Doc. 75. operations in West Virginia.
Report of Colonel Strother.
Richmond, August 10, 1865.General: In accordance with your request, I have the honor to submit the following statement in regard to the operations of the Army of West Virginia, while under your command, during the summer of 1864. I do so the more cheerfully as I have perceived that the motives and results of these operations have been less clearly understood and appreciated by the public than any other of the important campaigns of the war. I am the better prepared to make this statement, as I served throughout the campaign as  your Chief of Staff, and, in that capacity, kept an accurate journal of movements and events as they occurred, and of the orders, motives, and information on which they were based. I was also, from long residence, travel, and previous miltary campaigns, well acquainted with the whole country over which these operations were conducted, and consequently may be supposed to have an intelligent understanding concerning the propriety of the movements made, and the practicability of those suggested. I will commence by a brief explanation of the military position in the Department of West Virginia when you took command. Early in the spring of 1864, the forces heretofore scattered over this extensive department were concentrated at different points, prepared to co-operate in the grand combined movement which had been arranged against the national enemy. Simultaneously with the advance of General Grant on Richmond, and that of General Sherman on Atlanta, the co-operating columns of the Army of West Virginia commenced their movements, charged with the accomplishment of the most arduous and important secondary purposes of the campaign. Their orders were to move upon the enemy's communications, destroy railroads, military depots, stores, supplies, and manufactories, crippling his resources in every way practicable; to distract his attention from the vital centres of operation, and to force him, if possible, to detach troops for the defence of distant points. As the field of operations embraced in these orders was of immense extent, interrupted by chains of rugged and lofty mountains covered to a great extent with impenetrable forests, traversed by deep and rapid rivers, its topography and even its general geography but little understood outside, the General commanding the department was allowed full discretion in arranging the plans for their accomplishment. The movement commenced under the orders of Major-General Sigel, as follows: Brigadier-General Crook with his division moved from Kanawha, striking the Virginia and Tennessee railroad at New river, and destroying it for some distance. He defeated the enemy's forces that opposed him, capturing many prisoners and valuable stores. Brigadier-General Averell at the same time moved southward from Beverly, with his division, menacing the salt works near Abingdon, and co-operating with Crook in the destruction of the railroad. These forces then fell back to Lewisburg and Meadow Bluff in Greenbrier county, awaiting further developments. At the same time General Sigel, in person, took command of the forces collected at Martinsburg, about eight thousand five hundred men of all arms, and advancing southward, was met at New Market, on the Staunton turnpike, and defeated by the rebel forces under Breckinridge. On the following day, May sixteenth, he retired to a position behind Cedar creek, about fifteen miles south of Winchester. On the twenty-first of May General Sigel was relieved by Major-General Hunter, who assumed command of the department and the army in the field at Cedar creek. General Sigel having been assigned to the command of the reserves stationed on the line of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, made his headquarters at Martinsburg. It was determined to resume the movement on Staunton immediately, and, with a view to further operations from that point, orders were sent to Generals Crook and Averell, then supposed to be in the vicinity of Meadow Bluff, to join us at Staunton, by forced marches, moving lightly, and depending on the country for subsistence as much as possible. The column in the Shenandoah valley having been reinforced to the extent of supplying the losses in the New Market campaign, with baggage and transportation reduced to the minimum allowance, cut loose from its communications, and began its advance up the valley on the twenty.sixth of May. The force was about eight thousand five hundred men of all arms, with twenty-one guns. The plan of action proposed was, to fight and overthrow any enemy that stood in the way, to seize upon Staunton, unite with Crook and Averell, and with the combined force occupy Charlottesville, from whence we might easily operate with our cavalry against the James River canal, and by crossing the river cut off the Southside railroad, thus cutting off the enemy from its chief source of supplies. The more extended plan, of moving on Lynchburg by the valley route from Staunton, or through the Piedmont counties of Nelson and Amherst, directly from Charlottesville, was discussed, but left for consideration after the first part of the programme should be accomplished. The occupation of Harrisonburg, the flank movement on Port Republic, the brilliant and decisive victory at Piedmont, and the junction with the forces