- Beginning of the war in the West -- apathy at Washington -- value of State governments -- incidents in organizing Western army -- Kentucky -- campaign in Western Virginia -- McClellan called to Washington.
At the time of my appointment in Ohio we were cut off from direct communication with Washington in consequence of the unfortunate occurrences in Baltimore, and the attention of the national authorities was confined exclusively to the task of relieving the capital from danger and of securing its communications with the loyal States. We in the West were therefore left for a long time without orders, advice, money, or supplies of any kind, and it was clear that the different States must take care of themselves and provide their own means of defence. At this critical juncture the value and vitality of the State governments was fully tested. Fortunately they proved equal to the emergency and saved the country. Any one who coolly and dispassionately reviews the occurrences of that exciting period must arrive at the conclusion that, in a country so large as ours, the safety of the nation imperatively demands the entire preservation of the rights and autonomy of the several States as secured by the original Constitution; of course with the proviso that the vexed question of the right of secession has been for ever settled in the negative by the result of the civil war. The Eastern States were to a certain extent provided with arms, the material of war, and some tolerably organized and instructed militia regiments. Their prompt action saved the capital. The Western States were almost entirely without the means of defence, but the governors (cordially supported by the legislatures) at once took steps to obtain by purchase and by contract, at home and abroad, the requisite arms, ammunition, clothing, camp equipage, etc. The supplies thus provided were often inferior in quality and insufficient in quantity, but they answered the purpose until better arrangements could be made.  In addition to the Ohio volunteers called for by the general government, the governor placed under my command twelve or thirteen regiments of State troops; and for several weeks I remained at Columbus, without a staff, working night and day at the organization of the entire Ohio contingent. The condition of affairs in the West was not satisfactory or reassuring. We were entirely unprepared for war. It was already clear that Missouri was likely to be the scene of a serious struggle, and the attitude of Kentucky was very doubtful. The secessionists were gathering forces in Tennessee and upon the Mississippi river, as well as in Western Virginia, and many well-informed persons felt great anxiety in respect to the loyalty of large numbers of the inhabitants of southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. In brief, our situation was difficult. We were surrounded by possible, or even probable, dangers; were without organization, arms, supplies, money, officers. We had no idea of the policy which the general government intended to pursue; we had no “head” to direct affairs. It fell to me, perhaps more than to any one person, to supply these pressing wants, and at this distance I may say that the task was not unsatisfactorily performed. My civil career ended at this time, for from the evening when I received the appointment as major-general of the Ohio Volunteers all my thoughts and efforts were directed to my military duties. I never again went to the office of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, unless it may have been for a few minutes when my advice was needed on matters of importance. The owners of the road refused to accept my resignation for many months, until it was certain that I was inextricably involved in military affairs; but I drew no pay from them after I ceased to do the duty. The salary I gave up to re-enter the military service was ten thousand dollars per annum. On the night of my appointment as major-general in Ohio I wrote a letter to Gen. Scott (probably directed to the adjutant-general) informing him of the fact, reporting for orders, giving all the details I possessed in regard to my command, the arms, etc., at my disposal, and asking for staff officers to assist me. This was sent by a special messenger, there being then no mail communication with Washington. Within a few days I sent by similar means another letter to the general, suggesting that  the Western States between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi be placed under one head; stating that I intended bringing all the Ohio troops into one camp of instruction (Camp Dennison); asking for arms, funds, etc.; urging the necessity of artillery and cavalry; renewing the request for staff officers; suggesting a plan, or rather plans, of Western campaigns. It is possible that some of the ideas here mentioned as being in the second letter may have been in the first, or in another letter written soon after; for about this time I wrote several letters to the headquarters at Washington. One movement that I suggested was in connection with the operations of the Eastern army then being assembled around