Jacob D. Cox, Major-General, U. S. V.
“An affair of outposts.”
The reasons which made it important to occupy West Virginia
with national troops were two-fold — political and strategic.
The people were strongly attached to the Union
, and had opposed the secession of Virginia
, of which State they were then a part.
But few slaves were owned by them, and all their interests bound them more to Ohio
than to eastern Virginia
Under the influence of Lincoln
's administration, strongly backed, and, indeed, chiefly represented, by Governor Dennison
, a movement was on foot to organize a loyal Virginia
government, repudiating that of Governor Letcher
and the State convention as self-destroyed by the act of secession.
had been urging McClellan
to cross the Ohio
to protect and encourage the loyal men when, on the 26th of May, news came that the Confederates
had taken the initiative, and that some bridges had been burned on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad a little west of Grafton
, the crossing of the Monongahela River
, where the two western branches of the railroad unite, viz., the line from Wheeling
and that from Parkersburg
[See map, p. 129.] The great line of communication between Washington
and the west had thus been cut, and action on our part was made necessary.
had anticipated the need of more troops than the thirteen regiments which had been organized as Ohio
's quota under the President
's first call.
He had organized nine other regiments, numbering them consecutively with those mustered into the national service, and had put them in camps near the Ohio River
, where they could occupy Wheeling
, and the mouth of the Great Kanawha
at a moment's notice.
Two Union regiments were also organizing in West Virginia
itself, at Wheeling
, of which the first was commanded by Colonel
(afterward General) B. F. Kelley
. West Virginia
was in McClellan
's department, and the formal authority to act had come from Washington
on the 24th, in the shape of an inquiry from General Scott
whether the enemy's force at Grafton
could be counteracted.
The dispatch directed McClellan
to “act promptly.”
On the 27th Colonel Kelley
was sent by rail from Wheeling
to drive off the enemy and protect the railroad.
The hostile parties withdrew at Kelley
's approach, and the bridges were quickly rebuilt.
At the same time several of the Ohio
regiments were ordered across the river, and a brigade of Indiana volunteers under Brigadier-General Thomas A. Morris
was sent forward by rail from Indianapolis
on the 1st of June, and was intrusted with the command of all the troops in West Virginia
He found that Colonel Kelley
had already planned an expedition against the enemy, who had retired southward to Philippi
, about thirty miles from Grafton
approved the plan, but enlarged it by sending another column under Colonel Ebenezer Dumont
of the 7th Indiana to cooperate with Kelley
Both columns were directed to make a night march, starting from points on the railroad about twelve miles apart, and converging on Philippi
, which they were to attack at daybreak of June 3d.
Each column consisted of about 1,500 men, and Dumont
's had with it 2 field-pieces of artillery, smooth 6-pounders.
The Confederate force was commanded by Colonel G. A. Porterfield
, of the Virginia volunteers, and was something less than a thousand strong, about one-fourth cavalry.1
The night was dark and stormy, and Porterfield
's raw troops had not learned picket duty.
The concerted movement against them was more successful than such marches commonly are, and Porterfield
's first notice of danger was the opening of the artillery upon his sleeping troops.
It had been expected that the two columns would inclose the enemy's camp and capture the whole; but, though in disorderly rout, Porterfield
succeeded, by personal coolness and courage, in getting them off with but few casualties and the loss of a few arms.
The camp equipage and supplies were, of course, captured.
was wounded by a pistol-shot in the breast, which was the only injury reported on the National
side; no prisoners were taken, nor did any dead or wounded fall into our hands.
retreated to Beverly
, some thirty miles farther to the south-east, and the National
forces occupied Philippi
The telegraphic reports had put the Confederate
force at 2000 and their loss at 15
This implied a considerable list of wounded and prisoners also, and the newspapers gave it the air of a considerable victory.
The campaign thus opened with apparent éclat for McClellan
, and the “Philippi
races,” as they were locally called, greatly encouraged the Union
men of West Virginia
and correspondingly depressed the secessionists.
, however, was still of the opinion that his most promising line of operations would be by the Great Kanawha Valley
, and he retained in their camp of instruction the Ohio
regiments which were mustered into the service of the United States
, sending into Virginia
only those known as the State
Another reason for this was that the older regiments were now nearly at the end of their three-months' enlistment, and were trying to reorganize under the President
's second call, which required enlistment for “three years or the war.”
