- The campaign in Western Virginia in 1861
The guns which opened upon Fort Sumter on the memorable 12th of April, 1861, did not merely crumble the walls of that fortress, but they also shattered all hopes of a peaceful solution of the problems which were then before the country. Civil war was now a sad necessity. The President's proclamation of the 15th called forth the militia for objects entirely lawful and constitutional; and it was responded to with a patriotic fervor which melted down all previously existing  party lines. This “uprising of a great people,” as it was well termed by a foreign writer, was a kindling and noble spectacle. The heart of the whole land throbbed like the heart of one. But we cannot now look back upon that brilliant and burning enthusiasm without a touch of sadness, because there was mingled with it so much ignorance, not merely of the magnitude of the contest before us, but of the — nature of war itself. The spirited young men who, at the call of patriotic duty, thronged to swell the ranks of our volunteer force, marched off as gayly as if they had been going to a hunting-party or a picnic excursion. The rebellion was to be put down at once, and by little more than the mere show of the preponderating force of the loyal States; and the task of putting it down was to be attended with no more of danger than was sufficient to give to the enterprise a due flavor of excitement. War was unknown to us except by report: the men of the Revolution had passed away, and even the soldiers of the War of 1812 had become gray-haired veterans. We had read of battles; we had seen something of the pride and pomp of holiday soldiers; but of the grim realities of war we were absolutely ignorant. Indeed, not a few had come to the conclusion that war was a relic of barbarism, which the world had outgrown, and that modern civilization could dispense with the soldier and his sword. It need hardly be added that we were wholly unprepared for the gigantic struggle that was before us. Our regular army was insignificant in numbers,  and scattered over our vast territory or along our Western frontier, so that it was impossible to collect any considerable force together. Our militia system had everywhere fallen into neglect, and in some States had almost ceased to have any real existence. The wits laughed at it, and the platform-orators declaimed against it, to such a degree that it required some moral courage to march through the streets at the head of a company. The South had been wiser, or, at least, more provident, in this respect. The military spirit had never been discouraged there. Many of the political leaders had long been looking forward to the time when the unhappy sectional contests which were distracting the country would blaze out into civil war, and preparing for it. In some of the States there had been military academies, where a military education had been obtained: so that they had a greater number of trained officers to put into their regiments. This gave them a considerable advantage at the start. Happily for us, graduates of West Point were scattered all over the North: to them the civil authority looked for assistance, and they rendered an assistance which cannot be too highly estimated. Ohio was as unprepared as other States. There was a small force of militia nominally organized; but the Constitution and laws of the State provided that all its officers should be elected by the men, and the Governor was limited, in his selection of officers in case the militia was called out, to the parties so chosen. In an emergency like this, it was  fortunate that Ohio had so efficient a Governor as Mr. William Dennison. He at once turned to Captain McClellan for assistance, and sent a request to Washington that the latter might be restored to his old rank in the army and the duty of organizing the Ohio volunteers assigned to him. To this request no answer was received: indeed, the communications with Washington were generally interrupted, and the several Governors were thus left to their own resources. Governor Dennison summoned Captain McClellan to Columbus; and he at once applied himself to the work of organizing the numerous regiments offered. A bill was also introduced into the Legislature, and rapidly passed, authorizing the Governor to select officers for the volunteers outside of the State militia. Under this act, on the 23d of April, 1861, Captain McClellan was commissioned major-general of the Ohio “Militia volunteers.” Under the proclamation of the President of April 15, calling out the militia, thirteen regiments of infantry were demanded from Ohio for three months, and afterwards the same number for three years. To obtain men was then easy enough, but to find suitable officers was exceedingly difficult; and arms and equipments were entirely wanting. A Department of the Ohio was formed on the 3d of May, consisting of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and placed under General McClellan's command, who thus had under his charge the forces of two other States besides his own. He organized his troops in spite of all obstacles, and within two  months of the time of his leaving his peaceful avocations he took the field for the first campaign of the war. Secession placed no State in so embarrassing a position as the great Commonwealth of Virginia. Separated from the capital only by a river, and extending from the ocean to the Ohio, it lay midway between the two contending parties, and early promised to be what it has since become,--the Belgium of the war. There is no doubt that the great body of its citizens were opposed to the State's seceding; but they were equally opposed to the coercion of the States which had already