Chapter 4


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  



 Orders for the Kanawha expedition--The troops and their quality--Lack of artillery and cavalry--Assembling at Gallipolis--District of the Kanawha--Numbers of the opposing forces--Method of advance--Use of steamboats--Advance guards on river banks--Camp at Thirteen-mile Creek--Night alarm--The river chutes--Sunken obstructions--Pocotaligo--Affair at Barboursville--Affair at Scary Creek--Wise's position at Tyler Mountain--His precipitate retreat--Occupation of Charleston--Rosecrans succeeds McClellan--Advance toward Gauley Bridge--Insubordination--The Newspaper Correspondent--Occupation of Gauley Bridge.

 When McClellan reached Buckhannon, on the 2d of July, the rumors he heard of Garnett's strength, and the news of the presence of General Wise with a considerable force in the Great Kanawha valley, made him conclude to order a brigade to that region for the purpose of holding the lower part of the valley defensively till he might try to cut off Wise's army after Garnett should be disposed of. This duty was assigned to me. On the 22d of June I had received my appointment as Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, superseding my state commission. I had seen the regiments of my brigade going one by one, as fast as they were reorganized for the three years' service, and I had hoped to be ordered to follow them to McClellan's own column. The only one left in camp was the Eleventh Ohio, of which only five companies were present, though two more companies were soon added.

McClellan's letter directed me to assume command of the First and Second Kentucky regiments with the Twelfth Ohio, and to call upon the governor for a troop of cavalry and a six-gun battery: to expedite the equipment of the whole and move them to Gallipolis _via_ Hampden and Portland, stations on the Marietta Railroad, from which a march of twenty-five miles by country roads would take us to our destination. At Gallipolis was the Twenty-first Ohio, which I should add to my command and proceed at once with two regiments to Point Pleasant at the mouth of the Kanawha, five miles above. When all were assembled, one regiment was to be left at Point Pleasant, two were to be advanced up the valley to Ten-mile Creek, and the other placed at an intermediate position. "Until further orders," the letter continued, "remain on the defensive and endeavor to induce the rebels to remain at Charleston until I can cut off their retreat by a movement from Beverly." Captain W. J. Kountz, an experienced steamboat captain, was in charge of water-transportation, and would furnish light-draught steamboats for my use. [Footnote: What purports to be McClellan's letter to me is found in the Records (Official Records, vol. ii. pt. i. p. 197), but it seems to be only an abstract of it, made to accompany his dispatch to Washington (_Id_., p. 198), and by a clerical error given the form of the complete letter. It does not contain the quotation given above, which was reiterated before the letter was closed, in these words: "Remember that my present plan is to cut them off by a rapid march from Beverly after driving those in front of me across the mountains, and do all you can to favor that by avoiding offensive movements."

After the printing of the earlier volumes of the Records, covering the years 1861-1862, I learned that the books and papers of the Department of the Ohio had not been sent to Washington at the close of the war, but were still in Cincinnati. I brought this fact to the attention of the Adjutant-General, and at the request of that officer obtained and forwarded them to the Archives office. With them were my letter books and the original files of my correspondence with McClellan and Rosecrans in 1861 and 1862. Colonel Robert N. Scott, who was then in charge of the publication, informed me that the whole would be prepared for printing and would appear in the supplemental volumes, after the completion of the rest of the First Series. Owing to changes in the Board of Publication in the course of twenty years, there were errors in the arrangement of the matter for the printer, and a considerable part of the correspondence between the generals named and myself was accidentally omitted from the supplemental volume (Official Records, vol. li. pt. i.) in which it should have appeared. The originals are no doubt in the files of the Archives office, and for the benefit of investigators I give in Appendix A a list of the numbers missing from the printed volume, as shown by comparison with my retained copies.]