under Crook and Averell, at Staunton, have all been described in a former report. The result of the battle at Piedmont was the virtual annihilation of the enemy's military power in West Virginia and the valley of the Shenandoah. All the country west of the Blue Ridge was at our mercy. As this country was the source from which the enemy drew its principal supplies of meat, grain, forage, salt, lead, and iron, we were well aware that its possession was essential to the maintenance of his army, and that he would make the most desperate efforts to regain it. He could not hope to do so without detaching a considerable force from Lee's army, and to induce General Lee thus to weaken his army was one of our principal objects in the movement. The following letter found on the body of General William E. Jones, killed at Piedmont, indicates the views and expectations of the enemy: 
Another paper contained an appeal from the officer in command at Lynchburg, setting forth the value of that place as a centre of communications and a depot of supplies, and asking for more troops to defend it against a sudden raid of the Yankees. This paper had been referred to General Jones by the Richmond authorities, indicating thereby that the defence of Lynchburg devolved upon him. Another suggestive paper was a telegram from Jefferson Davis to Jones, urging him to guard especially against raids into the western portion of North Carolina, intimating that they were to be dreaded for political as well as military reasons. These proofs of the fears and weakness of the enemy, together with the encouraging reports received from the North of General Grant's progress, induced us to hope that the plan of an extensive and damaging campaign, discussed at the outset, might now be successfully carried out. It was determined, therefore, to move on Lynchburg by way of Lexington and Buchanan, crossing the Blue Ridge at the Peaks of Otter. From Lynchburg we could operate against the Southside and Danville railroads with our cavalry, cutting off the enemy's only means of supply, liberating the Union prisoners confined at Danville, and rendering necessary the speedy evacuation of the rebel capital. If General Lee was forced to detach a considerable force to oppose us, and prevent the execution of these designs, an equally desirable and important object would be accomplished; the main army of the rebellion would be weakened; General Grant would be relieved to that extent, while we had always safe lines of retreat open to the westward, through the passes of the mountains. In addition to these considerations, the country, we found, afforded abundant supplies for our troops, while the inhabitants were quiet and, in many instances, even favorable to us. We had also assurances that in south-western Virginia and North Carolina we might hope for active assistance from the inhabitants. Our progress, too, revealed a much larger amount of provisions and manufactories for producing material of war than we had expected, and the destruction of this kind of property was immense. Having sent back a convoy of prisoners, negroes, and refugees, with an empty wagon train and a strong escort of men whose terms of service had nearly expired, the Army of West Virginia started southward from Staunton on the 10th of June, moving up the valley by four parallel roads. On the 11th we occupied Lexington, and there were overtaken by a supply train sent from Martinsburg, containing commissary stores, clothing, and ammunition — this latter being most essential, as our supply was short. Although these supplies were most acceptable, this train, two hundred additional wagons, embarrassed our movements considerably. While it was important that we should have moved from Lexington without delay, we were detained, awaiting the arrival of General Duffie's column of cavalry, which marched on the road next to the Blue Ridge, and who did not report until the thirteenth, in the afternoon. He had crossed the bridge at Tye river Gap, struck the Charlottesville and Lynchburg railroad near Amherst Court-house, destroyed it to some extent, making considerable captures of men, horses, and material. He was confused and detained by the difficult and intricate character of the country. Upon examining these prisoners I was informed that Grant had received a severe repulse; that Sheridan, who was moving to cooperate with us at the head of the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, had been repulsed at Louisa Court-house and turned back; that Breckinridge had reinforced Vaughn at Rockfish Gap with four or five thousand men, and that Ewell's whole corps was advancing by the way of Charlottesville. On the other hand we had news, from sources equally entitled to credit, that Lynchburg was undefended, and that its inhabitants were fleeing in panic from Sheridan's advance. Cut off from all reliable sources of information, the country filled with exaggerated and contradictory rumors, it was determined to solve the problem by a bold and decisive advance on Lychburg. The details of this movement through Buchanan, Peaks of Otter, and Liberty, the action at Quaker Church, and the handsome repulse of of the enemy's attack in front of Lynchburg, have already been described in your official report. In the last-named action, which took place about the middle of the day on the eighteenth of June, we