seceded, and sympathized with many of their alleged grievances. A State convention at Richmond, on the 17th of April, when it was evident that war must ensue, passed an ordinance of secession. Although this was not to go into force until it had been ratified by the people, the inhabitants of the eastern and southern portions of the State immediately began hostilities. In the portion of the State lying west of the Alleghany Mountains, and known as Western Virginia, the feelings of the people were very different. They owned but few slaves, and their soil and climate were unfitted for those branches of industry in which slave-labor is profitable. While disapproving of the slavery agitation in the North, they had no particular interest in the extension of that institution, and were strenuously opposed to secession for its sake; and they also had some grievances regarding alleged inequalities of taxation  between Eastern and Western Virginia, which had probably caused many of them already to look forward to the organization of a separate State. In this conjuncture, a convention of the people of Western Virginia was called to assemble at Wheeling on the 11th of June, to consider the alarming condition of public affairs. Early in May, General McClellan received applications for protection from the people of this region, but was not then prepared to accede to their wishes. Afterwards, however, it became evident that the Virginia authorities contemplated occupying this country, and to secure, by so doing, the command of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the importance of which was appreciated by both parties. Governor Letcher had already called out the State militia, and not only Western Virginia, but Southern Ohio also, might soon be invaded by them. A small body of Virginia militia had actually advanced, and were encamped at Grafton, on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. On the 24th of May, the Secretary of War and General Scott telegraphed to General McClellan, informing him of this camp, and asking him whether its influence could not be counteracted. General McClellan replied in the affirmative. This was the sole order which he received from Washington regarding a campaign in Virginia. General McClellan had formed his principal rendezvous at Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati; while bodies of troops were also at Gallipolis, Bellaire, and Marietta, on the Ohio River, opposite Virginia.  At Wheeling the loyalists were organizing a regiment under Colonel B. F. Kelley. The men were wretchedly provided for, having nothing but muskets; but they did good service before the end of summer. On the 26th of May, intelligence was received at Camp Dennison that the enemy were advancing from Grafton upon Wheeling and Parkersburg, for the purpose of destroying the railroad. General McClellan at once telegraphed to Colonel Kelley to move his regiment (since known as the First Virginia) early the next day along the line of railroad towards Fairmount, in order to prevent any further destruction of the bridges and to protect the repair of those already injured. Two Ohio regiments, under Colonels Irwin and Stedman, were also directed to cross over into Virginia, one to cooperate with Colonel Kelley and the other to occupy Parkersburg. On the same day, General McClellan issued the following proclamation and address:--
General McClellan also wrote full particulars to the President of what he had done, but, receiving no reply, inferred that his course was approved of. Colonel Kelley reached Grafton on the 13th of May. The enemy retreated at his approach, and he  repaired the bridge, and established railroad-communications with Wheeling. Soon after, Colonel Stedman occupied Clarksburg, and established communications with Colonel Kelley. The enemy fell back from Grafton upon Philippi, on the high-road from Wheeling to Staunton, in Central Virginia. General McClellan in the mean time had despatched three Indiana regiments, under Brigadier-General Morris, to Grafton. They arrived on the 31st of May; and General Morris at once assumed the chief command. Hardly six weeks had elapsed since Captain McClellan had been first called upon by Governor Dennison for assistance; and in that time he had actually created an army and begun the first campaign! The first encounter of the war took place at Philippi, a small town two hundred and ten miles from Richmond. On the 2d of June, General Morris determined to endeavor to drive from this town the rebel force there, under Colonel Porterfield. The attacking force consisted of five regiments, formed in two columns,--the first under Colonel Kelley, the second under Colonel Dumont, accompanied by Colonel (afterwards the lamented General) Lander. Colonel Kelley's column moved towards Philippi by way of Thornton, a distance of twenty-seven miles, partly by railroad. The other column moved directly on Philippi in front. This one reached its destination early on the 3d, notwithstanding deep mud and heavy rain, and at once opened fire from two pieces of artillery upon the enemy, who began a retreat, which was  turned into a complete rout when Colonel Kelley, (who had been greatly impeded by the state of the roads) came up and joined in the attack. The enemy left behind them their camp-equipage, seven hundred stand of arms, and several horses. They lost about fifteen men killed and wounded. On the Federal side, Colonel Kelley was severely wounded, but recovered. General McClellan now pushed the Ohio regiments on into Virginia as rapidly as they could be decently equipped. But the great deficiency which still existed in all military necessaries much retarded him. The loyalists, on the 13th of June, formed