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Chapter 14:

Recognizing the importance of holding West Virginia, and of preventing the Union forces from penetrating through the mountains in the direction of Staunton, the rebel authorities had sent two new commanders into that region. Ex-Governor Wise was dispatched to the Kanawha Valley, and General Garnett, formerly a Major in the Federal army, was sent to Beverly to attempt to gather up and reorganize the remnants of Colonel Porterfield's scattered command, and to adopt immediate measures to reinforce them.

General Wise having been assigned to the Kanawha Valley, was expected to arrive at Charleston on the day following the appearance of my operatives, and the city was in a state of subdued excitement in anticipation of his coming.

In the evening, Lewis, in company with the officers whom he had met in the morning, proceeded to the residence of Judge Beveridge, where he was cordially [228] received by that gentleman and his charming daughter, who had now thoroughly recovered from the effects of her dangerous ride. With rare grace she greeted my operative, and her expressions of thankfulness were couched in such delicate language, that the pretended Englishman felt a strange fluttering in his breast, which was as novel to him as it was delicious. He passed a very delightful evening, and by his knowledge of English affairs, and his unqualified approval of the cause of the South, added to the fact that he was believed to be a gentleman of rank and fortune, he succeeded in materially increasing the high opinion which had previously been entertained regarding him.

The next morning General Wise arrived, and his appearance was hailed with delight by the disunion element of the city, while those whose sympathies were with the North looked with apprehension and disfavor upon the demonstrations that were being made in his honor.

At the first opportune moment, Price Lewis, with the assistance of his new-found friends, the rebel officers, succeeded in obtaining an introduction to the ancient-looking individual whose career had been marked by such exciting events, and who was so prominent a figure in the tragedy that was now being enacted. He was a small, intelligent-looking man, whose age appeared to be nearly seventy years, and whose emaciated appearance gave every token that he had not long to live. His eyes shone with the [229] brilliancy of youth, and the fires of ambition seemed to be burning brightly in his breast. Perhaps no other man in the South had contributed in so great a degree to hasten the folly of secession, and certainly none rejoiced more heartily at its final realization.

By his eloquence, and the magnetic power of his presence, he had led the ignorant classes of the State to firm belief in the justice of his cause, and by his teachings he had imbued them with a firm conviction that they were acting for their own best interests, and for the furtherance of the Southern supremacy and success.

Stern and determined, he allowed nothing to stand between him and the accomplishment of his purposes. But a few months before, he had ordered the execution of John Brown, who, with a mere handful of men, had attempted to strike a blow in behalf of the slave. This ardent abolitionist attacked and captured Harper's Ferry, a government arsenal, by overpowering the men who were stationed at that place, but the authorities had been called upon, and then, yielding to superior numbers, he was compelled to surrender. In this encounter the majority of his men were slain, and John Brown, with six of his associates, was taken prisoner. This occurred on the 16th day of October, 1859, and on the 22d day of December, after a hurried trial, the prisoners were ordered by Governor Wise to be publicly hanged. The sentence was duly carried into effect, and the [230] action of John Brown was used by the secession advocates to inflame the minds of the Southern people against the North. Now that secession had become an established fact, it was a matter of question whether the leaders of the Southern cause would not, in the end, strike a far more forcible blow in favor of the emancipation of the slave, than did the impetuous old man who gave up his life at the behest of the Southern leaders.

The General had been previously informed of the presence of Lewis in the hotel, and of his adventure on the day previous, consequently, when he was presented to the new commander, he was received with warm cordiality. The General inquired particularly into his history, and his present movements, all of which were replied to by Lewis in a dignified and satisfactory manner. Under the influence of Lewis' good-nature the General became social and familiar, and invited him to dine with him in his apartments.

Leaving no opportunity that offered, the detective took advantage of every available suggestion, and the result was he became fully posted upon everything that was of importance, and was enabled to render such an account of his labors as was satisfactory in the extreme. Sam Bridgeman, too, had not been idle, but mingling freely with the soldiers, he had succeeded in learning much of the conditions of the country that was of immense advantage in the after events of the campaign in Western Virginia. [231]

They remained in Charleston about eight days, and then, taking leave of the many friends they had made, they made their way safely back to Cincinnati and reported. The other two men whom I had dispatched upon the same mission traveled by rail across the State of Ohio and reached the West Virginia line at Point Pleasant. Here they began their investigations, and passing unquestioned they roamed through the country, passing eastward as far as Lynchburg. Thence, they made a detour to the South, and journeyed as far as Chattanooga and Nashville, in Tennessee, and thence to Louisville, Ky. Throughout their entire pilgrimage they were ever on the alert to acquire knowledge, and the immense amount of information which they gathered would only prove tedious to both myself and the reader. It is enough to say that they performed their duty in a manner creditable to themselves and valuable to the cause they represented, and I will simply summarize the situation.

