Tag Archives: Western Virginia Campaign

The Droop Mountain Engagement

November 6, 1863 – An engagement occurred as part of Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal raid on Confederate supply lines in West Virginia.

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

On the 1st, Averell led 5,000 Federals (two mounted infantry regiments, four cavalry regiments, and an artillery battery) southward from Beverly toward Lewisburg in the Greenbrier River Valley. His goal was to destroy the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, which Major General Samuel Jones, commanding the Confederate Department of Southwestern Virginia, used to transport troops and supplies between Virginia and the west. Two days later, Brigadier General Alfred N.A. Duffie led 1,700 Federals out of Charleston, West Virginia, to link with Averell at Lewisburg.

Averell’s Federals advanced on the Staunton Pike to Greenbrier Bridge, and then moved through Camp Bartow and Green Bank. Under continuous harassment from Confederate partisans, the Federals reached Huntersville around noon on the 4th. Averell dispatched two cavalry regiments to destroy a 600-man Confederate force guarding Marling’s Bottom.

Colonel William J. Jackson led the Confederates. He was a cousin of the late Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, but he did not have his troops’ respect and was thus nicknamed “Mudwall.” Jackson’s men fell back to Mill Point, where Jackson requested reinforcements from Brigadier General John Echols, who commanded an infantry brigade at Lewisburg.

Averell tried cutting Jackson off the next day but failed, and the Confederates withdrew to the crest of Droop Mountain. Echols led his 1,700 troops and six cannon out to reinforce Jackson; they arrived on the 6th and Echols assumed overall command. This combined Confederate force ascended the summit of Droop Mountain and formed a line of battle at 9 a.m., with infantry on the right (eastern) flank, artillery in the center, and Jackson’s cavalry on the left. According to Averell’s report:

“On the morning of the 6th, we approached the enemy’s position. The main road to Lewisburg runs over Droop Mountain, the northern slope of which is partially cultivated nearly to the summit, a distance of 2 1/2 miles from the foot. The highway is partially hidden in the views from the summit and base in strips of woodland. It is necessary to pass over low rolling hills and across bewildering ravines to reach the mountain in any direction.”

Averell opted not to attack directly. He instead sent his infantry and a cavalry company around the Confederates’ left to attack their flank and rear. Meanwhile, the artillery would demonstrate against the rest of Echols’s force. A guide failed to lead the flanking troops around Jackson’s horsemen, and they began trading fire around 1:30 p.m.

Averell brought up his dismounted cavalry to link with the infantry’s left. He also brought up the rest of his artillery as Echols moved his Confederates behind breastworks. After holding about an hour, the Confederates, outnumbered two-to-one, broke around 3 p.m. and fled down the south side of the mountain.

Averell directed a pursuit, but it was halted by darkness. The Federals captured a cannon and a battle flag in their victory. Echols raced to get back to Lewisburg before Duffie’s Federals could get there; Echols had to move 28 miles before Duffie moved 10. Echols won the race nonetheless, passing through Lewisburg on the 7th and escaping. Averell arrived at the town at 2 p.m. and learned from Duffie, who had just arrived, that Echols was gone.

The Federals sustained 140 casualties (45 killed, 93 wounded, and two captured), while the Confederates lost 255 (33 killed, 100 wounded, and 122 missing). The Federals destroyed vast amounts of Confederate supplies and, on Sunday the 8th, they advanced toward Dublin based on intelligence that Echols’s men were regrouping there. The pursuers soon found their path blocked by felled trees and other obstructions.

Averell and Duffie, their men exhausted even without having cleared the road, agreed to end their expedition. Although the Federals scored a victory at Droop Mountain, they did not accomplish their main goal of destroying the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad. And as soon as they withdrew from Lewisburg, the Confederates returned.

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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. 339; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 366-67, 369; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 430-31; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 228, 707-08

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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 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

More Confederate Disasters After Rich Mountain

July 13, 1861 – One Confederate commander surrendered his command, and another became the first general killed in action in the war.

Pegram Captured

Confederate Lt Col John Pegram | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate Lt Col John Pegram | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General George B. McClellan accepted Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram’s offer to surrender his 555 Confederates. Their retreat had been cut off by Brigadier General William S. Rosecans’s Federals two days earlier. Pegram’s men had suffered the worst privations of the war thus far; their 60-hour retreat from Rich Mountain had included just five hours of rest and no food, with many men dropping from the ranks and finding themselves in predominantly Unionist country against an overwhelming enemy.