a provisional government at Wheeling, with the lion. Francis H. Pierpoint as Governor. But Old Virginia was determined not to lose the fine country beyond the Alleghanies without a struggle. Large reinforcements arrived at Beverly, on the Staunton road, the Headquarters of the enemy; and with them came General Robert Selden Garnett, the former commandant at West Point, and an officer of high reputation, to assume the chief command. Upon learning this, General McClellan thought it time to move; and, his preparations being so far advanced as to justify it, he left Cincinnati on the 20th of June, and arrived at Grafton on the 22d. He still received no orders from Washington, and was even left ignorant of the plan for the campaign in Eastern Virginia. His own department was very extensive, and the simple administrative cares connected with it extremely arduous. Besides, not only in Virginia, but in Kentucky and Tennessee, the  enemy were very active, and it could not be known how soon he might be called upon to plan a campaign for the defence of the Union interests in those States. The country which now became the scene of operations was that part of Western Virginia lying between the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad on the north, the Ohio River on the west, the Little Kanawha River on the south, and the Cheat River on the east. The region is broken and mountainous, and cut into numerous ravines and valleys by the many little streams which form the head-waters of the Monongahela, Great Kanawha, Little Kanawha, and other rivers. The roads are few in number and very indifferent in quality; the valleys only are cultivated, the rest of the country being covered with dense forests, and a luxuriant growth of bushes which makes the woods almost impassable. A turnpike road runs from Wheeling southeasterly to Staunton, through Philippi, Leedsville, Beverly, and Huttonsville. From Beverly another turnpike runs westerly, at an acute angle with the Wheeling road, to Buckhannon, where it branches off to Clarksburg on the north and Weston on the west. A mountainous ridge crosses the two roads from Beverly to Philippi and Buckhannon; and at the intersection the enemy were strongly intrenched,--General Garnett commanding in person at Laurel Hill, on the Philippi road, a little north of Leedsville and fifteen miles north of Beverly, and Colonel Pegram at Rich Mountain, on the Buckhannon road, five miles west of Beverly. General Garnett's  force was about ten thousand men, and Colonel Pegram's about four thousand. Their natural retreat was by way of Beverly and Huttonsville through the Cheat Mountain Pass, as it is called. North of this there is no road over the Alleghanies passable for artillery until the circuitous road running northeasterly from Leedsville through St. George and West Union to Moorfield is reached. If, therefore, by the capture of Beverly the road by Cheat Mountain Pass (and with it any other road south of it) were cut off, this north road was the only retreat open to General Garnett. General McClellan's plans are best described in his own language. On the 23d of June he wrote a letter to General Scott. “I stated,” says he, “that it was now certain that the enemy had a force of some kind near Huttonsville, with a strong advanced party intrenched near Laurel Mountain, between Philippi and Beverly, and that their chief object seemed to me to be to furnish and protect guerrilla parties, which were then doing much mischief; also that the apprehensions which had existed on the part of our people of an attack by this party of the enemy were not well founded; that, as soon as my command was well in hand and my information more full, I proposed moving with all my available force from Clarksburg on Buckhannon, thence on Beverly, to turn entirely the detachment at Laurel Hill, the troops at Philippi to advance in time to follow up the retreat of the enemy in their front. That, after occupying Beverly, I would move on Huttonsville and drive the  enemy into the mountains, whither I did not purpose to follow them unless certain of success.” In pursuance of this plan, the main body of his army, numbering about ten thousand men, were transferred to Clarksburg. It consisted of two brigades, under Brigadier-Generals Rosecrans and Schleich, with a small body of cavalry, a company of regular artillery, and two batteries of volunteer artillery. Another body, under General Morris, was stationed at Philippi, and a body of reserve, under Brigadier-General Hill, of the Ohio militia, was stationed at Grafton. Before leaving Grafton, General McClellan issued the following proclamation and address:--
 Buckhannon was occupied on the 30th by General Rosecrans, and a regiment was sent to take possession of Weston. General McClellan and staff and General Schleich's brigade reached Buckhannon on the 2d of July. Before advancing on the enemy, General McClellan had to give directions regarding an independent portion of his department. Generals Wise and Floyd had invaded the country south of the Little Kanawha River with a large force. To meet these, General McClellan directed Brigadier-General J. Dolson Cox to proceed thither from Ohio with five regiments, and assigned to him the district between the Great and Little Kanawha Rivers. On the 9th, the main column of the army reached Roaring Fork, beyond Buckhannon, and two miles from Colonel Pegram's intrenchments. A bridge which had been destroyed had to be rebuilt. On the 10th, Lieutenant Poe was sent out with a detachment to reconnoitre the enemy's position. This reconnoissance was pushed within two hundred yards of the enemy's works. Colonel Pegram, it was found, was strongly intrenched near the foot of Rich Mountain