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Rich mountain in 1861. [from the Richmond Dispatch of November 17 and December 3, 1899.]

An account of that memorable campaign and how General Garnett was killed. History of the occurrences

Of May 10th, 11th, and 12th—Taliaferro Succeeds to command after the fall of Garnett—Incidents of the report by Dr. Henry M. Price, Company K, 44th Virginia Volunteers, with corrections and additional particulars by C. T. Allen, formerly of Lunenburg county, Va.

by Dr. Henry M. Price.
At the request of many old comrades, and through your courtesy, I will try to give your readers a true history of the occurrences of the 10th, 11th, and 12th of May, 1861, culminating in the tragic death of General Garnett, and the loss of West Virginia to the State and the Confederacy. No campaign has been more misunderstood, nor more misrepresented, both North and South than this.

On the evening of the 10th of July, 1861, the Forty-fourth Virginia Volunteers, commanded by Colonel William C. Scott, of Powhatan [39] co., Va., reached Beverley, Randolph county, and encamped at the base of Rich mountain, just beyond, in the road crossing that mountain, on which, six miles beyond, General Pegram held position, having 300 men, known as the ‘College Boys,’ entrenched on the summit of the mountain three miles off, and 900 with himself. Scott had 800, rank and file, and six pieces of artillery. At Laurel Hill (Elkins), nine miles beyond Beverley, General Garnett faced McClellan's 15,000 with 2,000 men, composed of Colonel William C. Taliaferro's brigade, the Thirty-first Virginia (West Virginia), under Colonel Jackson, and the First Georgia, under Colonel Ramsey. Thus Garnett was attempting to hold four detached positions against McClellan's united force of over three to one. On the night of the 10th your correspondent was thrown out at the extreme picket on Rich mountain, with orders from Captain Shelton, of Louisa, officer of the day, to scout out if anything unusual occurred, and find out its nature and report to him on rounds to the posts. About midnight a movement of the enemy was discovered opening and cutting a way 'round Pegram's position in the direction of the entrenched position held by the ‘College Boys.’ This was duly reported and a courier sent to General Garnett. At daylight of July 11h an order came to Scott to immediately join Garnett at Laurel Hill. When within three miles of that position an order came to countermarch double quick ‘to the forks of the road on Rich mountain, some half a mile from the entrenched “College boys,” and hold the position to the last man.’ The position was reached about 1 P. M., and almost immediately the enemy— 5,000 strong—made an attack on the position of the ‘College Boys.’ A more gallant fight than these brave boys put up against overwhelming odds was never made. They stood firm as the rocky base of the mountain beneath them, until the last round of ammunition was exhausted, and then, only then, scattered amid the forest. The men of the Forty-fourth were held, under General Garnett's positive order, as idle witnesses almost, of these brave boys' defeat—stern men crying in agony to be led in to their help, even almost to mutiny. There never has been a doubt in our minds, if we had united with the boys the 1,100, and twelve pieces of artillery, would have checked, if not defeated, the ‘Buckeye Braggarts,’ as we did successively four times thereafter. On that day, wrought to reckless frenzy, we might have been annihilated, but never defeated!


Garnett's last order.

Almost with the close of the fight, an order came from General Garnett for Scott to fall back to Huttonsville, twelve miles from Beverley, and he would join us there, concentrate, and give McClellan battle. We had nearly reached Huttonsville, when there came another order from Garnett for us to return to Beverley, where he would join us, and fight there next day. Midnight of the 11th of July found us, after marching and countermarching all day, drawn up in the streets of Beverley, waiting Garnett, our last march made amid a thunder-storm and downpour of rain seldom witnessed. As we stood in rank, wet to the skin, there came a last order from Garnett ‘to take the prisoners from the jail and fall rapidly back to Monterey, where he would join us by way of Hardy and the South Branch of the Potomac.’ This was done, Colonel Scott ordering your correspondent to remain at the log cabin, just out of Beverly, to direct stragglers from the fight on Rich mountain on the line of retreat. This he did, remaining until the Yankee cavalry appeared, approaching Beverley from the direction of Laurel Hill, on the morning of the 12th of July, then rejoining the regiment late in the evening of that charge at Cheat mountain. It is evident that, as the turnpike road was open for the Yankee cavalry, it was equally open for Garnett to have joined Scott at Beverley, and retreat that way to Cheat mountain and entrench there, as the enemy did afterwards.

