Chapter 3


This Site:

Civil War

Civil War Overview

Civil War 1861

Civil War 1862

Civil War 1863

Civil War 1864

Civil War 1865

Civil War Battles

Confederate Generals

Union Generals

Confederate History

Robert E. Lee

Civil War Medicine

Lincoln Assassination


Site Search

Civil War Links


Civil War Art

Revolutionary War

Mexican War

Republic of Texas


Winslow Homer

Thomas Nast

Mathew Brady

Western Art

Civil War Gifts

Robert E. Lee Portrait

Up | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26 | Appendix A | Appendix B



Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps


APRIL 1861--NOVEMBER 1863  



Political attitude of West Virginia--Rebels take the initiative--McClellan ordered to act--Ohio militia cross the river--The Philippi affair--Significant dates--The vote on secession--Virginia in the Confederacy--Lee in command--Topography--The mountain passes--Garnett's army--Rich mountain position--McClellan in the field--His forces--Advances against Garnett--Rosecrans's proposal--His fight on the mountain--McClellan's inaction--Garnett's retreat--Affair at Carrick's Ford--Garnett killed--Hill's efforts to intercept--Pegram in the wilderness--He surrenders--Indirect results important--McClellan's military and personal traits.

 The reasons which made it important to occupy West Virginia were twofold, political and military. The people were strongly attached to the Union, and had generally voted against the Ordinance of Secession which by the action of the Richmond Convention had been submitted to a popular vote on May 23d. Comparatively few slaves were owned by them, and their interests bound them more to Ohio and Pennsylvania than to eastern Virginia. Under the influence of Mr. Lincoln's administration, strongly backed and chiefly represented by Governor Dennison of Ohio, a movement was on foot to organize a loyal Virginia government, repudiating that of Governor Letcher and the state convention as self-destroyed by the act of secession. Governor Dennison, in close correspondence with the leading loyalists, had been urging McClellan to cross the Ohio to protect and encourage the loyal men, when on the 26th of May news came that the Secessionists had taken the initiative, and that some bridges had been burned on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad a little west of Grafton, the crossing of the Monongahela River where the two western branches of the road unite as they come from Wheeling and Parkersburg. The great line of communication between Washington and the West had thus been cut, and action on our part was necessary. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. p. 44.]

[Illustration: CAMPAIGNS IN WEST VIRGINIA 1861.]

Governor Dennison had anticipated the need of more troops than the thirteen regiments which had been organized as Ohio's quota under the President's first call, and had enrolled nine other regiments, numbering them consecutively with the others. These last he had put in camps near the Ohio River, where at a moment's notice they could occupy Wheeling, Parkersburg, and the mouth of the Great Kanawha. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 46, 47.] Two Union regiments were also organizing in West Virginia itself, of which the first was commanded by Colonel B. F. Kelley of Wheeling. The left bank of the Ohio was in McClellan's department, and on the 24th General Scott, having heard that two Virginia companies had occupied Grafton, telegraphed the fact to McClellan, directing him to act promptly in counteracting the effect of this movement. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 648.]

On the 27th Colonel Kelley was sent by rail from Wheeling to drive off the enemy, who withdrew at his approach, and the bridges were quickly rebuilt. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 46, 49, 655.] Several of the Ohio regiments were ordered across the river at the same time, and an Indiana brigade under General Thomas A. Morris of that State was hurried forward from Indianapolis. As the Ohio troops at Camp Dennison which had been mustered into national service were in process of reorganizing for the three years' term, McClellan preferred not to move them till this was completed. He also adhered to his plan of making his own principal movement in the Great Kanawha valley, and desired to use there the Ohio division at our camp. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 50, 656, 674.] The Ohio regiments first sent into West Virginia were not mustered in, and were known as State troops. General Morris reached Grafton on the 1st of June, and was intrusted with the command of all the troops in West Virginia. He found that Colonel Kelley had already planned an expedition against the enemy, who had retired southward to Philippi, about fifteen miles in a straight line, but some twenty-five by the crooked country roads. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. p. 66.] Morris approved the plan, but enlarged it by sending another column, under Colonel E. Dumont of the Seventh Indiana, to co-operate with Kelley. Both columns were directed to make a night march, starting from points on the railroad about twelve miles apart and converging on Philippi, which they were to attack at daybreak on June 3d. Each column consisted of about fifteen hundred men, and Dumont had also two smooth six-pounder cannon. The Confederate force was commanded by Colonel G. A. Porterfield, and was something less than a thousand strong, one-fourth cavalry. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 70, 72.]