Governor Dennison seconded our wishes with his usual earnestness, and ordered the battery of artillery and company of cavalry to meet me at Gallipolis; but the guns for the battery were not to be had, and a section of two bronze guns (six-pounder smooth-bores rifled) was the only artillery, whilst the cavalry was less than half a troop of raw recruits, useful only as messengers. I succeeded in getting the Eleventh Ohio sent with me, the lacking companies to be recruited and sent later. The Twelfth Ohio was an excellent regiment which had been somewhat delayed in its reorganization and had not gone with the rest of its brigade to McClellan. The Twenty-first was one of the regiments enlisted for the State in excess of the first quota, and was now brought into the national service under the President's second call. The two Kentucky regiments had been organized in Cincinnati, and were made up chiefly of steamboat crews and "longshoremen" thrown out of employment by the stoppage of commerce on the river. There were in them some companies of other material, but these gave the distinctive character to the regiments. The colonels and part of the field officers were Kentuckians, but the organizations were Ohio regiments in nearly everything but the name. The men were mostly of a rough and reckless class, and gave a good deal of trouble by insubordination; but they did not lack courage, and after they had been under discipline for a while, became good fighting regiments. The difficulty of getting transportation from the railway company delayed our departure. It was not till the 6th of July that a regiment could be sent, and another followed in two or three days. The two Kentucky regiments were not yet armed and equipped, but after a day or two were ready and were ordered up the river by steamboats. I myself left Camp Dennison on the evening of Sunday the 7th with the Eleventh Ohio (seven companies) and reached Gallipolis in the evening of the 9th. The three Ohio regiments were united on the 10th and carried by steamers to Point Pleasant, and we entered the theatre of war. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 416: my report to McClellan.]

My movement had been made upon a telegram from General McClellan, and I found at Gallipolis his letter of instructions of the 2d, and another of the 6th which enlarged the scope of my command. A territorial district was assigned to me, including the southwestern part of Virginia below Parkersburg on the Ohio, and north of the Great Kanawha, reaching back into the country as I should occupy it. [Footnote: The territorial boundary of McClellan's Department had been placed at the Great Kanawha and the Ohio rivers, probably with some political idea of avoiding the appearance of aggression upon regions of doubtful loyalty.] The directions to restrict myself to a defensive occupation of the Lower Kanawha valley were changed to instructions to march on Charleston and Gauley Bridge, and, with a view to his resumption of the plan to make this his main line of advance, to "obtain all possible information in regard to the roads leading toward Wytheville and the adjacent region." I was also ordered to place a regiment at Ripley, on the road from Parkersburg to Charleston, and advised "to beat up Barbonsville, Guyandotte, etc, so that the entire course of the Ohio may be secured to us." Communication with Ripley was by Letart's Falls on the Ohio, some thirty miles above Gallipolis, or by Ravenswood, twenty miles further. Guyandotte was a longer distance below Gallipolis, and Barboursville was inland some miles up the Gurandotte River. As to General Wise, McClellan wrote: "Drive Wise out and catch him if you can. If you do catch him, send him to Colombus penitentiary." A regiment at Parkersburg and another at Roane Court House on the northern border of my district were ordered to report to me, but I was not authorized to move them from the stations assigned them, and they were soon united to McClellan's own column.

At Gallipolis I heard that a steamboat on the Ohio had been boarded by a rebel party near Guyandotte, and the news giving point to McClellan's suggestion to "beat up" that region, I dispatched a small steamboat down the river to meet the Kentucky regiments with orders for the leading one to land at Guyandotte and suppress any insurgents in that neighborhood. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. Ii. pt. i. p. 417.] It was hazardous to divide my little army into three columns on a base of a hundred miles, but it was thought wise to show some Union troops at various points on the border, and I purposed to unite my detachments by early convergent movements forward to the Kanawha valley as soon as I should reach Red House, thirty-two miles up the river, with my principal column.

Before I reached Charleston I added to my artillery one iron and one brass cannon, smooth six-pounders, borrowed from the civil authorities at Gallipolis; but they were without caissons or any proper equipment, and were manned by volunteers from the infantry. [Footnote: Ibid.] My total force, when assembled, would be a little over 3000 men, the regiments having the same average strength as those with McClellan. The opposing force under General Wise was 4000 by the time the campaign was fully opened, though somewhat less at the beginning. [Footnote: Wise reported his force on the 17th of July as 3500 "effective" men and ten cannon, and says he received "perhaps 300" in reinforcements on the 18th. When he abandoned the valley ten days later, he reported his force 4000 in round numbers. Official Records, vol. ii. pp. 290, 292; 1011.]