At ‘Travellers' Rest,’ on Greenbrier river, near dark of the 12th, we met the 12th Georgia, under Colonel Edward Johnson, who fell in line after us, and continued retreat over the Alleghany. About midnight, 'mid inky darkness, at a long angle in the road, our prisoners, held in the front, broke away, and the fire of the guard striking our rear, led us to think we were being attacked by ‘bushwhackers,’ and the fire was promptly returned, leading the front to the same idea. Then for some minutes the front and rear continued fiercely firing, the flash of our Springfield muskets illuminating the visible darkness, the men, almost to a man, remaining resolutely firm and cool, as comrades fell around and the shrieks of the wounded pierced the darkness 'round. Had Mrs. Susan Pendleton Lee been an eye-witness of this scene, she would hardly have written, ‘These men were totally demoralized.’ On the evening of the 13th we rested for the night, and on the 14th of July reached Monterey and encamped, awaiting Garnett's forces to join us. Pegram, cut off by [41] this mismanagement, was compelled to surrender the force with him to McClellan. General Garnett commenced to retreat on the night of the 11th of July, with McClellan in pursuit, who overtook him at Cannick's Ford, over Cheat river. Here Garnett concluded to make a stand to check the enemy's advance. A line of battle was formed of Taliaferro's regiment and the 1st Georgia, with the 31st Virginia (West Virginia) thrown out as a skirmish line and sharpshooters along the banks of the river. General Garnett rode up to Lieutenant-Colonel Pat Duffy, of Braxton Courthouse, in charge of the skirmish line, and called for twelve men. On reaching the stream he ordered eleven back, and himself and one man, Zack Tillman, of Lewis county, continued to the middle of the river. Here Garnett ordered ten men back, who, thinking the General demented, hesitated. A volley from the enemy riddled Garnett's body. It fell into the stream. Tillman brought out safely the General's horse. The body was recovered by McClellan and sent home by way of Washington for burial.

Retreat to Monterey.

On the fall of Garnett, Colonel Taliaferro assumed command, and speedily checked the enemy's advance, and his force safely reached Monterey a few days after. The entire force were detained a month at this place by measles of a virulent type which deciminated our ranks. On the 15th of August we advanced to Traveller's Rest, on the Greenbrier, to hold the Parkersburg turnpike, and prevent any advance from Cheat mountain on Staunton, General Henry R. Jackson, of Georgia, being in command. We had been reinforced by the 1st Arkansas, Colonel Rusk, and Fulkerson's southwest Virginia regiment. Early on the morning of the 2d of September, Millroy, with 5,000 men and his field guns, crossed the bridge over the Greenbrier to drive in our pickets and attack our entrenched camp. Our pickets, 120 strong, taking the laurel on the side of the mountain, held their advance for three hours, making an unequalled fight of this character. The 1st Arkansas, Taliaferro's regiment, and the 44th Virginia held the entrenchments, the latter being on the left at the extreme point of the ridge, near the enemy and under our own battery and in line of fire of the enemy's. The 1st and 12th Georgians formed line of battle on the banks of the river to check the enemy's crossing. The ridge, on our left, was held by the 31st Virginia (West Virginia) and Fulkerson's regiment. The Georgians, preventing [42] Millroy from crossing to attack the entrenchments, the battle culminated into an artillery duel of three hours duration, when the enemy fell back. During this artillery duel the writer witnessed as cool a piece of daring as he saw but once after during the war. He was lying down in his place in the trench at the extreme point, near the enemy's battery and directly beneath our own, in line of the direct fire. The next man to to the left of him was private Robert Blackburn, the present postmaster of Antioch, Va., who was sitting up, a twelve pound shell fell in the trench between us, its firing, hissing fuse rapidly burning, predicating death or wounds to all in that part of the trench. There was no time for me to rise and throw it out, so I exclaimed, as it fell: ‘Throw her out, Bob.’ Instantly he seized it and hurled it over the bank of trench, and it scarcely rolled twenty feet before it exploded. Here was a fair specimen of our demoralization, so curtly mentioned in Mrs. Lee's history. Indeed, Colonel (afterward General) Edward Johnson paid the men the compliment to say, ‘They were as immobile under fire as a parcel of tarrapins on a sandbar.’