McClellan offered Pegram generous terms that included rations, shelter for the 33 captured officers in the Beverly Hotel, and tents for the troops. McClellan reported that he had given the captured slaves a choice to either stay with their masters or go north to freedom, and most chose to stay. McClellan’s superiors directed him to allow officers and men to return home if they pledged never to take up arms against the U.S. again; but officers who had formerly served in the U.S. army would be sent to confinement in Baltimore’s Fort McHenry.

News of the Federal victory at Rich Mountain was telegraphed to Washington from Beverly. McClellan reported that his Federals had killed 200 men and captured 1,000, which were wildly inflated numbers. Even so, the engagement at Rich Mountain and the subsequent operations placed nearly all northwestern Virginia under Federal control, including rivers, railroads, and communication lines.

Newspapers began reporting on these minor victories, and desperate northerners quickly hailed McClellan as a conquering hero, which did little to diminish his ego. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott sent congratulations to the general whom people began calling “the Young Napoleon” and “Little Mac”: “The general in chief, and what is more, the Cabinet, including the President, are charmed with your activity, valor and consequent successes.” Rosecrans, who had done most of the planning and execution of the campaign, received minimal coverage.

McClellan praised his troops in a proclamation: “Soldiers of the Army of the West!… You have annihilated two armies… You have taken five guns, 12 colors, 1,500 stand of arms, 1,000 prisoners… Soldiers! I have confidence in you, and I trust you have learned to confide in me.” He directed one of his forces to move from Grafton to cut off the rest of Brigadier General Robert S. Garnett’s Army of the Northwest.

Garnett Pursued

Brig Gen R.S. Garnett | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Brig Gen R.S. Garnett | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Garnett’s Confederates withdrew from Laurel Hill and crossed Cheat Mountain with a Federal brigade under Brigadier General Thomas A. Morris in pursuit. Both forces marched hard over harsh terrain in a heavy storm. On July 13, the Federals caught up to the enemy near Corrick’s Ford about 12 p.m. on the Cheat River, 30 miles from Rich Mountain.

Skirmishing occurred as the Confederates crossed the river. The Federals routed the 23rd Virginia, which was acting as a rear guard. When the fire became too heavy, Garnett led a movement to another ford about a mile away and personally directed the crossing on horseback. Once the Confederates reached this second ford, the running skirmish resumed. Federals shot Garnett dead while he was placing a company to stop the enemy from crossing the river.

Word spread among the Federals that a general had been killed. Garnett’s former West Point roommate, Federal Major John Love, identified his body. Garnett became the first general officer killed in combat on either side. Federals recovered the body, and McClellan returned it to his family. The rest of Garnett’s men retreated toward Monterey in Highland County, and Morris halted his pursuit after capturing a cannon and 40 wagons. Federals suffered between 10 and 53 casualties, while Confederates lost about 20 killed or wounded and 50 captured.

Confederate officials at Richmond learned of the disaster at Rich Mountain-Laurel Hill-Corrick’s Ford, as well as Garnett’s death, the next day. Brigadier General Henry R. Jackson took temporary command of the Confederate Army of the Northwest, which now numbered only about 1,300 men. General Robert E. Lee, military advisor to President Jefferson Davis, directed General William W. Loring to take command of the army and begin a new offensive at his discretion.

Meanwhile, a Federal detachment under General Charles Hill continued pursuing the Confederates, as Hill received intelligence that the enemy was 25 miles southeast of his forces near Williamsport. Confederate Major M.G. Harmon reported to General Lee: “Our retreat to Monterey, is disastrous to us.” Harmon told Lee that if the Confederates could hold the Cheat Mountain passes near McClellan’s camp at Huttonsville, they might be able to repulse McClellan’s forces.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 92-93; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 57-58; 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. 44-45; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2663; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 633;Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 93-95; 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. 301; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 94; Power, J. Tracy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 300; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 185

The Battle of Rich Mountain

July 11, 1861 – A detachment of Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal force attacked an isolated portion of Brigadier General Robert S. Garnett’s Confederates near the town of Beverly in western Virginia.

By July 9, McClellan had 12,000 troops to confront Garnett’s 4,500 Confederates near the important crossroads town of Beverly in the Tygart River Valley. Garnett had divided his force to guard the northern and western approaches to the town. Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram commanded 1,300 men and four cannon five miles west of the town at Rich Mountain, and Garnett personally commanded his remaining men and four cannon on Laurel Hill, 16 miles north of Beverly. Log breastworks defended both positions.

Garnett believed that the main Federal attack would be at Laurel Hill, even after a “reconnaissance in force” resulted in the Federal capture of Roaring Run Flats in Pegram’s front. As such, he rejected Pegram’s request to launch a surprise attack.