The Great Kanawha River was navigable for small steamboats about seventy miles, to a point ten or twelve miles above Charleston, the only important town of the region, which was at the confluence of the Kanawha and Elk rivers. Steamboats were plenty, owing to the interruption of trade, and wagons were wholly lacking; so that my column was accompanied and partly carried by a fleet of stern-wheel steamers.

On Thursday the 11th of July the movement from Point Pleasant began. An advance-guard was sent out on each side of the river, marching upon the roads which were near its banks. The few horsemen were divided and sent with them to carry messages, and the boats followed, steaming slowly along in rear of the marching men. Most of two regiments were carried on the steamers, to save fatigue to the men, who were as yet unused to their work, and many of whom were footsore from their first long march of twenty-five miles to Gallipolis from Hampden station, where they had been obliged to leave the railway. The arrangement was also a good one in a military point of view, for if an enemy were met on either bank of the stream, the boats could land in a moment and the troops disembark without delay.

Our first day's sail was thirteen miles up the river, and it was the very romance of campaigning. I took my station on top of the pilot-house of the leading boat, so that I might see over the banks of the stream and across the bottom lands to the high hills which bounded the valley. The afternoon was a lovely one. Summer clouds lazily drifted across the sky, the boats were dressed in their colors and swarmed with the men like bees. The bands played national tunes, and as we passed the houses of Union citizens, the inmates would wave their handkerchiefs to us, and were answered by cheers from the troops. The scenery was picturesque, the gently winding river making beautiful reaches that opened new scenes upon us at every turn. On either side the advance-guard could be seen in the distance, the main body in the road, with skirmishers exploring the way in front, and flankers on the sides. Now and then a horseman would bring some message to the bank from the front, and a small boat would be sent to receive it, giving us the rumors with which the country was rife, and which gave just enough of excitement and of the spice of possible danger to make this our first day in an enemy's country key everybody to just such a pitch as apparently to double the vividness of every sensation. The landscape seemed more beautiful, the sunshine more bright, and the exhilaration of out-door life more joyous than any we had ever known.

The halt for the night had been assigned at a little village on the right (northern) bank of the stream, which was nestled beneath a ridge which ran down from the hills toward the river, making an excellent position for defence against any force which might come against it from the upper valley. The sun was getting low behind us in the west, as we approached it, and the advance-guard had already halted. Captain Cotter's two bronze guns gleamed bright on the top of the ridge beyond the pretty little town, and before the sun went down, the new white tents had been carried up to the slope and pitched there. The steamers were moored to the shore, and the low slanting rays of the sunset fell upon as charming a picture as was ever painted. An outpost with pickets was set on the southern side of the river, both grand and camp guards were put out also on the side we occupied, and the men soon had their supper and went to rest. Late in the evening a panic-stricken countryman came in with the news that General Wise was moving down upon us with 4000 men. The man was evidently in earnest, and was a loyal one. He believed every word he said, but he had in fact seen only a few of the enemy's horsemen who were scouting toward us, and believed their statement that an army was at their back. It was our initiation into an experience of rumors that was to continue as long as the war. We were to get them daily and almost hourly; sometimes with a little foundation of fact, sometimes with none; rarely purposely deceptive, but always grossly exaggerated, making chimeras with which a commanding officer had to wage a more incessant warfare than with the substantial enemy in his front. I reasoned that Wise's troops were, like my own, too raw to venture a night attack with, and contented myself with sending a strong reconnoitring party out beyond my pickets, putting in command of it Major Hines of the Twelfth Ohio, an officer who subsequently became noted for his enterprise and activity in charge of scouting parties. The camp rested quietly, and toward morning Hines returned, reporting that a troop of the enemy's horse had come within a couple of miles of our position in search of information about us and our movement. They had indulged in loud bragging as to what Wise and his army would do with us, but this and nothing more was the basis of our honest friend's fright. The morning dawned bright and peaceful, the steamers were sent back for a regiment which was still at Point Pleasant, and the day was used in concentrating the little army and preparing for another advance.