At Cheat mountain.

Soon after this General Robert E. Lee, then in command in West Virginia, when he planned an attack on Cheat mountain from the west, called for 2,500 volunteers from this force to storm the entrenchments from the east. He got them, and they marched to position at midnight, awaiting all day for the signal guns from the west side —that never came. General Lee could not have deemed them suffering much from demoralization.

Late in the fall our forces fell back to the top of the Alleghany for winter quarters, Colonel Edward Johnson in command. On the night of the 25th of December, the enemy, 5,000 strong, under Millroy, made a night march in a snowstorm to surprise us. Our pickets, on the turnpike road up the mountain, were bayoneted, rolled up in their blankets, asleep on their posts. Our men were round their camp-fires, cooking breakfast; the ‘Buckeyes’ suddenly appeared, firing into them. Surprised and overpowered by such numbers, our men scattered in disorder, falling back some thousand yards and halted. Colonel Johnson, in his night-clothes, slippers and overcoat—for there was no time left to dress—put himself at their head, with an ‘old grub’ picked up, and charged the enemy, our force growing at each step by the surprised men. For a short time it was [43] a hand-to-hand fight at close quarters. Gradually the enemy gave back; then faster and faster, finally flying in total rout along and down the mountain side. All things considered, this was one of the most remarkable victories gained during the war. General Loring having assumed command, on hearing that Fremont was ascending the East Branch of the Potomac with 10,000 men to cut him off at McDowell, slowly fell back to the Cow Pasture mountain, to protect Staunton. About midnight of the 6th of May, Stonewall Jackson, marching rapidly from the Shenandoah Valley with a part of his small force, joined us and at once ordered us ‘to go back to Mc-Dowell’ and fight, but whip the enemy. We reached the vicinity of McDowell, where Freemont had united with Millroy, about 2 P. M. of the 8th of May. We at once formed line of battle on the ridge above, the centre being held by the 44th and 21st Virginia and the 12th Georgia regiments. Upon this attack, after attack was made to break it. The fight stubbornly continued until night, when the enemy were totally routed by a general charge and their camp, stores, etc., taken. From this date this command became part of Stonewall Jackson's famous foot cavalry—present in every fight up to his lamented death. They formed part of the force of General Edward Johnson, cut off at the Bloody Angle, and furnished the principal part of the six hundred officers—the martyrs of Morris's Island and Fort Pulaski-many of them food for the sharks of Charleston harbor or their bodies decaying amid the boggy marshes round Fort Pulaski. At the former places—held by negro troops, late slaves—their ration was two ounces of bread, washed down with a pint of Cayenne pepper tea.

Captain James M. Hughes, Company K, 44th Virginia, who resides near Scottsville, Va., says he owes his life to a negro—Corporal Triner—who, taking a fancy to him, daily brought him battercakes, hid beneath his shirt bosom. His brother, Lieutenant John Hughes, less fortunate, and many others, were reduced to skeletons, under the agony of starvation from a stimulated appetite goaded by the beverage given. The few who at last, in the very jaws of death, returned home were walking skeletons, whom even their friends failed to recognize. If any one desires to hear the terrible torments suffered by these victims of a diabolical cruelty without parallel, even in the world's darkest pages, let them call upon Captain James M. Hughes, as brave and true a soldier as marched to the tune of Dixie beneath the Stars and Bars, and as the unbidden ear of memory rises in his [44] fearless eye, he will a tale unfold that will damn the authors of this diabolical scheme and consign them to eternal obliquity of the blackest pages of the world's eternal history.

Corrections and further particulars by C. T. Allen.

Mexico, Mo., November 25, 1899.
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
In your weekly issue of November 21st I have read with pleasing interest an article by Dr. Henry M. Price, late of the 44th Virginia Volunteers, touching the incidents and occurrences of July 10, 11, and 12, 1861, at and about Rich mountain, the scene of the second battle of the late war—the first being the battle of Big Bethel, on June 10th.