took several prisoners belonging to Ewell's corps. The statement of these men convinced us beyond a doubt that the Army of the Potomac had suffered a temporary check before Petersburg; that Sheridan had been foiled in his attempt to open communication with us; and that General Lee had  been enabled to detach a large force of veteran troops, under Lieutenant-General Early, to operate against us; that a portion of this force was engaged in the battle then going on, and the remaining divisions were coming in rapidly, by rail, from Charlottesville. It was now evident that the Army of West Virginia was in a critical position. Two hundred and fifty miles from its base, with ammunition nearly exhausted and commissariat entirely so, with little more than sixteen thousand effective men, it was now actually engaged with a largely superior force — a force which in the course of the afternoon would be swelled to over thirty thousand men. The greatest apprehension was felt lest the enemy would renew his attack in the course of the afternoon, as our ammunition was so nearly spent that such an attack must have proved fatal. He had been so roughly handled, however, that he determined to wait until the following morning, when, with his whole force rested and refreshed, he could fall upon us more effectively. That night our army, with its trains and material, was quietly withdrawn, retiring by the Bedford turnpike, through Liberty and Buford's Gap to Salem, on the Virginia and Tennessee railroad. This retrogade from our hazardous position was accomplished without loss and with but little annoyance from the enemy. From Liberty to Salem, our route lay along the line of the railroad, which we destroyed as we moved, arriving at Salem about sunrise on the morning of the twenty-first of June. After a short halt, we took the road across the mountains to the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, via New Castle and Sweet Springs, arriving at the White Sulphur on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth. This move into the mountains was necessary to disembarrass ourselves of the enemy's cavalry, which had overtaken and followed us from Liberty, hanging upon our rear and harassing our flanks; without doing us much actual damage, however. After we entered the mountains, they disappeared entirely, and we found ourselves at the White Sulphur with no enemy to contend with, except the natural difficulties of the country and the scarcity of provisions. The result of the campaign, thus far, had been eminently satisfactory; and everything that had been ordered or expected had been thoroughly accomplished, with but comparatively little loss. About fifty miles of the Virginia Central railroad had been effectually destroyed; the Virginia and Tennessee road had been destroyed to some extent for the same distance; an incredible amount of public property had been burned, including canal-boats and railroad trains loaded with ordnance and commissary stores, numerous extensive iron-works, manufactories of saltpetre, musket-stocks, shoes, saddles, and artillery-harness, woollen cloths and grain mills; about three thousand muskets and twenty pieces of cannon, with quantities of shells and gunpowder, fell into our hands, while immense quantities of provisions, cattle and horses were captured and used by the army. We had beaten the enemy in every engagement, killing and wounding about two thousand of his men, including officers of high rank, and capturing over two thousand prisoners. We had, by a movement of unparalleled audacity, menaced the vitals of the rebellion and forced the leaders at Richmond to detach a formidable corps for their defence and security. The vast importance of this diversion, as proved by subsequent events, will be satisfactorily established presently. These great results had been accomplished with but little loss of men or material on our part. About fifteen hundred men killed, wounded and missing, and eight guns disabled by a stealthy attack, while they were on the march, and inadvertently left unguarded. Considering its orders successfully carried out, the question now was to return the Army of West Virginia to its base by the speediest route and in the best condition for further active operations. At the council held at the White Sulphur on the morning of June twenty-fifth three routes were proposed: one by the Warm Springs valley, by a road running parallel with the valley of the Shenandoah. It was foreseen that Early would, in all probability, make a counter raid against the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, overthrow General Sigel's force and do much mischief. It was urged that by marching down the parallel valley, via Warm Springs, Franklin and Moorfield, we might arrive in time to form a junction with Sigel, and prevent the anticipated raid. By way of objection to this route, it was argued that the distance to be marched was two hundred and fifty miles, by bad roads, and through a region sparsely populated and much wasted by war; the enemy having the advantage of shorter lines, better roads, and a considerable use of railroads, could throw his force ahead of us, block up our route by felled timber, attack us in flank through the gaps in the mountains, and thus drive us still deeper into the rugged and inhospitable regions of the Alleghanies. The army, already