Tag Archives: Cheat Mountain

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.

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References

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

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.

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References

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

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.

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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. 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

The Western Virginia Military Situation: August 1861

August 26, 1861 – Confederates won a minor clash in southwestern Virginia, while General Robert E. Lee continued struggling to coordinate the movements of several stubborn commanders in the region.

Lee had come to western Virginia as a military advisor to President Jefferson Davis. Although he had no authority to issue orders to the Confederate commanders, he hoped to persuade them to work together against the Federals rather than operating independently. By this month, there were three different commands:

  • The Army of the Northwest under General Henry R. Jackson, soon to be replaced by General William W. Loring. This force was divided between Monterey and Huntersville.
  • The Army of the Kanawha under General John B. Floyd near Sweet Springs.
  • Brigadier General Henry A. Wise’s “Legion” near Lewisburg, which was actually a portion of the Army of the Kanawha.
L to R: Robert E. Lee, William W. Loring, John B. Floyd, Henry A. Wise | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

L to R: Robert E. Lee, William W. Loring, John B. Floyd, Henry A. Wise | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lee urged Floyd and Wise to join forces and take back the Kanawha River Valley after relinquishing it to the Federals in July. Wise resisted because he did not get along with Floyd. Lee urged Loring to consolidate his army and advance northward to Cheat Mountain. Loring resisted because he had outranked Lee in the U.S. army and did not appreciate his advice. Adding to this was the unrelenting rains and unforgiving terrain of western Virginia.

Floyd proposed linking with Wise and raising another 10,000 recruits, informing President Davis that he had “never witnessed a better spirit than seems to be almost universal” in the area. The force would then move northward and attack Cheat Mountain, or even possibly invade Ohio. However, Wise reported that the Kanawha Valley was overrun by Unionists, and his men needed rest before they could join Floyd.

On August 6, the first council of war between Floyd and Wise took place at White Sulphur Springs. Wise delivered a two-hour speech tying American history into his current situation, describing his “retrograde movement” (i.e., retreat) from Charleston to the Gauley Bridge. Wise then asked Floyd where he wanted to go. Floyd said, “Down the road.” Wise asked what then, and Floyd replied, “Fight.” The commanders made no strategy decisions.

To the north, the Confederates remained stationary as Loring disagreed with Lee’s plan to confront the Federals at Cheat Mountain. On the Federal side, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, anticipating Lee’s plan, directed Major General William S. Rosecrans, who had replaced Major General George B. McClellan in command of western Virginia, to “push forward rapidly the fortifications ordered by General McClellan” in July.

Rosecrans responded by beginning to consolidate his forces at various points. He also sent reinforcements to the force under Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox at Gauley Bridge, which threatened the Confederates of Floyd and Wise. When McClellan at Washington ordered Rosecrans to hold Gauley Bridge with Cox’s men, Rosecrans decided to reinforce Cheat Mountain while having Cox take up defensive positions.

The Confederate threat in western Virginia was made to look worse than it truly was when Unionist politician John S. Carlisle wrote to Secretary of War Simon Cameron: “For God’s sake, send us more troops and a general to command, or else we are whipped in less than ten days.” Carlisle estimated enemy strength at 20,000 men, with 8,000 at Monterey and 8,000 west of Huntersville, as well as an army of “considerable size” under Floyd and Wise advancing on Wheeling.

Although the Confederates truly did outnumber the Federals, they only had 12,000 men east of the Federal positions at Cheat Mountain. And Floyd and Wise were nowhere near Wheeling, and if they ever joined forces, they would still have only 3,800 effectives to confront Cox’s Federals, who would soon be reinforced. And most importantly, torrential rains had slowed active operations almost to a halt.

During this lull, Rosecrans sought to ease Unionist 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,” Rosecrans concluded, “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.”

Also during this time, Lee sent a message to Brigadier General John J. Reynolds, commanding Federals at Cheat Mountain: “With a view of alleviating individual distress I have the honor to propose an exchange of prisoners. If you will cause to be forwarded a list of those in your hands including those placed on parole an equal number of U. S. troops, man for man or similar grade, will be sent to the point most convenient to their present abode. An exchange in this manner can be conveniently effected. Very respectfully, R. E LEE, General, Commanding.”

Reynolds responded the next day: “SIR: Your proposition inviting an exchange of prisoners is cheerfully acceded to. A list of prisoners in our possession including those paroled will be delivered at the house in Tygarts Valley where this note is written on the 9th instant. Very respectfully, J.J. REYNOLDS, Brigadier-General, Commanding.”

However, Reynolds did not get permission from Rosecrans first, instead requesting retroactive approval: “Now, first, is this action on my part approved, and secondly, can it be effected here?” Rosecrans did not approve. Since most Confederate prisoners were from western Virginia, Rosecrans worried that they would not only reinforce Lee’s army, but they would know the Federals’ positions. Conversely, most Federal prisoners had been taken in the Battle of Bull Run, so they would most likely return to northern Virginia and not help Rosecrans. While the plan was held up for soldiers, both sides agreed to exchange two non-combatants each.

Meanwhile, the bickering between Floyd and Wise continued, with Wise asking Lee to keep their forces separated and Floyd wanting them to unite and take the offensive. Lee urged Wise to work with Floyd, or else it could “destroy the prospect of the success of the campaign in the Kanawha District.” Floyd went over Lee’s head to Davis, alleging “great disorganization amongst the men under General Wise’s command,” and hoping to “remedy the evil.” Floyd then announced that since he outranked Wise, he would assume overall command of both his and Wise’s men.

Wise initially resisted Floyd’s orders to join his force, arguing that his men were plagued with typhoid and measles; a regimental officer told Wise that the “troops are now decimated by disease and casualties occurred by weeks of exposure” to rain and cold. Wise then instructed his men to disregard any orders coming from Floyd unless approved by Wise first. Floyd countered by ordering Wise’s cavalry to join him, adding, “Any orders whatever in any way conflicting with this I hereby revoke.” Floyd then told Davis that Wise’s “unwillingness to co-operate… is so great that it amounts practically almost to open opposition.”

When Wise finally advanced his man on a 17-mile march to Carnifex Ferry as ordered, Floyd decided to advance his force there as well without telling him. Since Cox’s Federals had abandoned the place, both Confederates forces were not needed there, so Floyd ordered Wise to countermarch back to his original position. This enraged Wise, who complied nonetheless.

On August 23, Floyd reported to Secretary of War LeRoy Walker that his force 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 advancing to Carnifex Ferry and Cross Lanes. The 7th Ohio, a regiment in Cox’s command under Colonel Erasmus Tyler returning to the main force, inadvertently camped within a half-mile of Floyd’s Confederates on the night of the 25th. Floyd 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 green 7th Ohio 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.

Wise continued asking to be permanently separated from Floyd, prompting 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.”

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 his force. 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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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 62-63; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 53, 56, 58, 60; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2733, 2826-37; Guelzo, Allen C, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 113-14; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 103-04, 108; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407