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 gate of the Kanawha valley--The wilderness beyond--West Virginia defences--A romantic post--Chaplain Brown--An adventurous mission--Chaplain Dubois--"The River Path"--Gauley Mount--Colonel Tompkins's home--Bowie-knives--Truculent resolutions--The Engineers--Whittlesey, Benham, Wagner--Fortifications--Distant reconnoissances--Comparison of forces--Dangers to steamboat communications--Allotment of duties--The Summersville post--Seventh Ohio at Cross Lanes--Scares and rumors--Robert E. Lee at Valley Mountain--Floyd and Wise advance--Rosecrans's orders--The Cross Lanes affair--Major Casement's creditable retreat--Colonel Tyler's reports--Lieutenant-Colonel Creighton--Quarrels of Wise and Floyd--Ambushing rebel cavalry--Affair at Boone Court House--New attack at Gauley Bridge--An incipient mutiny--Sad result--A notable court-martial--Rosecrans marching toward us--Communications renewed--Advance toward Lewisburg--Camp Lookout--A private sorrow.
The position at Gauley Bridge was an important one from a military point of view. It was where the James River and Kanawha turnpike, after following the highlands along the course of New River as it comes from the east, drops into a defile with cliffs on one side and a swift and unfordable torrent upon the other, and then crosses the Gauley River, which is a stream of very similar character. The two rivers, meeting at a right angle, there unite to form the Great Kanawha, which plunges over a ledge of rocks a mile below and winds its way among the hills, some thirty miles, before it becomes a navigable stream even for the lightest class of steamboats. From Gauley Bridge a road runs up the Gauley River to Cross Lanes and Carnifex Ferry, something over twenty miles, and continuing northward reaches
Summersville, Sutton, and Weston, making almost the only line of communication between the posts then occupied by our troops in northwestern Virginia and the head of the Kanawha valley. Southwestward the country was extremely wild and broken, with few and small settlements and no roads worthy the name. The crossing of the Gauley was therefore the gate through which all important movements from eastern into southwestern Virginia must necessarily come, and it formed an important link in any chain of posts designed to cover the Ohio valley from invasion. It was also the most advanced single post which could protect the Kanawha valley. Further to the southeast, on Flat-top Mountain, was another very strong position, where the principal road on the left bank of New River crosses a high and broad ridge; but a post could not be safely maintained there without still holding Gauley Bridge in considerable force, or establishing another post on the right bank of New River twenty miles further up. All these streams flow in rocky beds seamed and fissured to so great a degree that they had no practicable fords. You might go forty miles up New River and at least twenty up the Gauley before you could find a place where either could be passed by infantry or wagons. The little ferries which had been made in a few eddies of the rivers were destroyed in the first campaign, and the post at the Gauley became nearly impregnable in front, and could only be turned by long and difficult detours.
An interval of about a hundred miles separated this mountain fastness from the similar passes which guarded eastern Virginia along the line of the Blue Ridge. This debatable ground was sparsely settled and very poor in agricultural resources, so that it could furnish nothing for subsistence of man or beast. The necessity of transporting forage as well as subsistence and ammunition through this mountainous belt forbade any extended or continuous operations there; for actual computation showed that the wagon trains could carry no more than the food for the mule teams on the double trip, going and returning, from Gauley Bridge to the narrows of New River where the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad crossed upon an important bridge which was several times made the objective point of an expedition. This alone proved the impracticability of the plan McClellan first conceived, of making the Kanawha valley the line of an important movement into eastern Virginia. It pointed very plainly, also, to the true theory of operations in that country. Gauley Bridge should have been held with a good brigade which could have had outposts several miles forward in three directions, and, assisted by a small body of horse to scour the country fifty miles or more to the front, the garrison could have protected all the country which we ever occupied permanently. A similar post at Huttonsville with detachments at the Cheat Mountain pass and Elkwater pass north of Huntersville would have covered the only other practicable routes through the mountains south of the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. These would have been small intrenched camps, defensive in character, but keeping detachments constantly active in patrolling the front, going as far as could be done without wagons. All that ever was accomplished in that region of any value would thus have been attained at the smallest expense, and the resources that were for three years wasted in those mountains might have been applied to the legitimate lines of great operations from the valley of the Potomac southward.
[Illustration: GAULEY BRIDGE & VICINITY.]