Washington; a movement up the valley of the Great Kanawha, and across the mountains upon Richmond or upon Staunton, as circumstances might render advisable. Another was a movement upon Nashville, and thence, in combination with the Eastern army, upon Chattanooga, Atlanta, Montgomery, Savannah, etc., etc. The importance of Eastern Tennessee, and of the railroad from Memphis through Chattanooga and Knoxville, was very early impressed upon my mind, and at a very early date brought before the Washington authorities. Fortunately, or unfortunately, they were too busy to think of the West, and these letters received little or no attention, so that we were allowed to go on pretty much as we pleased, with such means as the States could get possession of. On the 13th of May, 1861, I received the order, dated May 3, forming the Department of the Ohio--consisting of the States of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois--and giving the command to me. A short time afterwards were added to the department a small portion of Western Pennsylvania and that part of Western Virginia north of the Great Kanawha and west of the Greenbriar rivers. I was still left without a single instructed staff officer Capt. (afterwards Maj.-Gen.) Gordon Granger, U. S. Mounted Rifles, was sent to Ohio to muster in volunteers. I appointed him division inspector, and repeatedly applied for him as a member of my staff; but these requests were constantly refused, and he was not permitted to retain the post of inspector. During the short time he was with me he rendered remarkable services. Capt. Lawrence Williams, 10th U. S. Infantry, was soon after ordered to Ohio as a mustering officer, and my application for him as an aide-de-camp was granted. He continued  with me during the Western Virginia campaign and until a short period after my arrival in Washington, when with great difficulty I procured for him the appointment of major in the 6th U. S. Cavalry. This much-abused officer always served me faithfully, and exhibited great gallantry in action. I was and am fully satisfied that he always behaved with thorough loyalty. Soon after this Gen. Harney and Col. McKinstry lent me Capt. Dickerson, A. A. Q. M. After much difficulty I succeeded in retaining him, and he proved to be a most valuable officer. Capt. Burns, A. C. S., happened to pass through Cincinnati unemployed, so that I detained him, and at last kept him permanently. Both this officer and Capt. Dickerson were more than once ordered away from me to less important functions, and it was with the utmost difficulty that I finally retained them. At a subsequent period, but before the Western Virginia campaign, Maj. Seth Williams was assigned to duty as adjutant-general of the department, Maj. R. B. Marcy as paymaster (subsequently assigned by me as chief of staff and inspector-general), Capt. Kingsbury as chief of ordnance. During the first organization of the department my great difficulty was encountered from the unwillingness of the Washington authorities to give me any staff officers. I do not think they had an idea beyond their own safety, and consequently that of Washington; except the Blairs, who were naturally much interested in the State of Missouri, and Mr. Chase. As will be seen hereafter, Kentucky and West Virginia received a very small share of the attention of the functionaries in Washington. In the course of May and June I made several tours of inspection through my command. Cairo was visited at an early day, and after a thorough inspection I gave the necessary orders for its defence, as well as that of Bird's Point, which I also visited. Cairo was then under the immediate command of Brig.-Gen. Prentiss, and, considering all the circumstances, the troops were in a remarkably satisfactory condition. The artillery, especially, had made very good progress under the instruction of Col. Wagner, a Hungarian officer, whom I had sent there for that object. I inspected also at Springfield (Ill.), Chicago, several points on the Illinois Central Railroad, several times at Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Columbus. Maj. Marcy also inspected the points left  unexamined by me. In connection with Gov. Dennison I had several meetings with the governors of the Northwestern States for the purpose of urging on military preparations. During the period that elapsed from my assignment to the command in Ohio until I commenced sending troops to West Virginia, my time was fully occupied in expediting the organizstion and instruction of the troops, and in endeavoring to provide for their food, armament, and equipment. The difficulties arising from the apathy and contracted views of the authorities at Washington were very great, and could never have been overcome but for the zeal and intelligence of the governors of the Western States, foremost among whom was Gov. Dennison, of Ohio. It seemed that the Washington people had quite for gotten the existence of the West; certain it is that for a long time we were left entirely to our own resources, and it frequently became necessary to assume responsibilities not at all in accordance with the ordinary