Tag Archives: John B. Floyd

Fort Donelson: The Confederate Breakout

February 15, 1862 – The Confederates tried breaking out of the Federal grip around Fort Donelson before deciding on whether to surrender.

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal troops surrounding Fort Donelson, met with Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, commanding the naval flotilla that had been severely damaged in the aborted attack on the fort the previous day. Foote, nursing his wound from that engagement, informed Grant that the gunboats would have to return to Mound City for repairs. This left Grant to place Fort Donelson under siege. However, the siege plans changed when the Confederates attacked on the morning of the 15th.

At 5 a.m., Brigadier General Gideon Pillow assembled his Confederates for their attempt to break through the southern part of the Federal line around Fort Donelson and escape to Nashville. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry troopers began the action by skirmishing with the Federal pickets in the northern sector to divert Federal attention from Pillow’s impending assault to the south.

Kentucky militia commander Simon B. Buckner | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky militia commander Simon B. Buckner | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Pillow’s advance began in full force around 7 a.m., aided by Confederates under Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner. The Federals blocking them were commanded by Brigadier General John A. McClernand. Fighting soon raged all around the Wynn’s Ferry road leading directly to Nashville.

After several hours of hard combat, the breakout appeared successful. McClernand had been pushed back nearly a mile, and the road to Nashville was open for the Confederates to take. Both Pillow and the overall commander, Brigadier General John B. Floyd, telegraphed General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Theater, that they had won a great victory.

Grant, hearing the gunfire, hurried back from the river to prepare for a counterattack. He told his officers: “The position on the right (south) must be retaken. Some of our men are pretty badly demoralized, but the enemy must be more so, for he has attempted to force his way out, but has fallen back; the one who attacks first now will be victorious and the enemy will have to be in a hurry if he gets ahead of me.”

Grant was correct–the enemy had indeed “fallen back” as the Confederate victory began turning sour. Buckner’s diversionary attack on the Federal left had been stopped cold, and the commanders had not decided on whether to immediately escape or fall back and regroup before taking the road to Nashville. Pillow chose the latter, ordering a withdrawal back to the trenches.

Confederate General John B. Floyd | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate General John B. Floyd | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Buckner protested to Floyd, who had ordered Buckner’s men to hold the road so the rest of the army could escape. Floyd went to Pillow and demanded an explanation for the withdrawal. Pillow convinced him that the road would stay open long enough to reorganize. Floyd changed his mind and sided with Pillow.

This dispute gave Grant time to direct Brigadier General Charles F. Smith’s division to attack from the north. Grant told Smith, “All has failed on our right–you must take Fort Donelson.” Smith’s Federals quickly captured the fort’s outer ramparts. Meanwhile, Grant’s third division under Brigadier General Lew Wallace shifted southward to help McClernand stem the Confederate advance. The Federal gunboats renewed their bombardment as well until the escape route was blocked and the fort surrounded.

When the fighting ended for the day, both sides held roughly the same positions they did before the battle began, but they had suffered a combined 4,000 casualties (1,000 killed and 3,000 wounded). Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke tended to the cold, wounded men left lying on the battlefield and gained fame for her role in caring for Federal troops.

That evening, the Confederate commanders held a council of war at the Dover Inn. Their troops had been in their trenches for several days, exposed not only to enemy fire but the brutal rain, sleet, wind, and cold. Floyd began discussing plans to take the road to Nashville the next morning, but those plans were dashed by reports that the Federals had regained all their lost ground.

Pillow and Buckner blamed each other for failing to capitalize on the initial Confederate success that morning. Colonel Forrest, who had two horses shot out from under him in the fighting, argued that a path to escape was still open on the extreme Federal right, along the river. However, the army surgeon warned that a nighttime escape attempt could cause many deaths from exposure to the extreme cold.

Buckner urged surrender, saying, “It would be wrong to subject the army to a virtual massacre when no good would come from the sacrifice.” Pillow wanted to try another breakout, but Floyd and Buckner asserted that it could cost them three-fourths of their men, and they were not willing to sacrifice that many just to save the remaining fourth.

The three commanders finally agreed that surrender was the only option. However, Floyd and Pillow had become generals mostly due to their political careers, and as such, neither wanted to surrender personally. In particular, Floyd feared that Federal authorities might punish him for arms deals he had allegedly made with southern states as U.S. secretary of war in late 1860.

Floyd asked Pillow, his second-in-command, if he would surrender the fort if Floyd passed command to him. Pillow declined; he had vowed never to surrender and insisted that breaking his pledge would demoralize the Confederacy. Buckner said that he would surrender if the command was passed to him, if only to avoid further bloodshed without hope of victory. The men may have also thought that Buckner might get better terms from Grant, who was his friend before the war.