I remember with remarkable distinctness many occurrences of that time, and I recall this day, after the lapse of thirty-eight and one-third years, many little incidents of that terrific battle on the summit of Rich mountain, in which over 25 per cent. of the brave boys who went into it on the Confederate side ‘bit the dust.’ Well and distinctly do I recall this day the fact that Colonel William C. Scott and his full and brave regiment was close by-almost in sight-and that our cry of distress, as our comrades fell ‘like leaves in wintry weather,’ was unheeded by him. I recall also the fact that one of our men, Waddy S. Bacon (one of Walker's Nicarauga campaigners and filibusters, as brave a man as ever trod the earth), in some way ‘ran the gauntlet’ of shot and shell on that ever-memorable July II, 1861, and went to Colonel Scott in person, told him of the situation, begged him to go to our help, showed him how an attack in the Federal rear would demoralize the whole Federal force and cause them to flee as if ‘from the wrath to come,’ and offered to go side by side with him in leading the rear attack. No, Colonel Scott didn't ‘budge’ one inch! Pegram's heroes—only about 250 actually engaged—confronted by General Rosecrans with three full regiments—at least 3,000 men—stood like a ‘stone wall’ on that mountain summit, fighting to the death, hoping, waiting, praying that Colonel Scott would come to their help and rescue. They fought and hoped and waited and prayed in vain. Finally, as they were about to be surrounded by the Federals ‘lapping’ all around them, they fell back, leaving seventy-odd dead on the field of honor. [45]

The battle of Rich mountain, on July 11, 1861, is not down in history as one of the big battles of the war. In comparison with a hundred others, perhaps, it was a small affair, and will not be noticed by the future historian. But it is a fact, nevertheless, that it was a bloody battle, and those engaged in it on the Confederate side ‘stood to their guns’ with a gallantry and heroism worthy of all praise. The fact that they lost over 25 per cent. of their number attests the stubbornness of the battle.

Allow me to correct Dr. Price in a few particulars, of which I know more than he could possibly know, for he was with Colonel Scott and I was with Pegram, though I was not actually in the fight on the mountain summit. Dr. Price says General Pegram was ‘entrenched on the summit’ of Rich mountain, with 300 men, known as the ‘College Boys,’ and 900 men elsewhere.

Here my friend is in error. Lieutenant-Colonel John Pegram (afterwards major-general, and killed at Five Forks, near Petersburg, on or about April 1, 1865), arrived at Rich mountain with his regiment, the 20th Virginia volunteers, on Tuesday or Wednesday evening, July 9th or 10th--I have forgotten which—and assumed command. We came from Laurel Hill, where General Garnett was in command. When we got to Rich mountain there were a few troops there-how many I do not now remember. Among them was a field battery commanded by a gray-bearded and brave old gentleman named Anderson. But all told, Pegram's force on July 11th didn't number more than 1,000 men, if so many. ‘The College Boys’—students from Hampden-Sidney College, commanded by Professor John M. P. Atkinson, brave and splendid soldiers, every one of them!—constituted one company only in the 20th Virginia, but they were only a small part of the Confederate force who held the mountain summit so bravely that day. As well as I remember, there were no entrenchments—if any, very poor indeed—on the mountain top. We had not been there long enough to throw up entrenchments worthy the name, and the few troops there before we got to Rich mountain were engaged in felling trees and making an abattis on the southwestern slope of the mountain. I think it can be safely stated that there was no ‘entrenched position’ on the mountain summit, but there was a so-called ‘intrenched position’ (logs piled up with cracks chinked with rocks and sticks, &c.!) on the southwestern slope.

Now, my friend, Dr. Price, says Colonel Scott, on the morning of July 11th, in obedience to an order from General Garnett, started [46] from Beverley to join Garnett at Laurel Hill, and was then ordered back to the forks of the road on Rich mountain, some half mile from the entrenched College Boys, and hold the position to the last man.

Colonel Scott reached this ‘forks of the road’ point about 1 P. M. July 11th, when immediately 5,000 Federals, who had passed this ‘forks of the road’ point, I presume, before Scott got there, attacked Pegram's force on the mountain .summit. Now, let's see how ‘things’ stood just at this point of time.

