adding, “Any orders whatever in any way conflicting with this I hereby revoke.” Floyd then told Davis that Wise’s “unwillingness to co-operate… is so great that it amounts practically almost to open opposition.”
The next day, Wise wrote Floyd expressing resentment over Floyd giving orders to Wise’s men. The bulk of Wise’s command reached Big Sewell Mountain, and Floyd ordered Wise to stay there for now. The men exchanged lengthy, testy letters over the next few days. When Floyd learned that Wise had ordered his men to only communicate to Floyd through him, Floyd told Wise that as the senior commander, he had the authority to issue orders to anyone under Wise’s command.
Floyd ignored Wise’s wordy reply and ordered him to begin moving again. Wise refused to move unless Floyd sent him more wagons and returned his artillery. Floyd agreed to hold wagons for Wise but refused to return the guns. The bickering between the two commanders would continue to hinder their operations against the enemy.
- Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee. Scribner, (Kindle Edition), 2008.
- Guelzo, Allen C., Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- Pritchard, Russ A. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.