Floyd asked, “General Buckner, if I place you in command, will you allow me to get out as much of my brigade as I can?” Buckner said, “I will, provided you do so before the enemy receives my proposition for capitulation.” In accordance with military protocol, Floyd motioned to Pillow and said, “I turn over my command, sir.” Pillow said, “I pass it.” Buckner said, “I assume it. Give me pen, ink and paper, and send for a bugler (to sound the parley).”

This deal was unacceptable to Forrest, who declared, “I did not come here for the purpose of surrendering my command.” Pillow advised him to “Cut your way out,” and Buckner authorized Forrest to try escaping. Forrest took the route he had noted on the extreme right, leading his 700 cavalry troopers along a narrow path through a freezing swamp and snowy woods to Nashville.

On the early morning of the 16th, Floyd and Pillow slipped out of Fort Donelson, rowing across the Cumberland River under cover of freezing darkness with about 2,500 of their men.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 70-71; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 585; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (15 Feb 1862); Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 694-95; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 180-81; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12624; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 272-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 128-29; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 207-11; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 110; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 155-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 171; 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. 400-01; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 82, 93-94; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 250; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 96-97

Fort Donelson: Federal Attacks Fail

February 13, 1862 – Federal forces attacked Fort Donelson, but they found the defenses much stronger than those of Fort Henry.

By the morning of February 13, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal troops had been positioned in a semicircle around Fort Donelson’s outer defenses, from the west to the south. North of the fort remained open, and the Cumberland River flowed to the fort’s east.

General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding Confederate Department No. 2 (i.e., the Western Theater), ordered Brigadier General John B. Floyd to hurry his remaining brigade from Bowling Green, Kentucky, to Fort Donelson. Floyd arrived at dawn on the 13th and became the ranking officer over Brigadier Generals Gideon Pillow and Simon B. Buckner already there. The addition of Floyd’s brigade brought the total number of Confederate defenders to about 15,000, or a size about equal to Grant’s. Floyd telegraphed Johnston: “Our field defenses are good. I think we can sustain ourselves against the land forces.”

At Grant’s request, the Federal gunboat U.S.S. Carondelet began firing on Fort Donelson to create a diversion from the impending land attack. The Carondelet fired 139 rounds into the fort; Floyd reported, “After two hours’ cannonade the enemy hauled off their gunboats; will commence probably again.” When the gunboat attack resumed, Floyd suddenly wired, “The fort cannot hold out twenty minutes.”

Despite Grant’s order not to provoke a general engagement until the remaining gunboats arrived, both his division commanders, Brigadier Generals Charles F. Smith and John A. McClernand, sent troops forward. Smith’s men assailed the Confederate right but fell back after a sharp fight. McClernand sent three regiments against a battery in the Confederate center, but they were repelled with heavy losses.

Federal attack on Fort Donelson | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal attack on Fort Donelson | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

These clashes indicated that the Confederates intended to hold firm, despite Floyd’s worry that they might collapse. Grant downplayed the setbacks in a message to his superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck. Referring to them as “skirmishing all day,” Grant reported, “I feel every confidence of success, and the best feeling prevails among the men.”

On the Confederate side, Buckner reported that “the fire of the enemy’s artillery and riflemen was incessant throughout the day; but was responded to by a well-directed fire from the intrenchments, which inflicted upon the assailant a considerable loss, and almost silenced his fire late in the afternoon.”

Rain began falling that afternoon, and the fighting died down by nightfall. Around that time, northern winds blew in a cold front that turned the rain to ice and dropped temperatures to 10 degrees. The Federals had no tents for shelter, and Confederate sharpshooters prevented them from building fires. Men who had discarded their blankets and heavy coats on the balmy march from Fort Henry now struggled to survive in the bitter cold.

Both sides exchanged artillery fire intermittently through the night as Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote arrived with five more gunboats from his Federal squadron: the ironclads U.S.S. St. Louis, Louisville, and Pittsburgh; and the timber-clads U.S.S. Tyler and Conestoga. Foote also brought army reinforcements that took up positions on the open (northern) end of Grant’s semicircle around Fort Donelson.

From his St. Louis headquarters, Halleck again requested help from Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Department of the Ohio east of Fort Donelson. Halleck urged Buell to feint against Bowling Green to prevent Confederates at Columbus, Kentucky, from moving to reinforce the fort. Once again, Buell demurred, further demonstrating the two commanders’ inability to coordinate their efforts.

Early on the 14th, Grant rode out to observe the Federal reinforcements debarking from the river transports. He also met with Foote to discuss launching a gunboat attack on the fort. Foote initially resisted because Donelson, situated atop a high bluff, would be much harder to bombard than Fort Henry. However, Grant convinced him to try.

Foote finally arranged his gunboats into battle order around 3 p.m. The front line (west to east) consisted of the Louisville, Foote’s flagship St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Carondelet. Foote intended to repeat the tactics that had won Fort Henry by placing the more formidable ironclads in front and keeping the wooden vessels back.

