Tag Archives: Army of the Northwest

The Romney Campaign: Confederates Protest Jackson

January 25, 1862 – A group of Confederate officers led by Brigadier General William W. Loring petitioned Richmond to force Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to remove them from the miserable town of Romney.

General William W. Loring | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General William W. Loring | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On the day after occupying Romney, Jackson planned to attack the vital Federal supply depot at Cumberland, Maryland. However, the bitterly cold weather had taken its toll on the troops; one unit reported that only 15 men could walk. In addition, Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin denied Jackson’s request for reinforcements. Thus, Jackson suspended the assault and reluctantly issued orders to go into winter quarters.

Part of Jackson’s army would be stationed at Bath and Moorefield to defend against the Federals across the Potomac River at Hancock. Loring’s Army of the Northwest would stay at Romney to guard the South Branch Valley. Jackson would lead General Richard “Dick” Garnett’s Stonewall Brigade back to Winchester, the campaign’s starting point, 30 miles east-southeast.

Jackson accompanied the Stonewall Brigade out of Romney on January 21, arriving back at Winchester two days later. Loring resented Jackson for leaving him and his men at Romney, which they described as a “pig pen.” A Virginia private wrote that the village looked “very much as if it had been visited by an earthquake and pretty well shaken to pieces.” Another private wrote his wife, “I have not changed clothes for two weeks… I am afraid the dirt is sticking in, as I am somewhat afflicted with the baby’s complaint–a pain under the apron.”

In addition, Loring thought that Romney had no strategic value, and leaving his depleted force there made them vulnerable to an attack by Federals just 20 miles away. Colonel Samuel V. Fulkerson of the 37th Virginia in Loring’s army wrote to two Virginia congressmen complaining about their “terrible exposure since leaving Winchester,” and informing them that their “emaciated force” had become “almost a skeleton.”

Fulkerson asserted that Romney was worthless because “the country around it has been exhausted by the enemy, and its proximity to the enemy and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad will wear us away (already greatly reduced) by heavy picket and guard duty.” He also contended that had the army been returned to Winchester, they would have gained at least 500 new recruits. Fulkerson’s brigade commander, General William Taliaferro, endorsed the letter.

A group of officers and soldiers petitioned Jackson to pull them out of Romney: “Instead of finding, as expected, a little repose during midwinter, we are ordered to remain at this place. Our position at and near Romney is one of the most disagreeable and unfavorable that could well be imagined.” Jackson sent the petition to Richmond after adding a remark: “Respectfully forwarded, but disapproved.”

Meanwhile, Taliaferro and Fulkerson presented their letter to Loring and asked him to “present the condition of your command to the War Department, and earnestly ask that it may be ordered to some more favorable position.” They hoped that Loring’s appeal to the top of President Jefferson Davis’s administration would make a bigger impact than Fulkerson contacting members of Congress.

Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Loring agreed, sending the protest to Secretary of War Benjamin and adding, “I am most anxious to re-enlist this fine army, equal to any I ever saw, and am satisfied if something is not done to relieve it, it will be found impossible to induce the army to do so, but with some regard for its comfort, a large portion, if not the whole, may be prevailed upon.” Loring also dispatched Taliaferro to personally deliver the same letter to Davis.

By this time, rumors were already circulating around Richmond about dissension in Jackson’s ranks. Benjamin wrote to General Joseph E. Johnston, Jackson’s superior: “The accounts which have reached us of the condition of the army in the Valley District fill us with apprehension.” Benjamin asked Johnston to “take such measures as you think prudent under the circumstances, and report to the Department whether any measures are necessary on its part to restore the efficiency of that army, said to be seriously impaired.”

In the meantime, Loring directed a survey of the Romney vicinity by Seth M. Barton, one of Jackson’s engineers. Loring reported that Barton had found the area “indefensible,” writing to Richmond:

“If it is the intention to keep this command here, I am compelled to say that the force is not equal to the requirements, and I therefore respectfully but earnestly request a re-enforcement of 3,000 men to meet the immediate concentration of the enemy as well as to relieve the command of the unparalleled exposure to which they have been and are now subjected.”