The night was dark and stormy, and Porterfield's raw troops had not learned picket duty. The concerted movement against them was more successful than such marches commonly are, and Porterfield's first notice of danger was the opening of the artillery upon his sleeping troops. It had been expected that the two columns would enclose the enemy's camp and capture the whole; but, though in disorderly rout, Porterfield succeeded, by personal coolness and courage, in getting them off with but few casualties and the loss of a few arms. The camp equipage and supplies were, of course, captured. Colonel Kelley was wounded in the breast by a pistol-shot which was at first supposed to be fatal, though it did not turn out so, and this was the only casualty reported on the National side. [Footnote: Colonel Kelley was a man already of middle age, and a leading citizen of northwestern Virginia. His whole military career was in that region, where his services were very valuable throughout the war. He was promoted to brigadier-general among the first, and was brevet-major-general when mustered out in 1865.] No prisoners were taken, nor did any dead or wounded fall into our hands. Porterfield retreated to Beverly, some thirty miles further to the southeast, and the National forces occupied Philippi. The telegraphic reports had put the Confederate force at 2000, and their loss at 15 killed. This implied a considerable list of wounded and prisoners, and the newspapers gave it the air of a considerable victory. The campaign thus opened with apparent _eclat_ for McClellan (who was personally at Cincinnati), and the "Philippi races," as they were locally called, greatly encouraged the Union men of West Virginia and correspondingly depressed the Secessionists. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. pp. 64-74.]

Nearly a month elapsed, when, having received reports that large forces of the enemy were gathered at Beverly, McClellan determined to proceed in person to that region with his best prepared troops, postponing his Kanawha campaign till northwestern Virginia should be cleared of the enemy.

Military affairs in West Virginia had been complicated by the political situation, and it is necessary to recollect the dates of the swift following steps in Virginia's progress into the Confederacy. Sumter surrendered on Saturday, the 13th of April, and on Monday the 15th President Lincoln issued his first call for troops. On Wednesday the 17th the Virginia Convention passed the Ordinance of Secession in secret session. On Friday the 19th it was known in Washington, and on Saturday Lee and Johnston resigned their commissions in the United States Army, sorrowfully "going with their State." [Footnote: Johnston's Narrative, p. 10. Townsend's Anecdotes of the Civil War, p. 31. Long's Memoirs of Lee, pp. 94, 96.] On the following Tuesday (23d) the chairman of the Virginia Convention presented to Lee his commission as Major-General and Commander of the Virginia Forces. On the same day Governor Dennison handed to McClellan his commission to command the Ohio forces in the service of the Union. Although the Confederate Congress at Montgomery admitted Virginia to the Confederacy early in May, this was not formally accepted in Virginia till after the popular vote on secession (May 23d) and the canvassing of the returns of that election. Governor Letcher issued on June 8th his proclamation announcing the result, and transferring the command of the Virginia troops to the Confederate Government. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. p. 911.] During the whole of May, therefore, Virginia's position was unsettled. Her governor, by the authority of the convention, regarded her as independent of the United States, but by an inchoate act of secession which would not become final till ratified by the popular vote. The Virginia troops were arrayed near the Potomac to resist the advance of national forces; but Confederate troops had been welcomed in eastern Virginia as early as the 10th of May, and President Davis had authorized Lee, as Commander of the Virginia forces, to assume control of them. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 827.]