Confederate artillerists atop the commanding 150-foot-high bluff watched the vessels advance to within 1,000 yards and then opened fire. The flotilla managed to get within 400 yards of the fort, but being at such a close distance caused Federal gunners to overshoot their targets. Meanwhile, the Confederates poured a devastating fire almost directly down upon the boat decks and pilothouses. A private in the 49th Tennessee watched the battle and wrote:

“The gunboats with full Determination to take our Battrey by Storme… pressed up the river stidley firing on us. The Bum shells were bursting in the air threatening sudden death and distrucktion. Stil tha came on… within Three Hundred yards of the Batterrys and tha turned loosed their guns with grap shot to run our gunners away from thear Guns but tha finding our men to hard and brave for them, tha concluded to givit up and tha turned down the River while the Iron and Wood was flying from them upin the air tha sneaked down behind the bend badely tore to peasis.”

One Confederate shot that hit the St. Louis killed the pilot, wounded Foote, destroyed the ship’s steering mechanism, and sent her drifting downriver. Another shot destroyed the Pittsburgh’s tiller ropes, putting her out of action. The Louisville sustained so much damage that she also drifted out of the fight. Floyd telegraphed Johnston: “The fort holds out. Three gunboats have retired. Only one firing now.” That one, the Carondelet, finally withdrew under heavy fire, also badly damaged. The timber-clads could not get within range of the well-placed Confederate guns atop the bluff.

Foote finally ordered a general withdrawal and then relinquished command due to his injuries. The St. Louis and Louisville were put out of action indefinitely, and each ironclad took at least 40 hits. The Federals lost 11 men killed and 43 wounded; the Confederates lost nobody.

With the loss of the two strongest gunboats in the fleet, Grant wrote to Halleck’s chief of staff at Cairo, Illinois: “Appearances indicate now that we will have a protracted siege here… fear the result of an attempt to carry the place by storm with raw troops. I feel great confidence… in ultimately reducing the place.” But Grant privately confided to his wife that this “bids fair to be a long job.”

Floyd held a council of war with his division and brigade commanders that evening. The Confederates had been successful thus far, but the Federals now had 25,000 men surrounding Fort Donelson from the north, west, and south. Moreover, Federal gunboats still commanded the river to the east, making the arrival of Confederate reinforcements and supplies nearly impossible.

Acknowledging that the Federals would ultimately overpower them, the commanders agreed to abandon the fort. They planned to try breaking through the Federal line on the right, or southern, flank, which would open the road to sanctuary at Nashville. Some, like Buckner, went along with the breakout plan but doubted its chances for success.

Ice storms and brutal winds continued that evening, partially masking Pillow’s Confederates as they shifted southward. They would advance at 5 a.m., with Pillow’s men attempting to break through while Buckner held the Federals north of the fort. Buckner’s force would then become the rear guard and follow Pillow south. The commanders did not have a unified plan of action in case their breakout actually succeeded.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 70-71; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12554-64; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 272-73, 280-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 127-28; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 194-95, 199-200, 204-06; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 109-10; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 153-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 170-71; 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. 399-400; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 77; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 81-84; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 246-47

The Fort Donelson Campaign

February 7, 1862 – Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant began planning to follow the victory at Fort Henry by capturing a much stronger Confederate fort.

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

When Federal naval personnel took Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, a New York Tribune correspondent wrapped up his coverage and stopped at Grant’s headquarters to bid farewell before returning east. Grant said, “You had better wait a day or two… I am going over to capture Fort Donelson tomorrow.”

Grant, his staff, and a cavalry escort reconnoitered Fort Donelson on the 7th. The fort was 12 miles east of Henry on the Cumberland River, near the town of Dover and the Kentucky border. The Confederate garrison at Donelson was much larger than that at Henry, with about 15,000 troops and more heavy artillery. The fort was larger than Henry, with an outer defensive perimeter of 100 acres, and two lines of entrenchments. It was also positioned atop a bluff, where 13 guns commanded the naval approaches, and surrounded by hills, making land assaults difficult.

Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson arrived at Donelson and replaced Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman in command. Three days later, Brigadier General Gideon Pillow arrived from Clarksville to take over for Johnson. Pillow announced that he had faith in “the courage and fidelity of the brave officers and men under his command.” He urged them to “drive back the ruthless invaders from our soil and again raise the Confederate flag over Fort Henry… Our battle cry, ‘Liberty or death.’” Despite this rhetoric and Donelson’s strength, Grant, who had known Pillow before the war, did not expect him to put up much of a fight.

Grant may have been ready to advance on Fort Donelson, but Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat flotilla was not. Foote had sent his damaged vessels back to Cairo, Illinois, for quick repairs before they could return to action. The ground forces began moving out of Fort Henry on the 11th, the same day that Foote began his advance to the Cumberland. He notified Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles:

“I leave Cairo again to-night with the Louisville, Pittsburg, and St. Louis for the Cumberland River to cooperate with the army in the attack on Ft. Donelson… I shall do all in my power to render the gunboats effective in the fight, although they are not properly manned… If we could wait ten days, and I had men, I would go with eight mortar boats and six armored boats and conquer.”