On July 13th we moved again, making about ten miles, and finding the navigation becoming difficult by reason of the low water. At several shoals in the stream rough wing-dams had been built from the sides to concentrate the water in the channel, and at Knob Shoals, in one of these "chutes" as they were called, a coal barge had sometime before been sunk. In trying to pass it our leading boat grounded, and, the current being swift, it was for a time doubtful if we should get her off. We finally succeeded, however, and the procession of boats slowly steamed up the rapids. We had hardly got beyond them when we heard a distant cannon-shot from our advance-guard which had opened a long distance between them and us during our delay. We steamed rapidly ahead. Soon we saw a man pulling off from the south bank in a skiff. Nearing the steamer, he stood up and excitedly shouted that a general engagement had begun. We laughingly told him it couldn't be very general till we got in, and we moved on, keeping a sharp outlook for our parties on either bank. When we came up to them, we learned that a party of horsemen had appeared on the southern side of the river and had opened a skirmishing fire, but had scampered off as if the Old Nick were after them when a shell from the rifled gun was sent over their heads. The shell, like a good many that were made in those days, did not explode, and the simple people of the vicinity who had heard its long-continued scream told our men some days after that they thought it was "going yet."

From this time some show of resistance was made by the enemy, and the skirmishing somewhat retarded the movement. Still, about ten miles was made each day till the evening of the 16th, when we encamped at the mouth of the Pocotaligo, a large creek which enters the Kanawha from the north. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 418.] The evening before, we had had one of those incidents, not unusual with new troops, which prove that nothing but habit can make men cool and confident in their duties. We had, as usual, moored our boats to the northern bank and made our camp there, placing an outpost on the left bank opposite us supporting a chain of sentinels, to prevent a surprise from that direction. A report of some force of the enemy in their front made me order another detachment to their support after nightfall. The detachment had been told off and ferried across in small boats. They were dimly seen marching in the starlight up the river after landing, when suddenly a shot was heard, and then an irregular volley was both seen and heard as the muskets flashed out in the darkness. A supporting force was quickly sent over, and, no further disturbance occurring, a search was made for an enemy, but none was found. A gun had accidentally gone off in the squad, and the rest of the men, surprised and bewildered, had fired, they neither knew why nor at what. Two men were killed, and several others were hurt. This and the chaffing the men got from their comrades was a lesson to the whole command. The soldiers were brave enough, and were thoroughly ashamed of themselves, but they were raw; that was all that could be said of it. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 421.]

We were here overtaken by the Second Kentucky, which had stopped at Guyandotte on its way up the river, and had marched across the country to join us after our progress had sufficiently covered that lower region. From Guyandotte a portion of the regiment, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Neff, had gone to Barboursville and had attacked and dispersed an encampment of Confederates which was organizing there. It was a very creditable little action, in which officers and men conducted themselves well, and which made them for the time the envy of the rest of the command.

The situation at "Poca," as it was called in the neighborhood, was one which made the further advance of the army require some consideration. Information which came to us from loyal men showed that some force of the enemy was in position above the mouth of Scary Creek on the south side of the Kanawha, and about three miles from us. We had for two days had constant light skirmishing with the advance-guard of Wise's forces on the north bank of the river, and supposed that the principal part of his command was on our side, and not far in front of us. It turned out in fact that this was so, and that Wise had placed his principal camp at Tyler Mountain, a bold spur which reaches the river on the northern side (on which is also the turnpike road), about twelve miles above my position, while he occupied the south side with a detachment. The Pocotaligo, which entered the river from the north at our camp, covered us against an attack on that side; but we could not take our steam-boats further unless both banks of the river were cleared. We had scarcely any wagons, for those which had been promised us could not yet be forwarded, and we must either continue to keep the steamboats with us, or organize wagon transportation and cut loose from the boats. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 420; dispatch of 17th also.] My urgent dispatches were hurrying the wagons toward us, but meanwhile I hoped the opposition on the south bank of the river would prove trifling, for artillery in position at any point on the narrow river would at once stop navigation of our light and unarmed transports. On the morning of the 17th a reconnoitering party sent forward on the south side of the river under command of Lieutenant-Colonel White of the Twelfth Ohio, reported the enemy about five hundred strong intrenched on the further side of Scary Creek, which was not fordable at its mouth, but could be crossed a little way up the stream. Colonel Lowe of the Twelfth requested the privilege of driving off this party with his regiment accompanied by our two cannon. He was ordered to do so, whilst the enemy's skirmishers should be pushed back from the front of the main column, and it should be held ready to advance rapidly up the north bank of the river as soon as the hostile force at Scary Creek should be dislodged.