Nearly a month elapsed, when, having received reports that forces of the enemy were gathering at Beverly
determined to proceed in person to that region with his best-prepared troops, postponing his Kanawha
plan till north-western Virginia
should be cleared of hostile forces.
Reference to the map will show that as the Potomac
route was usually in the hands of the Northern
forces, a Confederate occupation of West Virginia
must be made either by the Staunton
road, or by the Kanawha
route, of which the key-point west of the mountains was Gauley Bridge
determined to send columns upon both these lines--General Henry A. Wise
upon the Kanawha
route, and General Robert S. Garnett
's retreat to Beverly
after the “Philippi
, who had been an officer in the United States army, was ordered to Beverly
to assume command and to stimulate the recruiting and organization of regiments from the secession element of the population.
regiments, raised on the eastern slope of the mountains, were sent with him,
and to these was soon added the 1st Georgia.
On the 1st of July he reported his force as 4500 men, but declared that his efforts to recruit had proven a complete failure, only 23 having joined.
The West Virginians
, he says, “are thoroughly imbued with an ignorant and bigoted Union sentiment.”
Other reinforcements were promised Garnett
, but none reached him except the 44th Virginia regiment, which arrived at Beverly
the very day of the action, but which did not take part in the fighting.
, in which Beverly
lies, is between Cheat Mountain
on the east, and Rich Mountain
on the west.
The river, of the same name as the valley, flows northward about fifteen miles, then turns westward, breaking through the ridge, passes by Philippi
, and afterward crosses the railroad at Grafton
The Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike
divides at Beverly
, the Parkersburg
route passing over a saddle in Rich Mountain
, and the Wheeling route following the river to Philippi
The ridge north of the river at the gap is known as Laurel Mountain
, and the road passes over a spur of it. Garnett
regarded the two positions at Rich Mountain
and Laurel Mountain
as the gates to all the region beyond, and to the West
A rough mountain road, barely passable, connected the Laurel Mountain
position with Cheat River
on the east, and it was possible to go by this way northward through St. George
to the Northwestern Turnpike
, turning the mountain ranges.
[See map, p. 131.] Garnett
thought the pass over Rich Mountain
much the stronger and more easily held, and he therefore intrenched there about 1,300 of his men and
4 cannon, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Pegram
The position chosen was on a spur of the mountain near its western base, and it was rudely fortified with breastworks of logs covered with an abattis of slashed timber along its front.
The remainder of his force he placed in a similar fortified position on the road at Laurel Mountain
, where he also had four guns, of which one was rifled.
Here he commanded in person.
His depot of supplies was at Beverly
, which was 16 miles from the Laurel Mountain
position and 5 from that at Rich Mountain
He was pretty accurately informed of McClellan
's forces and movements, and his preparations had barely been completed by the 9th of July, when the Union
general appeared in his front.
entered West Virginia
in person on the 22d of June, and on the 23d issued from Grafton
a proclamation to the inhabitants.
He had gradually collected his forces along the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, which, at the time of the affair at Rich Mountain
, consisted of 16 Ohio
regiments, 9 from Indiana
and 2 from West Virginia
; in all, 27 regiments with 4 batteries of artillery of 6 guns each, 2 troops of cavalry, and an independent company of riflemen.
Of his batteries, one was of the regular army, and another, a company of regulars (Company I, 4th U. S. Artillery), was with him awaiting mountain howitzers, which arrived a little later.4
The regiments varied somewhat in strength, but all were recently organized, and must have averaged at least 700 men each, making the whole force about 20,000.
Of these, about 5000 were guarding the railroad and its bridges for some 200 miles, under the command of Brigadier-General C. W. Hill
, of the Ohio Militia; a strong brigade under Brigadier-General Morris
, of Indiana
, was at Philippi
, and the rest were in three brigades forming the immediate command of McClellan
, the brigadiers being General W. S. Rosecrans
, U. S. A., General Newton Schleich
, of Ohio
, and Colonel Robert L. McCook
, of Ohio
On the date of his proclamation McClellan
intended, as he informed General Scott
, to move his principal column to Buckhannon
on June 25th, and thence at once upon Beverly
; but delays occurred, and it was not till July 2d that he reached Buckhannon
, which is 24 miles west of Beverly
, on the Parkersburg branch
of the turnpike.