Grant’s superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck, instructed Grant to fortify Fort Henry for occupation troops, especially on the land side. However, Grant received this dispatch, as well as many others, too late to stop him from moving against Fort Donelson. The communication gap between Halleck and Grant would play a significant role in future operations.

Meanwhile, Confederate Generals John B. Floyd and Simon B. Buckner at Clarksville began sending Confederates from that town to bolster the Fort Donelson defenses. However, Floyd and Buckner agreed to only send a minimum number of troops so they could focus their true strength at Cumberland City, 15 miles upriver from the fort. This would protect the line to Nashville and enable the Confederates to harass the Federal lines between Forts Henry and Donelson.

Buckner met with Pillow at Donelson to explain this strategy. However, Pillow refused to go along with it because it sounded too much like how Fort Henry was lost. Buckner later recounted that Pillow and Floyd believed that a Federal 12-mile march from Henry to Donelson was “impracticable.” While the Confederate generals debated, Grant’s troops were heading toward them.

Grant now had three divisions, one more than he had at Henry. His two divisions under Brigadier Generals Charles F. Smith and John A. McClernand, totaling about 15,000 men, moved out on the 11th. McClernand’s Federals marched along both the Telegraph and Ridge roads leading to Fort Donelson. Smith’s division moved along the Telegraph road. The third division, under Brigadier General Lew Wallace (future author of Ben-Hur), stayed behind to garrison Fort Henry.

By the night of February 12, Grant’s men had completed the “impracticable” march, no doubt aided by unusually warm weather. The Federals, stalled for several hours by Confederate cavalry under Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, finally drove the troopers off and formed a semicircle among the hills around Fort Donelson and Dover. Grant established headquarters in the kitchen of a farmhouse and awaited gunboat support from the Cumberland.

Meanwhile, Pillow had left Donelson to discuss strategy with Floyd at Clarksville. Before he could get there, Pillow heard the sound of cannon at the fort and hurried back. The Federals’ arrival meant that Buckner’s plan to fortify Cumberland City would have to be abandoned in favor of making a stand at Donelson. This was just what Pillow had wanted in the first place. Pillow telegraphed both Floyd and General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Western Theater:

“We shall have a battle in the morning, I think certainly, and an attack by gun-boats. The enemy are all around my position and within distance to close in with me in ten minutes’ march. One gun-boat came today and fired fifteen or twenty shells and retired. We gave no reply. I have sent up to Cumberland City for Baldwin’s two regiments. Feel sanguine of victory, though I am not fully ready. I have done all that it was possible to do, and think I will drive back the enemy.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 280-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 125, 127; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 194-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 106-09; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 150-52, 166-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 167-70; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 81; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 246

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

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.

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References

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

The Battle of Carnifex Ferry

September 10, 1861 – Federals led by Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans won a minor victory that strengthened their foothold in western Virginia.

By this time, several different commands operated in western Virginia, coveted for its extensive salt and lead works, coal mines, and niter deposits. Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox’s Federal brigade held Gauley Bridge, which effectively controlled the important Kanawha River Valley. Cox faced two main Confederate threats:

  • Brigadier General Henry A. Wise, former Virginia governor, commanded his “Legion” at Hawks Nest, east of Gauley Bridge.
  • Brigadier General John B. Floyd, former Virginia governor and U.S. secretary of war, commanded his 2,000-man Army of the Kanawha at Carnifex Ferry, a strategic crossing on the northern bank of the Gauley River, northeast of Cox.

Cox feared that Floyd would attack from the north while Wise attacked from the east. Luckily for Cox, Floyd and Wise detested one another, which made coordinating their efforts nearly impossible.

Meanwhile Rosecrans, commanding all Federal forces in western Virginia, led three Ohio brigades totaling about 6,000 men southward from Clarksburg to reinforce Cox at Gauley Bridge. To get there, Rosecrans had to push through Floyd at Carnifex Ferry. Floyd called on Wise to reinforce him upon learning of Rosecrans’s approach, but Wise resisted breaking up his Legion and sent him just a token force. Wise also warned Floyd against camping with his back to the river, but Floyd ignored him.

Rosecrans’s Federals occupied Summersville, about 10 miles north of Carnifex Ferry, on the morning of the 10th. Local Unionists informed Rosecrans where Floyd had stationed his troops, and Rosecrans resolved to either “whip or pass” Floyd to reach Cox. The Federals advanced to Cross Lanes by 1 p.m., scouted the area, then continued forward around 2:30.

Floyd had his troops positioned on a bend in the Gauley River. The right flank was anchored at the river, the center (which included the road to Carnifex Ferry) was protected by artillery, while the left flank was open. Cliffs and the river were in the Confederate rear. Floyd thought the positon impregnable and did not order his men to build a bridge in case of emergency. Colonel Henry Heth, one of Floyd’s subordinates, built a rope bridge anyway.

