Tag Archives: Benjamin F. Kelley

The Shenandoah Valley: Confederates Not Quite Defeated

November 13, 1864 – After being routed at Cedar Creek in October, Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederates left the Shenandoah Valley. But some were not yet ready to admit complete defeat.

By this month, Early’s once formidable Army of the Valley was no longer a serious threat to Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal Army of the Shenandoah. Nevertheless, the Confederates advanced north from New Market as Early vainly tried to find an opening to launch another offensive. Meanwhile, Sheridan’s Federals fell back northward “down” the Valley to be closer to their supply base.

On the 11th, Early received word that Sheridan had moved north in preparation for sending part of his army to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at Petersburg. Continuing north, part of Early’s army clashed with the Federal rear guard under Brigadier General George A. Custer near Middletown and Newtown. Expecting Early to attack in full force the next day, Sheridan issued orders: “Corps commanders will have their commands under arms and everything hitched up by daylight tomorrow, 5.30 a.m.”

The following day, the Confederates probed Federal positions but were driven back by two cavalry divisions. The Federals called this a decisive victory, but Early called it simply a reconnaissance. If anything, Early “discovered by this movement that no troops had been sent to Grant…”

Sheridan reported to Grant that night, “Yesterday evening the enemy’s cavalry made a demonstration on my front south of Newtown, and my scout reported a large infantry force having moved down the pike to Middletown with the intention of attacking. This morning I had everything ready, but no attack was made.”

This was Early’s last northward advance down the Shenandoah Valley. Having marched 1,700 miles and fought 75 engagements since June, Early’s men had made remarkable efforts to threaten Federals in the Valley and even outside Washington, despite being heavily outnumbered by veteran soldiers. Overall, Early’s campaign had surpassed the fine achievements of “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley campaign of 1862.

Early fell back to New Market and returned Major General Joseph B. Kershaw’s division to the Army of Northern Virginia under siege at Richmond and Petersburg. This left Early with just a token force. Sheridan also reduced his army by sending VI Corps to the siege.

Gen. T.L. Rosser | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Although the last major Confederate force in Shenandoah was gone, Brigadier General Thomas L. Rosser’s cavalry continued minor operations. Rosser’s two brigades embarked on a raid of New Creek, West Virginia, a supply depot on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad west of Cumberland, Maryland.

Federals considered their New Creek depot to be the strongest among their supply bases along the B & O. It was located between two mountains at the junction of the New Creek and Potomac River valleys. An attack could only come from one direction, which the Federals covered with the 800-man garrison at Fort Kelley and five guns.

Rosser’s 500 troopers reached Moorefield, West Virginia, on the 27th, and a Federal detachment from New Creek confronted them there. The Federals were driven off, but those who returned to New Creek warned the troops there of Rosser’s presence. Rosser, conscious that victory depended on the element of surprise, rode his men all night to get to New Creek as soon as possible.

As the Confederates came within striking distance, Rosser held a council of war to consider his options. He and his officers decided to go through with the attack. By this time, the Federals returning from Moorefield had warned Colonel George Latham, commanding at Fort Kelley, that an attack would come. Fortunately for Rosser, Latham took no precautions.

The Confederates captured the Federal pickets and then descended on Fort Kelley itself. Most Federals were cooking lunches, unprepared for such an onslaught. Within 30 minutes, Rosser’s men captured about 700 Federals and seized enormous amounts of much-needed provisions and supplies. The Confederates burned the buildings and the railroad bridge before disappearing into the woods.

Both Latham and his superior, Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley, came under intense criticism for failing to guard against such an attack, and Latham was later dishonorably discharged. Rosser’s successful New Creek raid proved that the Confederates were not yet ready to concede defeat in the Valley.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20595; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 485-87, 494; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 519-20, 524-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 596, 601-02; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 410, 644

The Moorefield Engagement

August 7, 1864 – Federal cavalry attacked a Confederate detachment that had just finished raiding through Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As August began, elements of Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley continued operating north of the Potomac River. These included cavalrymen under Brigadier Generals John McCausland and Bradley T. Johnson. They had burned Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in late July, and now they rode for Cumberland in western Maryland to wreck track on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

The Confederates exchanged cannon fire with a small Federal force under Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley before disengaging and riding southeast to Old Town on the Potomac. The next day, they captured a Federal detachment contesting their crossing and moved on to Springfield, West Virginia. Meanwhile, Federal Brigadier General William W. Averell received orders to move “by the most expeditious route” to destroy the Confederate force.