Nothing could be more romantically beautiful than the situation of the post at Gauley Bridge. The hamlet had, before our arrival there, consisted of a cluster of two or three dwellings, a country store, a little tavern, and a church, irregularly scattered along the base of the mountain and facing the road which turns from the Gauley valley into that of the Kanawha. The lower slope of the hillside behind the houses was cultivated, and a hedgerow separated the lower fields from the upper pasturage. Above this gentler slope the wooded steeps rose more precipitately, the sandstone rock jutting out into crags and walls, the sharp ridge above having scarcely soil enough to nourish the chestnut-trees, here, like Mrs. Browning's woods of Vallombrosa, literally "clinging by their spurs to the precipices." In the angle between the Gauley and New rivers rose Gauley Mount, the base a perpendicular wall of rocks of varying height, with high wooded slopes above. There was barely room for the road between the wall of rocks and the water on the New River side, but after going some distance up the valley, the highway gradually ascended the hillside, reaching some rolling uplands at a distance of a couple of miles. Here was Gauley Mount, the country-house of Colonel C. Q. Tompkins, formerly of the Army of the United States, but now the commandant of a Confederate regiment raised in the Kanawha valley. Across New River the heavy masses of Cotton Mountain rose rough and almost inaccessible from the very water's edge. The western side of Cotton Mountain was less steep, and buttresses formed a bench about its base, so that in looking across the Kanawha a mile below the junction of the rivers, one saw some rounded foothills which had been cleared on the top and tilled, and a gap in the mountainous wall made room on that side for a small creek which descended to the Kanawha, and whose bed served for a rude country road leading to Fayette C. H. At the base of Cotton Mountain the Kanawha equals the united width of the two tributaries, and flows foaming over broken rocks with treacherous channels between, till it dashes over the horseshoe ledge below, known far and wide as the Kanawha Falls. On either bank near the falls a small mill had been built, that on the right bank a saw-mill and the one on the left for grinding grain.
Our encampment necessarily included the saw-mill below the falls, where the First Kentucky Regiment was placed to guard the road coming from Fayette C. H. Two regiments were encamped at the bridge upon the hillside above the hedgerow, having an advanced post of half a regiment on the Lewisburg road beyond the Tompkins farm, and scouting the country to Sewell Mountain. Smaller outposts were stationed some distance up the valley of the Gauley. My headquarters tents were pitched in the door-yard of a dwelling-house facing the Gauley River, and I occupied an unfurnished room in the house for office purposes. A week was spent, without molestation, exploring the country in all directions and studying its topography. A ferry guided by a cable stretching along the piers of the burnt bridge communicated with the outposts up the New River, and a smaller ferry below the Kanawha Falls connected with the Fayette road. Systematic discipline and instruction in outpost duty were enforced, and the regiments rapidly became expert mountaineers and scouts. The population was nearly all loyal below Gauley Bridge, but above they were mostly Secessionists, a small minority of the wealthier slaveholders being the nucleus of all aggressive secession movements. These, by their wealth and social leadership, overawed or controlled a great many who did not at heart sympathize with them, and between parties thus formed a guerilla warfare became chronic. In our scouting expeditions we found little farms in secluded nooks among the mountains, where grown men assured us that they had never before seen the American flag, and whole families had never been further from home than a church and country store a few miles away. From these mountain people several regiments of Union troops were recruited in West Virginia, two of them being organized in rear of my own lines, and becoming part of the garrison of the district in the following season.
I had been joined before reaching Gauley Bridge by Chaplain Brown of the Seventh Ohio, who had obtained permission to make an adventurous journey across the country from Sutton to bring me information as to the position and character of the outposts that were stretching from the railway southward toward our line of operations. Disguised as a mountaineer in homespun clothing, his fine features shaded by a slouched felt hat, he reported himself to me in anything but a clerical garb. Full of enterprise as a partisan leader of scouts could be, he was yet a man of high attainments in his profession, of noble character and real learning. When he reached me, I had as my guest another chaplain who had accepted a commission at my suggestion, the Rev. Mr. Dubois, son-in-law of Bishop McIlvaine of Ohio, who had been leader of the good people at Chillicothe in providing a supper for the Eleventh Ohio as we were on our way from
Camp Dennison to Gallipolis. He had burned to have some part in the country's struggle, and became a model chaplain till his labors and exposure broke his health and forced him to resign. The presence of two such men gave some hours of refined social life in the intervals of rough work. One evening walk along the Kanawha has ever since remained in my memory associated with Whittier's poem "The River Path," as a wilder and more brilliant type of the scene he pictured. We had walked out beyond the camp, leaving its noise and its warlike associations behind us, for a turn of the road around a jutting cliff shut it all out as completely as if we had been transported to another land, except that the distant figure of a sentinel on post reminded us of the limit of safe sauntering for pleasure. My Presbyterian and Episcopalian friends forgot their differences of dogma, and as the sun dropped behind the mountain tops, making an early twilight in the valley, we talked of home, of patriotism, of the relation of our struggle to the world's progress, and other high themes, when
"Sudden our pathway turned from night, The hills swung open to the light; Through their green gates the sunshine showed, A long, slant splendor downward flowed. Down glade and glen and bank it rolled; It bridged the shaded stream with gold; And borne on piers of mist, allied The shadowy with the sunlit side!"