As the Federals advanced into the woods, their visibility was obstructed until the Confederates fired into them. The Federals wavered, but one bullet from their modest return fire hit Floyd in the arm. Rosecrans ordered all his men forward, determined to take the Confederate breastworks by frontal assault.

The Battle of Carnifex Ferry | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Battle of Carnifex Ferry | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The mass Federal attack occurred just before nightfall and dislodged the Confederates’ right flank from the river. The Federals captured many supplies, but darkness prevented them from breaking the enemy line. Rosecrans fell back, planning to renew the assault the next day.

Floyd regrouped his men into a strong defensive line at the ferry and awaited another attack. However, Heth advised him that the Confederate left flank, being open, would be vulnerable to a renewed assault. Floyd, who seemed bewildered by combat and his wound, sent orders for Wise to reinforce him, but then opted to retreat without informing Wise. The Confederates used the ferry and Heth’s rope bridge to cross the river, destroying both after crossing to prevent a Federal pursuit. They marched south to link with Wise’s Legion.

On the morning of the 11th, Wise received Floyd’s order to reinforce him. When his Legion was halfway to Carnifex Ferry, Wise received another message ordering him to return to his original position and await the arrival of Floyd’s army. Floyd and Wise met at Dogwood Gap, where Floyd still seemed perplexed by the previous day’s events and issued no further orders for the time being.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans learned of Floyd’s retreat and settled his troops in Floyd’s old camp until they were able to cross the river in pursuit. The engagement at Carnifex Ferry cost the Federals 17 killed and 141 wounded, while the Confederates lost 20 men. The Confederates held against the Federal assaults, but Floyd’s retreat made this a minor Federal victory.

Wise actually received more blame for this setback than Floyd because of his persistent reluctance to join forces with Floyd’s army. This engagement tightened the Federal grip on western Virginia, and responsibility for breaking that grip devolved to the other Confederate force in the region, led by General Robert E. Lee to the north.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 72; 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; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2849; 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. 116-17; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 171; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407

Operations in Southwestern Virginia

September 6, 1861 – Confederate Brigadier General John B. Floyd sent reinforcements to Brigadier General Henry A. Wise but soon realized that he needed them back to defend against an approaching Federal force under Major General William S. Rosecrans.

Generals Rosecrans, Floyd, Cox, and Wise | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Generals Rosecrans, Floyd, Cox, and Wise | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As September began, Wise led the main portion of his “Legion” from Dogwood Gap to reinforce Floyd’s Confederate Army of the Kanawha at Carnifex Ferry. Wise had already made the 17-mile march in August, only to be sent back by Floyd upon arriving. But now Floyd called him up again, fearing that the Federals at Gauley Bridge might be massing to attack him.

As Wise’s Confederates reached the cliffs overlooking the Gauley River, Wise received a message from Floyd:

“From more recent information I think it doubtful whether the movements of the enemy require at this time the union of your force with mine, as embraced in my last order to you late in the evening. You will therefore retain your forces in camp until further orders.”

Furious about having to countermarch a second time, Wise wrote to Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin: “I was so disgusted by these vacillating and harassing orders, that I determined at once with promptitude and dispatch to drive the enemy as far as possible back upon the turnpike towards their camp at Gauley Bridge.” Wise’s Legion returned to Dogwood Gap on the night of September 1, where Wise began planning to attack Cox’s advance guard.

Meanwhile, Cox observed Wise’s activity about 15 miles east. Cox also observed two Confederate militia units nearby, one southwest of him in Boone County and one about 15 miles southeast of him at Fayette Court House. Cox issued orders for a detachment to confront the Boone County militia because they threatened his communication lines to Ohio.

On the 2nd, Cox’s detachment clashed with the militia at Boone County Court House, where the Federals drove the enemy off after the militia burned the town. Federals suffered six casualties; Cox estimated Confederate losses at 50 but they were probably fewer.

Meanwhile, Wise led his Legion westward to attack Cox. Federal pickets sporadically fired at them before withdrawing toward Gauley Bridge. Wise arrived at Hawks Nest and seized the bridge spanning Turkey Creek by the night of the 2nd. Wise hoped to join forces with the militia at Fayette Court House, but Floyd ordered that unit to move west toward Charleston.

Wise’s 900 Confederates advanced on about 1,250 Federals in defensive positions near Big Creek on September 3. Wise drove the Federal advance guard over a steep mountain as he deployed 300 troops to move around the Federal flank. Atop the mountain, Wise prepared to fire into the Federal camps below when he learned that his flanking force had gotten lost. This compelled him to withdraw his Legion back to Hawks Nest.

While Wise pushed the Federals from the east, the Confederate militia harassed the Federals from the other side of the New River. This convinced Cox that Wise and the militia were acting in concert, even though the dual attack was merely coincidental. Cox also believed that Floyd was leaving Carnifex Ferry to reinforce Wise, when Floyd was actually gathering reinforcements to hold his position.