McCausland and Johnson intended to destroy part of the B&O at New Creek, but Kelley deployed Federal troops there and forced the Confederates to withdraw southward. The troopers stopped near Moorefield, south of Romney, where they rested and fed their mounts. McCausland did not know that Averell was pursuing him. Averell’s cavalry reached Springfield on the night of the 5th.

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

The next day, Averell rode on to Romney. Troops in his vanguard captured a Confederate messenger bearing a dispatch stating that McCausland’s command was near Moorefield. Averell directed his men to mobilize at 1 a.m. so they could attack the Confederates by daybreak. Averell was outnumbered nearly two-to-one, but he relied on the element of surprise to offset this disadvantage.

After capturing the Confederate pickets, Averell’s lead brigade under Major Thomas Gibson rode through Johnson’s camp and scattered his panicked troopers. The Confederates fled across the river as Averell’s second brigade under Colonel William H. Powell slammed into McCausland’s men. These Confederates were routed as well, and Averell scored a spectacular victory.

Averell reported capturing three battle flags, four cannon, 420 men, and 400 horses while losing just 41 troopers (nine killed and 32 wounded). The Federals also recovered a large amount of loot taken from Chambersburg and other towns in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

This defeat deepened the rift between McCausland and Johnson that had been growing since McCausland threatened to burn several Maryland towns (as a Marylander, Johnson took offense). McCausland later reported, “The affair at Moorefield was caused by the surprise of Johnson’s brigade.” Johnson accused McCausland of not being on the scene when the fight began. Early recalled that this battle had “a very damaging effect upon my cavalry for the rest of the campaign.”

On the same day that the Confederates were decimated at Moorefield, Major General Philip Sheridan took command of the new Federal Army of the Shenandoah at Halltown, Virginia. Sheridan organized and consolidated his new force to “make the first move for the possession of the Shenandoah Valley” and destroy Early’s Army of the Valley. According to Sheridan:

“I desired that Early might remain at some point well to the north till I was fully prepared to throw my army on his right and rear and force a battle, and hence I abstained from disturbing him by premature activity, for I thought that if I could beat him at Winchester, or north of it, there would be far greater chances of weighty results. I therefore determined to bring my troops, if it were at all possible to do so, into such a position near that town as to oblige Early to fight.”

Early fell back from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill, where he planned to move north into Maryland and Pennsylvania once more. However, he received word that Sheridan’s forces were approaching on his right (east) flank and would soon threaten his rear. Early therefore ordered a withdrawal to Winchester, where he could guard all approaches on Opequon Creek with the formidable Fisher’s Hill behind him.

Skirmishing occurred along Cedar Creek as Early pulled back to Fisher’s Hill, south of Strasburg, on the 11th. Early reported to General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, that “the enemy was advancing in much heavier force than I had yet encountered.” Lee responded by sending infantry and cavalry under Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson from Culpeper to reinforce Early.

Anderson’s Confederates arrived at Front Royal, at the north end of the Luray Valley, on the 14th. If they moved toward Winchester, they could threaten Sheridan’s left, rear, and supply lines. Also, having detached elements of his army to guard various posts, Sheridan feared that he could now be outnumbered. And Confederate raiders under Colonel John S. Mosby had destroyed a large Federal wagon train near Berryville.

As Brigadier General Wesley Merritt’s Federal cavalry reconnoitered Anderson’s forces and guarded the army’s rear, Sheridan ordered his men to retreat. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had advised Sheridan to proceed with caution and avoid a defeat that might hurt President Abraham Lincoln’s chances for reelection in the fall.

