MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps
APRIL 1861--NOVEMBER 1863
THE MOUNTAIN DEPARTMENT--SPRING CAMPAIGN
Rosecrans's plan of campaign--Approved by McClellan with modification--Wagons or pack-mules--Final form of plan--Changes in commands--McClellan limited to
Army of the Potomac--Halleck's Department of the Mississippi--Fremont's Mountain Department--Rosecrans superseded--Preparations in the Kanawha District--Batteaux to supplement steamboats--Light wagons for mountain work--Fremont's plan--East Tennessee as an objective--The supply question--Banks in the
Shenandoah valley--Milroy's advance--Combat at McDowell--Banks defeated--Fremont's plans deranged--Operations in the Kanawha valley--Organization of brigades--Brigade commanders--Advance to Narrows of New River--The field telegraph--Concentration of the enemy--Affair at Princeton--Position at Flat-top Mountain.
As the spring of 1862 approached, the discussion of plans for the opening of a new campaign was resumed. Rosecrans had suggested, early in February, that he would prefer to attempt reaching the Virginia and East Tennessee Railroad by two columns moving simultaneously upon Abingdon in the Holston valley. One of these would start from Gauley Bridge and go by way of Fayette, Raleigh, and Princeton; the other would leave some point in the Big-Sandy valley on the common boundary of Kentucky and Virginia, and march by most direct route to Abingdon. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. p. 721.] If this plan were approved, he asked that the west side of the Big-Sandy valley be added to his department. He proposed to depend largely upon pack-mule trains in place of wagons, to substitute the French shelter tent for the larger tents still in use, and to carry hand-mills by which the soldiers might grind into meal the Indian corn to be found in the country. McClellan, as general-in-chief, gave his approval, suggesting a modification in regard to the column to move from the Big-Sandy valley. His information led him to believe that the Big-Sandy River could be relied upon as navigable to Prestonburg, which was seventy miles from Abingdon by what was supposed to be a good road. He thought, therefore, that it would be easier to make Prestonburg the base and to use wagons. [Footnote: O, R., vol. v. p. 722.] On investigation Rosecrans reported that the most feasible route in that region was by steamboat transportation to Pikeville, twenty-five miles above Prestonburg, in the Big-Sandy valley, and thence up the Louisa Fork of the Big-Sandy by way of Pound Gap to the Holston valley; but there would still be eighty-eight miles of marching after leaving the steamboats, and navigation on the Big-Sandy was limited to brief and infrequent periods of high water.
On the 12th of March he submitted his modified plan to the adjutant-general of the army. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 744.] It had grown more complex with the passage of time. The eastern line of the department had been moved forward so as to bring the South Branch of the Potomac and the Cow-pasture branch of the James River under Rosecrans's command. He now planned four separate columns. The first was to move up the south branch of the Potomac with a view to turn and to capture the enemy's position at Alleghany Summit or Monterey on the Staunton turnpike. The second and third were to be in my district, and to move toward the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad on the two sides of New River. The fourth should march from the Big-Sandy valley on the line indicated above. Rosecrans seems to have limited his plan to the occupation of the mountain valleys as far east as the Blue Ridge, and did not submit any scheme for uniting his columns for further work. He asked for reinforcements to the extent of six regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and two field batteries to enable him to perform his task. The use of pack trains was given up, as they required a greater number of animals than could be procured. In fact, it was never found to be an economical use of mule power, and important movements were always confined to lines upon which wheel vehicles could be used. A rapid cavalry raid could be thus supplied, but heavy columns of infantry and artillery demanded wagon trains.
The weakness of Rosecrans's scheme is found in the wide separation of parallel columns, which could never have co-operated with success, and which had no common object had success been possible. To be sure, it was presumed that McClellan with the Army of the Potomac, and Banks in the Shenandoah valley, would be operating in eastern Virginia; but as McClellan was already bent on making Chesapeake Bay his base, and keeping as far as possible from the mountains, there was no real connection or correlation between his purposed campaign and that of the others. Indeed, had he succeeded in driving Lee from Richmond toward the west, as
Grant did three years later, the feeble columns of National troops coming from West Virginia would necessarily have fallen back again before the enemy. If the general scheme had been planned by Lee himself, it could not have secured for him more perfectly the advantage of interior lines. Yet it was in substance that which was tried when the spring opened.