The Confederates under Pegram on the mountain summit were aligned across the road, facing in a somewhat northeast direction, the Federals under Rosecrans attacking Pegram and facing in a somewhat southwestern direction. Immediately behind these Federals and within a ‘half mile’ of Pegram was Colonel William C. Scott, with 800 men and six pieces of artillery, all eager to go to the rescue of the brave Pegram and his fast-falling men! My conscience! What havoc Colonel Scott could have played with his 800 brave men and six pieces of artillery by a dashing attack on the Federal rear! His artillery could not have done much real service owing to the topography of the ground surrounding him, but his men with rifles and muskets, aided by the uproar that could be created by six pieces of artillery firing even blank cartridges, could at that early period of the war have ‘raised the siege’ of Pegram and his men and saved the day. But Colonel Scott didn't ‘budge’ one inch. There he stood, an ‘idle witness’ of brave comrades praying him to come to their rescue, calling for his help, but fighting and dying at their post! No wonder Colonel Scott's braves ‘cried in agony to be led to their help, even almost to mutiny.’

I never knew Colonel Scott personally, I do not now know whether he be dead or alive. I have never known what reason he gave for not helping Pegram that day. Dr. Price says Colonel Scott was ‘held under Garnett's positive order at the forks-of-the-road point,’ and couldn't leave. I have no doubt at all of the truth of that statement. But let us look at the situation, and perhaps we will see that Colonel Scott was not justified in fulfilling literally his order.

General Garnett first ordered Scott to join him at Laurel Hill. Then Garnett didn't know that David L. Hart, a mountaineer, who lived on the mountain summit, was leading Rosecrans with three full regiments to Pegram's rear. But he soon became aware of it, and realizing Pegram's extreme danger of being overwhelmed and [47] captured—‘horse, foot, and dragoon’—ordered Scott back to protect Pegram's rear, and believing that the ‘forks-of-the-road’ point was the best place for Scott to take and make his fight and ‘hold to the last man,’ ordered him so to do. When Scott got there he plainly saw that he was too late—that the Federals were actually in position beyond the forks of the road, higher up the mountain, and ready to begin, and did in a few minutes, begin the bloody attack upon Pegram's rear.

Colonel Scott had taken his position, and he held it, an ‘idle witness’ of the slaughter of his brave comrades on the mountain summit, and there he stayed, because Garnett had ordered him to do so! His brave men wanted to rescue, or at least help, Pegram, but Colonel Scott said ‘No! I was ordered to take and hold this position at the forks of the road,’ and I am doing it. Colonel Scott ought to have seen that the very wording of his order—‘to hold’ the forks-of-the-road point ‘to the last man’—contemplated his getting to that point before the Federals got there, or at least before they struck Pegram's rear on the mountain summit. When he did get there, the Federals had passed up the mountain and were ready to begin, and did in a few minutes begin the battle. He ought to have seen that ‘circumstances had changed’ from what they were anticipated to be when Garnett wrote that order, and the order was no longer obligatory upon him. Then, left to his own view of the actual situation, the view of a brave soldier, with a splendid advantage over the enemy staring him in the face, what was Colonel Scott's duty? Any one can answer—to strike the enemy in the rear with all possible dash; put every rifle and musket and every piece of artillery to its best work; raise the rebel yell, and make the enemy feel, or at least imagine, that ‘hell had broke loose,’ not ‘in Georgia,’ but in his rear. If Colonel Scott had done so, the day would have been saved, I think, and many a brave boy would have lived to fight again. But he didn't, and the day was lost, and the whole of what is now West Virginia was thrown away, a new State carved out of the ‘Old Dominion’ without warrant of constitutional law—‘the bastard offspring of a political rape!’

When I recall the dreadful sufferings of Pegram's men on their retreat from Rich mountain; how we trudged through the very blackness of darkness the night following the battle through a trackless wilderness; how we tramped through mud and rain down to Monterey; how men fell by the way from hunger; how wounded [48] comrades were set up against trees and given the farewell hand of fellowship, and never heard of again—when a recollections of these sufferings comes back to me, and I think how much of them could have been avoided had Colonel Scott realized his duty as he looked on as ‘idle witness’ at that forks-of-the-road point on July 1, 1861, the tears drop down my cheek, and I feel that Colonel Scott was most grievously at fault. Let no one think for one moment that I impugn in the least degree the courage of Colonel Scott. That is not my purpose, for I never knew him, or anything of his personal characteristics. But I do say that Colonel Scott failed that day to realize what his duty was. He literally obeyed orders, when he should have realized and known by the intuition of a soldier, that his duty was to throw his orders to the winds and strike the enemy in his front and their rear and die, if need be, in saving the day.

In another communication at some convenient season, with the permission of the Dispatch, I will say more of Rich mountain and its consequences.

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