It was well known that the prevailing sentiment in West Virginia was loyal to the Union, and each party avoided conflict there for fear of prejudicing its cause in the election. Hence it was that as soon as the vote was cast, the aggressive was taken by the Virginia government in the burning of the bridges near Grafton. The fire of war was thus lighted. The crossing of the Ohio was with a full understanding with Colonel Kelley, who recognized McClellan at once as his military commander. [Footnote: I treated the relations of Lee and Virginia to the Confederacy in a paper in "The Nation," Dec. 23, 1897, entitled "Lee, Johnston, and Davis."] The affair at Philippi was, in form, the last appearance of Virginia in the role of an independent nation, for in a very few days Lee announced by a published order that the absorption of the Virginia troops into the Confederate Army was complete. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. p. 912.] It will be well to understand the topography of the Virginia mountains and their western slope, if we would reach the reasons which determined the lines of advance chosen by the Confederates and the counter moves of McClellan. The Alleghany range passing out of Pennsylvania and running southwest through the whole length of Virginia, consists of several parallel lines of mountains enclosing narrow valleys. The Potomac River breaks through at the common boundary of Virginia and Maryland, and along its valley runs the National Road as well as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad also follows this natural highway, which is thus indicated as the most important line of communication between Washington and the Ohio valley, though a high mountain summit must be passed, even by this route, before the tributaries of the Ohio can be reached. Half-way across the State to the southward, is a high watershed connecting the mountain ridges and separating the streams tributary to the Potomac on the north from those falling into the James and New rivers on the south. The Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike follows the line of this high "divide" looking down from among the clouds into the long and nearly straight defiles on either hand, which separate the Alleghany Mountains proper from the Blue Ridge on the east and from Cheat Mountain and other ranges on the west. Still further to the southwest the James River and the New River interlace their headwaters among the mountains, and break out on east and west, making the third natural pass through which the James River and Kanawha turnpike and canal find their way. These three routes across the mountains were the only ones on which military operations were at all feasible. The northern one was usually in the hands of the National forces, and the other two were those by which the Confederates attempted the invasion of West Virginia. Beverly, a hundred miles from Staunton, was near the gate through which the Staunton road passes on its way northwestward to Parkersburg and Wheeling, whilst Gauley Bridge was the key-point of the Kanawha route on the westerly slope of the mountains.

General Lee determined to send columns upon both these lines. General Henry A. Wise (formerly Governor of Virginia) took the Kanawha route, and General Robert S. Garnett (lately Lee's own adjutant-general) marched to Beverly. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. pp. 908, 915.] Upon Porterfield's retreat to Beverly, Garnett, who had also been an officer in the United States Army, was ordered to assume command there and to stimulate the recruiting and organization of regiments from the secession element of the population. Some Virginia regiments raised on the eastern slope of the mountains were sent with him, and to these was soon added the First Georgia. On the 1st of July he reported his force as 4500 men, but declared that his efforts to recruit had proven a complete failure, only 23 having joined. The West Virginians, he says, "are thoroughly imbued with an ignorant and bigoted Union sentiment." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 239.] Other reinforcements were promised Garnett, but none reached him except the Forty-fourth Virginia Regiment, which arrived at Beverly the very day of his engagement with McClellan's troops, but did not take part in the fighting. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 240, 274.]

Tygart's valley, in which Beverly lies, is between Cheat Mountain on the east, and Rich Mountain on the west. The river, of the same name as the valley, flows northward about fifteen miles, then turns westward, breaking through the ridge, and by junction with the Buckhannon River forms the Monongahela, which passes by Philippi and afterward crosses the railroad at Grafton. The Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike divides at Beverly, the Parkersburg route passing over a saddle in Rich Mountain, and the Wheeling route following the river to Philippi. The ridge north of the river at the gap is known as Laurel Mountain, and the road passes over a spur of it. Garnett regarded the two positions at Rich Mountain and Laurel Mountain as the gates to all the region beyond and to the West. A rough mountain road, barely passable, connected the Laurel Mountain position with Cheat River on the east, and it was possible to go by this way northward through St. George to the Northwestern turnpike, turning the mountain ranges.


