previous next

Chapter 3: private letters of Gen. McClellan to his wife. [June 21 to July 21, 1861.]

Marietta, June 21, 1861.

I must snatch a few moments to write you. We got off at 11.30 yesterday morning, and had a continual ovation all along the road. At every station where we stopped crowds had assembled to see the “young general” gray-headed old men and women, mothers holding up their children to take my hand, girls, boys, all sorts, cheering and crying, God bless you! I never went through such a scene in my life, and never expect to go through such another one. You would have been surprised at the excitement. At Chillicothe the ladies had prepared a dinner, and I had to be trotted through. They gave me about twenty beautiful bouquets and almost killed me with kindness. The trouble will be to fill their expectations, they seem to be so high. I could hear them say, “He is our own general” ; “Look at him, how young he is” ; “He will thrash them” ; “He'll do,” etc., etc. ad infinitum. . . .

We reached here about three in the morning, and at once went on board the boat, where I got about three hours sleep until we reached Parkersburg. I have been hard at work all day, for I found everything in great confusion. Came up here in a boat about an hour ago, and shall go back to Parkersburg in two or three hours. . . We start from Parkersburg at six in the morning. With me go McCook's regiment (9th Ohio), Mack's company (4th U. S. Artillery), the Sturgess Rifle Co., a battery of six guns (Loomis's), and one company of cavalry (Barker's Illinois). Two Indiana regiments leave in the morning just after us. I shall have five additional regiments at Grafton to-morrow afternoon. I shall have some eighteen regiments two batteries, two companies of cavalry at my disposal — enough to thrash anything I find. I think the danger has been greatly exaggerated, and anticipate little or no chance of winning laurels. [58] . . . A terrible storm is passing over us now; thunder and lightning terrible in the extreme. . . .

Grafton, Sunday, June 23, 1861.

. . . We did not reach here until about two in the morning, and I was tired out. . . . Everything here needs the hand of the master and is getting it fast. I shall hardly be able to move from here for a couple of days. . . . The weather is delightful here: we are well up in the hills and have the mountain air. . . .

Grafton, June 26, 1861.

. . . I am detained here by want of supplies now on the way, and which I hope to receive soon. . . . It is very difficult to learn anything definite about our friends in front of us. Sometimes I am half-inclined to doubt whether there are many of them; then again it looks as if there were a good many. We shall soon see, however. I am pretty well tired out and shall be very glad to get on the march.

What a row the papers have raised about the Buckner letter! B. has represented a personal interview as an official treaty . . . .

Captain Howe is at Clarksburg-Guentler with him. Mack is here with us. . . . I don't know exactly when I shall be able to leave here; certainly not before to-morrow, and perhaps not until next day. . . .

Grafton, June 27.

. . . I shall be after the gentlemen pretty shortly. You must be under no apprehensions as to me or the result. I never worked so hard in my life before; even take my meals in my own room. . , .

Grafton, June 29.

. . . I am bothered half to death by delays in getting up supplies. Unless where I am in person, everything seems to go wrong. . . . I expect in the course of an hour or two to get to Clarksburg — will probably march twelve miles thence to-day — with Howe's battery, Mack's and the Chicago companies, and one company of cavalry. I shall have a telegraph line built to follow us up. Look on the maps and find Buckhannon and Beverly; that is the direction of my march. I hope to thrash the infamous scamps before a week is over. All I fear is that I won't catch them. . . . What a strange performance that of Buckner's was! Fortunately I have secured the testimony of Gill and Douglass (present at the Cairo interview) that [59] Buckner has entirely misrepresented me. It has annoyed me much, but I hope to do such work here as will set criticism at defiance. . . .

Clarksburg, June 30.