The Federals fell back to Halltown, 45 miles northeast. Sheridan later wrote, “Subsequent experience convinced me that there was no other really defensive line in the Shenandoah Valley, for at almost any other point the open country and its peculiar topography invites rather than forbids flanking operations.” Early saw Sheridan’s withdrawal as a sign of timidity and set out to pursue him.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 442-44, 446-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11424-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 479-80, 482-86; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91, 101, 104; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 549-50, 555-56; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293, 508-09, 677-79, 812-13

Confederates Forage in West Virginia

January 31, 1864 – Confederate forces scoured the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia to feed the armies, while Federals in the region began panicking at their presence.

Major General Benjamin F. Kelley commanded the Federal Department of West Virginia from Cumberland, Maryland. His main responsibilities included guarding the supply routes through the Shenandoah and Luray valleys from Confederate raiders. This became especially important this winter because General Robert E. Lee sent forces into the region to forage for the Army of Northern Virginia.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

These Confederate forces comprised the new Shenandoah Valley District, led by Major General Jubal Early. They consisted of two infantry brigades and cavalry units led by Generals Fitzhugh Lee, Thomas L. Rosser, John D. Imboden, and Albert Jenkins. Kelley reported on the 3rd, “It now appears that Lee has detached a large force and sent them into the valley. If General (George G.) Meade (commanding the Army of the Potomac) would send a strong cavalry force into the Luray Valley, it would be an important movement to us.”

Fitz Lee’s cavalry threatened a Federal outpost at Petersburg, but, as Fitz reported, “The greater part of my ammunition being wet, owing to starting in a snow and rainstorm, and having no artillery, I decided not to attack them, and moved upon their line of communication toward New Creek Depot.” In Hardy County, the Confederates captured Kelley’s supply train and 250 heads of cattle before moving toward New Creek.

Stopping within striking distance of New Creek on the night of the 4th, Lee wrote, “Marched at 4 o’clock next morning in a hail storm, and though a point was reached within six miles of the depot, on account of the sufferings of my men and the impassibility of the mountain passes to my smooth-shod horses was unable to proceed farther.” Lee’s troopers soon fell back to Harrisonburg.

Meanwhile, a portion of Early’s command advanced from Strasburg but was forced to stop at Fisher’s Hill due to extreme weather and impassable roads. But this did not stop the president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, J.W. Garrett, from panicking at the prospect of a Confederate army operating in the Valley. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “It is stated that General (Richard) Ewell is in the valley with 20,000 men.” He asked Halleck “to judge whether considerable re-enforcements are not required to prevent disasters.”

Halleck in turn contacted Meade: “It is now reported that Ewell’s corps is in the Shenandoah Valley. Have you any information to that effect? I think another brigade should be sent here… for transportation to Harper’s Ferry.” Meade responded:

“Our scouts have returned from the valley and report that Early’s command, consisting of five brigades of infantry, estimated at 7,000, together with Lee’s, Rosser’s, Imboden’s, and Jenkin’s cavalry, and some artillery, passed down the valley about Friday last with the intention of making a raid on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad…”

Meade then objected to Halleck’s request:

“I am still of the opinion that the operations against Early, to be effective, should be from the Railroad and defensive, and the character of the season and roads, together with the difficulty of procuring supplies, after exhausting those carried with them, will render nugatory any effort made from this army to cut off Early’s retreat…”

Meade contended that defensive operations against Early “would require a smaller detachment than an independent movement into the valley.” Halleck replied that one brigade should “probably be sufficient to supply General Kelley’s wants.” Meade then shared a more optimistic report: “Further examination of scouts… would lead to the conclusion that the infantry of Early’s command in the lower valley was only two brigades and some detached regiments.”

Operations remained limited through most of January. On the 28th, Early accompanied a Confederate force heading west from New Market in search of forage and cattle. The force consisted of Rosser’s Laurel Brigade of cavalry, an infantry brigade under Brigadier General Edward L. Thomas, and an artillery battery. The next day, the Confederates scattered Federal skirmishers and entered Moorefield. While there, Early and Thomas received word that a Federal supply train was moving toward Petersburg. Early directed Rosser and Thomas to capture the train.