When Rosecrans's letter, enclosing his final plan, reached
Washington, McClellan had taken the field, and
President Lincoln had made use of the occasion to relieve him from the direction of all other forces, so that he might give undivided attention to his campaign with the Potomac army. This was done by an executive order on March 11, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. p. 54.] which assigned
General Halleck to the command of everything west of a line drawn north and south through
Knoxville, Tennessee, and formed the Mountain Department from the territory between Halleck and McClellan. This last department was put under the command of Major-General John C. Fremont. General Banks was commanding in the Shenandoah valley, but he was at this time subordinate to McClellan. These changes were unexpected to both McClellan and Rosecrans. The change in McClellan's relations to the whole army was the natural result of his inactivity during the autumn of 1861, and the consequent loss of confidence in him. The union of
Buell's and Halleck's commands in the west was the natural counterpart to the concentration of Confederate armies under
A. S. Johnston at
Corinth, Miss., and was a step in the right direction. There was, however, a little too much sentiment and too little practical war in the construction of the Mountain Department out of five hundred miles of mountain ranges, and the appointment of the "path-finder" to command it was consistent with the romantic character of the whole. The mountains formed a natural and admirable barrier, at which comparatively small bodies of troops could cover and protect the Ohio valley behind them; but, for reasons which I have already pointed out, extensive military operations across and beyond the Alleghanies from west or east were impracticable, because a wilderness a hundred miles wide, crossed by few and most difficult roads, rendered it impossible to supply troops from depots on either side.
Such assurances of other satisfactory employment seem to have been given Rosecrans that he acquiesced without open complaint, and prepared to turn over his command to Fremont when the latter should arrive in West Virginia. Political motives had, no doubt, much to do with Fremont's appointment. The President had lost faith in his military capacity as well as in his administrative ability, but the party which elected Mr. Lincoln had not. The Republicans of the Northern States had a warm side for the man they had nominated for the Presidency in 1856, and there was a general feeling among them that Fremont should have at least another opportunity to show what he could do in the field. I myself shared that feeling, and reported to him as my immediate superior with earnest cordiality. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 35.]
In my own district, preparations had been made during the winter for the expected advance in the spring. I had visited Rosecrans at Wheeling, and he had conversed freely upon his plans for the new campaign. Under his directions the old piers of the turnpike bridge across the Gauley had been used for a new superstructure. This was a wire suspension bridge, hung from framed towers of timber built upon the piers. Instead of suspending the roadway from the wire cables by the ordinary connecting rods, and giving stiffness to it by a trussed railing, a latticed framing of wood hung directly from the cables, and the timbers of the roadway being fastened to this by stirrups, the wooden lattice served both to suspend and to stiffen the road. It was a serviceable and cheap structure, built in two weeks, and answered our purposes well till it was burned in the next autumn, when Colonel Lightburn retreated before a Confederate invasion. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 99.]
The variable position of the head of steamboat navigation on the Kanawha made it impossible to fix a permanent depot as a terminus for our wagon trains in the upper valley. My own judgment was in favor of placing it at Kanawha Falls, a mile below Gauley Bridge, and within the limits of that post. To connect this with the steamboats wherever the shoaling water might force them to stop, I recommended the use of batteaux or keelboats, a craft which a natural evolution had brought into use in the changeable mountain rivers. They were a canoe-shaped open boat, sixty feet long by eight wide, and were pushed up the stream by quants or poles. They required a crew of five men,--four to do the poling, and a steersman. In the swiftest "chutes" they carried a line ashore and made fast to a tree, then warped the boat up to quieter water and resumed the poling. Each boat would carry eight tons, and, compared with teaming over roads of which the "bottom had dropped out," it proved a most economical mode of transport. The batteaux dropped alongside the steamer wherever she had to stop, the freight was transferred to them directly, covered with tarpaulins, and the boats pushed off. The number of hands was no greater than for teaming, and the whole cost of the teams and their forage was saved. I had built two of these early in the winter and they were in successful operation. Two more were partly done when Fremont assumed command, and I urgently recommended a fleet of fifteen or twenty as an auxiliary to our transportation when active operations should be resumed. By their use Gauley Bridge could be made the practical depot of supply, and from ten to twenty miles of wretched and costly wagoning be saved. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. pp. 45-48.]
I became satisfied, also, that the regulation army wagon was too heavy for the difficult mountain roads, and recommended a strong but much lighter farm wagon, in which four mules could draw nearly or quite as much as six usually drew in the heavier wagon. This became a matter of great consequence in a country where forage could not be found, and where the wagon had to be loaded with the food for the team as well as the rations and ordnance stores for the men.
It had already been determined to substitute the shelter tent for other forms in the principal armies, and the change soon became general. We, however, had to wait our turn after more important columns were supplied, and our turn did not come till the campaign was over. Even our requisitions for ammunition were not filled, our artillery was not reduced to uniformity, and we could not secure
muskets enough of any one calibre for a single regiment. We made the best of the situation, and whilst keeping "headquarters" informed of our lack, were ready to do our best with the means we had. No attention was paid, perhaps none could be paid, to our recommendations for any special supplies or means adapted to the peculiar character of our work. We received, in driblets, small supplies of the regulation wagons, some droves of unbroken mules, some ordnance stores, and a fair amount of clothing. Subsistence stores had never been lacking, and the energy of the district quartermaster and commissary kept our little army always well fed.