fatigued with long marches and suffering from irregular and limited supplies, must necessarily become more disorganized at every move, while the deficiency of ammunition made it essential that we should avoid every possibility of a serious collision with the enemy. These arguments were accepted as conclusive against the proposed route. The acknowledged impossibility of obtaining supplies and the long march were equally conclusive against the Beverley route. The route by Kanawha offered an open and safe road; a million of rations within three days march; a shorter march to Charleston, from whence, by steamboats and railways, the troops could be transported to any point on our line where they might be needed. It was shown that these advantages, the time required to reach  the desired point would be less, and that the troops would arrive well fed and rested, instead of being worn out and exhausted, as they must be at the end of a long march through an impoverished country. The Kanawha route was adopted, and troops moved, arriving at Charleston from the thirtieth of June to the fourth of July. On the afternoon of the fourth the Commanding General and staff arrived at Parkersburg, on the Ohio river, and there were met with the information that Early had driven Sigel out of Martinsburg, and occupied the line of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad in strong force. This intelligence was forwarded with an urgent request from the Secretary of War to hurry the troops forward. All the necessary steps had been already taken to expedite their movement from Charleston, and whatever failure there may have been on the score of promptness was owing to the low stage of water in the river. The continuance of this unprecedented drought produced results against which human foresight could not have provided, and to overcome which human exertion was powerless. The lightest draught boats used on the river and calculated to run at all seasons continually grounded, and the troops were obliged to land and march round the bars. This unfortunate circumstance so impeded the movements that. in the aggregate, four or five days were lost. All the resources of the railroad were used to forward the troops arriving by the boats, and trains were running day and night. On the evening of July fourteen the General and staff arrived at Harper's Ferry. Early meanwhile had crossed into Maryland, fought the battle of Monocacy, and while menacing Baltimore and Washington with his light cavalry; had retired into Virginia by way of Conrad's and Edwards' ferries. Our advanced infantry, a weak division under Sullivan, and some cavalry under Duffie, had already been sent to harass the enemy's flank, as he moved across Loudon county. Generals Crook and Averell, with a portion of their commands, were in Martinsburg. General Wright with the Sixth corps, and General Emory with the Nineteenth corps, were understood to be following the enemy, and moving in the direction of Leesburg. On the fifteenth, by telegram from Major-General Halleck, the troops of the West Virginia army were place under the command of Major-General Wright, then at Poolesville. By this order General Hunter, although still in command of the department, was left without troops. Under this impression he wrote to President Lincoln, asking, respectfully but peremptorily, to be relieved of command. The President replied, explaining that the order transferring the West Virginia troops to the command of Major-General Wright was only intended to be temporary in its effect, and to apply while those troops were necessarily serving outside the department commanded by General Hunter. He concluded by a very pressing and-flattering request that he should retain his position. This request was accepted by General Hunter as a command, Instead of retiring by way of Gordonsville, as was expected, Early moved westward, and crossing the Blue Ridge at Snicker's Gap, took position on the turnpike road leading from Snicker's ferry to Winchester, his main body lying around Berryville. General Wright followed him as far as the gap. On the eighteenth General Crook, then commanding the West Virginia troops, pushed across the Shenandoah, and after a sharp action with the rebel Gordon's division, was driven back with a loss of four hundred men — the enemy losing six hundred. While the sound of cannon indicated an engagement in the vicinity of Snicker's ferry, Colonel Hays was ordered to move his brigade from Halltown by a road on the west side of the Shenandoah and strike the enemy on flank. Averell was ordered to move from Martinsburg upon Winchester. On the twentieth Colonel Hays reported that his advance had been disputed by a strong body of the enemy, and that, after a prolonged skirmish, he had fallen back to Keys' ferry, being short of ammunition. General Averell with his cavalry, and Duvall's infantry, in all twenty-three hundred strong, attacked and routed a greatly superior force of the enemy near Winchester, putting five hundred men hors de combat and capturing four guns. About this time Early retired from Berryville toward Front Royal and Strasburg, and General Wright, with the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, returned to Washington. In the military movements since his arrival at Harper's Ferry, General Hunter had no control or responsibility, except in ordering