Doc. 208.-General Benham's report.
Cheat River camp, Carrick's Ford, Va., July 13, 1861.General: In accordance with your directions this morning, I took command of the advance troops of your column, consisting of the Fourteenth Ohio regiment, Steedman, with one section of Col. Barnett's battery, the Seventh Indiana regiment, under Colonel Dumont, the Ninth Indiana regiment, under Colonel Milroy--in all about eighteen hundred men — and with this force, as instructed, started from near Leedsville, at about four o'clock A. M., to pursue the army of General Garnett, which consisted, as we learned, of from four thousand to five thousand men, and from four to six cannon, and had retreated from the north side of Laurel Mountain, near Beelington, on yesterday. It being ascertained that the enemy had retired toward the village of New Interest, and thence, as was supposed, over a mountain road leading by the Shafer Branch, or main Cheat River, to St. George's; the troops were brought rapidly forward on their route, so as to reach the entrance of the mountain road at about six o'clock. A short distance after entering this path, the passage was found to be obstructed with large trees, recently felled, in about twelve to fifteen places, and in nearly every defile for three or four miles. But the information which was from time to time received that this force, which had some fifteen hours the start of us from Beelington, were only four or five miles in advance, encouraged our efforts, and, though for nearly the whole time the rain was pouring in torrents, and the clayey mud was almost impassable in many places, the spirit of our troops, without exception as it came under my eye, was such as to bear them most rapidly onward under all these trials, superadded to that of hunger with the greater part of them, for the previous fifteen or twenty hours. At about noon we reached Kalers or the first ford of the Shafer Branch, or main Cheat River, having within the previous two or three miles fired at and driven in several pickets, protecting those who were forming the barricades, and at one place we broke up a camp where meals were being cooked. At the ford near “Kalers,” and at about one-half the distance to another ford which we met with about one mile further on, we saw the baggage train of the enemy, apparently at rest. This I proposed to attack as soon as strengthened by the arrival of Steedman's Second Battalion, with Dumont's regiment, when the thoughtless firing of a musket at our ford set the train rapidly in motion, and long lines of infantry were formed in order of battle to protect it. In a few minutes, however, the arrival of Barnett's artillery, with Dumont close upon it, enabled the command to push forward in its original order. But the train and its guard had retired, leaving only a few skirmishers to meet us at the second ford, where, however, quite a brisk firing was kept up by the advance regiments, and the artillery opened for some minutes to clear the adjacent wood the more completely of the enemy. We then continued our march rapidly to this ford, and as we approached it we came upon their train, the last half of it just crossing the river. The enemy was found to have taken a strong position, with his forces upon a precipitous bank of some fifty to eighty feet in height, upon the opposite side of the river; while our own troops were upon the low land, nearly level with the river. Steedman's regiment in the advance opened its fire most gallantly upon them, which was immediately returned by their strong force of infantry and by their cannon;  upon which Barnett's artillery was ordered up, and opened upon them with excellent effect. As I soon perceived a position by which their left could be turned, six companies of Dumont's regiment were ordered to cross the river about three hundred yards above them, to pass up the hill obliquely from our right to their left, and take them in the rear. By some mistake, (possibly in the transmission of the order,) this command crossed at about double this distance, and turned at first to their right, which delayed the effect of this movement. After fifteen minutes, however, this error was rectified, and the hill being reported as impracticable, this command, now increased to the whole regiment, was ordered down to the ford under close cover of the hill on their side, and then to take them directly in front and right at the road. The firing of Steedman's regiment and of Milroy's, now well up and in action, with repeated and rapid discharges of the artillery during the movement, decided the action at once. As Dumont reached the road, having passed along and under their whole front, the firing ceased and the enemy fled in great confusion, Dumont's regiment pursuing them about one mile further, having a brisk skirmishing with their rear for the first half of that distance, during which General Garnett was killed. The enemy would still have been followed up most closely, and probably to the capture of a large portion of their scattered army, but this was absolutely impossible with our fatigued and exhausted troops, who had already marched some eighteen miles or more, in an almost incessant and violent rain, and the greater part of them without food since the evening, and a portion of them even from the noon of yesterday, so warm had been the pursuit on their hasty retreat from Laurel Mountain, twenty-seven miles distant. The troops were, therefore, halted for food and rest at about two o'clock P. M. The result proves to be, the capture of about forty loaded wagons and teams, being nearly all their baggage train, as we learn, and including a large portion of new clothing, camp equipage, and other stores; their head-quarter papers, and military chest; also two stands of colors; also a third flag, since taken, and one fine rifled piece of artillery; while the commanding General, Robert S. Garnett, is killed — his body being now cared for by us — and fifteen or twenty more of the enemy are killed, and nearly fifty prisoners. Our own loss is two killed and six wounded, one dangerously. In concluding this report, I feel it my duty to state that, just as the action was closing, the head regiment of the body of troops under yourself, though starting, as I learn, some three hours later, the Sixth Indiana, under Colonel Crittenden, came up to the field in excellent order, but unfortunately too late to aid us in the battle. The conduct of those gallant officers, Colonels Barnett, Steedman, Dumont, and Milroy, with the steady perseverance of their officers, in their long and arduous march, suffering from hunger, rain, and cold, with their gallantry in action, was most heroic and beyond all praise of mine. Their country only can appreciate and reward their services. I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, Your obedient servant,