Advancing in Battle Array

Two campaigns were taking place at the same time in western Virginia. To the south, Brigadier General John B. Floyd and his Confederate Army of the Kanawha were trying to reclaim the Kanawha Valley after Brigadier General Henry A. Wise’s Confederate “Legion” abandoned it. Floyd, the ranking commander, had ordered Wise to join forces with him, but Wise had resisted out of fear that Floyd would break up his command.

To the north, the Confederate Army of the Northwest, led by Brigadier General William W. Loring, was posted east of Cheat Mountain, which was defended by Federals. Major General Robert E. Lee, military advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, had been assigned to see that Loring, Floyd, and Wise coordinated their movements. This was proving to be a daunting task, as none of the three seemed eager to work with the others.

Despite the lack of Confederate coordination, the military buildup was beginning to spread fear among the Unionists who dominated the region. Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans, the overall commander of Federals in western Virginia, tried to allay these fears by issuing a proclamation to “The Loyal Citizens of Western Virginia” from his Clarksburg headquarters. He urged the people to obey the law and oppose secessionists:

“Their tools and dupes told you you must vote for secession as the only means to insure peace, that unless you did so, hordes of abolitionists would overrun you, plunder your property, steal your slaves, abuse your wives and daughters, seize upon your lands, and hang all those who opposed them… (secessionists) have set neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend; they have introduced a warfare only known among savages.

“Citizens of Western Virginia, your fate is mainly in your own hands. If you allow yourselves to be trampled under foot by hordes of disturbers, plunderers, and murderers, your land will become a desolation. If you stand firm for law and order and maintain your rights, you may dwell together peacefully and happily as in former days.”

Back south, a Federal force led by Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox held Gauley Bridge, the entrance to the Kanawha Valley. The Federals skirmished with a portion of Wise’s forces at Dogwood Gap, leading Cox to believe that his flank might be attacked. He repositioned his forces to defend against it, thereby leaving Carnifex Ferry, 20 miles northeast of Gauley Bridge, open.

Floyd directed Wise to advance on Carnifex Ferry, and Wise conducted a 17-mile march through drenching rain and mud-filled roads. When his men arrived on the 22nd, they found it evacuated. Floyd decided to advance his force there as well without informing Wise. Since Cox’s Federals had abandoned the place, only one Confederate force was needed there, so Floyd ordered Wise to countermarch back to Dogwood Gap.

The next day, Floyd reported to Secretary of War LeRoy Walker that his army had captured Carnifex Ferry and cut communications between Cox and Rosecrans. This enabled him to, “when sufficiently strong, either to attack General Cox in his flank or rear, on the Kanawha River, or to advance against the flank of General Rosecrans, should General Lee so direct.” Floyd then requested “three good regiments… to replace the Legion of General Wise, which can be used to better advantage by General Lee.” Since Wise’s legion consisted of three regiments, Floyd’s request essentially meant that he did not want to advance any further unless the Confederate government replaced Wise’s entire command.

Meanwhile, Cox fell back to Gauley Bridge after abandoning both Carnifex Ferry and Cross Lanes. The 7th Ohio, led by Colonel Erasmus Tyler, was returning to Cox’s main force when it inadvertently camped within a half-mile of Floyd’s Confederates on the night of the 25th. Floyd mistakenly reported that Tyler’s green troops were “advancing in battle array.” He consulted with one of his officers, Colonel Henry Heth, who advised, “There is but one thing for you to do, attack them at daylight tomorrow morning.”

The next day, Floyd’s 2,000 Confederates routed Tyler’s Federals at Cross Lanes. The inexperienced Tyler had failed to post pickets to warn of Floyd’s advance. The Federals began wavering upon the sight of the enemy troops and then panicked when the Confederates fired into them. Quickly outflanked, the Federals fled in a rout, suffering 15 killed, 50 wounded, and up to 100 taken prisoner. Survivors straggled back to Cox’s main force at Gauley Bridge. This engagement emboldened Floyd and increased his animosity toward Wise.

Meanwhile, Wise continued asking to be permanently separated from Floyd, prompting General Lee to respond that Floyd’s “Army of Kanawha is too small for active and successful operation to be divided at present. I beg, therefore, for the sake of the cause you have so much at heart, you will permit no division of sentiment or action to disturb its harmony or arrest its efficiency.” Wise was just 17 miles from Floyd but seemed to have no desire to reinforce him. And Floyd did not seem anxious to order Wise to join him.

By the end of August, Cox’s Federals held Gauley Bridge, with Wise’s Legion to the east at Dogwood Gap and Floyd’s Confederates to the northeast at Carnifex Ferry. Floyd expected Cox to retreat back into the Kanawha Valley, but he received intelligence on the 31st that Cox was advancing to confront him. Floyd responded by ordering Wise to reinforce him. When Wise discovered that this intelligence was false, he ignored Floyd’s order. The hostility between Floyd and Wise continued until finally boiling over in September.


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  • Guelzo, Allen C., Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004.
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  • Pritchard, Russ A. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

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