the minor cooperative moves under Hays and Averell. Our information in regard to Early was, that he was strong and confident, apparently ready for battle when we might seek it, but coolly awaiting his opportunity. His position in the valley of the Shenandoah was maintained for the purpose of protecting the harvest in the fertile region which he covered, and for the still more important object of preventing another advance on Lynchburg. His presence was also a continual menace to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the federal capital, and was thus calculated to create a diversion in favor of Lee at Richmond. That the enemy would fail to use his advantageous position to the utmost could hardly be supposed; the withdrawal of General Wright's forces without a decisive action was therefore regretted as premature. General Crook reported that the enemy's retreat from Berryville was apparently in compliance with orders from rebel headquarters, and evidently not from weakness or the desire to avoid battle. A rumor of the fall of Atlanta seemed to give color to the former idea. On the twenty-third of July a telegram from the President was received, asking if, since the  departure of General Wright, General Hunter had force enough to hold the enemy, should he return upon us? It was answered that if the enemy should return in full force, we had not troops enough to hold him: but our best information indicated that he was falling back under orders; and that Averell's cavalry had reconnoitred as far south as Strasburg without discovering any force. A telegram from General Halleck indicated General Grant's views in regard to the valley. He desired that the line of the Potomac should be held with a view to the protection of Washington, in case of necessity. The line of the Manassas Gap railroad and Cedar creek was suggested; it was considered more judicious to establish a line near the base of supplies, and that of Aldie, Snicker's Gap, Berryville, and Winchester was decided upon. It was the decided opinion of officers who had had experience in the valley of the Shenandoah, and were well acquainted with its topography, that there was no line of defence which could be advantageously maintained against an army marching from the south, and that the idea of holding it by fortified posts was equally futile; they were liable to be penetrated and evaded with but little risk, even by an inferior enemy, and liable to be cut off, isolated, and entrapped by a superior force. The difficulty of maintaining communication was almost insurmountable. It was urged that the only mode of holding the line of the Potomac and the valley of the Shenandoah securely, was to confront the enemy with a predominating force, and drive him out or destroy him. In obedience to orders, General Crook (now Major-General by brevet), took command of the forces in the field, and occupied Winchester with fourteen thousand men. On Sunday, twenty-fourth, General Early suddenly returned in heavy force, and falling upon Crook, near Kernstown, defeated him, putting about a thousand men hors de combat. General Crook fell back behind the Potomac, saving all his guns and material. On the twenty-seventh his command moved down on the Maryland side of the Potomac, and took position in Pleasant Valley, nearly opposite Harper's Ferry; Averell reported the enemy crossing the Potomac at Williamsport, destroying the railroad and canal, and menacing both Cumberland and Chambersburg; General Wright at Monocacy, with the Sixth corps, and General Emory coming up with the nineteenth. On the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth the whole force crossed the Potomac at Harper's Ferry and took position in Halltown and vicinity. The combined force amounted to about thirty thousand men, and eighty or ninety guns. It was reported that the enemy was crossing with all arms at Williamsport, and driving Averell back on Chambersburg. This was believed to be only a cavalry force, and Early was supposed to be lying along the turnpike, between Martinsburg and Winchester; his main force at Bunker Hill. It was proposed to attack him between Martinsburg and Bunker Hill, thus cuting his army in two. On Saturday, July thirty, it was intensely hot; the trains of the Sixth corps still passing through toward Halltown. About mid-day we received news from Washington that the enemy had entered Chambersburg, and that the remaining divisions of the Nineteenth corps were en route to reinforce us. Immediately afterward orders were issued directing the whole force to fall back to Middletown valley, in Maryland; these orders, I understood, came from Washington. A retrograde movement was immediately commenced, and by the following day the whole army was in Maryland, with headquarters in Frederick City, leaving, however, a strong garrison at Harper's Ferry, under the command of General Howe. I have never been able to understand the motive of this movement, and have always considered it a most unfortunate one. The position of our troops at Halltown and Bolivar Heights was unassailable by such a force as Early commanded. It was most convenient for active operations against the enemy in any direction, and was believed to interpose an effectual check on any movement of his main body toward the invasion of Maryland or toward Washington by way of Snicker's ferry, as was apprehended