General Garnett had posted himself in the pass at Laurel Hill, with an additional force at Beverly, while another, detachment, under Col. Pegram, had established himself in the pass at Rich Mountain. Here he had intended to fortify himself and to await a favorable opportunity for breaking the railroad. He found affairs upon his arrival in a miserable condition; the troops were disorganized and without discipline, arms or ammunition, and General Lee immediately sent him re-enforcements. [232]

This was the condition of affairs, when, early in July, General McClellan resolved to take the offensive and drive the rebels from West Virginia. In this campaign he received material aid and assistance from that brave officer General Rosecrans, who by superhuman exertions penetrated the pathless forest cutting and climbing his way to the very crest of Rich Mountain.

This movement, difficult as it was, to the South of the rebels, was a complete surprise to the enemy, who was expecting their arrival from the North.

They made a gallant resistance, however, but the Union forces had such an advantage that the contest was quickly decided. The rebel forces were driven from their breast-works and were compelled to take refuge in thickets or the mountains. Their confusion was deplorable, and their defeat unmistakable.

This victory placed the enemy in a very precarious position. McClellan was in his front and Rosecrans in secure possession of the road behind him, and Pegram, realizing the danger that threatened him, returned to his camp and, hastily spiking his guns, he abandoned all his stores and equipments, and endeavored to escape by marching northward along the mountain, intending, if possible, to join Garnett at Laurel Hill.

For the time being, he was successful in eluding the Federal commanders, and after a most laborious march of eighteen hours, found himself within three [233] miles of Leedsville. Here he was doomed to disappointment, for he learned that Garnett had also retreated, and that a strong Union column was in close pursuit. Thus he was again caught between two Union armies, and despairing of effecting his escape, he sent a proposal to General McClellan, offering a total surrender of his command. The Union General accepted the proposition, and on the following day the half-famished rebel fugitives laid down their arms and became prisoners of war, only too glad to receive once more comfortable quarters and hunger-appeasing rations.

The fugitives who had escaped from the battle of Rich Mountain carried the news of that disaster to Beverly, and to General Garnett, at Laurel Hill, and an immediate retreat was ordered. But he was closely pressed by the advancing Union armies, and when General Garnett reached Leedsville, he heard that General McClellan was at Beverly, thus cutting off effectually his further passage southward. He now resolved upon the desperate attempt of turning to the North and reaching St. George and West Union by a rough and difficult mountain road, during which his troops naturally became very much scattered and disorganized. Although he was nearly fifteen hours in advance of his pursuers, they gained rapidly upon him, and notwithstanding every effort was made by the rebels to impede his progress by felling trees in the narrow mountain defiles, the Union advance [234] overtook the rebel wagon-train at Carrick's Ford, one of the crossings of Cheat River, about twenty-six miles north-west of Laurel Hill. Here Garnett resolved to risk an encounter, and facing about his troops, he took a position on a favorable and precipitous elevation on the river bank, and planting his guns so as to command the ford and the approaching road, he prepared to defend his retreat. A brisk engagement at once ensued, and after a sharp contest the rebel lines broke and fled, abandoning one of their guns.

Retreat and pursuit were once more commenced, and at the next ford, a quarter of a mile further on, during a desultory skirmish fire between small parties of sharpshooters, General Garnett was killed. Here the Federal pursuit was discontinued, and the rebels left in the hands of the victors their entire baggage train, one gun, two stands of colors and fifty prisoners.

Estimated according to mere numbers, these battles of Rich Mountain and Carrick's Ford appear somewhat insignificant in contrast with the great battles of the rebellion, which occurred during the succeeding three years. Hundreds of engagements of greater magnitude, and attended with much more serious loss of life, followed these encounters, and decided the mighty problem of Northern success, but this early skirmish with the rebels on Rich Mountain, and this rout of Garnett's rear-guard at Carrick's Ford, were [235] speedily followed by great political and military results, which exercised a powerful influence upon the after-conduct of the war. They closed a campaign, dispersed a rebel army, which had for a long time been harassing a State whose sympathies were with the Union, and they permanently pushed back the military frontier to the borders of rebellious territory. Now, is it too much to say that the brilliant success which attended this first aggressive movement of General McClellan had a marked effect upon the public mind? That they gave a general impression of his military skill is not to be doubted, and he was from that time the hero of the hour. Certain it is that a train of circumstances started from these achievements which eventually led to his being called to Washington after the reverses at Manassas and Bull Run, and made him, on the first day of November following, the General-in-Chief of all the armies of the United States.

It is not necessary for me to follow the subsequent operations in West Virginia, as my duties were connected with General McClellan and his campaigns in that district ended with the death of General Garnett and the dispersion of his army. About a week afterwards he was called to a new field of duty at Washington city, and it is not my purpose to touch upon events in which I took no part. It is enough to say that, with somewhat fluctuating changes, the rebels were gradually forced back from the Great [236] Kanawha Valley, and the eventual result left West Virginia in possession of the Federal troops, her own inherent loyalty having contributed largely in producing this condition. The Union sentiment of the people was everywhere made manifest, and the new State government was consolidated and heartily sustained, ending in her ultimate admission as a separate member of the Federal Union in June, 1863.

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