Garnett thought the pass over Rich Mountain much the stronger and more easily held, and he therefore intrenched there about 1300 of his men and four cannon, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Pegram. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. p. 268.] The position chosen was on a spur of the mountain near its western base, and it was rudely fortified with breastworks of logs covered with an abatis of slashed timber along its front. The remainder of his force he placed in a similar fortified position on the road at Laurel Mountain, where he also had four guns, of which one was rifled. Here he commanded in person. His depot of supplies was at Beverly, which was sixteen miles from the Laurel Mountain position and five from that at Rich Mountain. He was pretty accurately informed of McClellan's forces and movements, and his preparations had barely been completed by the 9th of July, when the Union general appeared in his front. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 241, 248.]

McClellan entered West Virginia in person on the 21st of June, and on the 23d issued from Grafton a proclamation to the inhabitants. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 194, 196.] He had gradually collected his forces along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and these, at the time of the affair at Rich Mountain, consisted of sixteen Ohio regiments, nine from Indiana, and two from West Virginia; in all, twenty-seven regiments with four batteries of artillery of six guns each, two troops of cavalry, and an independent company of riflemen. Of his batteries, one was of the regular army, and another, a company of regulars (Company I, Fourth U. S. Artillery), was with him awaiting mountain howitzers, which arrived a little later. [Footnote: As part of the troops were State troops not mustered into the United States service, no report of them is found in the War Department; but the following are the numbers of the regiments found named as present in the correspondence and reports,--viz., 3d, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 22d Ohio; 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th Indiana, and 1st and 2nd Virginia; also Howe's United States Battery, Barnett's Ohio Battery, Loomis's Michigan Battery, and Daum's Virginia Battery; the cavalry were Burdsal's Ohio Dragoons and Barker's Illinois Cavalry. VOL. I.--4] The regiments varied somewhat in strength, but all were recently organized, and must have averaged at least 700 men each, making the whole force about 20,000. Of these, about 5000 were guarding the railroad and its bridges for some two hundred miles, under the command of Brigadier-General C. W. Hill, of the Ohio Militia; a strong brigade under Brigadier-General Morris of Indiana, was at Philippi, and the rest were in three brigades forming the immediate command of McClellan, the brigadiers being General W. S. Rosecrans, U. S. A., General Newton Schleich of Ohio, and Colonel Robert L. McCook of Ohio. On the date of his proclamation McClellan intended, as he informed General Scott, to move his principal column to Buckhannon on June 25th, and thence at once upon Beverly; [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. p. 195.] but delays occurred, and it was not till July 2nd that he reached Buckhannon, which is twenty-four miles west of Beverly, on the Parkersburg branch of the turnpike. Before leaving Grafton the rumors he heard had made him estimate Garnett's force at 6000 or 7000 men, of which the larger part were at Laurel Mountain in front of General Morris. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 205.] On the 7th of July he moved McCook with two regiments to Middle Fork bridge, about half-way to Beverly, and on the same day ordered Morris to march with his brigade from Philippi to a position one and a half miles in front of Garnett's principal camp, which was promptly done. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 200.] Three days later, McClellan concentrated the three brigades of his own column at Roaring Creek, about two miles from Colonel Pegram's position at the base of Rich Mountain. The advance on both lines had been made with only a skirmishing resistance, the Confederates being aware of McClellan's great superiority in numbers, and choosing to await his attack in their fortified positions. The National commander was now convinced that his opponent was 10,000 strong, of which about 2000 were before him at Rich Mountain. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 203, 204.] A reconnoissance made on the 10th showed that Pegram's position would be difficult to assail in front, but preparations were made to attack the next day, while Morris was directed to hold firmly his position before Garnett, watching for the effect of the attack at Rich Mountain. In the evening Rosecrans took to McClellan a young man named Hart, whose father lived on the top of the mountain two miles in rear of Pegram, and who thought he could guide a column of infantry to his father's farm by a circuit around Pegram's left flank south of the turnpike. The paths were so difficult that cannon could not go by them, but Rosecrans offered to lead a column of infantry and seize the road at the Hart farm. After some discussion McClellan adopted the suggestion, and it was arranged that Rosecrans should march at daybreak of the 11th with about 2000 men, including a troop of horse, and that upon the sound of his engagement in the rear of Pegram McClellan would attack in force in front. By a blunder in one of the regimental camps, the reveille and assembly were sounded at midnight, and Pegram was put on the _qui vive_. He, however, believed that the attempt to turn his position would be by a path or country road passing round his right, between him and Garnett (of which the latter had warned him), and his attention was diverted from Rosecrans's actual route, which he thought impracticable. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. pp. 215, 256, 260. Conduct of the War, vol. vi. (Rosecrans), pp. 2,3.] The alert which had occurred at midnight made Rosecrans think it best to make a longer circuit than he at first intended, and it took ten hours of severe marching and mountain climbing to reach the Hart farm. The turning movement was made, but he found an enemy opposing him. Pegram had detached about 350 men from the 1300 which he had, and had ordered them to guard the road at the mountain summit. He sent with them a single cannon from the four which constituted his only battery, and they threw together a breastwork of logs. The turnpike at Hart's runs in a depression of the summit, and as Rosecrans, early in the afternoon, came out upon the road, he was warmly received by both musketry and cannon. The ground was rough, the men were for the first time under fire, and the skirmishing combat varied through two or three hours, when a charge by part of Rosecrans's line, aided by a few heavy volleys from another portion of his forces which had secured a good position, broke the enemy's line. Reinforcements from Pegram were nearly at hand, with another cannon; but they did not come into action, and the runaway team of the caisson on the hill-top, dashing into the gun that was coming up, capsized it down the mountain-side where the descending road was scarped diagonally along it. Both guns fell into Rosecrans's hands, and he was in possession of the field. The march and the assault had been made in rain and storm. Nothing was heard from McClellan; and the enemy, rallying on their reinforcements, made such show of resistance on the crest a little further on, that Rosecrans directed his men to rest upon their arms till next morning. When day broke on the 12th, the enemy had disappeared from the mountain-top, and Rosecrans, feeling his way down to the rear of Pegram's position, found it also abandoned, the two remaining cannon being spiked, and a few sick and wounded being left in charge of a surgeon. Still nothing was seen of McClellan, and Rosecrans sent word to him, in his camp beyond Roaring Creek, that he was in possession of the enemy's position. Rosecrans's loss had been 12 killed and 49 wounded. The Confederates left 20 wounded on the field, and 63 were surrendered at the lower camp, including the sick. No trustworthy report of their dead was made. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii pp. 215, 260, 265. C. W., vol. vi. (Rosecrans) pp. 3-5.]