in some quarters. An attempt on his part to move in either direction would have exposed his flank and rear to advantageous attack by our superior force, and have left his communications entirely at our mercy. Our retrograde movement left the whole country open to him. August first we received information that McCausland had entered Chambersburg at the head of two thousand cavalry, and after burning and sacking the town, moved westward, followed by Averell, with an inferior force. Duffie was ordered to unite with Averell in the pursuit. August second information was received by telegraph from Washington that a heavy column of the enemy was moving on that city, via Rockville. Marching orders were promptly issued, and subsequently countermanded, when it was ascertained that the alarm had originated from the appearance of a squad of United States cavalry scouting near Rockville. Headquarters were moved to the Thomas farm, on the east side of the Monocacy. News received that General Kelly had handsomely repulsed McCausland's attack on Cumberland ; Early's main body still lying between Martinsburg and Winchester; small foraging parties of rebels crossing occasionally at Antietam ford, Shepherdstown, and Williamsport. August fourth General Howe telegraphs that the enemy are menacing Harper's Ferry; General Emory, with the Nineteenth corps, ten thousand strong, was sent there during the night. August fifth, in the afternoon, General Grant in person visited headquarters, and had a conference  with General Hunter. It was understood that General Phil. Sheridan was to be assigned to the command of the troops in the departments of Washington, Susquehanna and West Virginia, and an official order to that effect was promulgated a few days after. The troops were immediately returned to their positions at Bolivar Heights and Halltown. On the last day of August General Hunter, at his own oft-repeated request, was officially relieved of command in West Virginia. At the same time, worn out with fatigue and exposure, I resigned my commission in the volunteer service, and about the first of September received an honorable discharge from the department commander. I have thus given a brief sketch of military movements and events participated in by the Army of West Virginia while under your command, from the twenty-first day of May, 1864, to the ninth of August. I have always considered the movement on Lynchburg as one of the boldest and best-conducted campaigns of the war; that the motives which dictated it fully justified the hazard incurred, and that the results obtained by very inadequate forces have been fully acknowledged by those who best understood their real value. Lieutenant-General Grant handsomely acknowledges that “all had been accomplished that was possible under the circumstances, and more than could have been hoped for.” Jefferson Davis, in his speech to the people of Georgia, after the fall of Atlanta, informed them that “an audacious movement of the enemy up to the very walls of Lynchburg had rendered it necessary that the government should send a formidable body of troops to cover that vital point, which had otherwise been intended for the relief of Atlanta.” The vital importance of Lynchburg as a reserve depot and proposed place of retreat, in cage of the abandonment of Richmond, was fully appreciated by the rebel authorities; by the United States it was either not fully understood, or the approach deemed too hazardous. When the enemy saw, therefore, their fatal weakness was discovered, and the approaches already reconnoitred, he was obliged to despatch a force to protect it at all hazards; nearly one third of the flower of Lee's army, under Early, was detached for this purpose. Thus the great result was accomplished. Atlanta, unrelieved, fell before the conquering arms of Sherman. Lee's army, thus enfeebled, remained imprisoned in Richmond, and was never afterward able to hazard an active demonstration. Early's presence in the valley of the Shenandoah convinced the government of the United States of the only effectual policy to be pursued in that quarter. He was confronted by a superior army, attacked and annihilated. The subsequent movements of Generals Grant and Sherman brought the war to a full and fortunate conclusion. While rejoicing in the honors accorded to those great soldiers, whose fortune it has been to gather in the glorious harvest, I still feel it my duty to claim a modest wreath for that gallant Army of West Virginia, which through so much toil, danger and suffering, assisted in preparing the field for the reapers. I am, General, with high respect, your obedient servant,headquarters, Valley District, June 1, 1864.General: This will be handed to you by General Means, of Shenandoah, who goes to meet you at my request, and will state to you fully the condition of affairs in the valley. I am holding out every inducement I can to Hunter to follow me up as far as Mount Crawford. If he does, and we can get him on “a run,” we can ruin him. He is playing devilish cautious, however, and may not take the bait. Colonel Jackson telegraphed me last night that the enemy in Greenbrier was moving, he believed in the direction of Staunton. If so, I can, with North river in my front, hold Hunter till you thrash Crook and Averell, and then we can pay our respects jointly to Mr. Hunter. Yours, respectfully,