. . . Again great delays here; will certainly get off by four A. M. to-morrow, and make a long march, probably twenty-eight miles. After the next march I shall have a large tent, borrowed from the Chicago Rifles; your father and I will take that, make it reception-room, sleeping-apartment, mess-room, etc. . . . One thing takes up a great deal of time, yet I cannot avoid it: crowds of the country-people who have heard of me and read my proclamations come in from all directions to thank me, shake me by the hand, and look at their “liberator,” “the general” ! Of course I have to see them and talk to them. Well, it is a proud and glorious thing to see a whole people here, simple and unsophisticated, looking up to me as their deliverer from tyranny.

Camp 14 miles south of Clarksburg, July 2.

. . . We start in a few moments to Buckhannon. I have with me two regiments, a battery, two cavalry companies, three detached companies. Had several heavy rains yesterday. Rosecrans is at Buckhannon. I doubt whether the rebels will fight; it is possible they may, but I begin to think that my successes will be due to manoeuvres, and that I shall have no brilliant victories to record. I would be glad to clear them out of West Virginia and liberate the country without bloodshed, if possible. The people are rejoiced to see us.

Buckhannon, July 3.

. . . We had a pleasant march of sixteen miles yesterday through a beautiful mountain region: magnificent timber, lovely valleys running up from the main valley; the people all out, waving their handkerchiefs and giving me plenty of bouquets and kind words. . . .

We nearly froze to death last night. I retired, as I thought, at about midnight, intending to have a good night's sleep. About half an hour after I shut up my tent a colonel in command of a detachment some fifteen miles distant came to report, so I received him in bed, and fell asleep about six times during the three hours I was talking with him. Finally, [60] however, he left, and I alternately slept and froze until seven o'clock. This morning I sent Bates on an expedition and raked up a couple of horse-blankets, by the aid of which I hope hereafter to be reasonably comfortable.

I hope to get the trains up to-morrow and make a final start during the day. We have a good many to deal with. I ordered the Guthrie Grays to Philippi this P. M. to resist a stampede attack that Gen. Morris feared.

Buckhannon, July 5, 1861.

. . . Yesterday was a very busy day with me, reviewing troops all the morning and giving orders all day and pretty much all night. . . . I realize now the dreadful responsibility on me — the lives of my men, the reputation of the country, and the success of our cause. The enemy are in front, and I shall probably move forward to-morrow, but not come in contact with them until about the next day. I shall feel my way and be very cautious, for I recognize the fact that everything requires success in first operations. You need not be at all alarmed as to the result; God is on our side. This is a beautiful country in which we now are — a lovely valley surrounded by mountains, well cultivated. The people hail our parties as deliverers wherever they go, and we meet with perfect ovations. Yesterday was very hot, and my head almost roasted as I stood bareheaded while the troops passed by in review. We have a nice little camp of our own here: Mack's and Steele's companies, Howe's battery next, two companies of cavalry, and two well-behaved Virginia companies. When we next go into camp we shall have the German regiment (9th Ohio) with us in camp. I intend having a picked brigade with me all the time.--'s regiment is on the march up from Clarksburg; they signalized their entrance into the country by breaking into and robbing a grocery-store at Webster! The Guthrie Grays are at Philippi; they leave there to-day, and will be here to-morrow night, following us up in reserve, or perhaps overtaking us before we meet the enemy. . . .

Buckhannon, July 7, 1861.

I have been obliged to inflict some severe punishments, and I presume the papers of the Western Reserve will be hard down on me for disgracing some of their friends guilty of the small crime of burglary. I believe [61] the army is beginning to comprehend that they have a master over them who is stern in punishing and means what he says. I fear I shall have to have some of them shot or hung; that may convince some of the particular individuals concerned that they are not in the right track exactly. . . I have not told you about our camp at this place. It is in a large grass-field on a hill a little out of town, a beautiful grove near by. Your father and I share the same tent, a very large round one, pitched under a tree. Seth has one near by — an office; Lawrence Williams another as office and mess-tent. Marcy, the two Williamses, Judge Key, and Lander mess with me. Poe and the rest of the youngsters are in tents near by. . . . I had a very complimentary despatch from Gen. Scott last night. He said he was “charmed with my energy, movements, and success.” Pretty well for the old man. I hope to deserve more of him in the future.