A standoff ensued, both between the Confederates and Cox at Gauley Bridge, and between Wise and Floyd. Floyd remained at Carnifex Ferry, while Wise remained at Hawks Nest and Miller’s Ferry. Confederate militia operated on the other side of the New River from Wise, giving Cox three forces to guard against. However, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding all Federals in western Virginia, was moving from Clarksburg with 5,000 men to reinforce Cox.

On the 6th, Wise planned to use the reinforcements that Floyd sent him to attack Cox, even though Floyd warned Wise that the reinforcements could be recalled at any time. Wise countered by informing Floyd that the troops “will not be removed at all from this road.” Meanwhile, Rosecrans issued orders for his Federals to move out from Sutton “in the direction of Summersville” and Floyd’s supposedly secure position at Carnifex Ferry, 45 miles south. With the other forces in motion, Cox reported to Rosecrans on the 7th: “Everything remains as it was. No news as yet.”

When Floyd learned that Rosecrans’s Federals were within about 15 miles of Carnifex Ferry, he sent a message to Wise at 8:30 a.m. on the 9th recalling the reinforcements. Floyd had just 1,600 Confederates to stand against Rosecrans’s 5,000. Wise sent just one regiment, refusing to give back all the men that Floyd had given him. Wise then wrote to General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate military advisor in western Virginia, complaining about Floyd.

Wise had written many similar letters, and Lee had given similar responses in each instance. Once again he reminded Wise “how necessary it is to act upon reports touching the safety of troops, and that even rumors must not be neglected.” Lee expressed concern about Floyd’s position, but then he urged Wise to stop asking to be separated from Floyd. Lee wrote, “There must be a union of strength to drive back the invaders. I beg you will act in concert.”

That evening, Floyd again requested that Wise send him reinforcements upon learning from scouts that the Federals were advancing near Summersville, or “this side of Powell’s Mountain.” Rosecrans would arrive opposite Carnifex Ferry the next day.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 116; 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), Q361

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

Federals Continue Advancing in Western Virginia

July 17, 1861 – A Federal force sought to clear Confederates out of the Great Kanawha Valley, while Confederates tried consolidating and coordinating their armies in western Virginia.

In early July, Major General George B. McClellan assigned Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox to mobilize 2,500 Federal volunteers at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati. This would be the second prong of McClellan’s offensive in western Virginia. Cox’s men were to move up the Ohio River to Point Pleasant, and then advance into the Great Kanawha Valley to confront two Confederate forces:

  • Brigadier General Henry A. Wise, former governor of Virginia, led the Army of the Kanawha at Charleston; Wise’s main force consisted of his 2,850-man “Legion” and some 1,800 state volunteers having joined from nearby counties.
  • General John B. Floyd, another former Virginia governor and former U.S. secretary of war, posted his troops at Wytheville, 125 miles south of Wise.
Brig Gen J.D. Cox | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Brig Gen J.D. Cox | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Cox’s “Kanawha Brigade” consisted of three regiments. Two traveled on steamships from the Ohio up the Great Kanawha River, while the third marched along the riverbank in advance. As they approached Charleston, Floyd received orders to move to Wise’s support. As Cox inched closer, McClellan reported: “I am in constant expectation of hearing from General Cox, that his efforts to drive the Wises out of the Kanawha Valley and occupy the Gauley Bridge (40 or so miles southeast of Charleston) have been crowned with success.”

The forces of Cox and Wise clashed west of Charleston at Scary Creek on the 17th. After both sides exchanged volleys, the Federals tried a flank attack but were repelled by Confederate reinforcements that pushed them back to their camp on the Pocatalico River. The Federals suffered 10 killed and 35 wounded while Confederates lost four killed and six wounded. This minor engagement stalled Cox’s advance, which enabled Wise and Floyd to move closer together.

McClellan learned of Cox’s setback two days later. He ordered Cox to maintain his position while McClellan deployed reinforcements to confront Wise from the north. McClellan reported to Washington that Cox had been “checked on the Kanawha,” and although Wise had stopped Cox’s advance on Charleston, McClellan called the fight “something between a victory and defeat.” He then pleaded: “In heaven’s name give me some general officers who understand their profession. I give orders and find some who cannot execute them unless I stand by them. Unless I command every picket and lead every column I cannot be sure of success.”

Cox’s Federals began another advance on the 24th, moving eastward from the Pocatalico River toward Wise’s Confederates at Tyler Mountain, eight miles away. The Federals scattered the enemy pickets, then found the camp abandoned. Cox continued the advance toward Charleston, hoping to destroy Wise’s army.

The opposing forces traded shots from across the Kanawha River. When Cox brought up a cannon, the Confederates set fire to a steamboat to prevent it from Federal capture, and then withdrew into the woods as night fell. A small Federal pursuit could not find Wise’s Confederates, who had retreated toward Gauley Bridge, leaving Charleston and the Kanawha Valley in Federal hands.