The Davis administration would soon address this controversial affair and cause an even greater controversy.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55-58; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 8041-53; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 114-16; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 101; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538

The Romney Campaign

December 31, 1861 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson issued orders for his Confederate forces to begin marching on New Year’s Day. Only Jackson knew that they would be embarking on a grueling campaign to capture Romney in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Maj Gen "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

Maj Gen “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

Jackson had submitted a proposal to conduct a campaign against Federal forces in the Valley. The main target was Romney, a village of about 500 residents on the South Branch of the Potomac River, about 40 miles from Jackson’s army at Winchester. Under Jackson’s plan, his men would subsist on the rich farmland between the two towns.

Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin informed him on December 6 that he would be reinforced by General William W. Loring’s Confederate Army of the Northwest, stationed in western Virginia, as requested. Benjamin wrote that this “will place at your disposal quite an effective force for your proposed campaign, although I regret to observe that his movement cannot be made as promptly as I had hoped.”

Benjamin also warned Jackson that Federals stationed at Frederick, Maryland, and Romney may join forces to attack him at Winchester. If that happened, Benjamin stated that Loring’s arrival should allow Jackson to “turn the tables handsomely on the enemy by anticipating his purpose.”

As Jackson waited for Loring’s men to arrive, he dispatched a force of 400 infantry and two sections of the Rockbridge Artillery under Major Frank Paxton to destroy Dam No. 5. Located six miles north of Williamsport, Maryland, the dam was a reservoir for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Paxton’s men tried firing their cannon at the dam on Sunday the 8th, but Federals drove them off. Margaret J. Preston, the wife of one of Jackson’s staff officers, said, “The expedition proved a failure, and he (Jackson) attributed it in some measure to the fact that Sunday had been needlessly trespassed upon.”

A little over a week later, Jackson led troops on another mission to destroy the dam. They marched 15 miles from Winchester to Martinsburg, then another 13 miles to the bluffs overlooking the C & O Canal, which ran parallel to the Potomac. The men had been directed to leave their baggage at Big Springs, and despite the freezing weather, they waited all day before 30 troops moved out under cover of darkness to begin the destruction.

Federal forces noticed the Confederates at daylight on the 18th and began firing on them. Jackson brought up artillery, but so did the Federals, and Jackson suspended operations. After waiting another day, Jackson moved some of his troops up the Potomac to trick the Federals into thinking they were going to destroy Dam No. 4. When the Federals pursued, the Confederates hurried back and resumed their destruction of Dam No. 5. They returned to their Winchester camps on December 23 after a tortuously freezing two-day march.

The next day, Jackson received word that there were now 10,000 Federals at Romney. He wrote to his superior, General Joseph E. Johnston:

“As yet General Loring has not arrived, and as he has not reported to me the strength of his command I am unable to give it, except by estimate based upon the number of his regiments. I would respectfully urge upon the commanding general of the department the importance of sending me at once 5,000 good infantry and the First Virginia Cavalry, or its equivalent, and also a battery of four guns.”

Jackson would return the men “after the Federal forces shall have been captured or driven out of Hampshire County.”

Loring arrived at Winchester later that day and informed Jackson that Benjamin had “left it optional with him (Loring) whether to bring his troops from the Monterey line or not, and he has decided not to bring any more of these troops here.” Jackson resolved to attack the Federals at Romney “at the earliest practicable moment” before their force grew any larger. This decision did not change even after Johnston told Jackson that he could send him no reinforcements, as it was “of greater consequence to hold this point (Manassas Junction).”

By New Year’s Eve, Jackson had 11,000 men under his command, including three of Loring’s four brigades. Loring was Jackson’s second-in-command while retaining direct command over his army. Only Jackson and his superiors knew that he would be advancing on Romney. Johnston had approved Jackson’s written plan to capture Romney and prevent Federal forces at that village and Martinsburg from linking. But Jackson did not write that he intended to first destroy the Federal outposts at Bath and Hancock, on the Virginia and Maryland sides of the Potomac respectively. This would prevent the Federals from sending reinforcements from Martinsburg while Jackson turned on Romney.

Jackson issued the marching orders. The men were to receive five days’ rations, wake at 3 a.m., eat their breakfast and begin marching at 6 a.m. All men were to carry three-inch-wide white bands to wrap around their hats so they could be identified in combat. The new year would begin a new campaign.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 50; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 102-03; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p.

The Camp Allegheny Engagement

December 12, 1861 – Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy’s Federal advance from Cheat Mountain led to defeat in the last significant clash of the year in northwestern Virginia.

