Tag Archives: Western Virginia

The Camp Allegheny Engagement

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

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

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“Stonewall” Jackson’s Winter Offensive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Lee Returns to Richmond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

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 New State of Kanawha

August 20, 1861 – Delegates to the second session of the Second Wheeling Convention approved a measure seceding from Virginia and bundling the state’s northwestern counties into the new state of Kanawha.

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The delegates reconvened their legally questionable convention at Wheeling, 10 miles west of the Pennsylvania border, after adjourning in June. While the members had previously considered declaring the Virginia government null and void because it had seceded from the Union, the members in this session instead proposed an Ordinance of Separation from Virginia. Delegates set up a Committee on the Division of the State that included one member from each of the 35 northwestern counties being represented.

The committee submitted its Division of the State Ordinance on August 13, which shifted the focus of debate from whether to secede from Virginia to how many counties would secede. The ordinance absorbed all Virginia counties in the Shenandoah Valley and along the Potomac River into the new state of New Virginia (later renamed Allegheny).

Most delegates supported forming the new state, but some urged postponement for now. Postponement was rejected a week later when the majority approved an “ordinance of dismemberment.” Delegates also reached a compromise on the number of counties to secede; they would begin with 39 counties of northwestern Virginia and add any other adjacent county if its residents voted to join.

Extensive debate took place over what the new state’s name should be, as many delegates did not like the names “New Virginia” or “Allegheny” proposed the previous week. A suggestion of “West Virginia” was also rejected. Finally, the name “Kanawha” was approved by a vote of 48 to 27.

The secession of “Kahawha” from the rest of Virginia violated Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution (“no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State… without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress”). But the delegates approved the move nonetheless and resolved to submit the ordinance to the people in a popular election scheduled for October 24.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 110; 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. 298; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 816-17; 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

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

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