Move at six to-morrow morning to overtake advanced guard, which consists of three regiments, a battery, and one company of cavalry. I take up headquarters escort and four regiments infantry; three more follow next day. The large supply-train up and ready to move. Brig.-Gen. Garnett in command of enemy.

July 10, Roaring creek.

We have occupied the important position on this line without loss. The enemy are in sight, and I am about sending out a strong armed reconnoissance to feel him and see what he is. I have been looking at their camps with my glass; they are strongly entrenched, but I think I can come the Cerro Gordo over them.

Telegram--Rich Mountain, July 12, 1861.--Have met with complete success; captured the enemy's entire camp, guns, tents, wagons, etc. Many prisoners, among whom several officers. Enemy's loss severe, ours very small. No officers lost on our side. I turned the position. All well.

July 12, Beverly.

Have gained a decided victory at small cost, and move on to Huttonsville to-morrow in hope of seizing the mountain-pass near that point before it is occupied in force by the enemy. If that can be done I can soon clear up the rest of the business to be done out here, and return to see you for a time at least. . . . [62]

I had an affecting interview to-day with a poor woman whom we liberated from prison, where she had been confined for three weeks by these scoundrels merely because she was a Union woman. I enclose a flower from a bouquet the poor thing gave me.

Telegram--July 13, 1861.--Success complete. Enemy routed. Lost everything he had — guns, tents, wagons, etc. Pegram was in command. We lost but 10 killed and 35 wounded. Garnett has abandoned his camp between this and Philippi, and is in full retreat into Eastern Virginia. I hope still to cut him off. All well.

July 13, Huttonsville.

Since you last heard from me I received from Pegram a proposition to surrender, which I granted. L. Williams went out with an escort of cavalry and received him. He surrendered, with another colonel, some 25 officers, and 560 men. . . . I do not think the enemy in front of us in the Cheat Mountain pass, but that they have fallen back in hot haste. If they have, I will drive them out to-morrow and occupy the pass. . . . It now appears we killed nearly 200; took almost 900. . . .

The valley in which we are is one of the most beautiful I ever saw, and I am more than ever inclined to make my headquarters at Beverly and have you with me. Beverly is a quiet, old-fashioned town, in a lovely valley; a beautiful stream running by it — a perfectly pastoral scene, such as the old painters dreamed of but never realized. . . . I find that the prisoners are beyond measure astonished at my humanity towards them. The bearer of the flag from Pegram reached me about five this morning. He had been two days without food. I at once gave him some breakfast, and shortly after gave him a drink of whiskey; as he drank it he said: “I thank you, general I drink that I may never again be in rebellion against the general government.”

July 14, 1861.

I have released the doctor this morning of whom I told you. Also sent a lieutenant to carry back the body of his captain. Also those poor young boys of good family who had lost their limbs. I have tried to temper justice with mercy. I think these men will do me no harm, but that some mothers and sisters and wives will bless the name of your husband. . . . [63]

Started this morning with a strong advanced guard, supported by two regiments, to test the question as to whether the rebels were really fortified in the Cheat Mountain pass. I went prepared for another fight, but found that they had scampered. We picked up some of their plunder, but they have undoubtedly gone at least to Staunton. The pass was strong, and they might have given us an immense deal of trouble. I went with a few men to Cheat river, the other side of the mountain. . . . I have made a very clear sweep of it. Never was more complete success gained with smaller sacrifice of life. Our prisoners will exceed one thousand.

On my return I found a telegram from Gen. Scott, sent before he had received information as to the full results of my victory. It was:

The general-in-chief, and what is more the cabinet, including the President, are charmed with your activity, valor, and consequent success. We do not doubt that you will in due time sweep the rebels from West Virginia, but do not mean to precipitate you, as you are fast enough.