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

When General William W. Loring took most of his Confederate Army of the Northwest to reinforce General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, he left behind about 1,200 men under Colonel Edward Johnson at Camp Allegheny atop Allegheny Mountain, along the Parkersburg-Staunton Turnpike. Milroy directed a portion of his 2,000-man force, stationed 20 miles west, to move against Johnson’s positions.

The Federals skirmished with enemy troops and seized some outposts along the Greenbrier River as the Confederates fell back to their main fort at Camp Allegheny. Milroy developed a plan to simultaneously attack the Confederate front and left. Milroy would lead three regiments directly against the camp while another two regiments under Colonel Gideon C. Moody moved 12 miles around the enemy left flank.

The Federals advanced the next day, but by that time Johnson had been warned of the approach and stationed pickets atop the mountain. The pickets fired on Milroy’s Federals as they began ascending the heavily wooded slope, hoping to get around the Confederate right near the turnpike. The Federals finally reached the summit, where they saw a strong line of defense in their front awaiting them.

Both sides exchanged fire but held their ground, despite portions of each line wavering at times. Federal ammunition began running low. Then Milroy, realizing that Moody’s Federals had never arrived to attack the Confederate left, finally decided to fall back. The Federals made one final charge, driving the Confederates back and giving Milroy enough room to disengage, collect their dead, and withdraw from the western face of Allegheny Mountain.

As Milroy’s men withdrew, Moody’s men finally advanced and attacked the Confederate left. The Federals could not break the strong Confederate defenses. Milroy arrived with some cavalry around 5 p.m. to assist, but by then it was too late. The collective Federal force moved back down the mountain and returned to their camp at Cheat Mountain. This sharp engagement cost the Federals 137 casualties (20 killed, 107 wounded, and 10 missing) out of about 1,800, while Confederates lost 146 (20 killed, 98 wounded, and 28 missing) out of 1,200.

Loring, with the main army at Staunton, ordered Johnson to hold Camp Allegheny. Johnson reported to the Confederate War Department:

“I cannot speak in terms too exaggerated of the unflinching courage and dashing gallantry of those 500 men, who contended from a quarter past 7 a.m., until a quarter to 2 p.m., against an immensely superior force of the enemy, and finally drove them from their position and pursued them a mile or more down the mountain.”

Johnson was promoted to brigadier general and nicknamed “Allegheny” Johnson.

This engagement effectively ended active operations in western Virginia for the winter. Later this month, Federal forces tightened their hold on the region by occupying Beckley and Suttonville.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 102; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 90, 94; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 148-49; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 180

“Stonewall” Jackson’s Winter Offensive

November 24, 1861 – Brigadier General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, commanding the Confederate Shenandoah Valley District, developed a plan to join forces with General William W. Loring’s Army of the Northwest and conduct a winter offensive in the region.

Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Early this month, Jackson received orders to leave General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Potomac at Manassas Junction and take command in the Valley. Leaving behind his beloved 1st Virginia (“Stonewall”) Brigade, Jackson issued a farewell address to the men from horseback:

“… In the Army of the Shenandoah you were the First Brigade; in the Army of the Potomac you were the First Brigade; in the Second Corps of this army you are the First Brigade; you are the First Brigade in the affections of your general; and I hope by your future deeds and bearing you will be handed down to posterity as the First Brigade in our second War of Independence, and in the future, on the fields on which the Stonewall Brigade are engaged, I expect to hear of crowning deeds of valor and of victories gloriously achieved! May God bless you all! Farewell!”

Amid cheering and crying soldiers, Jackson rode off with his chief of staff, Colonel John T.L. Preston, and aide Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton five miles to Manassas Junction, where they boarded a westbound train to Strasburg. From there, they rode 18 miles north on the Valley Turnpike and reached Winchester before midnight, checking into Room 23 at the Taylor Hotel.

The next morning, Jackson established headquarters at Winchester and informed Richmond that he had assumed command of the Shenandoah Valley District within the Department of Northern Virginia. He had just 1,651 men in three undersized brigades and a token cavalry force under Colonel Turner Ashby. Although they were poorly trained and ill equipped, they were expected to cover 6,000 square miles and defend against three major threats:

  • Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s 18,000 Federals on the Potomac in western Maryland
  • Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans’s 22,000 Federals over the Alleghenies in western Virginia
  • Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley’s 5,000 Federals on Jackson’s west flank at Romney

To Jackson’s advantage, the commands under Rosecrans and Kelley belonged to the Department of Western Virginia, which did not effectively cooperate with the Department of the Potomac overseeing Banks. Nevertheless, Jackson called on all area militia to concentrate at Winchester and sent Colonel Preston to Richmond to report that the Shenandoah Valley was “defenseless.” He asked to have his beloved Stonewall Brigade back.

In just over two weeks, the Stonewall Brigade arrived to boost Jackson’s strength to 4,000 men. This was still much less than nearby enemy forces, but the Federals were not only administratively divided, they were not as strong as Jackson anticipated. Jackson developed a plan of action in the Valley and submitted it to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin (through J.E. Johnston, Jackson’s immediate superior) on the 20th.

Jackson suggested that if his army would attack Romney, the Federals would conclude that Johnston had weakened himself by sending reinforcements to the Valley. This could induce Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac to move against Johnston. If so, Jackson could hurry east to reinforce him, just like at Bull Run.

Once McClellan was defeated, Jackson would return to the Valley and “move rapidly westward to the waters of the Monongahela and Little Kanawha… I deem it of very great importance that Northwestern Virginia be occupied by Confederate troops this winter.” To do this, Jackson requested that Loring’s 5,000 Confederates in the western Virginia mountains be assigned to his command at Winchester.

Jackson conceded that such an effort would be “an arduous undertaking,” requiring the sacrifice of “much personal comfort. Admitting that the season is too far advanced, or that from other causes all cannot be accomplished that has been named, yet through the blessing of God, who has thus far so wonderfully prospered our cause, much more may be expected from General Loring’s troops, according to this programme, than can be expected from them where they are.”

Johnston shared the plan with Benjamin four days later and stated that the plan expected “more than can well be accomplished in that high, mountainous country at this season.” Johnston also worried that Jackson could overextend his lines. He proposed instead that Jackson’s men raid the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad while Loring’s men attack Romney. Johnston advised, “The troops you prepare to employ farther west, might render better & more immediate service elsewhere, especially on the lower Potomac—or in this (Johnston’s) district.”

Despite Johnston’s reservations, Benjamin liked the plan and sent it to Loring for review. Benjamin stated that he had “for several weeks been impressed with the conviction that a sudden and well-concealed movement of your entire command up the valley towards Romney, combined with a movement of General Jackson from Winchester, would result in the entire destruction, and perhaps capture, of the enemy’s whole force at Romney.”

Benjamin envisioned “that a continuation of the movement westward, threatening the Cheat River Bridge and the depot at Grafton, would cause a general retreat of the whole forces of the enemy from the Greenbrier region to avoid being cut off from their supplies.” If that could not be done, then “a severe blow might be dealt by the seizure of Cumberland (Maryland).” Benjamin left the final decision to Loring, and if Loring agreed the plan was sound, he was to “execute it as promptly and secretly as possible.”

Loring replied five days later that the proposal was practical with the right preparations. However, he stated that the movement probably could not be done in secrecy because “the Union men have numerous relations throughout this region and will, not withstanding the utmost vigilance, obtain information.”

Loring ultimately agreed to join with Jackson, but only after adequate transportation arrived, which could take weeks. Loring concluded:

“If, upon consideration of affairs on this line, you should desire the proposed campaign to be prosecuted, be assured that I shall enter into it with a spirit to succeed, and will be seconded by a command as ardent in the cause as any in the country, and who will cheerfully endure all the hardships incident to a winter campaign.”



CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple locations); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18, 43-44; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7961-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 93; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 78; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 391-92; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 135

Lee Returns to Richmond

October 31, 1861 – General Robert E. Lee returned to Richmond after this three-month campaign in western Virginia that many southerners considered a failure.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

As October opened, Lee continued supervising General John B. Floyd’s Confederate Army of the Kanawha on Sewell Mountain. He had pulled troops from the Army of the Northwest to reinforce Floyd, leaving a token force to fend off Federals on Cheat Mountain, about 100 miles north. Opposing Lee and Floyd was a Federal army led by General William S. Rosecrans, which was falling back to its base of operations at Gauley Bridge on the Kanawha River.

Following the engagement at the Greenbrier River, Lee transferred troops from Floyd back to northwestern Virginia. This diminished the strength of the Confederates on Sewell Mountain, but Rosecrans was in no hurry to exploit it. The miserably cold, wet autumn was adversely affecting both sides, and a general engagement seemed improbable.

