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Doc. 65. operations in Western Virginia.

The following account of the operations of Floyd's and Wise's forces in Western Virginia, is given by a correspondent of the Richmond Dispatch. Its authorship is attributed to Col. Henningsen, well known for his connection with the filibuster expedition from the South:

camp Defiance, Sept. 25, 1861--10 P. M.
On the 14th of September Gen. Floyd and his forces encamped on the summit of the Big Sewell, and ordered the Wise Legion, which, to cover his rear, was drawn up in order of battle at Locust Lane, to camp east of him, at Smales', on the turnpike.

The troops of the Wise Legion, who were in no amiable humor at so much retreating, and especially at being obliged to retire from Dogwood Gap without fighting, were much exhausted and annoyed at having been kept on the road from six in the morning till eleven at night, mixed up with an interminable train of wagons belonging to the Floyd Brigade, for the purpose of only proceeding a few miles, and without being able to obtain any definite order as to their destination.

On the eastern slope of the Big Sewell, between two small farms called Dixon's and Vaughan's, Gen. Wise selected his camping ground at the place since called Camp Defiance, and which undoubtedly is, with Dogwood Gap, one of the strongest positions between the Alleghanies and the Ohio River.

On the 15th and 16th Gen. Floyd was industriously occupied throwing up field-works to the westward of the summit of Big Sewell. The position, however, was not one tenable against a superior force, and this Gen. Floyd seems to have found out. On the night of the 16th to the 17th he made a very precipitate retreat from the Big Sewell, with about three thousand men, to Meadow Bluff, destroying much baggage and abandoning much provision. His troops were under the impression that Gen. Rosecrans was pressing on with fifteen thousand men.

After passing the Wise Legion he ordered Gen. Wise on the following day to prepare to cover his rear and to follow him to Meadow Bluff, having information that the enemy was advancing one column by the Wilderness road. It was impossible for Gen. Wise to comply with both orders, even had they been positive, and in fact one was not executed at all. It was only by maintaining its position at all hazards, that the Legion could protect the rear of the Floyd Brigade. The experience of Dogwood Gap, occupied in force, with artillery, by the enemy, a few hours after the Wise Legion left it, by Gen. Floyd's order, showed clearly, and the event at Camp Defiance subsequently confirmed, that on the abandonment of the latter position, the enemy would immediately occupy it in force.

Floyd's Brigade was much demoralized since his retreat from Camp Gauley and the following retreat. The Wise Legion, willing enough to fight, would have been equally demoralized by retreating any further. Meadow Bluff affords no position. No real demonstration had yet or [158] has since been made on the Wilderness road, nor did there exist any reason why there should be, since the enemy could more conveniently, if in force sufficient, strike the turnpike further eastward, as for instance at the Little Sewell.

If the Wise Legion had retreated and been followed up by superior forces its existence was imperilled, and thereby the rear of the Floyd Brigade left unprotected. But, at all events, that retreat was impossible of execution without the abandonment of baggage, because Gen. Floyd had detained many wagons belonging to the already insufficient transportation of the Wise Legion, and because the roads had been so much cut up by the vast train of the Floyd Brigade. The writer counted twenty-eight wagons belonging to and following the last regiment of Gen. Floyd's brigade, which was just twenty more than accompanied the regiment which closed up Wise's column.

Under these circumstances Gen. Wise resolved to make a stand where he was encamped, and where, on the morning after his reaching the ground, he had begun to throw up intrenchments. Here it was impossible for an enemy to bring more than two guns or a thousand men to bear on any part of his position; and on every point, within a few minutes, Gen. Wise could bring six of his eight pieces and two-thirds of his force into play, beside the advantage of intrenchments. In addition, most of the officers of the Legion spoke openly of resigning if compelled to retreat any further.

On the 18th Gen. Wise addressed the troops of his Legion, stating substantially that hitherto he had never retreated but in obedience to superior orders. That here he was determined to make a stand. That his force consisted only of one thousand seven hundred infantry and artillery, and that the enemy was alleged to be fifteen thousand strong. That this he did not believe, but that his men must be prepared to fight two or three or several to one, and even if the enemy were in the full force stated, the position admitted of successful defence, and he was determined to abide the issue. He warned them that they would probably be attacked front and rear for successive days, and he called on any officer or soldier who felt doubtful of the result, or unwilling to stand by him in this trial, to step forward, promising that they should be marched at once to Meadow Bluff. This speech, delivered successively to the three regiments of infantry and to the artillery, was received with the wildest enthusiasm. Not one solitary individual in the Legion failed to respond, and the spirits of the corps were raised and maintained at the highest fighting pitch. The provisions and baggage-wagons were withdrawn into safe positions, and the camp on all sides strengthened. In this attitude the Legion remained till about the 20th, when it was strengthened by the arrival of Capt. Romer's artillery company, with one gun, and by that of one Virginia, one North Carolina, and three Georgia companies, which swelled the forces of the Wise Legion to over two thousand men.