Before leaving Grafton
the rumors he heard had made him estimate Garnett
's force at 6000 or 7000 men, of which the larger part were at Laurel Mountain
in front of General Morris
On the 6th of July he moved McCook
with two regiments to Middle Fork Bridge, about half-way to Beverly
, and on the same day ordered Morris
to march with his brigade from Philippi
to a position one and a half miles in front of Garnett
's principal camp, which was promptly done.
Three days later, McClellan
concentrated the three brigades of his own column at Roaring Creek
, about two miles from Colonel Pegram
's position at the base of Rich Mountain
The advance on both lines had been made with only a skirmishing resistance, the Confederates
being aware of McClellan
's great superiority in numbers, and choosing to await his attack in their fortified positions.
The National commander was now convinced that his opponent was 10,000 strong, of which about 2000 were before him at Rich Mountain
A reconnoissance made on the 10th showed that Pegram
's position would be difficult to assail in front, but preparations were made to attack the next day, while Morris
was directed to hold firmly his position before Garnett
, watching for the effect of the attack at Rich Mountain
In the evening Rosecrans
took to McClellan
a young man named Hart
, whose father lived on the top of the mountain two miles in rear of Pegram
, and who thought he could guide a column of infantry to his father's farm by a circuit around Pegram
's left flank south of the turnpike.
The paths were so difficult that cannon could not go by them, but Rosecrans
offered to lead a column of infantry and seize the road at the Hart farm
After some discussion McClellan
adopted the suggestion, and it was arranged that Rosecrans
should march at daybreak of the 11th with about two thousand men, including a troop of horse, and that upon the sound of his engagement in the rear of Pegram
would attack in force in front.
By a blunder in one of the regimental camps, the reveille and assembly were sounded at midnight, and Pegram
was put on the qui vive. He, however, believed that the attempt to turn his position would be by a path or country road passing round his right, between him and Garnett
(of which the latter had warned him), and his attention was diverted from Rosecrans
's actual route, which he thought impracticable.
The alert which had occurred at midnight made Rosecrans
think it best to make a longer circuit
than he at first intended, and it took ten hours of severe marching and mountain climbing to reach the Hart farm
The turning movement was made, but he found an enemy opposing him. Pegram
had detached about 350 men from the 1,300 which he had, and had ordered them to guard the road at the mountain summit.
He sent with them a single cannon from the four which constituted his only battery, and they threw together a breastwork of logs.
The turnpike at Hart
's runs in a depression of the summit, and as Rosecrans
, early in the afternoon, came out upon the road, he was warmly received by both musketry and cannon.
The ground was rough, the men were for the first time under fire, and the skirmishing combat varied through two or three hours, when a charge by part of Rosecrans
's line, aided by a few heavy volleys from another portion of his forces which had secured a good position, broke the enemy's line.
Reinforcements from Pegram
were nearly at hand, with another cannon, but they did not come into action, and the runaway team of the caisson on the hill-top, dashing into the gun that was coming up, capsized it down the mountain-side where the descending road was scarped diagonally along it. Both guns fell into Rosecrans
's hands, and he was in possession of the field.
The march and the assault had been made in rain and storm.
Nothing was heard from McClellan
, and the enemy, rallying on their reinforcements, made such show of resistance on the crest a little farther on, that Rosecrans
directed his men to rest upon their arms till next morning.
When day broke on the 12th, the enemy had disappeared from the mountain-top, and Rosecrans
, feeling his way down to the rear of Pegram
's position, found it also abandoned, the two remaining cannon being spiked, and a few sick and wounded being left in charge of a surgeon.
Still nothing was seen of McClellan
, and Rosecrans
sent word to him, in his camp beyond Roaring Creek
, that he was in possession of the enemy's position.
's loss had been 12 killed and 49 wounded. The Confederates left 20 wounded on the field, and 63 were surrendered at the lower camp, including the sick.
No trustworthy report of their dead was made.
The noise of the engagement had been heard in McClellan
's camp, and he formed his troops for attack, but the long continuance of the cannonade and some signs of exultation in Pegram
's camp seem to have made him think Rosecrans
had been repulsed.