With the armies stalemated, Lee wrote to his wife about press criticism of his performance:

“I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of the armies cannot keep pace with the expectations of the editors of the papers. I know they can regulate matters satisfactorily to themselves on paper. I wish they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than I do & would be happy to see them have full swing. Genl Floyd has the benefit of three editors on his staff. I hope something will be done to please them.”

Farther north, a third Federal force in western Virginia led by Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley seized the important town of Romney after skirmishing there and at South Branch Bridge. Kelley, victor of the war’s first land battle at Philippi, commanded the Federal Department of Harpers Ferry. This action expelled the last remaining Confederates from the area. The feeble Confederate hold on the region was rapidly slipping.

That hold became even more tenuous when the male voters of 39 northwestern Virginia counties voted overwhelmingly to ratify the Wheeling Convention resolutions to secede from the rest of the state and form the new State of Kanawha. The voters also elected delegates to attend a convention at Wheeling, 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border, to draft a constitution for the new state.

The extremely lopsided vote count made this election legally questionable. The final count was 18,408 for secession and 781 against; this was about 40 percent of the voter turnout in the same counties for the previous year’s presidential election. The vote was not anonymous; voters had to tell the registrar whether they favored or opposed the measure and the registrar recorded each voter’s name. Most opposition came in counties not under Federal occupation. In Kanawha County, which was known to have many residents with Confederate sympathies, the count was 1,039 in favor and just one against. Federal military control over the region enabled the election to take place.

With western Virginia seemingly lost, Lee returned to Richmond to resume duty as military advisor to President Jefferson Davis. Lee assumed full responsibility for failing to curtail Unionist influence in the region. Many southerners considered his talents overrated, and his reputation suffered among those who nicknamed him “Granny Lee.” But Davis maintained confidence in Lee’s abilities.



Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 264; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 75; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2968; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 130-31; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 303; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

Engagement at Greenbrier River

October 3, 1861 – In western Virginia, Brigadier General Joseph J. Reynolds’s 5,000 Federals abandoned their supply base at Cheat Mountain to attack about 1,800 Confederates under Brigadier General Henry R. Jackson on the southern fork of the Greenbrier River.

Brig Gen J.J. Reynolds | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Brig Gen J.J. Reynolds | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Reynolds began leading his troops down the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike in the pre-dawn morning of October 3. The Federals had been compelled to remain in their positions at Cheat Mountain after repulsing a Confederate expedition because torrential rain had turned roads to mud. But the rains had recently stopped, and now Reynolds resolved to conduct “an armed reconnaissance of the enemy’s position.”

General Jackson commanded a portion of the Confederate Army of the Northwest at Camp Bartow, 12 miles away. Jackson’s force totaled no more than 1,800 men in six regiments; the rest of the army had gone south with General William W. Loring to reinforce Confederates on Big Sewell Mountain. The Federal vanguard clashed with Confederate pickets around dawn; the pickets fell back and alarmed their comrades, who fell back across the river. Reynolds positioned his Federals for an attack as they approached the enemy camp around 7 a.m.

The forces skirmished as Federal artillery trained on Jackson’s center. Fighting intensified as Confederate artillery responded. An Indiana soldier called “the storm of shot and shell traversing mid air not more than 50 feet from our heads… at once terribly grand and terrific.”

Greenbrier River Map | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Greenbrier River Map | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Seeking to avoid a frontal assault on the camp, Reynolds directed a movement against the Confederate left. A Federal brigade forded the river around 9:30 and attacked, but the Confederates held firm and pushed the Federals back across the river. The artillery duel then resumed, during which a surgeon hoisted a white flag over a makeshift field hospital instead of the customary yellow flag. Reynolds sent a messenger to see if the Confederates were surrendering, but a colonel told the messenger, “Go back and shoot your damn guns!”

Federal officers urged Reynolds to commit all his men to the fight. Reynolds, certain that such an attack would fail, instead directed troops to attack the Confederate right. However, Jackson shifted his defenses to meet the threat. Four Federal regiments scaled a hill and were met by withering canister fire. As the Federal lines melted away, Reynolds decided that he could not capture Camp Bartow.

Unable to turn either flank, Reynolds ordered a withdrawal around 1 p.m., returning to Cheat Mountain by nightfall. The 13 Federal cannon had fired 11,000 rounds, virtually destroying the Confederate camp. Nevertheless, casualties were light, with Federals sustaining 44 (eight killed and 36 wounded) and Confederates losing 52 (six killed, 33 wounded, and 13 missing). With winter approaching, this effectively ended active operations for the year in western Virginia.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 70; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 323-24

Western Virginia: Floyd and Wise Part Ways

September 30, 1861 – Confederates fell back in southwestern Virginia as the long dispute between Confederate Generals John B. Floyd and Henry A. Wise finally came to a bitter end.

Generals Wise (L) and Floyd (R), with General Lee in the middle | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Generals Wise (L) and Floyd (R), with General Lee in the middle | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Since the engagement at Carnifex Ferry, the Confederate Army of the Kanawha had fallen back about 20 miles to the Big Sewell Mountain. However, the army remained divided between hostile rivals John B. Floyd and Henry A. Wise. Floyd set up camp atop the mountain, while Wise’s Legion camped a mile and a half further east on a bluff he believed was easier to defend.

Floyd, the overall commander, directed Wise to post cavalry so that Floyd “may be reliably and speedily informed of the advance of the enemy.” Floyd worried that the Federal forces under Generals William S. Rosecrans and Jacob D. Cox would link and attack him. When Wise displayed a reluctance to comply, Floyd registered another angry complaint about him with President Jefferson Davis.

Floyd told Davis that it was “impossible for me to conduct a campaign with General Wise attached to my command. His presence with my force is almost as injurious as if he were in the camp of the enemy with his whole command… (the) petty jealousy of General Wise; his utter ignorance of all military rule and discipline; the peculiar contrariness of his character and disposition, are beginning to produce rapidly a disorganization which will prove fatal to the interests of the army if not arrested at once.” But then Floyd acknowledged that arresting Wise “would not have cured the evil, for he has around him a set of men extremely like himself, and the demoralization of his corps I incline to think is complete.”

The enmity between Floyd and Wise had been steadily growing for nearly two months, and now Floyd clearly implied that Davis would have to replace one of them. While the letter was in transit, Floyd and Wise met at a council of war at 5 p.m. on September 16. When Floyd expressed concern that the Federals would attack his positions, Wise stated that Floyd’s positions were “indefensible” while Wise’s were “almost impregnable.”

Wise advised Floyd to fall back and link with the Legion in a line anchored on the New River. Floyd said that he would consider the proposal, but almost immediately after the conference ended, he sent a message to Wise stating that “it has been determined to fall back to the most defensible point between Meadow Bluff (25 miles east) and Lewisburg (40 miles east).”

Floyd announced that he would put “his column in motion at once,” and ordered Wise to keep his “command in readiness to bring up the rear.” Wise, recalling how Floyd had condemned him for retreating out of the Kanawha Valley, announced to his troops, “Men, look who is retreating now? John B. Floyd, God-damn him, the bullet-hit son of a bitch, he is retreating now!”

Wise ignored Floyd’s order, keeping his men at what became known as Camp Defiance. When Floyd questioned why Wise had not moved, Wise explained that Floyd had merely ordered him to “hold his command in readiness to bring up the rear,” which Wise was doing. Wise assured Floyd that he could easily hold off 4,000 Federals from his entrenchments on the Big Sewell Mountain and asked Floyd to send him reinforcements.

Floyd replied that he had “been aware for several days of the advance of the enemy,” and he had withdrawn to Meadow Bluff because he guessed that Rosecrans and Cox would link there. Floyd then admonished Wise: “I regret exceedingly that you did not think proper to bring up my rear, but on the contrary chose to advance in the direction from which I had come.” Since keeping the army separate could have “disastrous consequences,” Floyd again asked Wise “to join my force and make a stand against the enemy at this point.”

General Robert E. Lee, the unofficial commander of Confederates in western Virginia, traveled 100 miles to Floyd’s headquarters at Meadow Bluff on September 21. Lee initially took Floyd’s side in the dispute, urging Wise to come join him. However, Lee personally inspected Wise’s positions and found them militarily sound and strong.

When Lee suggested that the Federals may attack Floyd at Meadow Bluff, Wise called it “simply absurd” and insisted that Rosecrans was moving against Wise’s Legion: “I tell you emphatically, sir, the enemy are advancing in strong force on this (the James River & Kanawha) turnpike.” Lee stated that Wise could make a stand if he wished, but if the Federals attacked at Meadow Bluff, “General Floyd cannot advance to your aid, but may have to retire.”

The strain of dealing with these bickering commanders while under Federal military pressure in the harsh western Virginia climate began getting to Lee. When a lieutenant in Wise’s Legion asked Lee where the ordnance chief was, the general snapped:

“I think it very strange, Lieutenant, that an officer of this command, which has been there a week, should come to me, who am just arrived, to ask who his ordinance officer is and where to find his ammunition. This is in keeping with everything else I find here—no order, no organization; nobody knows where anything is, no one understands his duty; officers and men alike are equally ignorant. This will not do.”

Although Lee condemned the disorganization among Wise’s Legion, he acknowledged that the men held strong defenses. Lee notified Floyd that Wise’s line “was a strong point, if they fight us here… they can get no position for their artillery, and their men I think will not advance without it…” Lee asked Floyd to send reinforcements. He could not order Floyd to do so because Wise had disobeyed Floyd by staying at the Big Sewell Mountain in the first place.

This dilemma would finally be settled on September 25, by which time Floyd’s letter of complaint had reached Richmond. Confederate officials had already blamed Wise for failing to reinforce Floyd at Carnifex Ferry, and now they moved to settle the quarrel once and for all. Acting Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin issued two messages. The first went to Floyd, complimenting his handling of the Carnifex Ferry engagement in spite of Wise’s lack of support. The second went to Wise:

“Sir: You are instructed to turn over all the troops heretofore immediately under your command to General Floyd, and report yourself in person to the Adjutant-General in this city (Richmond) with the least delay. In making the transfer to General Floyd you will include everything under your command. By order of the President: J.P. BENJAMIN.”

The order reached Wise as he was directing fire against Federal skirmishers. Wise, who did not want to relinquish command “immediately” since his men were in combat, consulted Lee, who advised him to “obey the President’s order.” That evening, Wise wrote a farewell address to his men:

“It is not proper here to inquire into the reasons of this order. It is in legal form, from competent authority, and it could not have been foreseen by the President that it would reach me inopportunely whilst under the fire of the enemy… But the order is imperative, requiring the least delay, and prompt obedience is the first duty of military service, though it may call for the greatest personal sacrifice.”

Wise left his command on the morning of the 26th in torrential rain. Lee, assuming temporary command of Wise’s Legion, continued holding the Big Sewell Mountain as Rosecrans and Cox joined forces against him. Lee and Rosecrans now held opposing spurs on the mountain, separated by a mile-wide valley.

Advance elements of General William W. Loring’s Confederate Army of the Northwest, after participating in the failed Cheat Mountain operation, reinforced Lee on Big Sewell. However, the force still proved ineffective due to rain, illness, the harsh terrain, and Federal strength. Moreover, Floyd’s command remained separate, ready to defend Meadow Bluff.

Nevertheless, Lee wrote to Floyd on the 30th, “I begin to fear the enemy will not attack us. We shall therefore have to attack him.” Lee planned to move around Rosecrans’s flank and attack his rear, but only if he could first get a week’s rations. This would prove extremely difficult because rain had turned the James River & Kanawha Turnpike, which both Lee and Rosecrans used to collect supplies, into what Floyd called “the worst road in Virginia.”

Consequently, Lee had to pull supplies from Lewisburg (25 miles east) and Staunton (100 miles east), while Rosecrans’s supplies had to be shipped up the Kanawha River from Charleston to be taken by wagon from Gauley Bridge to Big Sewell. Meanwhile, officers and men alike suffered grievously in the bitter cold and rain of mountainous western Virginia.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p.67-68; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2849-72, 2896-919; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 121; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 302; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407

Attack on Cheat Mountain

September 15, 1861 – While Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans’s Federals operated against Confederates near Carnifex Ferry, another Confederate force to the north targeted Federals stationed on Cheat Mountain.

General Robert E. Lee, the unofficial commander of all Confederate forces in western Virginia, directed General William W. Loring’s 15,000-man Army of the Northwest to move against Federals stationed on Cheat Mountain. Lee considered this a key position because it overlooked several mountain passes as well as the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. However, the Confederates had been hampered by drenching seasonal rains and rough terrain. Loring’s resentment of Lee’s presence (Loring had outranked Lee when they were both in the U.S. army) did not help matters either.

Brigadier General Joseph J. Reynolds’s 9,000 Federals atop Cheat Mountain were outnumbered, but the Confederate army was divided. One wing faced Reynolds from Traveler’s Repose to the east, and another faced Reynolds from 10 miles south at Valley Mountain, along the Huntersville Turnpike.