The “Kanawha Brigade” entered Charleston the next day, where Mayor Jacob Goshom and other officials surrendered the city. To prove that his men had been “vilely slandered” by Confederate charges that the Federals would loot and pillage, Cox ordered his men to pass through town without stopping, or even to “shout or make any unnecessary noise.” This would provide “contrast to the profane and disorderly behavior of the rebel army.” The Charleston residents would not be asked of their political opinions, and business would go on as usual. However, anyone caught consorting with the Confederates would be “remorselessly punished.” As Wise’s Confederates retreated, they wrecked the Elk River suspension bridge to slow the Federal pursuit. However, nearby coal barges could easily be converted into bridges of their own.

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

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

The loss of Charleston, combined with the earlier defeat at Rich Mountain, alarmed Confederate officials at Richmond so much that Major General Robert E. Lee, military advisor to President Jefferson Davis, received orders to go to western Virginia and inspect operations. Lee would work with Brigadier General William W. Loring, whom President Davis had sent to inspect the Army of the Northwest, which had retreated to Monterey after its defeat at Rich Mountain.

Lee arrived at Staunton by train on July 28 to begin his first field duty for the Confederacy. While he had no official authority over Loring, Lee’s mission was to determine if the Army of the Northwest could take the offensive. He was also to try coordinating efforts of the three western Virginia commanders (Loring, Wise, and Floyd).

Back in the Kanawha Valley, Cox’s Federals pursued Wise’s forces eastward from Charleston, with skirmishing along the way. With Cox about 10 miles away, Wise burned the Gauley Bridge over the James River along the Kanawha Turnpike. Wise hoped that this would give him time to link with Floyd at White Sulphur Springs, 75 miles farther.

The Federals reached the Gauley Bridge on the morning of July 29 and captured enemy supplies that had not burned. Destroying the bridge prevented Cox from continuing his pursuit, but unbeknownst to Wise, Cox’s orders had been to stop at the bridge anyway. The Federal mission was only to clear the Kanawha Valley of Confederates, and that had been accomplished. However, the Federals soon learned that the Gauley Valley region was much more pro-Confederate than most areas of western Virginia.

That same day, Lee arrived at Monterey on horseback. He met with Brigadier General Henry R. Jackson, who had taken command of the Army of the Northwest after the death of Brigadier General Robert S. Garnett. Jackson requested an officer with more experience than himself to take command. Lee next met with Loring at Huntersville, where Lee urged him to take command and push the Federals out of the region. Loring replied that he needed time to establish a supply base and did not know when he could take the offensive.

Lee returned to Monterey on the 31st, where he took unofficial command of the army. Lee “spent a day conferring with General H.R. Jackson and inspecting the troops there encamped with General Jackson.” Lee noted that the troops were demoralized, hampered by rain and a measles outbreak. Ladies of Augusta County asked Lee to present a flag to the 21st Virginia. Lee complied but told one of the regiment’s captains, “I would advise you to roll up that beautiful banner, and return it to the ladies for safe keeping. You are now in for a number of years of hard military service, and you will not need your beautiful flag.”

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7610; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-93; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 56-61; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 42-44, 50, 52; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2663, 2687-98, 2721, 2815; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 93, 95, 97, 100-02; 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. 299-300; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 185, 426

The Fort Sumter Controversy

December 26, 1860 – Major Robert Anderson completed the transfer of Federal troops in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina from Fort Moultrie on the shoreline to the stronger Fort Sumter on a harbor shoal.

On the day that South Carolina seceded from the U.S., Major Anderson, commanding Federal forces in the harbor, began preparing to secretly evacuate Fort Moultrie by spiking his guns. President James Buchanan had made a tacit agreement with South Carolinians that he would make no move in the harbor, but he also instructed Anderson to defend himself if threatened, which Anderson interpreted as being allowed to move to a less vulnerable position.

Since Moultrie could not be defended from the landward side in case of attack, Anderson opted to move to Sumter. Fort Sumter was constructed on an artificial island in the harbor in 1829 but never completed. Federal troops could defend this large, pentagon-shaped brick structure much easier from a potential landward attack.

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor | Image Credit: Learnnc.org

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor | Image Credit: Learnnc.org

Two days later after Anderson began his move, the Convention of the People of South Carolina approved a resolution declaring that the harbor forts and the Federal arsenal at Charleston should “be subject to the authority and control” of the state and “that the possession of said forts and arsenal should be restored to the State of South Carolina.”

Convention attendees appointed three delegates—Robert W. Barnwell, James H. Adams, and James L. Orr—to go to Washington and issue these demands. They reached the capital on the 26th, with instructions to:

“… treat with the Government of the United States for the delivery of the forts, magazines, lighthouses, and other real estate, with their appurtenances, within the limits of South Carolina, and also for an apportionment of the public debt, and for a division of all other property held by the Government of the United States, as agent of the confederated States, of which South Carolina was recently a member; and generally to negotiate as to all other measures and arrangements proper to be made and adopted in the existing relation of the parties, and for the continuance of peace and amity between this Commonwealth and the Government at Washington.”