The surroundings, the things of which we talked, our own sentiments, all combined to make the scene stir deep emotions for which the poet's succeeding lines seem the only fit expression, and to link the poem indissolubly with the scene as if it had its birth there.
When Wise had retreated from the valley, Colonel Tompkins had been unable to remove his family, and had left a letter commending them to our courteous treatment. Mrs. Tompkins was a lady of refinement, and her position within our outposts was far from being a comfortable one. She, however, put a cheerful face upon her situation, showed great tact in avoiding controversy with the soldiers and in conciliating the good-will of the officers, and remained with her children and servants in her picturesque home on the mountain. So long as there was no fighting in the near vicinity, it was comparatively easy to save her from annoyance; but when a little later in the autumn Floyd occupied Cotton Mountain, and General Rosecrans was with us with larger forces, such a household became an object of suspicion and ill-will, which made it necessary to send her through the lines to her husband. The men fancied they saw signals conveyed from the house to the enemy, and believed that secret messages were sent, giving information of our numbers and movements. All this was highly improbable, for the lady knew that her safety depended upon her good faith and prudence; but such camp rumor becomes a power, and Rosecrans found himself compelled to end it by sending her away. He could no longer be answerable for her complete protection. This, however, was not till November, and in August it was only a pleasant variation, in going the rounds, to call at the pretty house on Gauley Mount, inquire after the welfare of the family, and have a moment's polite chat with the mistress of the mansion.
For ten days after we occupied Gauley Bridge, all our information showed that General Wise was not likely to attempt the reconquest of the Kanawha valley voluntarily. His rapid retrograde march ended at White Sulphur Springs and he went into camp there. His destruction of bridges and abandonment of stores and munitions of war showed that he intended to take final leave of our region. [Footnote: My report to Rosecrans, Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 40. Wise to Lee, _Id_., vol. ii. p. 1012; vol. v. p. 769.] The contrast between promise and performance in his case had been ludicrous. When we entered the valley, we heard of his proclamations and orders, which breathed the spirit of desperate hand-to-hand conflict. His soldiers had been told to despise long-range fire-arms, and to trust to bowie-knives, which our invading hordes would never dare to face. We found some of these knives among the arms we captured at the Gauley,--ferocious-looking weapons, made of broad files ground to a double edge, fitted with rough handles, and still bearing the cross-marking of the file on the flat sides. Such arms pointed many a sarcasm among our soldiers, who had found it hard in the latter part of our advance to get within even the longest musket-range of the enemy's column. It was not strange that ignorant men should think they might find use for weapons less serviceable than the ancient Roman short-sword; but that, in the existing condition of military science, officers could be found to share and to encourage the delusion was amusing enough! With the
muskets we captured, we armed a regiment of loyal Virginians, and turned over the rest to Governor Peirpoint for similar use. [Footnote: In some documents which fell into our hands we found a series of resolutions passed at a meeting in the spring at which one of the companies now with Wise was organized. It shows the melodramatic truculence which was echoed in the exhortations of the general and of other men who should have had more judgment. The resolutions were these:--
"_Resolved:_ 1. That this company was formed for the defence of this Commonwealth against her enemies of the North, and for no other purpose.
_Resolved:_ 2. That the so-called President of the United States by his war policy has deliberately insulted the people of this Commonwealth, and if blood he wants, blood he can have.
_Resolved:_ 3. That we are ready to respond to the call of the Governor of this Commonwealth for resisting
Abraham Lincoln and the New York stock-jobbers, and all who sympathize with them.
_Resolved:_ 4. That we have not forgotten
Harper's Ferry and John Brown."]
On the 5th of August Lieutenant Wagner of the Engineers arrived at Gauley Bridge with instructions from General Rosecrans to superintend the construction of such fortifications as might be proper for a post of three regiments. I had already with me Colonel Whittlesey, Governor Dennison's chief engineer, an old West Point graduate, who had for some years been devoting himself to scientific pursuits, especially to geology. In a few days these were joined by Captain Benham, who was authorized to determine definitely the plans of our defences. I was thus stronger in engineering skill than in any other department of staff assistants, though in truth there was little fortifying to be done beyond what the contour of the ground indicated to the most ordinary comprehension. [Footnote: The cause of this visit of the Engineers is found in a dispatch sent by McClellan to Rosecrans, warning him that Lee and Johnston were both actually in march to crush our forces in West Virginia, and directing that Huttonsville and Gauley Bridge be strongly fortified. Official Records, vol. v. p. 555; _Id_., vol. ii. pt.. 445, 446.]