The Twelfth and two companies of the Twenty-first Ohio were ferried over and moved out soon after noon. The first reports from them were encouraging and full of confidence, the enemy were retreating and they had dismounted one of his guns; but just before evening they returned, bringing the account of their repulse in the effort to cross at the mouth of the creek, and their failure to find the ford a little higher up. Their ammunition had run short, some casualties had occurred, and they had become discouraged and given it up. Their loss was 10 men killed and 35 wounded. If they had held on and asked for assistance, it would have been well enough; but, as was common with new troops, they passed from confidence to discouragement as soon as they were checked, and they retreated.

The affair was accompanied by another humiliating incident which gave me no little chagrin. During the progress of the engagement Colonel Woodruff and Lieutenant-Colonel Neff of the Second Kentucky, with Colonel De Villiers of the Eleventh Ohio, rode out in front, on the north bank of the river, till they came opposite the enemy's position, the hostile party on our side of the stream having fallen back beyond this point. They were told by a negro that the rebels were in retreat, and they got the black man to ferry them over in a skiff, that they might be the first to congratulate their friends. To their amazement they were welcomed as prisoners by the Confederates, who greatly enjoyed their discomfiture. The negro had told the truth in saying that the enemy had been in retreat; for the fact was that both sides retreated, but the Confederates, being first informed of this, resumed their position and claimed a victory. The officers who were captured had gone out without permission, and, led on by the hare-brained De Villiers, had done what they knew was foolish and unmilitary, resulting for them in a severe experience in Libby Prison at Richmond, and for us in the momentary appearance of lack of discipline and order which could not fairly be charged upon the command. I reported the facts without disguise or apology, trusting to the future to remove the bad impression the affair must naturally make upon McClellan.

The report of the strength of the position attacked and our knowledge of the increasing difficulty of the ground before us, led me to conclude that the wisest course would be to await the arrival of the wagons, now daily expected, and then, with supplies for several days in hand, move independent of the steamers, which became only an embarrassment when it was advisable to leave the river road for the purpose of turning a fortified position like that we had found before us. We therefore rested quietly in our strong camp for several days, holding both banks of the river and preparing to move the main column by a country road leading away from the stream on the north side, and returning to it at Tyler Mountain, where Wise's camp was reported to be. I ordered up the First Kentucky from Ravenswood and Ripley, but its colonel found obstacles in his way, and did not join us till we reached Charleston the following week.

On the 23d of July I had succeeded in getting wagons and teams enough to supply the most necessary uses, and renewed the advance. We marched rapidly on the 24th by the circuitous route I have mentioned, leaving a regiment to protect the steamboats. The country was very broken and the roads very rough, but the enemy had no knowledge of our movement, and toward evening we again approached the river immediately in rear of their camp at Tyler Mountain. When we drove in their pickets, the force was panic-stricken and ran off, leaving their camp in confusion, and their supper which they were cooking but did not stop to eat. A little below the point where we reached the river, and on the other side, was the steamboat "Maffet" with a party of soldiers gathering the wheat which had been cut in the neighboring fields and was in the sheaf. I was for a moment doubtful whether it might not be one of our own boats which had ventured up the river under protection of the regiment left behind, and directed our skirmishers who were deployed along the edge of the water to hail the other side. "Who are you?" was shouted from both banks simultaneously. "United States troops," our men answered. "Hurrah for Jeff Davis!" shouted the others, and a rattling fire opened on both sides. A shell was sent from our cannon into the steamer, and the party upon her were immediately seen jumping ashore, having first set fire to her to prevent her falling into our hands. The enemy then moved away on that side, under cover of the trees which lined the river bank. Night was now falling, and, sending forward an advance-guard to follow up the force whose camp we had surprised, we bivouacked on the mountain side.