The Confederates moved out on the morning of the 30th. They advanced across Branch Mountain and drove off a Federal force guarding the gap. They spied the train at Medley, protected by Federal infantry and cavalry. Rosser sent his 400 men forward, but the Federals knocked them back. The Confederates advanced again, this time supported by a cannon. They hit the Federals in front and on the left flank, sending them fleeing in panic. The Confederates seized the 95 wagons left behind, which were filled with supplies.

Rosser entered Petersburg the next day and seized more provisions and munitions. While Thomas’s infantry occupied the town, Rosser’s cavalry continued north down Patterson’s Creek in search of cattle and sheep. When Rosser learned that Federal reinforcements were approaching, he led his men to Moorefield, relinked with Thomas, and returned east toward the Shenandoah Valley.

The raiders netted 80 Federal prisoners, 95 supply wagons, 1,200 cattle, and 500 sheep while sustaining just 25 casualties. The troopers of Rosser’s brigade demonstrated their admiration of his leadership by reenlisting after the raid.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 387, 393; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 453; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 644-45

“Stonewall” Jackson Takes Romney

January 16, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates seized the objective of their campaign in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, though not in the way they had intended.

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

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

Jackson’s troops reached Unger’s Store on the night of January 7 and spent the next couple days trying to recover from the extreme cold. The army had a very long sick list; one of Brigadier General William W. Loring’s brigade commanders reported that 500 men were ill, and another brigade reported 300. Jackson directed the men to heat water for baths and refit the horses with ice calks.

Brigadier General Frederick Lander, commanding the Federals at Hancock, Maryland, requested permission from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks to pursue Jackson. Banks refused, citing the frigid weather. Lander then bypassed Banks to ask General-in-Chief George B. McClellan, who also refused. McClellan stated through Banks: “Say to General Lander that I might comment very severely on the tone of his dispatches but abstain…” Banks was to direct Lander “to repair at once to Romney and carry out the instructions I have sent already to fall back on the railway.”

Lander resentfully complied, arriving at Romney on January 9 and joining forces with those under Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley. Lander urged Kelley to take the offensive against Jackson, but Kelley declined, citing overwhelming Confederate numbers closing in on them. Thwarted again in his effort to fight, Lander angrily withdrew the 7,000 Federals from Romney on the night of the 10th. Falling back in freezing rain, Lander exclaimed, “The next time I undertake to move an army, and God almighty sends such a rain, I will go around and cross hell on the ice!” The Federals withdrew to Patterson’s Creek Station, six miles east of Cumberland, Maryland.

Jackson’s march on Romney did not resume until January 13, when the troops left Unger’s Store, 40 miles away. Cavalry reported that the Federals had abandoned the village after wildly overestimating Jackson’s strength. The morning was sunny and mild, but temperatures soon plummeted and a storm developed late that afternoon. Loring’s Army of the Northwest struggled to keep pace with the Stonewall Brigade.

Jackson’s advance elements arrived outside Romney on the night of the 14th in driving sleet. A soldier said that when they arrived, “every soldier’s clothing was a solid cake of ice,” with “icicles two inches long hanging from the hair and whiskers of every man.” Loring’s men were still on their way, as tensions between Jackson and Loring continued mounting.

By January 16, the entire army had arrived to occupy Romney. Most residents had abandoned the town, with the Stonewall Brigade taking up quarters in churches, private homes, and the courthouse. Loring’s men, resentful of Jackson’s hard push through terrible weather, hissed and jeered him as he rode past. Overall, Jackson’s campaign that had begun on New Year’s Day was lackluster at best. He had taken Romney as planned, but he had failed to subdue Hancock first, thereby only partially accomplishing the mission. The weather had also taken an unforeseen toll on the army.

Jackson reported to Richmond that the Romney area was back under Confederate control, having sustained just 32 casualties (four killed and 28 wounded) during the campaign. This did not include the hundreds suffering from frostbite, hypothermia, and other weather-related illnesses. He requested 4,000 reinforcements to defeat Lander and Kelley and capture Cumberland, a vital supply depot on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. As his men suffered, Jackson planned to send them on another attack.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 110-11, 113; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 97-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 159; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 447-48

“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.”