proprieties of a well-regulated service. Gen. Scott and the other military authorities all this time refused to allow the organization of cavalry and artillery for my command, being clear that neither of these arms of service would be needed! With the exception of the “Michigan battery” (Capt. Loomis), which was authorized by Gen. Wool during the time when communication with Washington was cut off, there was no battery in the United States service at my disposal for a long time. Upon my recommendation the governors of the States organized State batteries on their own responsibility. Finally three companies of the 4th U. S. Artillery, serving as infantry, arrived at Cincinnati en route to the East from Fort Randall. I at length received permission to retain them, and sent Capt. (afterwards Maj.-Gen.) George Getty, the commander of one of them, to Washington, with a letter for the general commanding, in which I repeated my wants in regard to artillery, and urged that the three companies should at once be mounted. The result was a tardy and reluctant consent that one of them, Capt. (afterwards Gen.) A. P. Howe's, should be mounted. But Gen. Scott expressed to Capt. Getty no little indignation that I should presume to make such a request, and, among other things, said: “I know more about artillery than Gen. McClellan does, and it is not for him to teach me.” So  tedious were the movements of the Ordnance Bureau that Capt. Howe's battery was not mounted until after I left for West Virginia, and joined me there in a perfectly raw condition. Cavalry was absolutely refused, but the governors of the States complied with my request and organized a few companies, which were finally mustered into the United States service and proved very useful. Soon after Gen. Patterson commenced his operations in the vicinity of Williamsport (when on the cars returning from Indianapolis, where I went to inspect some regiments of Indiana troops) I received from him a telegraphic despatch stating that he had largely superior forces in front of him, that he was in a critical condition and wanted assistance. I at once telegraphed and wrote to Gen. Scott what Gen. Patterson stated, and suggesting that I should move out, with all my disposable force, by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Piedmont and beyond, and thus, in connection with Gen. Patterson, clear out the Shenandoah Valley. The reply to this was in substance, and as nearly as I remember in these very words: that “the region beyond Piedmont is not within Gen. McClellan's command. When his opinion is desired about matters there it will be asked for.” After this encouraging reply I very carefully abstained from unnecessary communication with Washington. It may be remarked that my suggestion was not uncalled for, but directly induced by Gen. Patterson's official despatch to me; and, further, that if my suggestion had been adopted the result would have been that no “Bull Run no. 1” would have been fought. I think it was during my absence on this very trip (to Indianapolis) that Grant came to Cincinnati to ask me, as an old acquaintance, to give him employment, or a place on my staff. Marcy or Seth Williams saw him and told him that if he would await my return, doubtless I would do something for him; but before I got back he was telegraphed that he could have a regiment in Illinois, and at once returned thither, so that I did not see him. This was his good luck; for had I been there I would no doubt have given him a place on my staff, and he would probably have remained with me and shared my fate. Shortly before West Virginia was placed under my command (May 24) I received two identical despatches from Gen. Scott and the Secretary of War (Mr. Cameron) stating that it was understood  that the rebels were collecting troops in that region, and asking me whether I could do anything to protect the Union men against them. I immediately replied that, if they desired it, I would clear West Virginia of the rebels. I received no reply whatever to this despatch, nor did I afterwards receive any other despatch or order from Washington that could be construed into an order or permission to operate in West Virginia. The movements that were subsequently made were initiated and conducted entirely on my own responsibility and of my own volition. A few weeks before I took the field in West Virginia, and while my headquarters were in Cincinnati, I received one morning a telegram from Samuel Gill, an old graduate of West Point, and at that time superintendent of the Louisville and Lexington Railroad, stating that S. B. Buckner (afterwards the rebel general) wished to see me, and asking when I would be at home. I replied that I would see him that night. Accordingly the two (Buckner and Gill) reached my house about ten o'clock that evening. I received them alone, and we spent the night in conversation about the condition of affairs in Kentucky. Buckner was at that time the commandant of the “State guards,” a militia organization in Kentucky, but neither numerous nor efficient. It was, however, the only organization existing there, and Buckner was in close relations