The formal change in department commanders took place on the 29th of March, Fremont having reached Wheeling the day before. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. i. p. 4.] Mr. Lincoln's desire by some means to free the loyal people of East Tennessee from the oppressive sway of the Confederates showed itself in the instructions given to all the military officers in the West. He had been pressing the point from the beginning. It had entered into McClellan's and Rosecrans's plans of the last campaign. It had been the object of General George H. Thomas's organization of troops at Camp Dick Robinson in Kentucky. For it
General Ormsby Mitchell had labored to prepare a column at Cincinnati. It was not accomplished till the autumn of 1863, when Rosecrans occupied Chattanooga and Burnside reached Knoxville; but there had never been a day's cessation of the President's urgency to have it accomplished. It was prominent in his mind when he organized the Mountain Department, and Fremont was called upon to suggest a plan to this end as soon as he was appointed. His choice was to assemble the forces of his department in Kentucky at the southern terminus of the Central Kentucky Railroad, at Nicholasville, and to march southward directly to Knoxville, upon what was substantially the line taken by Burnside a year and a half later. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. i. p. 7.] Fremont was mistaken, however, in saying that from Nicholasville to
Knoxville supplies could be "transported over level and good roads."
General Buell had, on the 1st of February, [Footnote: _Id_., vol. vii. p. 931.] reported that line to be some two hundred miles long from the end of the railway to Knoxville, the whole of it mountainous, and the roads bad. He estimated a train of a thousand wagons, constantly going and returning, as needful to supply ten thousand men at Knoxville after allowance was made for what could be gathered from the country.
General Buell was unquestionably correct in his view of the matter, but the strong political reasons for liberating East Tennessee made the President unwilling to be convinced that it was then impracticable. He, however, could not furnish the transportation required for the movement proposed by Fremont, and hesitated to interfere further with the conduct of military affairs within Buell's territorial limits. Besides this, Rosecrans's plan had found such favor with the Secretary of War that it was laid before Fremont with official approval. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xii. pt, iii. p. 8.] The stripping of West Virginia of troops to make a column in Kentucky seemed too hazardous to the government, and Fremont changed his plan so as to adopt that of Rosecrans with some modifications.
He proposed to leave
General Kelley with sufficient troops to protect the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and with Blenker's division (which was taken from the Army of the Potomac and given to him) to advance from
Romney in the valley of the South Branch of the Potomac, ascending this valley toward the south, picking up Schenck's and Milroy's brigades in turn, the latter joining the column at Monterey on the great watershed by way of the Cheat Mountain pass. From Monterey Fremont purposed to move upon Staunton, and thence, following the southwestern trend of the valleys, to the New River near Christiansburg. Here he would come into communication with me, whose task it would have been to advance from Gauley Bridge on two lines, the principal one by Fayette and Raleigh C. H. over Flat-top Mountain to Princeton and the Narrows of New River, and a subordinate one on the turnpike to Lewisburg. His plan looked to continuing the march with the whole column to the southwest, down the Holston valley, till Knoxville should be reached, the last additions to the force to be from the troops in the Big-Sandy valley. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. i. p. 7.]
General Garfield (then colonel of the Forty-second Ohio) had already been sent by General Buell with a brigade into the Big-Sandy valley, and General George W. Morgan was soon to be sent with a division to
Cumberland Gap. Although these were in Fremont's department, the War Department issued an order that they should continue under General Buell's command at least until Fremont should by his operations come into their vicinity and field of work. [Footnote: _Id_, vol. xii. pt. iii. pp. 14, 119.] They would, of course, co-operate with him actively if he should reach the Holston valley. When he should form his junction with me, he expected to supply the whole column from my depots in the Kanawha valley, and when he reached Knoxville he would make his base on the Ohio River, using the line of supply he first suggested, by way of central Kentucky.
The plan was an improvement upon Rosecrans's in arranging for a progressive concentration of his forces into one column led by himself; but it would probably have failed, first, from the impossibility of supplying the army on the route, and second, because the railroads east of the mountains ran on routes specially well adapted to enable the enemy quickly to concentrate any needed force at Staunton, at Lynchburg, at Christiansburg, or at Wytheville, to overpower the column. The Union army would be committed to a whole season of marching in the mountains, while the Confederates could concentrate the needed force and quickly return it to Richmond when its work was done, making but a brief episode in a larger campaign. But the plan was not destined to be thoroughly tried.
Stonewall Jackson, after his defeat by Kimball at Kernstown, March 23d, had retired to the Upper Shenandoah valley with his division, numbering about 10,000 men; Ewell, with his division, was waiting to co-operate with him at the gaps of the Blue Ridge on the east, and Edward Johnson was near Staunton with a similar force facing Milroy. In April General N. P. Banks, commanding the National forces in the Shenandoah valley, had ascended it as far as Harrisonburg, and Jackson observed him from Swift-Run Gap in the Blue Ridge, on the road from Harrisonburg to Gordonsville. Milroy also pushed eastward from Cheat Mountain summit, in which high region winter still lingered, and had made his way through snows and rains to McDowell, ten miles east of Monterey, at the crossing of Bull-Pasture River, where he threatened Staunton. But Banks was thought to be in too exposed a position, and was directed by the War Department to fall back to Strasburg. On the 5th of May he had retired in that direction as far as New-Market. Blenker's division had not yet reached Fremont, who was waiting for it in Hardy County at Petersburg. Jackson saw his opportunity and determined to join General Johnson by a rapid march to Staunton, to overwhelm Milroy first, and then return to his own operations in the Shenandoah. Moving with great celerity, he attacked Milroy at McDowell on the 8th, the latter calling upon Fremont for help. Schenck was sent forward to support him, and reached McDowell after marching thirty-four miles in twenty-four hours. Jackson had not fully concentrated his forces, and the
Union generals held their ground and delivered a sharp combat in which their casualties of all kinds numbered 256, while the Confederate loss was 498, General Johnson being among the wounded. Schenck, as senior, assumed the command, and on the 9th began his retreat to Franklin, abandoning the Cheat Mountain road. Franklin was reached on the 11th, but Jackson approached cautiously, and did not reach there till the 12th, when, finding that Fremont had united his forces, he did not attack, but returned to McDowell, whence he took the direct road to Harrisonburg, and then marched to attack Banks at Strasburg, Ewell meeting and joining him in this movement.
Fremont resumed preparations for his original campaign, but Banks's defeat deranged all plans, and those of the Mountain Department were abandoned. A month passed in efforts to destroy Jackson by concentration of McDowell's, Banks's, and Fremont's troops; but it was too late to remedy the ill effects of the division of commands at the beginning of the campaign. On the 26th of June General John Pope was assigned to command all the troops in northern Virginia, Fremont was relieved at his own request, and the Mountain Department ceased to exist.
My own operations in the Kanawha valley had kept pace with those in the northern portion of the department. The early days of April were spent by Fremont in obtaining reports of the condition of the several parts of his command. My report of the condition of affairs in the Kanawha valley was made on the 5th of April. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 45.] In it I called attention to the necessities of my troops and to the equipment necessary for any extended campaigning. Requisitions for supplies and transportation had been sent to the proper staff departments during the winter, but had not yet been filled. My forces consisted of eleven regiments of Ohio infantry, three new and incomplete regiments of West Virginia infantry, one regiment of cavalry (the Second West Virginia) with three separate cavalry troops from other commands, and, nominally, three batteries of artillery. One of the batteries was of mountain howitzers, and the other two of mixed smooth-bore and rifled guns of different calibres. My force at the opening of the campaign numbered 8500 present for duty. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 121. The regiments of the command were the 11th, 12th, 23d, 28th, 30th, 34th, 36th, 37th, 44th, 47th Ohio, the 4th, 8th, 9th West Virginia, the 2d West Virginia Cavalry. Of these the 11th Ohio had only nine companies and did not get the tenth till the autumn following. The 8th West Virginia passed from the command before active operations. The batteries were McMullin's Ohio battery, Simmonds's Kentucky battery, and a battery of mountain howitzers at Gauley Mount, manned by a detachment of the 47th Ohio Infantry. Simmonds's company was originally of the 1st Kentucky Infantry assigned by me to man the guns I first took into the Kanawha valley, and subsequently transferred to the artillery service by the Secretary of War. The guns were two 20-pounder Parrott rifles, five 10-pounder Parrotts, two bronze 10-pounder rifles altered from 6-pounder smooth-bores, three bronze and one iron 6-pounder smooth-bores, and ten mountain howitzers to be packed on mules. Some of these guns were left in position at posts, and three small field batteries were organized for the marching columns. Besides the regiment of freshly recruited West Virginia cavalry, there were Schambeck's Independent troop of Illinois cavalry, and Smith's (originally Pfau's) Independent troop of Ohio cavalry, both German troops.] Detachments were at the mouth of the Big-Sandy River, at Guyandotte, at the mouth of the Kanawha on the Ohio River, at several points in the Kanawha valley below Gauley Bridge, at
Summersville on the upper Gauley, at Gauley Bridge, at Gauley Mount or Tompkins farm on New River, and at Fayette C. H. The last-named post had the only brigade organization which had been retained in winter quarters, and was commanded by Colonel Scammon of the Twenty-third Ohio. The post at Summersville had been brought into my command for the winter, and was garrisoned by the Thirty-sixth Ohio under Colonel George Crook. At Gauley Bridge was the Twenty-eighth Ohio (a German regiment), under Colonel August Moor.
When the decision of General Fremont to have my command advance on both sides of the New River was received, I immediately submitted my plan of organization to that end. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 127.] I proposed to leave the West Virginia Infantry regiments with half the Second West Virginia Cavalry to guard the Kanawha valley and our depots of supply, with Colonel J. A. J. Lightburn of the Fourth West Virginia in command. The Ohio regiments were to be moved forward so that the Eleventh, Forty-fourth, and Forty-seventh could be quickly concentrated on the Lewisburg turnpike in front of Gauley Bridge, where Colonel Crook could join them with the Thirty-sixth by a diagonal road and take command of this column. I assigned to him a mixed battery of field-pieces and mountain howitzers. Colonel Scammon's brigade was to advance from Fayette C. H. to Flat-top Mountain as soon as the weather would permit, and thus secure the barrier covering our further movement southward. The brigade consisted of the Twelfth, Twenty-third, arid Thirtieth Ohio, with McMullin's battery, and one half the Second Virginia Cavalry. When Scammon advanced, the remaining Ohio regiments (Twenty-eighth, Thirty-fourth, and Thirty-seventh), with Simmonds's battery should concentrate at Fayette C. H. and form a new brigade under Colonel Moor. This organization was approved by Fremont, and the preliminary steps were quietly taken. By the 20th of April Scammon's brigade was at Raleigh, only awaiting the settling of the roads to advance to Flat-top. A week later he held the passes of the mountain, with a detachment on the New River at the mouth of the Blue-stone, where he communicated with the right of Crook's brigade. The front was thus covered from Summersville to Flat-top Mountain, and the regiments in rear were moving into their assigned positions.
My brigade commanders were all men of marked character. Colonel Moor was a German of portly presence and grave demeanor, a gentleman of dignity of character as well as of bearing, and a brave, resolute man. He had been long a citizen of the United States, and had, as a young man, seen some military service, as was reported, in the Seminole War in
Florida. He was a rigid disciplinarian, and his own regiment was a model of accuracy in drill and neatness in the performance of all camp duties. He was greatly respected by his brother officers, and his square head, with dark, smooth-shaven face, and rather stern expression, inspired his troops with something very like awe, insuring prompt obedience to his commands. At home, in Cincinnati, he was a man of influence among the German residents, and his daughter was the wife of General Godfrey Weitzel of the regular army. My association with him was every way agreeable and satisfactory.
Colonel Crook was an officer of the regular army who had taken early advantage of the relaxation of the rule preventing such from accepting a volunteer appointment. A man of medium size, with light hair and sandy beard, his manner was rather diffident and shy, and his whole style quiet and reticent. His voice was light rather than heavy, and he was so laconic of speech that this, with his other characteristics, caused it to be commonly said of him that he had been so long fighting Indians on the frontier that he had acquired some of their traits and habits. His system of discipline was based on these peculiarities. He aimed at a stoical command of himself as the means of commanding others, and avoided noisy bluster of every sort, going, perhaps, to an excess in brevity of speech and in enforcing his orders by the consequences of any disobedience. His subordinates recognized his purpose to be just, and soon learned to have the greatest confidence in him as a military officer. Unless common fame did him injustice, he was one of those officers who had, at the beginning, no deep sympathy with the National cause, and had no personal objection to the success of the Rebellion. But he was a Northern man, and an ambitious professional soldier who did not mean to let political opinions stand in the way of military success. [Footnote: A romantic story is told of his experience a little later. He was in command on the Upper Potomac with headquarters at Cumberland, where he fell in love with the daughter of the proprietor of the hotel at which he had his headquarters, and whom he subsequently made his wife. The family was of secession proclivities, and the son of the house was in the Confederate army. This young man led a party of the enemy who were able, by his knowledge of the surroundings of his home, to capture General Crook in the night, and to carry him away a prisoner without any serious collision with the troops encamped about. Crook was soon exchanged, and in the latter part of the war served with distinction as division commander under
Sheridan.] In his case, as in many others, I believe this attitude was modified by his service under the flag, and that in 1864 he voted for Mr. Lincoln's re-election; he, with General Sheridan, casting at the improvised army ballot-box, what was understood to be their first vote ever cast in a civil election.
Colonel Lightburn was one of the loyal West Virginians whose standing and intelligence made him naturally prominent among his people. He was a worthy man and an honorable officer, whose knowledge of the country and of the people made him a fit selection to preserve the peace and protect our communications in the valley during our forward movement. As his duties thus separated him from the principal columns, I saw less of him than of the other brigade commanders. The two West Virginia regiments which remained in the district were freshly organized, and were distributed in camps where they could practise company drill and instruction whilst they kept the country in order. Of Colonel Scammon, my senior brigade commander, I have already spoken in a former chapter. [Footnote: _Ante_, pp. 110, 111.]
Fremont limited our advance to the line of Flat-top Mountain until he should himself be ready to open the campaign in the north. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. pp. 89, 108.] Blenker's division had been given to him from the Potomac army when McClellan began his movement to the peninsula, but on the 12th of April it had only reached Salem, a station on the Manassas Gap Railway between the Bull-Run Mountains and the Blue Ridge. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 71.] The War Department now sent General Rosecrans to conduct the division with speed to Fremont, but extraordinary delays still occurred, and the command did not reach Fremont at Petersburg till the 11th of May, when he immediately moved forward with it to the support of Schenck and Milroy at Franklin. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 168, 177, pt. i. pp. 8, 9.] This delay was one of a series of misfortunes; for could Fremont have been at McDowell with this strong reinforcement added to Schenck's and Milroy's brigades, there can be no reasonable doubt that Jackson's attack, if delivered at all, would have proven a disaster for the Confederates. This, however, would not have ensured success for the general campaign, for Banks might still have been driven back in the Shenandoah valley, and Fremont's position would have been compromised. Nothing but a union of the two columns would have met the situation.
At the beginning of May, the additional transportation necessary for my advance beyond Flat-top had not arrived, but we did not wait for it. [Footnote: ._Id_., pt. iii. pp. 108, 112, 114, 127.] The regiments were ordered to leave tents behind, and to bivouac without shelter except such as they could make with "brush," for the expected shelter tents also were lacking. The whole distance from the head of navigation to the railroad at Newberne was one hundred and forty miles. Flat-top Mountain and Lewisburg were, respectively, about halfway on the two routes assigned to us. Some two thousand of the enemy's militia were holding the mountain passes in front of us, and a concentration of the regular Confederate troops was going on behind them. These last consisted of two brigades under General Henry Heth, as well as J. S. Williams's and Marshall's brigades, under General Humphrey Marshall, with the Eighth Virginia Cavalry. General Marshall appears to have been senior when the commands were united. Looking south from Flat-top Mountain we see the basin of the Blue-stone River, which flows northeastward into New River. This basin, with that of the Greenbrier on the other side of New River, forms the broadest stretch of cultivated land found between the mountain ranges, though the whole country is rough and broken even here. The crest of Flat-top Mountain curves southward around the headwaters of the Blue-stone, and joins the more regular ranges in Tazewell County. The straight ridge of East-River Mountain forms a barrier on the southern side of the basin, more than thirty miles away from the summit of Flat-top where Scammon's camp was placed on the road from Raleigh C. H. to Princeton, the county-seat of Mercer. The Narrows of New River were where that stream breaks through the mountain barrier I have described, and the road from Princeton to Giles C. H. passes through the defile. Only one other outlet from the basin goes southward, and that is where the road from Princeton to Wytheville passes through Rocky Gap, a gorge of the wildest character, some thirty miles south-westward from the Narrows. These passes were held by Confederate forces, whilst their cavalry, under Colonel W. H. Jenifer, occupied Princeton and presented a skirmishing resistance to our advance-guard.
On the 1st of May a small party of the Twenty-third Ohio met the enemy's horse at Camp Creek, a branch of the Blue-stone, six miles from the crest of Flat-top, and had a lively engagement, repulsing greatly superior numbers. On hearing of this, Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Hayes marched with part of the Twenty-third Ohio and part of the West Virginia cavalry, and followed up the enemy with such vigor that Jenifer was driven through Princeton too rapidly to permit him to remove the stores collected there. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. i. pp. 449, 450.] To avoid their falling into our hands, Jenifer set fire to the town. Hayes succeeded in saving six or eight houses, but the rest were destroyed. Jenifer retreated on the Wytheville road, expecting us to follow by that route; but Hayes, learning that the Narrows were not strongly held, and being now reinforced by the rest of his regiment (the Twenty-third), marched on the 6th to the Narrows which he held, [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. p. 140.] whilst he sent Major Comly with a detachment into Pearisburg, the county-seat of Giles. [Footnote: James M. Comly, later Brevet Brigadier-General, and since the war at one time United States minister to the Sandwich Islands.] The affair at Camp Creek had cost Jenifer some twenty in killed and wounded, and an equal number were captured in the advance on Giles C. H. Our casualties were 1 killed and 20 wounded. Our line, however, was getting too extended, and the utmost exertions were needed to supply the troops in their present positions. Princeton, being at the forking of the roads to Pearisburg and Wytheville, was too important a point to be left unguarded, and I at once sent forward Colonel Scammon with the Thirtieth Ohio to hold it. [Footnote: _Id_., p 148.] On the 9th of May the Twelfth Ohio was put in march from Raleigh to join him, and Moor's brigade was approaching the last-named place where my headquarters were, that being the terminus, for the time, of the telegraph line which kept me in communication with Fremont. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p 157.] The same day the department commander informed me of the attack by Jackson on Milroy on the 7th, and ordered me to suspend movements in advance until my forces should be concentrated. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 158.] The weather was rainy, and the roads suffered badly from cutting up by the wagons, but I had hoped to push forward a strong advanced guard to the great railway bridge near Newberne, and destroy it before the enemy had time to concentrate there. This made it necessary to take some risk, for it was not possible to move the whole command till some supplies could be accumulated at Raleigh and at Flat-top Mountain.
As fast as the supplies would permit, Moor went forward, taking no tents beyond Raleigh, and all of the troops on this line now faced the continuing rains without shelter. Guerilla parties were set actively at work by the Confederates in the region of the Guyandotte and at other points in our rear. Colonel Lightburn was directed to keep his forces actively moving to suppress these outbreaks, and the forward movement was pressed. On the 10th of May Heth's two brigades of the enemy attacked our advance-guard at Pearisburg, and these, after destroying the enemy's stores, which they had captured there, retired skirmishing, till they joined Scammon, who had advanced from Princeton to their support. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 176.] Scammon's brigade was now together, a mile below the Narrows of New River, with the East River in front of him, making a strong, defensible position. The telegraph reached Flat-top Mountain on the 13th, [Footnote: _Id_., p. 184.] even this being delayed because wagons to carry the wire could not be spared from the task of supplying the troops with food. I moved my headquarters to Princeton on this day, and pressed forward Moor's brigade in the hope of being able to push again beyond the barrier at the Narrows of New River, where Heth's brigades had now taken position. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 188.] Neither Scammon nor Moor was able to take with him ammunition enough for more than a slight engagement, nor was any accumulation of food possible. We were living "from hand to mouth," no additional transportation had reached us, and every wagon and pack-mule was doing its best. As fast as Moor's regiments reached Princeton they were hurried forward to French's Mill, five miles in rear of Scammon, on the road running up East River, and intersecting the Wytheville road so as to form a triangle with the two going from Princeton. During the 14th and 15th Moor's regiments arrived, and were pushed on to their position, except one half regiment (detachments of the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-seventh Ohio), under Major F. E. Franklin, and one troop of cavalry, which were kept at Princeton as a guard against any effort on the enemy's part to interrupt our communications. Moor was ordered to send a detachment up the East River to the crossing of the Wytheville road, so as to give early warning of any attempt of the enemy to come in upon our flank from that direction. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. p. 505.] My purpose was to attack Heth with Scammon's and Moor's brigades, drive him away from the Narrows of New River, and prevent him, if possible, from uniting with Marshall's command, which was understood to be somewhere between Jeffersonville (Tazewell C. H.) and Wytheville. If we succeeded in beating Heth, we could then turn upon Marshall. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. pp. 197-199.]
On the afternoon of the 15th Moor threw a detachment of two companies over East River Mountain as a reconnoissance to learn whether the roads in that direction were practicable for a movement to turn the left of Heth. It attacked and handsomely routed a post of the enemy on Wolf Creek. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. ii. p. 505.] The few wagons and pack-mules were hurrying forward some rations and ammunition; but the 17th would be the earliest possible moment at which I could lead a general advance. The telegraph wire would reach Princeton by the evening of that day, and I waited there for the purpose of exchanging messages with Fremont before pushing toward Newberne, the expected rendezvous with the other troops of the department. But all our efforts could not give us the needed time to anticipate the enemy. They had railway communication behind a mountain wall which had few and difficult passes. Marshall and Williams were already marching from Tazewell C. H. to strike our line of communications at Princeton, and were far on the way. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. p. 199.]