About this time Gen. Lee arrived in Gen. Floyd's camps at Meadow Bluff, and wrote to Gen. Wise, advising him to fall back if executable, without delay. Before acting on this advice Gen. Wise requested Gen. Lee to inspect the position in person. On the 22d Gen. Lee arrived at Camp Defiance, and, after a careful survey of the ground, ordered Gen. Wise to maintain his position until further orders.

The enemy had meanwhile advanced to within three or four miles, and several skirmishes had taken place between his outposts and the remaining cavalry of the Legion, under Major Bacon, formerly captain of mounted rangers in Nicaragua, and afterward aid to Gen. Garnett, and wounded by the side of that General when he fell. The rest of the cavalry was still under its gallant colonel, J. L. Davis, and Lieut.-Col. Ciarkson, south of the New River, where they had pushed a daring and successful foray up to within twelve miles of Charleston.

One night Gen. Wise, with a few picked companions, including the Richmond Blues and Mississippi Rangers, of the Second regiment, under Capt. Imboden, attempted to feel and ambuscade the enemy and drive in their outposts, killing three of them, the General himself lying down for several hours in a pitiless shower. Notwithstanding, all that could be ascertained of the enemy was that he was on the turnpike, probably from five thousand to six thousand strong.

On the afternoon of the 23d, while the infantry and artillery of the Legion were rehearsing their part on the contemplated points of attack, the enemy suddenly appeared, driving in our pickets. The next morning the summit of the Big Sewell was whitened with his tents, and skirmishing commenced and continued till the evening. On our side two gun detachments of the artillery and three companies of the Second regiment of the Legion, of which Col. Henningsen is colonel, but in consequence of his having charge of the infantry and artillery, under the immediate command of Lieut.-Col. Frank Anderson--who distinguished himself by the daring exploit of capturing Castillo, in Nicaragua, with forty-eight men, after Lockridge and Titus had failed with eight hundred--Capt. Imboden's, Capt. Lewis's, and Capt. Crane's University company were the companies engaged, with one six-pounder and one howitzer, under Major Gibbs, of South Carolina, Capt. McComas and Lieut. Pairo, of Richmond. The casualties were but trifling on our side, though we have to regret the death of Lieut. Howell, of Mississippi, (of Capt. McDonnell's company,) and that of one of Capt. Imboden's gallant rangers. Capt. Lewis was shot through the breast, but is doing well. Three privates were wounded in the above-named companies, one very severely. The only loss in the artillery was Lieut. Pairo's horse, shot under him. The enemy was obviously only feeling for the [159] flanks of our position, and evidently could make nothing of it, and “no wonder,” as Prof. Snead remarked, “since it has no flanks at all.”

The guns were only advanced to avenge the casualties which befell our men, firing a few rounds and then retiring. For instance, when the ranger fell, a six-pounder suddenly advanced along a ridge where a gun could never have been expected, and drove the enemy from a stable, laying out four of them. In sight, on another occasion, seven were dropped before the howitzer. A company of the enemy's reconnoitring, and commanded by a mounted officer, came on a picket of the University company. The sentry shot the mounted officer down, received the volley of the company and retired unhurt. Major Lawson, of the Second regiment, having seized a rifle to surprise one of the enemy's scouts, was himself surprised by another who sent a shot through his coat. The major, however, avenged himself on this interloper by shooting him dead.

On the evening of the 24th Gen. Lee arrived with his regiments and two pieces of cannon. Late on the 25th Gen. Wise received a communication from the Secretary of War, requiring him to report immediately in Richmond. Having ordered Col. Henningsen to accompany him, he left Camp Defiance for that city the same evening, with Majors Duffield and Stanard, Captains Farish and Sneed, and Lieut. Wise, of his staff.

The position at Camp Defiance, when Gen. Wise left, was defended by about five thousand five hundred men, with eleven pieces of cannon, (which in twenty-four hours would be reinforced to near seven thousand men,) commanded by Gen. Lee in person, who has vindicated Gen. Wise's military judgment by determining to try conclusions with the enemy in the position selected by the latter. They are doubtless impregnable, even by a force of twenty thousand men. It can hardly, however, be anticipated that the enemy, even though reinforced as ascertained by three thousand men, will venture to attack General Lee with his present force, after hesitating to attack Gen. Wise when he had only one thousand seven hundred soldiers. If Gen. Lee should fall back, it will only be on account of demonstrations on his rear. Gen. Floyd was at Meadow Bluff with one thousand five hundred men.

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