with Gov. McGoffin--was, in fact, his military adviser. Buckner brought me no letter or other credentials from the governor, nor did he assume to be authorized to make any arrangement in his name. The object of the interview was simply that we, as old friends, should compare views and see if we could do any good; thus I understood it. Buckner's main purpose seemed to be to ascertain what I should do in the event that Kentucky should be invaded by the secession forces then collecting under Gen. Pillow at various points in Tennessee near the Kentucky line. Buckner was very anxious that the Ohio and other Federal forces should respect the neutrality of Kentucky, and stated that he would do his best to preserve it, and drive Pillow out should he cross the boundary-line. I could assent to this only to the extent that I should be satisfied if the Kentuckians would immediately drive out any rebel force that might invade Kentucky, and continued, almost in these very words: “You had better be very quick about it, Simon, for if I learn that the rebels are in Kentucky  I will, with or without orders, drive them out without delay.” I expressly told Buckner that I had no power to guarantee the neutrality of Kentucky, and that, although my command did not extend over it, I would not tolerate the presence of rebel troops in that State. Not many days afterwards I accidentally met Buckner again at Cairo, and had a conversation with him in the presence of John M. Douglass, of Chicago. Buckner had then just returned from a visit to Pillow, and he clearly showed by his conversation that he understood my determination at the first interview just as I have related it above. Among other things he said that he found Pillow (with whom he had had serious personal quarrels before) sitting on a log; and, referring to his (Pillow's) purpose of entering Kentucky, said to him that “if he did McClellan would be after him” ; to which, he said, Pillow replied, “He is the very person I want to meet.” It may be remarked that Gen. Pillow had reason to be inimical to me. Buckner's letter to Gov. McGoffin, subsequently published, stating that in our first interview I had agreed to respect the neutrality of Kentucky, gave an incorrect account of the case, which was as I have stated it. Before the necessity arose for action in West Virginia my views were turned towards Tennessee; for from the beginning I saw the great importance of aiding the loyal men in the mountainous portion of that State, of holding the railways there, and of occupying in force the great projecting bastion formed by that district. I was satisfied that a firm hold there in force, and with secure communications to the Ohio river, would soon render the occupation of Richmond and Eastern Virginia impossible to the secessionists. Unhappily the state of affairs brought about by the first Bull Run rendered it impossible to act upon this theory when the direction of military movements came into my hands, nor did any of my subordinates in the West seize the importance of the idea, frequently as I presented it to them. Had not the general direction of the war been taken from my hands at the time I was about inaugurating the Peninsular campaign, I should then have carried out the movement upon East Tennessee and Atlanta. The plan of operations which Gen. Scott soon imparted to me confidentially was to occupy the summer and early fall in the  equipment, discipline, and instruction of the three-years troops, who were to be collected in numerous small camps of instruction, and to form in the fall “an iron band of sixty thousand troops” to be placed under my command, who were to move down the valley of the Mississippi by roads parallel with that stream, their supplies following in boats on the river. I think that subsequent events proved that the occupation of the central mountain region at an early period of the war would have produced more rapid and decisive results than any movement down the Mississippi. While engaged in pushing forward the preparations of the troops, and doing all in my power to preserve the peace in Kentucky, events occurred which made it necessary for me to direct my attention more particularly to West Virginia. It may be repeated here that my movements in West Virginia were, from first to last, undertaken upon my own authority and of my own volition, and without any advice, orders, or instructions from Washington or elsewhere. The proclamations I addressed to the inhabitants of West Virginia and to my troops were also entirely of my own volition. I had received no intimation of the policy intended to be pursued by the general government, and had no time to seek for instructions. When, on the afternoon of May 26, I received at Camp Dennison confirmation of the movement of the secessionists to destroy the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and at once ordered by telegraph Kelly's and other regiments to remove from Wheeling and Parkersburg along the two branches of that railway, I wrote the proclamation and address of May 26 to the inhabitants of West Virginia and my troops, in my dining-room at Cincinnati, in the utmost haste, with the ladies of my family conversing in the room, and without consulting any one. They were at once despatched by telegraph to Wheeling and Parkersburg, there to be printed.