Resolving to attack the Federals’ right flank, Lee issued Special Orders No. 28 through Loring. This complex plan put all five army brigades in motion in various directions:

  • Colonel Albert Rust of the 3rd Arkansas would secretly lead 2,000 men along a hidden route to attack Colonel Nathan Kimball’s 14th Indiana isolated on Cheat Summit.
  • Brigadier General Samuel R. Anderson’s men would advance on the western crest of Cheat Mountain and seize the road from Tygart’s Valley behind Cheat Summit.
  • Brigadier General Henry R. Jackson’s men would advance on the mountain’s east side once Rust opened the path, then prepare to move up the turnpike.
  • Lee’s three remaining brigades (in two columns) would confront five Federal regiments under Brigadier General Joseph J. Reynolds guarding the turnpike west of Kimball’s men at Elkwater in the Tygart Valley.

The five Confederate columns began advancing early on September 11, struggling through the woods, hills, and mud in cold rain. Despite the harsh elements, all five brigades reached their designated positions by nightfall, with some skirmishing taking place at Conrad’s Mill. Lee entrusted Rust, who had very little military experience, to open the assault at dawn the next day. The sound of his men firing would signal the remaining troops to attack.

Cheat Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Cheat Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

When the Federals awoke on the 12th, they were unaware that they had been nearly surrounded. Confederates pressed them at Elkwater and seized the wagon road as planned, but they stopped to wait for Rust to open the general engagement. Before Rust attacked, his troops captured some Federal pickets who falsely boasted that 5,000 comrades were waiting for an attack within strong fortifications. Rust observed the defenses and concluded that it was “madness” to attack. When two Indiana companies fired at Rust’s troops, they broke and fled.

Near Elkwater, Lee waited for the signal until he realized that the element of surprise had been lost. As he ordered a withdrawal, his Confederates clashed with Federal troops in a heavy exchange before running into Anderson’s rear and then taking up defensive positions. Meanwhile, the remaining two Confederate brigades still awaited Rust’s signal. The day ended in confusion on both sides, with many Confederates heavily fatigued from exposure to the elements.

Lee and Loring met early on September 13 to discuss their next move. Unwilling to concede defeat, Lee ordered a reconnaissance in force to see if it was still feasible to attack the Federal right flank. One of the scouting parties sent to reconnoiter was led by Lee’s son Rooney and Lee’s aide-de-camp Lieutenant Colonel John A. Washington, great-grandnephew of George Washington. Indiana troops fired on the party, killing Washington while Rooney and the others escaped.

Learning Washington’s identity, the Federals brought the body back to camp, distributed his belongings as souvenirs, and carved out a plaque where he was killed: “Under this tree, on the 13th of Sept., 1861, fell Col. John A. Washington, the degenerate descendant of the Father of his Country.” Federals returned Washington’s body to the Confederates under a flag of truce the next day.

Lee finally learned on the 14th that Rust did not launch his surprise attack because he had determined that “the expedition against Cheat Mountain failed.” In reality, Rust lost his nerve. Although he had 2,000 men against just 300, Rust allowed Federal prisoners to convince him that they badly outnumbered his force. This destroyed not only the element of surprise, but Confederate morale. Federals sustained 81 casualties (21 killed and 60) in the action. Confederates lost about 100.

Lee considered launching another attack, but the relentless rain, along with damaged morale and the growing presence of Federals in the region prompted him to begin withdrawing on September 15. Lee’s orders announced that his men had “completed” a “forced reconnaissance of the enemy’s positions” without mentioning the original plan of attack that had failed.

The complex plan, the poor weather, and the failure of commanders to properly execute made Lee’s Cheat Mountain expedition a failure. Even worse, Lee had made no substantial gains for the Confederacy in western Virginia since arriving in the region six weeks before.

The Cheat Mountain disappointment and the Carnifex Ferry setback eventually deprived the Confederacy of the vast resources (salt and lead works, coal mines, water power, etc.) of western Virginia. Lee received harsh criticism from both the Confederate press and his own men, who nicknamed him “Granny” for his seemingly feeble effort to take Cheat Mountain.

The Confederates returned to the original positions at Traveler’s Repose and Valley Mountain. Lee soon ordered Loring to lead his Army of the Northwest toward the Kanawha to help Floyd and Wise in confronting Rosecrans. This allowed Reynolds’s Federals to claim undisputed control of the Allegheny passes and enabled them to expand their foothold into all northwestern Virginia as well.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 74-75; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 63-64; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2756-803 , 2849; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 184; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 22; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 135