The failure to attack in accordance with the plan has never been explained.
's messengers had failed to reach McClellan
during the 11th, but the sound of the battle was sufficient notice that he had gained the summit and was engaged; and he was, in fact, left to
win his own battle or to get out of his embarrassment as he could.
Toward evening McClellan
began to cut a road for artillery to a neighboring height, from which he hoped his twelve guns would make Pegram
's position untenable; but his lines were withdrawn again beyond Roaring Creek
at nightfall, and further action was postponed to the next day.
About half of Pegram
's men had succeeded in passing around Rosecrans
's right flank during the night and had gained Beverly
These, with the newly arrived Confederate regiment, fled southward on the Staunton
had learned in the evening by messenger from Beverly
that Rich Mountain
summit was carried, and evacuated his camp in front of Morris
He first marched toward Beverly
, and was within five miles of that place when he received information (false at the time) that the National
forces already occupied it. He then retraced his steps nearly to his camp, and, leaving the turnpike at Leadsville
, he turned off upon a country road over Cheat Mountain
into Cheat River Valley, following the stream northward toward St. George
and West Union, in the forlorn hope of turning the mountains at the north end of the ridges and regaining his communications by a very long detour.
He might have continued southward through Beverly
almost at leisure, for McClellan
did not enter the town till past noon on the 12th.
learned of Garnett
's retreat at dawn, and started in pursuit as soon as rations could be issued.
He marched first to Leadsville
, where he halted to communicate with McClellan
and get further orders.
These reached him in the night, and at daybreak of the 13th he resumed the pursuit.
His advance-guard of three regiments, accompanied by Captain H. W. Benham
of the Engineers
, overtook the rear of the Confederate
column about noon and continued a skirmishing pursuit for some two hours. Garnett
himself handled his rear-guard with skill, and at Carrick's Ford a lively encounter was had. A mile or two farther, at another ford and when the skirmishing was very slight, he was killed while withdrawing his skirmishers from behind a pile of driftwood which he had used as a barricade.
One of his cannon had become stalled in the ford, and, with about forty wagons, fell into Morris
The direct pursuit was here discontinued, but McClellan
had sent a dispatch to General Hill
, to collect the garrisons along the railway and block the way of the Confederates
where they must pass around the northern spurs of the mountains.
His military telegraph terminated at the Roaring Creek
camp, and the dispatch written in the evening of the 12th was not forwarded to Hill
till near noon of the 13th.
This officer immediately ordered the collection of the greater part of his detachments at Oakland
and called upon the railway officials for special trains to hurry them to the rendezvous.
About one thousand men under Colonel James Irvine
of the 16th Ohio were at West Union where the St. George
road reaches the Northwestern Turnpike
, and Hill
's information was that a detachment of these held Red House
, a crossing several miles in advance by which the retreating enemy might go. Irvine
was directed to hold his positions at all hazards till he could be reenforced.
himself hastened with the first train from Grafton
about 500 men and 3 cannon, reached his destination at nightfall, and hurried his detachment forward by a night march to Irvine
, 10 or 12 miles over rough roads.
It turned out that Irvine
did not occupy Red House
, and the prevalent belief that the enemy was about eight thousand in number, with the uncertainty of the road he would take, made it proper to keep the little force
concentrated till reinforcements should come.
The first of these reached Irvine
about 6 o'clock on the morning of the 14th, raising his command to 1,500, but a few moments after their arrival he learned that the enemy had passed Red House
soon after daylight.
He gave chase, but did not overtake them.
Meanwhile, General Hill
had spent the night in trying to hasten forward the railway trains, but none were able to reach Oakland
till morning, and Garnett
's forces had now more than twenty miles the start, and were on fairly good roads, moving southward on the eastern side of the mountains.
still telegraphed that Hill
had the one opportunity of a lifetime to capture the fleeing army, and that officer hastened in pursuit, though unprovided with wagons or extra rations.
When, however, the Union
commander learned that the enemy had fairly turned the mountains, he ordered the pursuit stopped.
had used both intelligence and energy in his attempt to concentrate his troops, but it proved simply impossible for the railroad to carry them to Oakland
before the enemy had passed the turning-point, twenty miles to the southward.