I, of course, sent copies to the President, with a letter explaining the necessity of my prompt action without waiting to consult with him. To this letter I never received any reply or acknowledgment; nor did the President, or any of his civil or military advisers, ever inform me whether they approved or disapproved the course I had taken. I must give to the Washington functionaries at least this much credit — viz., that although they gave me no assistance or orders towards initiating the campaign, they never interfered with me after its commencement. And when they saw me in a fair way toward success they were much more ready to listen to my requisitions for supplies. But I must claim the credit, if credit there be, of having begun and carried on and finished this short campaign on my own resources and against every possible disadvantage. During my whole career in West Virginia, as well as before I went there, I was kept in complete ignorance of the intentions of the Washington people in regard to movements in the East. As I write this (Nov., 1883) I propose omitting for the present the story of the West Virginia campaign, but intend supplying it when my history of the Army of the Potomac is completed. By the middle of July I had obtained complete possession of the country west of the mountains and north of the Kanawha, holding also the lower portion of the last-named valley, where  Gen. J. D. Cox had been checked in his advance. I held the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as far as Cumberland, and covered all the roads leading into West Virginia from the Potomac as far south as those uniting about eighteen miles south of Beverly, and held the country north of the Kanawha by garrisons and moving columns. The time of the three-months regiments was now rapidly expiring, and my movements were stopped for a time by the necessity of reorganizing them and getting up the three-years regiments. My advance into West Virginia had been without orders and entirely of my own volition, to meet the necessities of the case, and all I knew about the movements in front of Washington was derived from the newspapers and private sources; I received no official information of McDowell's intended movements, and had no communication from headquarters on the subject until Gen. McDowell was actually in contact with the enemy. Consequently the projects I formed for operations, as soon as my command should be reorganized, were utterly independent of the state of affairs at Washington and based entirely upon my views of the condition of affairs in the West. I pushed the reorganization with the utmost energy, and prepared a column of five Ohio regiments and the incomplete 1st Virginia, with which I intended to march on the 22d or 23d of July, via Suttonsville, Somersville, and the Dogwood Ridge, to strike the Kanawha near Fayetteville Court-House, and there cut off the troops under Gens. Floyd and Wise, who were then in front of Cox, at and below Charleston. Having entirely cleared the Kanawha valley of Confederates, I intended to secure my left flank by the line of the Upper Kanawha and New river, and to move upon Wytheville, in order to cut the line of railroad from Memphis to Lynchburg and to hold the country from New river to Abingdon. The objects I had in view were to cut the great east and west line of railroad, so as to deprive the Confederates of its use, and thence to employ the very circuitous route by Atlanta; and to rally the Union men of the mountain region, to arm and embody them, and at least hold my own in that mountain region until prepared to advance in whatever direction might prove best for the general good. In a letter to Gen. Scott from Buckhannon, dated July 6, I stated  my desire to move on Wytheville after clearing the country north of the Kanawha. Had my designs been carried out Gen. Lee's attempt to recover West Virginia would have been made (if at all attempted) under very different auspices, and with much more decisive results in our favor. I am confident that I should have been in possession of Wytheville and the mountain region south of it in a very few weeks. In this brief campaign the telegraph was for the first time, I think, constructed as the army advanced, and proved of very great use to us; it caused a very great saving of time and horseflesh. On the evening of July 21, 1861, I first received intelligence of the advance of Gen, McDowell and the battle of Bull Run. I had received no intimation whatever in regard to the projected operations in the East, although I might have aided them very materially had I been asked to do so. The first telegram I received from Gen. Scott, early in the evening of the 21st, was to the effect that McDowell was gaining a grand victory, had taken four redoubts on the enemy's left, and would soon defeat them utterly. Then came a despatch not quite so favorable ; finally a telegram stating that McDowell was utterly defeated, his army routed and, as