Benham stayed but two or three days, modified Wagner's plans enough to feel that he had made them his own, and then went back to Rosecrans's headquarters, where he was met with an appointment as brigadier-general, and was relieved of staff duty. He was a stout red-faced man, with a blustering air, dictatorial and assuming, an army engineer of twenty-five years' standing. He was no doubt well skilled in the routine of his profession, but broke down when burdened with the responsibility of conducting the movement of troops in the field. Wagner was a recent graduate of the Military Academy, a genial, modest, intelligent young man of great promise. He fell at the siege of Yorktown in the next year. Whittlesey was a veteran whose varied experience in and out of the army had all been turned to good account. He was already growing old, but was indefatigable, pushing about in a rather prim, precise way, advising wisely, criticising dryly but in a kindly spirit, and helping bring every department into better form. I soon lost both him and McElroy, my adjutant-general, for their three months' service was up, and they were made, the one colonel, and the other major of the Twentieth Ohio Regiment, of which my friend General Force was the lieutenant-colonel.
We fortified the post by an epaulement or two for cannon, high up on the hillside covering the ferry and the road up New River. An infantry trench, with parapet of barrels filled with earth, was run along the margin of Gauley River till it reached a creek coming down from the hills on the left. There a redoubt for a gun or two was made, commanding a stretch of road above, and the infantry trench followed the line of the creek up to a gorge in the hill. On the side of Gauley Mount facing our post, we slashed the timber from the edge of the precipice nearly to the top of the mountain, making an entanglement through which it was impossible that any body of troops should move. Down the Kanawha, below the falls, we strengthened the saw-mill with logs, till it became a block-house loopholed for musketry, commanding the road to
Charleston, the ferry, and the opening of the road to Fayette C. H. A single cannon was here put in position also.
All this took time, for so small a force as ours could not make very heavy details of working parties, especially as our outpost and reconnoitring duty was also very laborious. This duty was done by infantry, for cavalry I had none, except the squad of mounted messengers, who kept carefully out of harm's way, more to save their horses than themselves, for they had been enlisted under an old law which paid them for the risk of their own horses, which risk they naturally tried to make as small as possible. My reconnoitring parties reached Big Sewell Mountain, thirty-five miles up New River, Summersville, twenty miles up the Gauley, and made excursions into the counties on the left bank of the Kanawha, thirty or forty miles away. These were not exceptional marches, but were kept up with an industry that gave the enemy an exaggerated idea of our strength as well as of our activity.
About the 10th of August we began to get rumors from the country that General Robert E. Lee had arrived at Lewisburg to assume direction of the Confederate movements into West Virginia. We heard also that Floyd with a strong brigade had joined that of Wise, whose "legion" had been reinforced, and that this division, reported to be 10,000 or 12,000 strong, would immediately operate against me at Gauley Bridge. We learned also of a general stir among the Secessionists in Fayette, Mercer, and Raleigh counties, and of the militia being ordered out under General Chapman to support the Confederate movement by operating upon my line of communications, whilst Floyd and Wise should attack in front.
The reported aggregate of the enemy's troops was, as usual, exaggerated, but we now know that it amounted to about 8000 men, a force so greatly superior to anything I could assemble to oppose it, that the situation became at once a very grave one for me. [Footnote: On the 14th of August Wise reported to General Lee that he had 2000 men ready to move, and could have 2500 ready in five days; that 550 of his cavalry were with Floyd, besides a detachment of 50 artillerists. This makes his total force 3100. At that time he gives Floyd's force at 1200 with two strong regiments coming up, besides 2000 militia under General Chapman. The aggregate force operating on the Kanawha line he gives as 7800. (Official Records vol. v. p. 787.)] To resist this advance, I could keep but two regiments at Gauley Bridge, an advance-guard of eight companies vigorously skirmishing toward Sewell Mountain, a regiment distributed on the Kanawha to cover steamboat communications, and some companies of West Virginia recruits organizing at the mouth of the Kanawha. By extreme activity these were able to baffle the enemy, and impose upon him the belief that our numbers were more than double our actual force.
Small hostile parties began to creep in toward the navigable part of the Kanawha, and to fire upon the steamboats, which were our sole dependence for supplying our depots at Charleston and at the head of navigation. General Rosecrans informed me of his purpose to march a sufficiently strong column to meet that under Lee as soon as the purpose of the latter should be developed, and encouraged me to hold fast to my position. I resolved, therefore, to stand a siege if need be, and pushed my means of transportation to the utmost, to accumulate a store of supplies at Gauley Bridge. I succeeded in getting up rations sufficient to last a fortnight, but found it much harder to get ammunition, especially for my ill-assorted little battery of cannon.