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References

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.

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References

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

The Battle of Philippi

June 3, 1861 – Federals won a minor victory that cleared Confederates out of the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia and secured the railroad line between Washington and the West.

On June 2, Colonel George A. Porterfield’s Confederates withdrew 15 miles southward from Grafton to the small village of Philippi. Porterfield had learned that Colonel Benjamin F. Kelley’s Federals were approaching, with Brigadier General Thomas A. Morris’s Federal forces just 20 miles northwest. Upon crossing the Ohio River into western Virginia, the Federals’ initial objective was Grafton, 60 miles south of Wheeling, where the Virginia Railroad joined the Baltimore & Ohio line to Parkersburg.

Virginia Governor John Letcher had assigned Porterfield to defend Grafton, but Porterfield’s force had dwindled from 1,500 to just 773 effectives, and he now faced some 3,000 enemy troops. The Federal advance featured forced night marches through steep hills and roads turned to mud by heavy rain. The region’s narrow valleys often channeled the runoff, turning streams into impassable lakes. The Federals made remarkable progress considering they had only been in service for a month and had no experience moving through such harsh terrain.

By the 3rd, two Federal columns of Ohio and Indiana troops led by Morris (directed by overall commander Major General George B. McClellan from his Cincinnati headquarters) had advanced from Grafton, east of Clarksburg on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line, 30 miles southward. Morris gave the impression that he intended to attack Harpers Ferry, but his true objective was Colonel Porterfield’s Confederate camp at Philippi. In pouring rain at dawn, an artillery round into Porterfield’s sleeping camp signaled a general attack by the five Federal regiments.

The Battle of Philippi | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Battle of Philippi | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals caught the Confederates by complete surprise, sending the demoralized enemy into the woods and mountains. The Confederates inflicted two Federal casualties along the way; one was Colonel Kelley of the Unionist 1st Virginia. The Confederates suffered 15 casualties while losing several battle flags and leaving most of their equipment behind.

Porterfield met with his officers and chose retreat due to shortages on cannon, ammunition, and seasoned officers. A Federal pursuit was unsuccessful due to lack of cavalry; nevertheless a subsequent Confederate report labeled the rout “disgraceful.”

This was just a minor engagement, but it cleared the Kanawha Valley of organized Confederate resistance and secured the B&O line for the Federals. The northern press hailed it as a tremendous victory and dubbed it the “Philippi Races.” The Unionist Wheeling Intelligencer, resentful of elitist eastern Virginians, reported: “The chivalry couldn’t stand. They scattered like rats from a burning barn.”

The Federals ultimately used both main routes of attack through western Virginia: one from Grafton, Philippi, and Beverly; and one from the Ohio River up the Great Kanawha Valley to Charleston. A third route via Harpers Ferry and the Shenandoah Valley would soon develop as well. Federal forces concentrated at Philippi on the 4th, where they rested before continuing along the first route of attack toward Beverly.

Federal success in the northwestern counties of Virginia encouraged the Unionists in the region to resist the rest of the state’s support for the Confederacy. McClellan took full credit for the success and began garnering a reputation as a great commander, despite not directly commanding in the field. Although he seemed to drive Confederate forces out of the region with ease, some of his aides expressed concern that he lacked aggression in following up his victories.

On June 8, Robert S. Garnett received a brigadier general commission and was assigned to replace Colonel Porterfield as commander of the new Confederate Army of the Northwest. Porterfield received a mild reprimand for his role in the “Philippi Races.” He later demanded a court of inquiry to investigate the engagement, which concluded that he had been valiant in combat but did not establish adequate enough defenses to counter a surprise attack.

Garnett hurried to the Alleghenies to bolster defenses; he would command 5,000 men, as militia in seven counties received orders to join him. Garnett was also authorized to recruit volunteers in the region, but because the area was heavily Unionist, Garnett picked up just 23 men.

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Sources

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