In the morning, as we were moving out at an early hour, we were met by the mayor and two or three prominent citizens of Charleston who came to surrender the town to us, Wise having hurriedly retreated during the night. He had done a very unnecessary piece of mischief before leaving, in partly cutting off the cables of a fine suspension bridge which spans the Elk River at Charleston. As this stream enters the Kanawha from the north and below the city, it may have seemed to him that it would delay our progress; but as a large number of empty coal barges were lying at the town, it took our company of mechanics, under Captain Lane of the Eleventh Ohio, but a little while to improvise a good floating bridge, and part of the command passed through the town and camped beyond it. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 425.] One day was now given to the establishment of a depot of supplies at Charleston and to the organization of regular communication by water with Gallipolis, and by wagons with such positions as we might occupy further up the river. Deputations of the townspeople were informed that it was not our policy to meddle with private persons who remained quietly at home, nor would we make any inquisition as to the personal opinions of those who attended strictly to their own business; but they were warned that any communication with the enemy would be remorselessly punished.

We were now able to get more accurate information about Wise's forces than we could obtain before, and this accorded pretty well with the strength which he reported officially. [Footnote: _Ante_, p. 63 note.] His infantry was therefore more than equal to the column under my command in the valley, whilst in artillery and in cavalry he was greatly superior. Our continued advance in the face of such opposition is sufficient evidence that the Confederate force was not well handled, for as the valley contracted and the hills crowded in closer to the river, nearly every mile offered positions in which small numbers could hold at bay an army. Our success in reaching Charleston was therefore good ground for being content with our progress, though I had to blame myself for errors in the management of my part of the campaign at Pocataligo. I ought not to have assumed as confidently as I did that the enemy was only five hundred strong at Scary Creek and that a detachment could dispose of that obstacle whilst the rest of the column prepared to advance on our principal line. Wise's force at that point was in fact double the number supposed. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. p. 1011.] It is true it was very inconvenient to ferry any considerable body of troops back and forth across the river; but I should nevertheless have taken the bulk of my command to the left bank, and by occupying the enemy's attention at the mouth of Scary Creek, covered the movement of a sufficient force upon his flank by means of the fords farther up that stream. This would have resulted in the complete routing of the detachment, and it is nearly certain that I could have pushed on to Charleston at once, and could have waited there for the organization of my wagon train with the prestige of victory, instead of doing so at 'Poca' with the appearance of a check.

McClellan recognized the fact that he was asking me to face the enemy with no odds in my favor, and as soon as he heard that Wise was disposed to make a stand he directed me not to risk attacking him in front, but rather to await the result of his own movement toward the Upper Kanawha. [Footnote: Dispatches of July 16 and 20.] Rosecrans did the same when he assumed command; but I knew the hope had been that I would reach Gauley Bridge, and I was vexed that my movement should have the appearance of failing when I was conscious that we had not fairly measured our strength with my opponent. As soon, therefore, as the needful preparations could be made, I decided upon the turning movement which I have already described, and our resolute advance seems to have thrown Wise into a panic from which he did not recover till he got far beyond Gauley Bridge.