The Twenty-sixth Ohio came into the Kanawha valley on the 8th through a mistake in their orders, and their arrival supplied for a few days the loss of the Twenty-first, which had gone home to be mustered out and reorganized. Some companies of the newly forming Fourth Virginia were those who protected the village of Point Pleasant at the mouth of the river, and part of the Twelfth and Twenty-sixth Ohio were in detachments from Charleston toward Gauley Bridge, furnishing guards for the steamboats and assisting in the landing and forwarding of supplies. The Eleventh Ohio, under Lieutenant-Colonel Frizell, which still had only eight companies, had the task of covering and reconnoitring our immediate front, and was the advance-guard already mentioned. Part of the Twelfth under Major Hines did similar work on the road to Summersville, where Rosecrans had an advanced post, consisting of the Seventh Ohio (Colonel E. B. Tyler), the Thirteenth (Colonel Wm. Sooy Smith), and the Twenty-third (Lieutenant-Colonel Stanley Matthews). On the 13th of August the Seventh Ohio, by orders from Rosecrans, marched to Cross Lanes, the intersection of the read from Summersville to Gauley Bridge, with one from Carnifex Ferry, which is on the Gauley near the mouth of Meadow River. A road called the Sunday Road is in the Meadow River valley, and joins the Lewisburg turnpike about fifteen miles in front of Gauley Bridge. [Footnote: See Official Atlas, Plate IX. 3, and map, p. 106, _post_] To give warning against any movement of the enemy to turn my position by this route or to intervene between me and Rosecrans's posts at Summersville and beyond, was Tyler's task. He was ordered to picket all crossings of the river near his position, and to join my command if he were driven away. I was authorized to call him to me in an emergency.
On the 15th Tyler was joined at Cross Lanes by the Thirteenth and Twenty-third Ohio, in consequence of rumors that the enemy was advancing upon Summersville in force from Lewisburg. I would have been glad of such an addition to my forces, but knowing that Rosecrans had stationed them as his own outpost covering the Sutton and Weston road, I ordered Tyler to maintain his own position, and urged the others to return at once to Summersville. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. pp. 449, 453, 454.] The road by which they had expected the enemy was the Wilderness road, which crossed the Gauley at Hughes' Ferry, six miles above Carnifex. If attacked from that direction, they should retire northward toward Rosecrans, if possible.
Rosecrans gave orders to the same effect as soon as he heard of the movement, saying that his intention had been to station Smith and Matthews at Sutton, where their retreat toward him in case of necessity would be assured. [Footnote: Dispatch of August 16.] His orders for Tyler were that he should scout far toward the enemy, "striking him wherever he can," and "hold his position at the ferries as long as he can safely do it, and then fall back, as directed," toward Gauley Bridge. [Footnote: Dispatch of August 17.] The incident throws important light upon the situation a week later, when Tyler was attacked by Floyd.
Floyd and Wise were now really in motion, though General Lee remained at Valley Mountain near Huntersville, whence he directed their movements. On the 17th they had passed Sewell Mountain, but made slow progress in the face of the opposition of the Eleventh Ohio, which kept up a constant skirmish with them. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. pp. 792, 799; _Id_., vol. li. pt. i. pp. 450-453.] On the 19th Floyd's advance-guard passed the mouth of the Sunday Road on the turnpike, and on the 20th made so determined a push at my advance-guard that I believed it a serious effort of the whole Confederate column. I strengthened my own advance-guard by part of the Twelfth Ohio, which was at hand, and placed them at Pig Creek, a mile beyond the Tompkins place, where the turnpike crossed a gorge making a strongly defensible position. The advance-guard was able to withstand the enemy alone, and drove back those who assaulted them with considerable loss. It has since appeared that this movement of the enemy was by Wise's command making a direct attack upon my position, whilst Floyd was moving by the diagonal road to Dogwood Gap on the Sunday Road where it crosses the old State Road. There he encamped for the night, and next day continued his march to the mouth of Meadow River near Carnifex Ferry. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. v. p.800.] It was an affair of advance-guards in which Wise was satisfied as soon as he found serious resistance, and he retired during the night. On the first evidence of the enemy's presence in force, I called Tyler from Cross Lanes to Twenty-mile Creek, about six miles from Gauley Bridge, where it was important to guard a road passing to my rear, and to meet any attempt to turn my flank if the attack should be determinedly made by the whole force of the enemy. [Footnote: Dispatch of August 20.] As soon as the attack was repulsed, Tyler was ordered to return to Cross Lanes and resume his watch of the roads and river crossings there. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. li. pt. i. p. 454.] He was delayed by the issue of shoes and clothing to his men, and when he approached his former position on the 24th, he found that Floyd was reported to have crossed the Gauley at Carnifex Ferry. Without waiting to reconnoitre the enemy at all, Tyler retreated to Peters Creek, several miles. Floyd had in fact succeeded in raising two small flatboats which Tyler had sunk but had not entirely destroyed. With these for a ferry, he had crossed and was intrenching himself where he was afterward attacked by Rosecrans.
In the hope that only a small force had made the crossing, I ordered Tyler to "make a dash at them, taking care to keep your force well in hand so as to keep your retreat safe." [Footnote: Dispatch of August 24.] I added: "It is important to give them such a check as to stop their crossing." Meanwhile my advance-guard up New River was ordered to demonstrate actively in front and upon the Sunday Road, so as to disquiet any force which had gone towards Tyler, and I also sent forward half a regiment to Peters Creek (six miles from Cross Lanes) to hold the pass there and secure his retreat in case of need. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 457.]
But Tyler was new to responsibility, and seemed paralyzed into complete inefficiency. He took nearly the whole of the 25th to move slowly to Cross Lanes, though he met no opposition. He did nothing that evening or night, and his disposal of his troops was so improper and outpost duty so completely neglected that on the morning of the 26th, whilst his regiment was at breakfast, it was attacked by Floyd on both flanks at once, and was routed before it could be formed for action. Some companies managed to make a show of fighting, but it was wholly in vain, and they broke in confusion. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 458, 459, 461.] About 15 were killed and 50 wounded, the latter with some 30 others falling into the enemy's hands. Tyler, with his lieutenant-colonel, Creighton, came into Gauley Bridge with a few stragglers from the regiment. Others followed until about 200 were present. His train had reached the detachment I had sent to Peters Creek, and this covered its retreat to camp, so that all his wagons came in safely. He reported all his command cut to pieces and captured except the few that were with him, and wrote an official report of the engagement, giving that result.
On the 28th, however, we heard that Major Casement had carried 400 of the regiment safely into Charleston. He had rallied them on the hills immediately after the rout, and finding the direct road to Gauley Bridge intercepted, had led them by mountain paths over the ridges to the valley of Elk River, and had then followed that stream down to Charleston without being pursued. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 462.] This put a new face on the business, and Tyler in much confusion asked the return of his report that he might re-write it. I looked upon his situation as the not unnatural result of inexperience, and contented myself with informing General Rosecrans of the truth as to the affair. Tyler was allowed to substitute a new report, and his unfortunate affair was treated as a lesson from which it was expected he would profit. [Footnote: Rosecrans's dispatch, _Id_., p. 460.] It made trouble in the regiment, however, where the line officers did not conceal their opinion that he had failed in his duty as a commander, and he was never afterward quite comfortable among them.
The lieutenant-colonel, Creighton, was for a time in the abyss of self-reproach. The very day they reached Gauley Bridge in their unceremonious retreat, he came to me, crying with shame, and said, "General, I have behaved like a miserable coward, I ought to be cashiered," and repeated many such expressions of remorse. I comforted him by saying that the intensity of his own feeling was the best proof that he had only yielded to a surprise and that it was clear he was no coward. He died afterward at the head of his regiment in the desperate charge up the hills at Ringgold, Georgia, in the campaign following that of Chickamauga in the autumn of 1863, having had the command for two years after Tyler became a brigadier. During those two years the Seventh had been in numberless engagements, and its list of casualties in battle, made good by recruiting, was said to have reached a thousand. Better soldiers there were none, and Creighton proved himself a lion in every fight.
Casement, who rallied and led the most of the regiment from Cross Lanes over the mountains to Charleston, became afterward colonel of the One Hundred and Third Ohio. He came again under my command in East Tennessee in the winter of 1863, and continued one of my brigade commanders to the close of the war. He was a railway builder by profession, had a natural aptitude for controlling bodies of men, was rough of speech but generous of heart, running over with fun which no dolefulness of circumstance could repress, as jolly a comrade and as loyal a subordinate as the army could show.
After the Cross Lanes affair I fully expected that the Confederate forces would follow the route which Casement had taken to Charleston. Floyd's inactivity puzzled me, for he did no more than make an intrenched camp at Carnifex Ferry, with outposts at Peters Mountain and toward Summersville. The publication of the Confederate Archives has partly solved the mystery. Floyd called on Wise to reinforce him; but the latter demurred, insistent that the duty assigned him of attacking my position in front needed all the men he had. Both appealed to Lee, and Lee decided that Floyd was the senior and entitled to command the joint forces. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. pp. 155-165, 800, 802-813.] The letters of Wise show a capacity for keeping a command in hot water which was unique. If he had been half as troublesome to me as he was to Floyd, I should indeed have had a hot time of it. But he did me royal service by preventing anything approaching to co-operation between the two Confederate columns. I kept my advance-guards constantly feeling of both, and got through the period till Rosecrans joined me with nothing more serious than some sharp affairs of detachments.