The noise of the engagement had been heard in McClellan's camp, and he formed his troops for attack, but the long continuance of the cannonade and some signs of exultation in Pegram's camp seem to have made him think Rosecrans had been repulsed. The failure to attack in accordance with the plan has never been explained. [Footnote: C. W., vol. vi. p. 6. McClellan seems to have expected Rosecrans to reach the rear of Pegram's advanced work before his own attack should be made; but the reconnoissance of Lieutenant Poe, his engineer, shows that this work could be turned by a much shorter route than the long and difficult one by which Rosecrans went to the mountain ridge. See Poe's Report, Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 14.] Rosecrans's messengers had failed to reach McClellan during the 11th, but the sound of the battle was sufficient notice that he had gained the summit and was engaged; and he was, in fact, left to win his own battle or to get out of his embarrassment as he could. Toward evening McClellan began to cut a road for artillery to a neighboring height, from which he hoped his twelve guns would make Pegram's position untenable; but his lines were withdrawn again beyond Roaring Creek at nightfall, and all further action postponed to the next day.  About half of Pegram's men had succeeded in passing around Rosecrans's right flank during the night and had gained Beverly. These, with the newly arrived Confederate regiment, fled southward on the Staunton road. Garnett had learned in the evening, by messenger from Beverly, that Rich Mountain summit was carried, and evacuated his camp in front of Morris about midnight. He first marched toward Beverly, and was within five miles of that place when he received information (false at the time) that the National forces already occupied it. He then retraced his steps nearly to his camp, and, leaving the turnpike at Leadsville, he turned off upon a country road over Cheat Mountain into Cheat River valley, following the stream northward toward St. George and West Union, in the forlorn hope of turning the mountains at the north end of the ridges, and regaining his communications by a very long detour. He might have continued southward through Beverly almost at leisure, for McClellan did not enter the town till past noon on the 12th.