That evening, Anderson completed his transfer to Fort Sumter. Finally realizing that he had moved after the transfer was done, South Carolinians reacted with outrage. Many believed that President Buchanan had betrayed them since he had supposedly promised he would not allow the Federals to make any moves in the harbor. Anderson explained he made the move because he had evidence of an imminent attack on Moultrie, and the “step which I have taken was, in my opinion, necessary to prevent the effusion of blood…”

As news of the stealth move spread, northerners mostly sided with Anderson. But southerners denounced him, crying that he had “secretly dismantled Fort Moultrie” and destroyed his guns and carriages before moving to Sumter. Many called for the complete removal of the Federal garrison from the harbor. Secretary of War John B. Floyd, a Virginian, argued that Anderson’s move violated the administration’s commitment to maintaining the status quo at Charleston.

Major Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Major Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Anderson raised the U.S. flag over Fort Sumter on the 27th as South Carolina militia quickly occupied Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney. State forces also compelled the U.S. revenue cutter William Aiken at Charleston to surrender. Buchanan met with southern congressmen protesting Anderson’s action. The president considered ordering Anderson to return to Moultrie, but that would have lost him all respect in the North. A New York Democrat said:

“Anderson’s course is universally approved and if he is recalled or if Sumter is surrendered… Northern sentiment will be unanimous in favor of hanging Buchanan… I am not joking—Never have I known the entire people more unanimous on any question. We are ruined if Anderson is disgraced or if Sumter is given up.”

Buchanan expressed surprise and regret to the angry congressmen, but he would not order Anderson to return.

At a cabinet meeting, Floyd strongly urged Buchanan to withdraw the entire garrison from Charleston. Interior Secretary Jacob Thompson of Mississippi sided with Floyd, while Secretary of State Jeremiah S. Black of Pennsylvania, Attorney General Edwin M. Stanton of Ohio, and Postmaster General Joseph Holt of Kentucky opposed Floyd. Buchanan privately feared that Anderson’s move would compel other southern states to aid South Carolina. Indeed, on the 27th, Georgia and Alabama offered to send troops to reinforce the South Carolina militia or possibly even join South Carolina in seceding before Congress could reach a compromise. Nevertheless, Buchanan would not approve Floyd’s plan.

Buchanan agreed to meet with the South Carolina delegation appointed by the state convention on the 28th, but only as “private gentlemen,” not representatives of a sovereign entity. The delegates announced that negotiations could begin only when they received redress for Major Anderson moving his garrison to Fort Sumter. They demanded the removal of all Federal troops from Charleston Harbor, but Buchanan replied that he needed time to consider it.

That same day, Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott wrote to Floyd opposing the Federal evacuation of Fort Sumter and supporting sending reinforcements, supplies, and armed vessels. Meanwhile, Buchanan held another cabinet meeting to discuss the issue. Floyd said that Anderson’s move to Sumter violated an implied pledge not to make any movements in Charleston Harbor and urged the garrison’s withdrawal. A fist fight nearly erupted between Floyd and Stanton in the ensuing argument.

Two days later, South Carolina militia seized the Federal arsenal at Charleston. State officials now held all Federal property in the area except Fort Sumter. More cabinet officers threatened to resign if Buchanan did not act. Black and Stanton drafted a memorandum to Buchanan proposing that he:

  1. Refuse to negotiate with the South Carolina delegates since he had denied the right of secession
  2. Declare that he would not surrender Federal property in South Carolina
  3. Announce that the Federal government had the right to defend its property in the state
  4. Assert that Major Anderson had violated no orders in moving his garrison to Fort Sumter.

Officials suggested that Buchanan send warships to Charleston, and General Scott requested authorization to send 250 reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter. Buchanan did not respond to Scott, but he told the South Carolina delegates that Anderson would not evacuate Sumter, and Sumter would be defended “against hostile attacks from whatever quarter they may come.”

On the year’s last day, Buchanan met with the South Carolina delegation and announced:

  1. He was constitutionally bound to defer to Congress in defining relations between the Federal government and South Carolina
  2. He had not pledged to preserve the forts since South Carolinians seized Moultrie after Anderson left
  3. He would not withdraw Federal troops from South Carolina because they were defending what was left of Federal property; this included Fort Sumter, which would be defended “against hostile attacks from whatever quarter they may come.”

Then, without consulting Anderson, Buchanan ordered the War and Navy departments to send ships, supplies, and reinforcements to Fort Sumter.

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 3745-54, 3757
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 6-7
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 297-98
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 14-18
  • 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. 265
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 42, 45
  • Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M., The Almanac of American History (Greenwich, CT: Brompton Books Corp., 1993), p. 277
  • Wikipedia: James Buchanan; Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War