During the 12th Pegram
's situation and movements were unknown.
He had intended, when he evacuated his camp, to follow the line of retreat taken by the detachment already near the mountain-top, but, in the darkness of the night and in the tangled woods and thickets of the mountain-side, his column got divided, and, with the rear portion of it, he wandered all day on the 12th, seeking to make his way to Garnett
He halted at evening at the Tygart Valley River
, six miles north of Beverly
, and learned from some country people of Garnett
It was still possible to reach the mountains east of the valley, but beyond was a hundred miles of wilderness and half a dozen mountain ridges on which little, if any, food could be found for his men. He called a council of war, and, by advice of his officers, sent to McClellan
, at Beverly
, an offer of surrender.
This was received on the 13th, and Pegram
brought in 30 officers and 525 men. McClellan
then moved southward himself, following the Staunton
road, by which the remnant of Pegram
's little force had escaped, and on the 14th occupied Huttonsville
Two regiments of Confederate troops were hastening from Staunton
to reenforce Garnett
These were halted at Monterey
, east of the principal ridge of the Alleghanies
, and upon them the retreating forces rallied.
H. R, Jackson
was assigned to command in Garnett
's place, and both Governor Letcher
and General Lee
made strenuous efforts to increase this army to a force sufficient
to resume aggressive operations.
's part nothing further was attempted, till, on the 22d, he was summoned to Washington
to assume command of the army, which had retreated to the capital after the panic of the first Bull Run
The affair at Rich Mountain
and the subsequent movements were among the minor events of a great war, and would not warrant a detailed description, were it not for the momentous effect they had upon the conduct of the war, by being the occasion of McClellan
's promotion to the command of the Potomac army.
The narrative which has been given contains the “unvarnished tale,” as nearly as official records of both sides can give it, and it is a curious task to compare it with the picture of the campaign and its results which was then given to the world in the series of proclamations and dispatches of the young general, beginning with his first occupation of the country and ending with his congratulations to his troops, in which he announced that they had “annihilated two armies, commanded by educated and experienced soldiers, intrenched in mountain fastnesses fortified at their leisure.”
The country was eager for good news, and took it as literally true.
was the hero of the moment, and when, but a week later, his success was followed by the disaster to McDowell
at Bull Run
, he seemed pointed out by Providence
as the ideal chieftain, who could repair the misfortune and lead our armies to certain victory.
His personal intercourse with those about; him was so kindly, and his bearing so modest, that his dispatches, proclamations, and correspondence are a psychological study, more puzzling to those who knew him well than to strangers.
Their turgid rhetoric and exaggerated pretense did not seem natural to him. In them he seemed to be composing for stage effect, something to be spoken in character by a quite different person from the sensible and genial man we knew in daily life and conversation.
The career of the great Napoleon
had been the study and the absorbing admiration of young American soldiers, and it was, perhaps, not strange that when real war came they should copy his bulletins and even his personal bearing.
It was, for the moment, the bent of the people to be pleased with McClellan
's rendering of the role; they dubbed him the young Napoleon
, and the photographers got him to stand with folded arms, in the historic pose.
For two or three weeks his dispatches and letters were all on fire with enthusiastic energy.
He appeared to be in a morbid condition of mental exaltation.
When he came out of it, he was as genial as ever, as can be seen by the contrast between his official communications and that private letter to General Burnside
, written just after the evacuation of Yorktown
, which, oddly enough, has found its way into the official records of the war.5
The assumed dash
and energy of his first campaign made the disappointment and the reaction more painful, when the excessive caution of his conduct in command of the Army of the Potomac was seen.
But the Rich Mountain
affair, when analyzed, shows the same characteristics which became well known later.
There was the same overestimate of the enemy, the same tendency to interpret unfavorably the sights and sounds in front, the same hesitancy to throw in his whole force when he knew that his subordinate was engaged.
had been as strong as McClellan
believed him, he had abundant time and means to overwhelm Morris
, who lay four days in easy striking distance, while the National
commander delayed attacking Pegram
; and had Morris
been beaten, Garnett
would have been as near Clarksburg
as his opponent, and there would have been a race for the railroad.
But, happily, Garnett
was less strong and less enterprising than he was credited with being.
was dislodged, and the Confederates
made a precipitate retreat.