I was not without anxiety, however, and was constantly kept on the alert. Rosecrans withdrew the Twelfth Ohio from my command, excepting two companies under Major Hines, on the 19th of August, [Footnote: My dispatch to Rosecrans of August 19; also Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 454.] and the imperative need of detachments to protect the river below me was such that from this time till the middle of September my garrison at Gauley Bridge, including advance-guards and outposts, was never more than two and a half regiments or 1800 men. My artillerists were also ordered back to Ohio to reorganize, leaving the guns in the hands of such infantry details as I could improvise. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 462.] I was lucky enough, however, to get a very good troop of horse under command of Captain Pfau in place of the irregular squad I had before. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 464.]
On the 25th my advance-guard under Lieutenant-Colonel Frizell very cleverly succeeded in drawing into an ambuscade a body of Floyd's cavalry under Colonel A. G. Jenkins. The principal body of our men lined a defile near the Hawk's Nest, and the skirmishers, retreating before the enemy, led them into the trap. Our men began firing before the enemy was quite surrounded, and putting their horses upon the run, they dashed back, running the gantlet of the fire. Wise reported that he met men with their subordinate officers flying at four miles' distance from the place of the action, and so panic-stricken that they could not be rallied or led back. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. v. p. 816; _Id_., vol. li. pt. i. p. 457.] Jenkins was hurt by the fall of his horse, but he succeeded in getting away; for, as we had no horsemen to pursue with, even the wounded, except one, could not be overtaken. Hats, clothing, arms, and saddles were left scattered along the road in as complete a breakneck race for life as was ever seen. The result, if not great in the list of casualties, which were only reported at 10 or 15 by the enemy, was so demoralizing in its influence upon the hostile cavalry that they never again showed any enterprise in harassing our outposts, whilst our men gained proportionally in confidence.
About the 30th of August we heard of an encampment of Confederate militia at Boone C. H. which was so situated, southwest of the Kanawha River, as to menace our communications with the Ohio. I sent Lieutenant-Colonel Enyart with half of the First Kentucky Regiment to beat up this encampment, and he did so on the 2d of September, completely routing the enemy, who left 25 dead upon the field. Enyart's march and attack had been rapid and vigorous, and the terror of the blow kept that part of the district quiet for some time afterward. [Footnote: C. R., vol. li. pt. i. pp. 465, 468, 472.]
We had heard for some days the news of the assembling of a considerable force of Confederate militia at Fayette C. H. under General Chapman and Colonel Beckley. They were reported at 2500, which was a fair estimate of the numbers which answered to the call. On the 3d of September a pretty well combined attack was made by Wise and this force; Wise pushing in sharply upon the turnpike, whilst Chapman, assisted by part of Wise's cavalry, drove back our small outpost on the Fayette road. Wise was met at Pig Creek as in his former attack, the eight companies of the Eleventh Ohio being strengthened by half of the Twenty-sixth Ohio, which was brought from below for this purpose. The effort was somewhat more persistent than before, and Wise indulged in considerable noisy cannonading; but the pickets retreated to the creek without loss, and the whole advance-guard, keeping under good cover there, repelled the attack with less than half a dozen casualties on our side, none being fatal. Wise retreated again beyond Hawk's Nest. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. pp. 468, 470. Wise's Report, _Id_., vol. v. p. 124.] The irregular troops on the Fayette road were more boldly led, and as there was no defensible position near the river for our outposts, these fell slowly back after a very warm skirmish, inflicting a loss, as reported by prisoners, of 6 killed among the enemy. I expected Floyd to move at the same time, and was obliged to continue upon the defensive by reason of his threatening position up the Gauley River; I, however, sent Major Hines with his two companies in that direction, and Floyd appeared to be impressed with the idea that my whole force was moving to attack him and attempted nothing aggressive. As at this time Wise, in his letters to General Lee, puts Floyd's force at 5600, and his own at 2200, [Footnote: _Id_., vol. v. p. 840.] I had good reason, therefore, to feel satisfied with being able to keep them all at bay.