To keep Garnett thinking that he would attack Laurel Hill, McClellan sent some 4,000 Federals under Brigadier General Thomas A. Morris from Philippi to threaten the position, bombarding the position with artillery for 10 hours on the 10th. Garnett readied his men for the attack he was sure would come. Meanwhile, Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans led McClellan’s remaining 8,000 men in three Federal brigades against Pegram’s small force.

McClellan had estimated Pegram’s strength on Rich Mountain at 2,000, 700 more than the actual total. Federal reconnaissance netted two Confederate prisoners who boasted that they had between 8,000 and 9,000 men. Reluctant to attack the mountain head-on, Rosecrans eagerly listened to local teen David B. Hart, a Unionist who told him about an obscure, unguarded wagon trail that could lead the attacking Federals around the Confederate left flank.

Rosecrans reported this path to McClellan, who agreed to Rosecrans’s plan to send one brigade in a flanking attack while leaving the other two ready as reinforcements. McClellan approved only if Rosecrans got them into position by 10 a.m. the next morning, and only if Rosecrans provided hourly reports.

The Federal attack force advanced from Buckhannon and moved all night through heavy rain. Using the same strategy that Robert E. Lee had used at the Battle of Cerro Gordo in the Mexican War, McClellan sent a detachment of about 2,000 Ohio and Indiana soldiers under Rosecrans down the little path that David B. Hart had shown them. McClellan planned to send his remaining 6,000 troops against the rest of Pegram’s works once Rosecrans’s assault began.

The march lasted longer than anticipated due to the rainstorms and the abandoned road’s poor condition. When McClellan did not receive the hourly reports from Rosecrans as required, he issued orders canceling the attack. However, Confederates captured the messenger before he could deliver the order to Rosecrans.

The Federals eventually moved up the mountain, pushing the surprised 300-man advance guard back before attacking the main body of Confederates on Pegram’s left. The defenders tried making a stand, but they soon wavered before the superior numbers. Rosecrans later told his wife, “If the enemy had disciplined troops and any enterprise, how they would have stirred us up.” McClellan heard the firing through the mountain thickets; wrongly assuming that Rosecrans was being repulsed, McClellan did not commit his remaining men to the battle.

The Battle of Rich Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Battle of Rich Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The attack became a rout when Pegram’s men retreated northeast down the mountain after three hours of combat. Pegram and his officers resolved to try joining with Garnett’s main force at Laurel Hill, about 16 miles north. The remaining Confederates withdrew from the northern crest in groups. By day’s end, about half of Pegram’s men had escaped capture due to McClellan’s failure to attack in full force. Pegram’s group kept moving through the mountainous woods, hoping to find Garnett.

Federals suffered 61 casualties (12 killed and 49 wounded), while Confederates lost 170 killed, wounded, or captured, along with two of their four cannon. Pegram’s defeat enabled the Federals to threaten Garnett’s communication lines to Beverly. Incorrectly believing that the Federals had cut him off completely from Beverly, late on the night of the 11th Garnett kept campfires burning while he pulled his men off Laurel Hill. This opened the road to Beverly for the Federals.

The engagement at Rich Mountain marked the first battle in which Confederates were defeated due to being placed in isolated locations against superior Federal numbers. McClellan eagerly accepted credit for the victory, even though he withdrew his men across Roaring Creek and Rosecrans directed the actual fighting. “Little Mac” quickly became a great hero among northerners.

The next day, some of Pegram’s men escaped to Staunton, while others reached Beverly. Pegram and Garnett could have joined forces at Beverly, but both avoided the town due to false intelligence that the Federals had already seized it. Pegram’s 550 men remained hidden in the woods, and Garnett’s 3,000 Confederates withdrew northeast over Cheat Mountain. The men then entered the Cheat River Valley, moving from Kaler’s Ford to Corrick’s Ford. General Morris, who finally realized that Garnett had retreated 12 hours after he left, sent 1,800 Federals in pursuit.

Rain poured through the morning of the 12th as the Federals seized control of the turnpike from Rich Mountain to Beverly. Confederates evacuated the town around 11 a.m., and the first of General McClellan’s 6,000 Federals entered an hour later. Based on the Federal advances, Pegram believed he was trapped against the eastern slope of Rich Mountain. Moreover, his men had gone two days without food. He wrote to McClellan:

“I write to state to you that I have, in consequence of the retreat of General Garnett and the jaded and reduced condition of my command, most of them having been without food for two days, concluded, with the concurrence of majority of my captains and field officers, to surrender my command to you to-morrow as prisoners of war. I have only to add, I trust they will only receive at your hands such treatment as has been invariably shown to the Northern prisoners by the South.”

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Sources

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 92, 97; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-92; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 56-57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 43-44; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 69-70; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2663; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 633; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 217-18; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 92-94; 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. 300-01; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 89; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 185, 426