About noon of the 16th Colonel Moor reported that his detachment on the Wytheville road was attacked by a force of the enemy estimated at 1500. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. pp. 505, 509.] This seems to have been the command of Colonel Wharton, marching to join Marshall, who was coming from the west by a road down the head-waters of East River. Of this, however, we were ignorant. I ordered Moor to take the remainder of his command (leaving half a regiment only at French's) to drive off the force at the cross-roads, and if he were overpowered to retreat directly upon Princeton by the western side of the triangle of roads, of which each side was twelve or fifteen miles long. Colonel Scammon reported no change in Heth's positions or force in front of him. Patrols were sent out on all the roads west and south of Princeton, our little force of horsemen being limited to Smith's troop of Ohio cavalry which was acting as headquarters escort. About two o'clock the patrol on the Wyoming road, five miles out of Princeton, was fired upon by the enemy's cavalry, and came rapidly in with the report. The four companies of infantry under Majors Franklin and Ankele were moved out on that road, and soon developed the infantry of Marshall's command. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. ii. p. 506.] He and Williams had marched across from the Tazewell to the Wyoming road, and were coming in upon our flank and rear. I reconnoitred them personally with care, and satisfied myself of their overwhelming superiority to the little detachment I had in hand. Franklin and Ankele were ordered to deploy their whole force as skirmishers and to hold the enemy back as long as possible. Some of our troopers were shown on the flanks, and so imposing a show was made that Marshall advanced cautiously. Our men behaved beautifully, holding every tree and rock, delaying the enemy for more than three hours from reaching the crests of the hills looking down upon the town. I had sent orderlies to stop and turn back our wagon trains on the way from Flat-top, and had directed headquarters baggage and the few stores in Princeton to be loaded and sent on the road toward Moor and Scammon. Our only tents were three or four wall tents for headquarters (the adjutant-general's, quartermaster's, and commissary's offices), and these I ordered to be left standing to impose upon the enemy the idea that we did not mean to retire. As evening approached, the hostile force occupied the summits of surrounding hills, and directing the infantry slowly to fall back and follow me, I galloped with my staff to bring back Scammon and restore our broken communications. At French's, twelve miles from Princeton, I found that Moor had not had time to execute the orders of the afternoon, and that ten companies from the Twenty-eighth and Thirty-seventh Ohio were all that he had been able to send to Wytheville road crossing. These, we learned later in the night, had succeeded in re-occupying the cross-roads. They were ordered to hold fast till morning, and if the enemy still appeared to be mainly at Princeton, to march in that direction and attack them from the rear. Scammon was ordered to send half a regiment to occupy Moor's position at French's during the night, and to march his whole command at daybreak toward Princeton. There was but one and a half regiments now with Moor, and these were roused and ordered to accompany me at once on our return to Princeton. It was a dark and muddy march, and as we approached the town we deployed skirmishers in front, though they were obliged to move slowly in the darkness. Day was just breaking as we came out of the forest upon the clearing, line of battle was formed, and the troops went forward cheering. The enemy made no stubborn resistance, but retired gradually to a strong position on rough wooded hills about a mile from the village, where they covered both the Wytheville and the Wyoming road. They had artillery on both flanks, and could only be reached over open and exposed ground. We recovered our headquarters tents, standing as we had left them. We had captured a few prisoners and learned that Marshall and Williams were both before us. Whilst pushing them back, Lieutenant-Colonel Von Blessingh with the ten companies of Moor's brigade approached on the Wytheville road and attacked; but the enemy was aware of their approach and repulsed them, having placed a detachment in a very strong position to meet them. Von Blessingh withdrew his men, and later joined the command by a considerable detour. With less than two regiments in hand, and with the certainty of the enemy's great superiority, there was nothing for it but to take the best position we could and await Scammon's arrival. We made as strong a show of force as possible, and by skirmishing advances tempted the enemy to come down to attack; but he also was expecting reinforcements, and a little artillery firing was the only response we provoked. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. ii. pp. 506, 507.] As some evidence of the physical exhaustion from the continuous exertions of the preceding day and night, I may mention the fact that during the artillery firing I threw myself for a little rest on the ground, close beside the guns; and though these were firing at frequent intervals, I fell asleep and had a short but refreshing nap almost within arm's length of the wheels of a gun-carriage.
Toward evening Scammon arrived with his brigade, reporting that Heth's force had followed his retiring movement as far as French's, and confirming the information that four brigades of the enemy were before us. Shortly after dark the officer of the day, on the right, reported the noise of artillery marching around that flank. Our last day's rations had been issued, and our animals were without forage. Small parties of the enemy had gone far to our rear and cut the telegraph, so that we had had no news from the Kanawha valley for two days. The interruption was likely to create disturbance there and derange all our plans for supply. It was plain that we should have to be content with having foiled the enemy's plan to inflict a severe blow upon us, and that we might congratulate ourselves that with two brigades against four we had regained our line without serious loss. I therefore ordered that the troops be allowed to rest till three o'clock in the morning of the 18th, and that the column then retire behind the Blue-stone River. The movement was made without interruption, and a camp on Flat-top Mountain was selected, from which the roads on every side were well guarded, and which was almost impregnable in itself. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. p. 209.] Our casualties of all kinds in the affairs about Princeton had been only 113, as the enemy had not delivered any serious attack, and the contest on our side had been one of manoeuvre in which our only chance of important results was in attacking either Heth or Marshall when they were so far separated that they could not unite against us on the field of battle. After the 15th this chance did not exist, and wisdom dictated that we should retire to a safe point from which we could watch for contingencies which might give us a better opportunity. Our experience proved what I have before stated, that the facility for railway concentration of the enemy in our front made this line a useless one for aggressive movements, as they could always concentrate a superior force after they received the news of our being in motion. It also showed the error of dividing my forces on two lines, for had Crook's brigade been with me, or my two brigades with him, we should have felt strong enough to cope with the force which was actually in our front, and would at least have made it necessary for the enemy to detach still more troops from other movements to meet us. Our campaign, though a little one, very well illustrates the character of the subordinate movements so often attempted during the war, and shows that the same principles of strategy are found operating as in great movements. The scale is a reduced one, but cause and effect are linked by the same necessity as on a broader theatre of warfare.