Morris learned of Garnett's retreat at dawn, and started in pursuit as soon as rations could be issued. He marched first to Leadsville, where he halted to communicate with McClellan at Beverly and get further orders. These reached him in the night, and at daybreak of the 13th he resumed the pursuit. His advance-guard of three regiments, accompanied by Captain H. W. Benham of the Engineers, overtook the rear of the Confederate column about noon and continued a skirmishing pursuit for some two hours. Garnett himself handled his rear-guard with skill, and at Carrick's Ford a lively encounter was had. A mile or two further, at another ford and when the skirmishing was very slight, he was killed while withdrawing his skirmishers from behind a pile of driftwood which he had used as a barricade. One of his cannon had become stalled in the ford, and with about forty wagons fell into Morris's hands. The direct pursuit was here discontinued, but McClellan had sent a dispatch to General Hill at Grafton, to collect the garrisons along the railroad and block the way of the Confederates where they must pass around the northern spurs of the mountains. [Footnote: Reports of Morris and Benham, Official Records, vol. ii. pp. 220, 222.]

His military telegraph terminated at the Roaring Creek camp, and the dispatch written in the evening of the 12th was not forwarded to Hill till near noon of the 13th. This officer immediately ordered the collection of the greater part of his detachments at Oakland, and called upon the railway officials for special trains to hurry them to the rendezvous. About 1000 men under Colonel James Irvine of the Sixteenth Ohio were at West Union, where the St. George road reaches the Northwestern Turnpike, and Hill's information was that a detachment of these held Red House, a crossing several miles in advance, by which the retreating enemy might go. Irvine was directed to hold his positions at all hazards till he could be reinforced. Hill himself hastened with the first train from Grafton to Oakland with about 500 men and three cannon, reached his destination at nightfall, and hurried his detachment forward by a night march to Irvine, ten or twelve miles over rough roads. It turned out that Irvine did not occupy Red House, and the prevalent belief that the enemy was about 8000 in number, with the uncertainty of the road he would take, made it proper to keep the little force concentrated till reinforcements should come. The first of these reached Irvine about six o'clock on the morning of the 14th, raising his command to 1500; but a few moments after their arrival he learned that the enemy had passed Red House soon after daylight. He gave chase, but did not overtake them.

Meanwhile General Hill had spent the night in trying to hasten forward the railway trains, but none were able to reach Oakland till morning, and Garnett's forces had now more than twenty miles the start, and were on fairly good roads, moving southward on the eastern side of the mountains. McClellan still telegraphed that Hill had the one opportunity of a lifetime to capture the fleeing army, and that officer hastened in pursuit, though unprovided with wagons or extra rations. When however the Union commander learned that the enemy had fairly turned the mountains, he ordered the pursuit stopped. Hill had used both intelligence and energy in his attempt to concentrate his troops, but it proved simply impossible for the railroad to carry them to Oakland before the enemy had passed the turning-point, twenty miles to the southward. [Footnote: Report of Hill, Official Records, vol. ii. p. 224.]