At Charleston I learned of the Bull Run disaster, and that McClellan had been ordered to Washington, leaving Rosecrans in command of our department. The latter sent me orders which implied that to reach Charleston was the most he could expect of me, and directing me to remain on the defensive if I should succeed in getting so far, whilst he should take up anew McClellan's plan of reaching the rear of Wise's army. [Footnote: Dispatches of July 26 and 29.] His dispatches, fortunately, did not reach me till I was close to Gauley Bridge and was sure of my ability to take possession of that defile, some forty miles above Charleston. An additional reason for my prompt advance was that the Twenty-first Ohio was not yet re-enlisted for the war, was only a "three months" regiment whose time was about to expire, and Governor Dennison had telegraphed me to send it back to Ohio. I left this regiment as a post-garrison at Charleston till it could be relieved by another, or till my success in reaching Gauley Bridge should enable me to send back a detachment for that post, and, on the 26th July, pushed forward with the rest of my column, which, now that the First Kentucky had joined me, consisted of four regiments. Our first night's encampment was about eleven miles above Charleston in a lovely nook between spurs of the hills. Here I was treated to a little surprise on the part of three of my subordinates which was an unexpected enlargement of my military experience. The camp had got nicely arranged for the night and supper was over, when these gentlemen waited upon me at my tent. The one who had shown the least capacity as commander of a regiment was spokesman, and informed me that after consultation they had concluded that it was foolhardy to follow the Confederates into the gorge we were travelling, and that unless I could show them satisfactory reasons for changing their opinion they would not lead their commands further into it. I dryly asked if he was quite sure he understood the nature of his communication. There was something probably in the tone of my question which was not altogether expected, and his companions began to look a little uneasy. He then protested that none of them meant any disrespect, but that as their military experience was about as extensive as my own, they thought I ought to make no movements but on consultation with them and by their consent. The others seemed to be better pleased with this way of putting it, and signified assent. My answer was that their conduct very plainly showed their own lack both of military experience and elementary military knowledge, and that this ignorance was the only thing which could palliate their action. Whether they meant it or not, their action was mutinous. The responsibility for the movement of the army was with me, and whilst I should be inclined to confer very freely with my principal subordinates and explain my purposes, I should call no councils of war, and submit nothing to vote till I felt incompetent to decide for myself. If they apologized for their conduct and showed earnestness in military obedience to orders, what they had now said would be overlooked, but on any recurrence of cause for complaint I should enforce my power by the arrest of the offender at once. I dismissed them with this, and immediately sent out the formal orders through my adjutant-general to march early next morning. Before they slept one of the three had come to me with earnest apology for his part in the matter, and a short time made them all as subordinate as I could wish. The incident could not have occurred in the brigade which had been under my command at Camp Dennison, and was a not unnatural result of the sudden assembling of inexperienced men under a brigade commander of whom they knew nothing except that at the beginning of the war he was a civilian like themselves. These very men afterward became devoted followers, and some of them life-long friends. It was part of their military education as well as mine. If I had been noisy and blustering in my intercourse with them at the beginning, and had done what seemed to be regarded as the "regulation" amount of cursing and swearing, they would probably have given me credit for military aptitude at least; but a systematic adherence to a quiet and undemonstrative manner evidently told against me, at first, in their opinion. Through my army life I met more or less of the same conduct when assigned to a new command; but when men learned that discipline would be inevitably enforced, and that it was as necessary to obey a quiet order as one emphasized by expletives, and especially when they had been a little under fire, there was no more trouble. Indeed, I was impressed with the fact that after this acquaintance was once made, my chief embarrassment in discipline was that an intimation of dissatisfaction on my part would cause deeper chagrin and more evident pain than I intended or wished.

The same march enabled me to make the acquaintance of another army "institution,"--the newspaper correspondent. We were joined at Charleston by two men representing influential Eastern journals, who wished to know on what terms they could accompany the column. The answer was that the quartermaster would furnish them with a tent and transportation, and that their letters should be submitted to one of the staff, to protect us from the publication of facts which might aid the enemy. This seemed unsatisfactory, and they intimated that they expected to be taken into my mess and to be announced as volunteer aides with military rank. They were told that military position or rank could only be given by authority much higher than mine, and that they could be more honestly independent if free from personal obligation and from temptation to repay favors with flattery. My only purpose was to put the matter upon the foundation of public right and of mutual self-respect. The day before we reached Gauley Bridge they opened the subject again to Captain McElroy, my adjutant-general, but were informed that I had decided it upon a principle by which I meant to abide. Their reply was, "Very well; General Cox thinks he can get along without us, and we will show him. We will write him down."