. . . Our ride to-day was magnificent; some of the most splendid mountain views I ever beheld. The mountain we crossed is fully three thousand feet above its base, and the lovely little valleys, the cleared farms, the long ranges of mountains in the distance, all made a varied scene that I cannot describe to you. At the mountain-top was a pretty little farm, neat as neat could be. A very old couple lived there, the old lady as rosy and cheerful as a cricket. It is sad that war should visit even such sequestered spots as that.

Monday evening.

After closing my letter last night a courier arrived with the news that the troops I had sent in pursuit of Garnett had caught him, routed his army, captured his baggage, one gun, taken several prisoners, and that Garnett himself lay dead on the field of battle! Such is the fate of traitors: one of their leaders a prisoner, the other killed; their armies annihilated, their cause crushed in this region. . . . You ask what my plans are. Why, don't you know that my movements depend much on those of Monsieur l'ennemi? I expect to hear [64] in a few hours of the final extermination of the remnants of Garnett's army. Then I am almost hourly awaiting news of Cox's success in the Kanawha. Should Cox not be prompt enough I will go down there myself and bring the matter to a close.

West Virginia being cleared of the enemy, I have then to reorganize and consolidate the army. The time of the three-months men is about expiring, and they form so large portion of my force that some delay will ensue. . . .

Telegram--July 15, Hutonsville.--Garnett and whole concern have retreated. None nearer than Staunton. Crossed Cheat Mountain to-day and returned.

July 18, Beverly.

I am awaiting news from the Kanawha which will determine my movements. I do not see now but that I can leave here in a couple of days; but do not count upon it, as there are so many chances in war.

July 19, 1861.

I enclose Bulletin No. 5, printed with our portable press. You see we have carried civilization with us in the shape of the printing-press and the telegraph-institutions decidedly neglected in this part of the world heretofore, and, I fear, not likely to be paying institutions in this vicinity after we go. The good people here read but little and have but few ideas. Gen. Scott is decidedly flattering to me. I received from him yesterday a despatch beginning, “Your suggestion in respect to Staunton would be admirable, like your other conceptions and acts.” I value that old man's praise very highly, and wrote him a short note last night telling him so. I enclose some scraps clipped off a dirty rebel flag captured at Rich Mountain. . . .

Am engaged now in arranging to march home the three-months men to be reorganized, and in clearing up matters generally. . . . I suppose McDowell drove the enemy from Manassas Junction yesterday; if so the way will be pretty well cleared for the present. If any decided movement is made towards Richmond I shall feel sure that they cannot intend to trouble my people here.

July 21, Beverly.

. . . Were you satisfied with the result? [65] Nine guns taken, twelve colors, lots of prisoners, and all this done with so little loss on our side! We found yesterday some more guns abandoned by Garnett, bringing the number taken up to nine. . . Gen. Cox has been badly checked in the Kanawha; one wounded colonel (Newton) taken prisoner, two others and a lieutenant-colonel (Neff) captured while amusing themselves by an insane expedition in advance of the pickets — served them right! Cox lost more men in getting a detachment thrashed than I did in routing two armies. The consequence is, I shall move down with a heavy column to take Mr. Wise in rear, and hope either to drive him out without a battle or to catch him with his whole force. It is absolutely necessary for me to go in person; I have no one to whom I can entrust the operation. More than that, I don't feel sure that the men will fight very well under any one but myself; they have confidence in me and will do anything that I put them at. I lose about fourteen regiments now whose term of service is about expiring, and am sorry to say that I have as yet found but few whose patriotism is sufficient to induce them to remain beyond their time. I expect to get away from here by day after to-morrow at latest. The march to the Kanawha will require about seven days. I hope to be able to start for Cincinnati in about two weeks from to-morrow. I expect the Guthrie Grays here to-day, and will take them with me to the Kanawha.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: