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Reminiscences of Floyd's operations in West Virginia in 1861.

By Dr. Thomas J. Riddle, Private in the Goochland Artillery.
As drops compose the mighty ocean, so the aggregation of isolated facts make up correct history for future research. This must be my apology for presenting this paper to public notice. Though a youth of sixteen summers, when the tocsin of war sounded I entered the service of my native State, Virginia. On the 25th of August, 1861, my company, Guy's battery, consisting of upwards of one hundred men and four pieces of artillery, were ordered to join General J. B. Floyd's command in Southwest Virginia as soon as practicable. We took the Central cars (now the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway), and were conveyed to its terminus at Jackson river by the next evening. Here we encamped that night. The next morning we commenced our line of march by Covington, the White Sulphur Springs, Lewisburg, [93] Meadow Bluff, and across the Big Sewel Mountain, thence to Carnifax Ferry, where we joined General Floyd's brigade, about the 8th of September, just a few days before the Battle of Carnifax Ferry. General Floyd anticipated an engagement with the enemy at an early day. Consequently he wanted reinforcements as soon as possible, and we lost no time in reaching his command.

As my company had never had the privilege of participating in battle, they were enthusiastic and very eager for the conflict. Upon forming Floyd's brigade, our battery was at once placed in position, and temporary breastworks erected, which occupied a prominent place, commanding an open field for about a mile direct, and half mile probably in width, with woods on both our right and left flanks. To make an attack upon us, the enemy had to come directly through this open field. In a day or two, however, September 10th, about 2 P. M., our videts were driven in hurriedly, and the enemy at once made his appearance in full force. My company had now prepared for action in reality, ready to give the enemy a warm reception. It is proper to state just here, that Floyd's command did not exceed nineteen hundred available men. It consisted of Guy's battery, four pieces, Jackson's battery, two pieces, all six-pounders, a few cavalry companies, and the remainder of infantry.

The enemy came bravely forward, and the battle raged furiously from 2 1/2 o'clock, P. M., until darkness caused a cessation of hostilities, which was, doubtless, agreeable and acceptable to both parties.

The enemy fought with undaunted courage and bravery, making successive charges on our works.

In the engagement Colonel Lytle (afterwards a Major-General), who commanded an Ohio regiment, led the first charges. (He was killed subsequently in the battle, I think, of Chickamauga, Tenn.) This brave officer was seriously wounded while leading a charge on us. His fine black stud came over our works with part of the Colonel's equipments, with a mortal wound in his chest, which rendered him worthless. During the battle, General Floyd, who was just in the rear of my battery, received a slight flesh wound in one of his arms.

The enemy's loss in this engagement was considered heavy. In the charges on our battery their loss must necessarily have been great. Double the quantity of grape and canister were thrown into their ranks with fearful results—avenues were made through their ranks at times, yet they for awhile continued to close ranks, and forward, to meet shell and shot, until, doubtless, they were convinced that it was a useless sacrifice of life to persist in the assault. [94]

In this battle our loss was comparatively small, which was due, in a great measure, to our respective positions on the field, our position being the most advantageous one of the two. While we had the advantage in position, yet we labored under the disadvantage in numbers. It was estimated that the enemy had upwards of five thousand men on the field under General Rosecrans, while our command did not exceed nineteen hundred men, as above stated. That night, after the battle was over, about 12 o'clock, owing to our small force, and the reported reinforcements of the enemy, General Floyd very wisely ordered a retreat as quietly as possible. Many of us were asleep behind our breastworks when the evacuation was ordered, broken down from fatigue and excitement, and nothing disturbed our slumber save the groans of the wounded, not far from our fortifications, until an officer of the guard awoke us, saying that we had orders to evacuate our position as soon as possible. Orders were obeyed accordingly as with as little difficulty as could be expected under the circumstances.

Fortunately for us a bridge had just been completed across Gauley river that evening, upon which we passed over successfully to the opposite side. Carnifax Ferry is about one and a half miles from the battle ground, and to reach that point a very rugged and rough road has to be traveled (and especially in the dark as we did), winding as it does on the mountain, and should you go too far to the right or left as it might be, you would in all probability be precipitated hundreds of feet.

The retreat was considered one of the most remarkable of the war; in coming down this dangerous road to the ferry that dark night, we only lost one caison, besides a good deal of baggage, which went over a precipice. It was conceded by the command that had it not been for ‘Guy's’ battery, Floyd's brigade would have been captured at the battle of Carnifax Ferry; and General Floyd recognized this fact, and expressed himself as grateful to us for his brigade's successful escape on that memorable occasion.

On the next morning just about sunrise the enemy commenced shelling our breastworks actively—not knowing we had abandoned our position about twelve o'clock that night, and that we were several miles on the other side of the river. After cannonading for several hours, and receiving no response, the works were at once taken possession of, although they did not pursue us further than the river. After marching several miles, we met General H. A. Wise's Legion, on their way to reinforce General Floyd's command. So [95] quietly and expeditiously was this retreat conducted that General Wise's command did not seem to know anything about it until that morning. Both commands now took up a line of march for ‘Dogwood Gap,’ not many miles distant—we arrived at this place the next day. After remaining here two days, about twelve o'clock at night, the long roll sounded, and we were ordered to strike tents at once, and prepare to fall back, as it was reported that General Cox, with a large force, was rapidly advancing upon us; we lost no time in executing these orders, and were soon on the march. Floyd's command fell back to ‘Meadow Bluff,’ which consumed several days. Here we encamped for about two weeks. General Wise's brigade fell back to Little Sewel Mountain—the General fortified his position, and said that he ‘would remain there until that hot place froze over.’ In a short while General Rosencrans, with his command of Federal troops came up and took their position, on Big Sewel Mountain, only a few miles from General Wise's position, all in sight.

About the 1st of October, General Floyd was ordered to reinforce General Wise at Little Sewel. These orders were executed in a few days. My command encamped at the eastern base of Little Sewel in anticipation daily of an engagement with the enemy. We remained here nearly two weeks. On a bright October morning, while walking down the mountain slope, I met a Confederate officer, who attracted my attention very much by his personal appearance. He was a noble looking soldier, had the eye of an eagle; he was riding a fine gray steed, and there was something about this officer that challenged my admiration and esteem. He rode up and spoke to me, and asked me where was General Wise's brigade. I informed him; he thanked me and rode in the direction I had given him. Upon meeting one of my officers I asked who was that noble looking officer just passed our camp; he replied that it was General Robert E. Lee, who at that time was little known to the Confederacy, but was destined to become one of the greatest captains the world ever saw, and whose name will ever live upon the brightest page of the historian. After remaining at Little Sewell mountain upwards of two weeks, General Lee made preparations to attack General Rosecrans; contrary, doubtless, to General Lee's expectations, on the morning the attack was to be made, General Rosecrans had very quietly evacuated Big Sewell, and only left a few broken down horses and wagons, and a few tents pitched to make it appear that he still occupied his position. This was considered a very ingenious piece of strategy, as General Lee was much disappointed when he found [96] that General Rosecrans had so quietly and adroitly eluded him on the previous night.

In a day or two after this occurrence General Floyd's command was ordered to Cotton Mountain, probably a hundred miles distant. Floyd's command was now reinforced, and consisted of the following troops: Twenty-first Virginia regiment, Thirty-sixth Virginia regiment, Forty-fifth Virginia regiment, Fiftieth Virginia regiment, and Fifty-first Virginia regiment; the Thirteenth Georgia, Georgia battalion of cavalry, Twentieth Mississippi regiment, a company of Louisiana sharpshooters, Captain John H. Guy's artillery company, and Captains Jackson's and Adams's batteries, and a few cavalry companies. From Little Sewell to Cotton Mountain we had to march through a very rugged section of country, and were compelled to take a very circuitous route in order to reach this place. It was with great difficulty that we succeeded in conveying our cannon up and over some of the mountains we had to cross. Our horses being in such a weakened condition, we had to hitch twelve to one piece of cannon and put our shoulders to the wheels. However, we reached Cotton Mountain after no little trouble, and went into camp near its southern base.

A few days after remaining here it was reported that the enemy would attempt to cross New river on a certain morning. Two pieces of artillery from my battery were placed in position on a road leading from the ferry, about two hundred yards distant; but the enemy did not attempt to cross; their pickets fired into us, though did no damage. In a day or two General Floyd ordered a piece of cannon from my battery to be placed upon the summit of Cotton Mountain and to shell the enemy on the opposite side of the river, as he could be seen distinctly in the vicinity of Colonel Tompkins's residence. It was with great difficulty that we succeeded in conveying the cannon on the top of this mountain, which was accomplished by means of ropes, bushes, &c.

After placing our piece in position, we opened fire on the enemy, and a response was soon received. An artillery duel was kept up ten days, with little damage to either side, the distance was too great to do much execution, though the enemy was very much interfered with in consequence of transporting supplies down the river at times, when we would give them a few shells from above.

My command remained in this section of country nearly three weeks, the latter part of which time we had cold, rainy weather, being without tents, and nearly out of rations, save raw beef, and [97] flour without salt to season, and only an improvised piece of board to prepare these supplies on for our palates. The Confederacy was not destitute of provisions at this time, but my command was upwards of one hundred miles from any depot, the nearest was Dublin, Va., and the roads were almost impassable; consequently transportation was well nigh impossible—I mean a sufficient supply for three or four thousand men. Our troops suffered a great deal from sickness, which was due to inadequate diet and exposure. General Floyd, under these unpropitious circumstances, was necessarily compelled to fall back where supplies were more accessible, though possibly he left sooner than he had anticipated, owing to an authentic report that a large force of Federal troops were attempting to cut him off and surround him; this was about the middle of November. We began to fall back as rapidly as possible, leaving one evening and marching some ten or twelve miles before stopping.

After passing a mile beyond Nicholas Courthouse we went into camp.. This was about 12 o'clock at night. At 4 o'clock the next morning we resumed our march, and made fifteen or twenty miles that day, and encamped about one mile this side of McCoy's Mill in an open field. It is believed that if General Floyd's command had been an hour later in leaving camp near Nicholas Courthouse his forces would have been cut off, as the enemy, in full force, soon came in the vicinity of the Courthouse just after Floyd left. It was said that the General commanding the Federal forces was much surprised and disappointed in not capturing Floyd and his command, and was astonished at the successful retreat of his enemy.

We were pursued by the Federals slowly; and on leaving our camp near McCoy's Mill on the morning of the third day the enemy arrived within a short distance of us, and opened fire on us with artillery. This was very unexpected by most of us. However, we at once placed a piece of cannon in position and returned the fire. There was considerable excitement and confusion at this particular time. Colonel Chrowe, of the Georgia Battalion of Cavalry, had an engagement with the enemy near McCoy's Mill, in a skirt of woods. In this fight the Colonel was killed. This little skirmish only lasted an hour or two, resulting in very small loss on either side.

General Floyd continued his march to Raleigh Courthouse, which consumed some two or three days. It was raining the whole time, and the roads were in a terrible condition. The command suffered severely. A few horses and wagons were lost on the retreat, as it [98] was impossible to bring them with us. Of course they were so disabled to render them useless to any one.

The enemy followed us a short distance from McCoy's Mill. Floyd continued to fall back several miles the other side of Raleigh Courthouse, just beyond a considerable creek which rose in winter to a great extent. Here we rested a few days, then resumed our line of march to Peterstown, not far from the Gray Sulphur Springs, at which place we expected to go into winter-quarters and recuperate for the spring campaign. We at once begun to erect our quarters, though in a few days orders came for the command to go to Dublin, Pulaski county, Va. The men were much elated on receiving such welcome tidings. They certainly had been for several months in the most rugged and seemingly forsaken section of country that I ever saw.

We had suffered both for food and raiment; the latter part of November was very bad on us, it rained, snowed and froze the most of the time.

About the 5th of December, 1861, my command proceeded to Dublin depot, and reached our destination on the 9th inst. In a short while, however, orders were received for General Floyd and his brigade to report to General Albert Sidney Johnston, whose command was then in the vicinity of Bowling Green, Ky.

On the 26th day of December, my company of artillery left on the Virginia and Tennessee railroad, en route for General Johnston's army.

Thus ends a brief history of my experience in the campaign of 1861, in Southwestern Virginia, under General Jno. B. Floyd's command.

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