They left the camp the same evening, and wrote letters to their papers describing the army as demoralized, drunken, and without discipline, in a state of insubordination, and the commander as totally incompetent. As to the troops, more baseless slander was never uttered. Their march had been orderly. No wilful injury had been done to private property, and no case of personal violence to any non-combatant, man or woman, had been even charged. Yet the printing of such communications in widely read journals was likely to be as damaging as if it all were true. My nomination as Brigadier-General of U. S. Volunteers was then before the Senate for confirmation, and "the pen" would probably have proved "mightier than the sword" but for McClellan's knowledge of the nature of the task we had accomplished, as he was then in the flood-tide of power at Washington, and expressed his satisfaction at the performance of our part of the campaign which he had planned. By good fortune also, the injurious letters were printed at the same time with the telegraphic news of our occupation of Gauley Bridge and the retreat of the enemy out of the valley. [Footnote: As one of these correspondents became a writer of history, it is made proper to say that he was Mr. William Swinton, of whom General Grant has occasion to speak in his "Personal Memoirs" (vol. ii. p. 144), and whose facility in changing his point of view in historical writing was shown in his "McClellan's Military Career Reviewed and Exposed," which was published in 1864 by the Union Congressional Committee (first appearing in the "New York Times" of February, March, and April of that year), when compared with his "History of the Army of the Potomac" which appeared two years later. Burnside accused him of repeated instances of malicious libel of his command in June, 1864. Official Records, vol. xxxvi. pt. iii. p. 751.] I was, however, deeply convinced that my position was the right one, and never changed my rule of conduct in the matter. The relations of newspaper correspondents to general officers of the army became one of the crying scandals and notorious causes of intrigue and demoralization. It was a subject almost impossible to settle satisfactorily; but whoever gained or lost by cultivating this means of reputation, it is a satisfaction to have adhered throughout the war to the rule I first adopted and announced.

Wise made no resolute effort to oppose my march after I left Charleston, and contented himself with delaying us by his rear-guard, which obstructed the road by felling trees into it and by skirmishing with my head of column. We however advanced at the rate of twelve or fifteen miles a day, reaching Gauley Bridge on the morning of the 29th of July. Here we captured some fifteen hundred stands of arms and a considerable store of munitions which the Confederate general had not been able to carry away or destroy. It is safe to say that in the wild defile which we had threaded for the last twenty miles there were as many positions as there were miles in which he could easily have delayed my advance a day or two, forcing me to turn his flank by the most difficult mountain climbing, and where indeed, with forces so nearly equal, my progress should have been permanently barred. At Gauley Bridge he burned the structure which gave name to the place, and which had been a series of substantial wooden trusses resting upon heavy stone piers. My orders definitively limited me to the point we had now reached in my advance, and I therefore sent forward only a detachment to follow the enemy and keep up his precipitate retreat. Wise did not stop till he reached Greenbrier and the White Sulphur Springs, and there was abundant evidence that he regarded his movement as a final abandonment of this part of West Virginia. [Footnote: Floyd's Dispatches, Official Records, vol. li. pt. ii. pp. 208, 213.] A few weeks later General Lee came in person with reinforcements over the mountains and began a new campaign; but until the 20th of August we were undisturbed except by a petty guerilla warfare.

McClellan telegraphed from Washington his congratulations, [Footnote: Dispatch of August 1.] and Rosecrans expressed his satisfaction also in terms which assured me that we had done more than had been expected of us. [Footnote: Dispatch of July 31.] The good effect upon the command was also very apparent; for our success not only justified the policy of a determined advance, but the officers who had been timid as to results were now glad to get their share of the credit, and to make amends for their insubordination by a hearty change in bearing and conduct. My term of service as a brigadier of the Ohio forces in the three months' enrolment had now ended, and until the Senate should confirm my appointment as a United States officer there was some doubt as to my right to continue in command. My embarrassment in this regard was very pleasantly removed by a dispatch from General Rosecrans in which he conveyed the request of Lieutenant-General Scott and of himself that I should remain in charge of the Kanawha column. It was only a week, however, before notice of the confirmation was received, and dropping all thoughts of returning home, I prepared my mind for continuous active duty till the war should end.



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.