a mere mob, streaming towards Washington. The despatch closed with a question as to whether I could do anything across the mountains to relieve McDowell and Washington. I did not then know that Gen. Joe Johnston had left Winchester and joined Beauregard, supposing that Gen. Patterson had retained him in the Shenandoah Valley. Therefore, after a half-hour's consideration, I proposed that I should move via Romney, unite with Patterson, and operate against Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley. I offered, however, to move on Staunton, if they preferred that movement in Washington, provided the three-months men (of whom my army was mainly composed) would consent to remain a few weeks longer. No reply ever came to these propositions; and it may here be stated that none of the three-months men would consent to remain beyond the termination of their enlistments, to move either towards the Gauley or eastward. For the Gauley movement I had, however, enough three-years men disposable.  On the next day, the 22d of July, I received a despatch from the adjutant-general stating that the condition of public affairs rendered my immediate presence in Washington necessary, and directing me to turn over my command to the next in rank, who happened to be Gen. Rosecrans. I started next morning at daylight, rode on horseback sixty miles to the nearest railway station, and took the cars to Wheeling, where I found my wife awaiting me, and then proceeded to Washington, which I reached on the 26th of July, 1861. Immediately after the affair of Rich Mountain I was instructed by Gen. Scott to release upon parole all the prisoners I had taken, with the exception of such as had left the United States service with the evident intention of joining that of the secessionists. Col. John Pegram and a surgeon (Dr. Campbell) were the only ones who came under the latter category; and the order was promptly carried out in regard to the others. From the moment the prisoners came into my hands they were treated with the utmost kindness. The private baggage of the officers was restored to them whenever it could be found. The men, most of whom were starving when they surrendered, were at once fed; the same care was extended to their wounded as to our own. All of them were unanimous in their gratitude for the treatment they received. The slaves taken in attendance upon officers were allowed their choice whether to go North, remain with us, or return to their masters. Nearly all chose the latter alternative. Among the prisoners was an entire company composed of students of the William and Mary University, commanded by the president. Many of these were mere boys, among whom some were severely wounded. These last I sent home to their parents, without awaiting orders from Washington. It was a singular fact that the wounded preferred the attendance of our surgeons to that of their own, saying that the former were more kind and attentive to them. I mention thus particularly my treatment of these prisoners for the reason that they were the first in considerable numbers taken during the war, and that the course I pursued ought to have been reciprocated by the secessionists. Their treatment of our officers and men captured so soon afterwards at Bull Run is, therefore, without excuse. Whatever hardships prisoners afterwards suffered on either side, the blame  of the initiation of ill-treatment must fall on the rebels and not on us. The successor of Gen. Garnett, Gen. Jackson (formerly U. S. Minister at Vienna), sent a flag of truce to thank me for the kindness I had extended to their wounded and unwounded officers and men. On subsequent occasions I received proofs of their appreciation of my course. Application was also made to me, under a flag, for the body of Gen. Garnett, which I agreed to deliver up; but before my orders in the case could reach Grafton the corpse had been taken East by the father of his late wife. The successes just achieved in West Virginia by the troops under my command created great excitement through the loyal States. They were the only ones of importance achieved up to that time by the Union arms, and, since public attention had not been especially directed to that quarter, the people were all the more dazzled by the rapidity and brilliancy of the results. Although the telegram ordering me to the East contained no mention of the purpose in view, it was easy, under the circumstances, to divine it. I fully realized the importance and difficulty of the task to be imposed upon me, and naturally felt gratified by the proof of confidence the order afforded. Yet I felt great regret at leaving the West, for I should have been very glad to carry out the Kanawha and Wytheville movement, and thereby quiet affairs in that region before giving up the command. It would probably have been better for me personally had my promotion been delayed a year or more. Yet I do not know who could have organized the Army of the Potomac as I did; and I have the consolation of knowing that, during the war, I never sought any commission or duty, but simply did my best in whatever position my superiors chose to place me.