and on the west side of it. The position was surrounded by dense forests, and its natural strength had been increased by rough intrenchments and by felling trees. As an attack in front would be followed by a serious loss of life, and its success with raw troops, to say the least, was doubtful, General McClellan's plan was to turn Colonel Pegram's position to the south endeavor to cut off his retreat, and, should he succeed  in so doing, to push on to Beverly and cut off General Garnett's retreat by Staunton, forcing him to retire by the northeasterly road to Moorfield. The duty of turning the enemy's works was assigned to General Rosecrans. His instructions were to make a circuit to the south and endeavor to reach and occupy the top of the mountain, get command of the turnpike road from Beverly to Buckhannon, and then move on the rear of Pegram's defences. His further order, constantly to communicate with General McClellan, General Rosecrans does not seem to have been able to carry out. General Rosecrans set out, with a force of eighteen hundred infantry and a small body of cavalry, at four o'clock on the morning of the 11th of July, to execute these orders. After a fatiguing march through a country saturated with rain and covered with dense woods, he reached the summit of Rich Mountain about one o'clock. The enemy had intercepted some letters, and thus obtained intimation of this movement, and had stationed a considerable force, with two pieces of artillery, at the top of the mountain, where some rude intrenchments had been thrown up. Rosecrans formed his command, and had proceeded a short way towards the turnpike, when he came upon a party of skirmishers, who were driven back upon the main body. The enemy now opened fire from their artillery. A spirited attack soon carried the intrenchments, and the rebels retreated in confusion upon Colonel Pegram, leaving their artillery in possession of the Federals. The success of the movement was complete; but  his troops, unused to such exertions, being greatly fatigued, General Rosecrans halted. No communication was received at Headquarters from Rosecrans after eleven o'clock. The firing at Rich Mountain was distinctly heard; but great fears were entertained that the attack had failed. “Soon after the cessation of the distant firing,” says General McClellan, “an officer was observed to ride into the intrenchments and address the garrison. We could not distinguish the words he uttered, but his speech was followed by prolonged cheering, which impressed many with the belief that it had fared badly with our detachment.” General McClellan determined to attack the enemy in front, and Lieutenant Poe was sent to select a proper position for the artillery. Upon his reporting one, a party was despatched to cut a road to it. It was now too late in the day to begin an attack; but one was resolved upon early the next morning, in hopes of relieving Rosecrans if he were hard pressed by the enemy. The next morning, however, the pickets reported that Colonel Pegram had deserted his works and fled over the mountains. Leaving Rosecrans at Rich Mountain, General McClellan pushed on to Beverly. He thus effectually cut off General Garnett's communications with Staunton. His despatch was as follows:--
On the night of the 11th, General Garnett, learning of the disaster at Rich Mountain, fell back on Beverly; but, finding his retreat that way cut off, he retraced his steps, and took the northern road by St. George and West Union. In accordance with orders, General Morris followed him, and overtook him at Carrick's Ford, on the main fork of Cheat River. The enemy were posted in a tolerably strong position, but did not withstand the attack, led by Captain Bonham, and retreated in confusion.  General Garnett was himself killed while endeavoring to rally his troops. With soldier-like generosity, General Morris directed the remains to be carefully removed, and afterwards forwarded them to the family in Virginia. The enemy lost in these engagements about two hundred killed, besides wounded and prisoners, seven or eight pieces of artillery, and large military stores. General Hill failed to carry out the directions sent to him to pursue General Garnett's force, and they escaped. Colonel Pegram, however, finding that Garnett had retreated, fell back on Beverly, and was compelled to surrender at discretion, on the 13th, with about six hundred men. General McClellan occupied Huttonsville and the Cheat Mountain Pass, thus gaining the key to Western Virginia. On the 19th of July he issued the following address to the army:--
In the mean time, affairs looked perilous in General Cox's department, south of the Little Kanawha River. General McClellan was preparing to take command there in person, when, on the 22d of July, he received orders to hand over his command to General Rosecrans and report at Washington, where a wider field awaited him. Thus ended the campaign in Western Virginia. It seems insignificant by the side of some of the bloody contests which have since taken place; but its moral effect was remarkable. It was the first trial that the raw troops of the North were put to, and its success was most encouraging. This is shown by the general satisfaction with which, in the midst of the gloom created by the battle of Bull  Run, the intelligence was received that General McClellan was summoned to Washington. In organizing the Western Army, General Me. Clellan's services were of great value. No preparations had been made beforehand for the struggle; and it is his deserved honor that, finding the West unprepared, he organized the germ of that brave army which has since gained such renown in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.