During the 12th Pegram's situation and movements were unknown. He had intended, when he evacuated his camp, to follow the line of retreat taken by the detachment already near the mountain-top, but, in the darkness of the night and in the tangled woods and thickets of the mountain-side, his column got divided, and, with the rear portion of it, he wandered all day of the 12th, seeking to make his way to Garnett. He halted at evening at the Tygart Valley River, six miles north of Beverly, and learned from some country people of Garnett's retreat. It was still possible to reach the mountains east of the valley, but beyond lay a hundred miles of wilderness and half a dozen mountain ridges on which little, if any, food could be found for his men. He called a council of war, and, by advice of his officers, sent to McClellan, at Beverly, an offer of surrender. This was received on the 13th, and Pegram brought in 30 officers and 525 men. [Footnote: Report of Pegram, Official Records, vol. ii. pp. 265, 266.] McClellan then moved southward himself, following the Staunton road, by which the remnant of Pegram's little force had escaped, and on the 14th occupied Huttonsville. Two regiments of Confederate troops were hastening from Staunton to reinforce Garnett. These were halted at Monterey, east of the principal ridge of the Alleghanies, and upon them the retreating forces rallied. Brigadier-General H. R. Jackson was assigned to command in Garnett's place, and both Governor Letcher and General Lee made strenuous efforts to increase this army to a force sufficient to resume aggressive operations. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 247, 254.] On McClellan's part nothing further was attempted till on the 22d he was summoned to Washington to assume command of the army which had retreated to the capital after the panic of the first Bull Run battle.

The affair at Rich Mountain and the subsequent movements were among the minor events of a great war, and would not warrant a detailed description, were it not for the momentous effect they had upon the conduct of the war, by being the occasion of McClellan's promotion to the command of the Potomac army. The narrative which has been given contains the "unvarnished tale," as nearly as official records of both sides can give it, and it is a curious task to compare it with the picture of the campaign and its results which was then given to the world in the series of proclamations and dispatches of the young general, beginning with his first occupation of the country and ending with his congratulations to his troops, in which he announced that they had "annihilated two armies, commanded by educated and experienced soldiers, intrenched in mountain fastnesses fortified at their leisure." The country was eager for good news, and took it as literally true. McClellan was the hero of the moment, and when, but a week later, his success was followed by the disaster to McDowell at Bull Run, he seemed pointed out by Providence as the ideal chieftain who could repair the misfortune and lead our armies to certain victory. His personal intercourse with those about him was so kindly, and his bearing so modest, that his dispatches, proclamations, and correspondence are a psychological study, more puzzling to those who knew him well than to strangers. Their turgid rhetoric and exaggerated pretence did not seem natural to him. In them he seemed to be composing for stage effect something to be spoken in character by a quite different person from the sensible and genial man we knew in daily life and conversation. The career of the great Napoleon had been the study and the absorbing admiration of young American soldiers, and it was perhaps not strange that when real war came they should copy his bulletins and even his personal bearing. It was, for the moment, the bent of the people to be pleased with McClellan's rendering of the role; they dubbed him the young Napoleon, and the photographers got him to stand with folded arms, in the historic pose. For two or three weeks his dispatches and letters were all on fire with enthusiastic energy. He appeared to be in a morbid condition of mental exaltation. When he came out of it, he was as genial as ever. The assumed dash and energy of his first campaign made the disappointment and the reaction more painful when the excessive caution of his conduct in command of the Army of the Potomac was seen. But the Rich Mountain affair, when analyzed, shows the same characteristics which became well known later. There was the same over-estimate of the enemy, the same tendency to interpret unfavorably the sights and sounds in front, the same hesitancy to throw in his whole force when he knew that his subordinate was engaged. If Garnett had been as strong as McClellan believed him, he had abundant time and means to overwhelm Morris, who lay four days in easy striking distance, while the National commander delayed attacking Pegram; and had Morris been beaten, Garnett would have been as near Clarksburg as his opponent, and there would have been a race for the railroad. But, happily, Garnett was less strong and less enterprising than he was credited with being. Pegram was dislodged, and the Confederates made a precipitate retreat.



site stats


Site Copyright 2003-2018 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection,


privacy policy

Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.