In the midst of the alarms from every side, my camp itself was greatly excited by an incident which would have been occasion for regret at any time, but which at such a juncture threatened for a moment quite serious consequences. The work of intrenching the position was going on under the direction of Lieutenant Wagner as rapidly as the small working parties available could perform it. All were overworked, but it was the rule that men should not be detailed for fatigue duty who had been on picket the preceding night. On August 28th, a detail had been called for from the Second Kentucky, which lay above the hedge behind my headquarters, and they had reported without arms under a sergeant named Joyce. A supply of intrenching tools was stacked by the gate leading into the yard where my staff tents were pitched, and my aide, Lieutenant Conine, directed the sergeant to have his men take the tools and report to Mr. Wagner, the engineer, on the line. The men began to demur in a half-mutinous way, saying they had been on picket the night before. Conine, who was a soldierly man, informed them that that should be immediately looked into, and if so, they would be soon relieved, but that they could not argue the matter there, as their company commander was responsible for the detail. He therefore repeated his order. The sergeant then became excited and said his men should not obey. Lieutenant Gibbs, the district commissary, was standing by, and drawing his pistol, said to Joyce, "That's mutiny; order your men to take the tools or I'll shoot you." The man retorted with a curse, "Shoot!" Gibbs fired, and Joyce fell dead. When the sergeant first refused to obey, Conine coolly called out, "Corporal of the guard, turn out the guard!" intending very properly to put the man in arrest, but the shot followed too quick for the guard to arrive. I was sitting within the house at my camp desk, busy, when the first thing which attracted my attention was the call for the guard and the shot. I ran out, not stopping for arms, and saw some of the men running off shouting, "Go for your guns, kill him, kill him!" I stopped part of the men, ordered them to take the sergeant quickly to the hospital, thinking he might not be dead. I then ordered Gibbs in arrest till an investigation should be made, and ran at speed to a gap in the hedge which opened into the regimental camp. It was not a moment too soon. The men with their muskets were already clustering in the path, threatening vengeance on Mr. Gibbs. I ordered them to halt and return to their quarters. Carried away by excitement, they levelled their muskets at me and bade me get out of their way or they would shoot me. I managed to keep cool, said the affair would be investigated, that Gibbs was already under arrest, but they must go back to their quarters. The parley lasted long enough to bring some of their officers near. I ordered them to come to my side, and then to take command of the men and march them away. The real danger was over as soon as the first impulse was checked. [Footnote: Dispatch to Rosecrans, August 29.] The men then began to feel some of their natural respect for their commander, and yielded probably the more readily because they noticed that I was unarmed. I thought it wise to be content with quelling the disturbance, and did not seek out for punishment the men who had met me at the gap. Their excitement had been natural under the circumstances, which were reported with exaggeration as a wilful murder. If I had been in command of a larger force, it would have been easy to turn out another regiment to enforce order and arrest any mutineers; but the Second Kentucky was itself the only regiment on the spot. The First Kentucky was a mile below, and the Eleventh Ohio was the advance-guard up New River. Surrounded as we were by so superior a force of the enemy with which we were constantly skirmishing, I could not do otherwise than meet the difficulty instantly without regard to personal risk.
The sequel of the affair was not reached till some weeks later when General Rosecrans assembled a court-martial at my request. Lieutenant Gibbs was tried and acquitted on the plain evidence that the man killed was in the act of mutiny at the time. The court was a notable one, as its judge advocate was Major R. B. Hayes of the Twenty-third Ohio, afterwards President of the United States, and one of its members was Lieutenant-Colonel Stanley Matthews of the same regiment, afterwards one of the Justices of the Supreme Court. [Footnote: Some twenty years later a bill passed the House of Representatives pensioning the mother of the man killed, under the law giving pensions to dependent relatives of those who died in the line of duty! It could only have been smuggled through by concealment and falsification of facts, and was stopped in the Senate.]
The constant skirmishing with the enemy on all sides continued till the 10th of September, when General Rosecrans with his column reached Cross Lanes and had the action at Carnifex Ferry which I shall describe in the next chapter. I had sent forward half a regiment from my little command to open communication with him as soon as possible. On September 9th a party from this detachment had reached Cross Lanes and learned that Floyd was keeping close within his lines on the cliffs of Gauley above Carnifex Ferry. They, however, heard nothing of Rosecrans, and the principal body of their troops heard no sound of the engagement on the 10th, though within a very few miles. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. p. 478.] On the 12th communication was opened, and I learned of Floyd's retreat across the Gauley. I immediately moved forward the Eleventh and Twenty-sixth Ohio to attack Wise, who retreated from Hawk's Nest to the mouth of the Sunday Road, and upon my closer approach retired to Sewell Mountain. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 479, 481.] At the Sunday Road I was stopped by orders from Rosecrans, who thought it unwise to advance further till he had made a ferry at the Gauley and succeeded in getting his command over; for Floyd had again sunk the flatboats within reach, and these had to be a second time raised and repaired. At his request I visited the General at Carnifex Ferry, and then got permission to move my column forward a few miles to Alderson's, or Camp Lookout as we dubbed it, where a commanding position controlled the country to the base of Sewell Mountain. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 482.] I was now able to concentrate the Seventh Ohio at Gauley Bridge, and ordered forward the Second Kentucky to join me in the new camp.
The period of my separate responsibility and of struggle against great odds was not to close without a private grief which was the more poignant because the condition of the campaign forbade my leaving the post of duty. On the day I visited General Rosecrans at Carnifex Ferry I got news of the critical illness of my youngest child, a babe of eight months old, whom I had seen but a single day after his birth, for I had been ordered into camp from the legislature without time to make another visit to my family. The warning dispatch was quickly followed by another announcing the end, and I had to swallow my sorrows as well as I could and face the public enemy before us, leaving my wife uncomforted in her bereavement and all the more burdened with care because she knew we were resuming active operations in the field.