Chapter 7

 

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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

MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR

BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.

Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps

VOLUME I.

APRIL 1861--NOVEMBER 1863  

CHAPTER VII

COTTON MOUNTAIN

 Floyd cannonades Gauley Bridge--Effect on Rosecrans--Topography of Gauley Mount--De Villiers runs the gantlet--Movements of our forces--Explaining orders--A hard climb on the mountain--In the post at Gauley Bridge--Moving magazine and telegraph--A balky mule-team--Ammunition train under fire--Captain Fitch a model quartermaster--Plans to entrap Floyd--Moving supply trains at night--Method of working the ferry--of making flatboats--The Cotton Mountain affair--Rosecrans dissatisfied with Benham--Vain plans to reach East Tennessee.

 On the 1st of November the early morning was fair but misty, and a fog lay in the gorge of New River nearly a thousand feet below the little plateau at the Tompkins farm, on which the headquarters tents were pitched. General Rosecrans's tents were not more than a hundred yards above mine, between the turnpike and the steep descent to the river, though both our little camps were secluded by thickets of young trees and laurel bushes. Breakfast was over, the fog was lifting out of the valley, and I was attending to the usual morning routine of clerical work, when the report and echo of a cannon-shot, down the gorge in the direction of Gauley Bridge, was heard. It was unusual, enough so to set me thinking what it could mean, but the natural explanation suggested itself that it was one of our own guns, perhaps fired at a target. In a few moments an orderly came in some haste, saying the general desired to see me at his tent. As I walked over to his quarters, another shot was heard. As I approached, I saw him standing in front of his tent door, evidently much excited, and when I came up to him, he said in the rapid, half-stammering way peculiar to him at such times: "The enemy has got a battery on Cotton Mountain opposite our post, and is shelling it! What d' ye think of that?" The post at the bridge and his headquarters were connected by telegraph, and the operator below had reported the fact of the opening of the cannonade from the mountain side above him, and added that his office was so directly under fire that he must move out of it. Indeed he was gone and communication broken before orders could be sent to him or to the post. The fact of the cannonade did not disturb me so much as the way in which it affected Rosecrans. He had been expecting to be attacked by Lee in front, and knew that McCook was exchanging shots across the river with some force of the enemy at Miller's Ferry; but that the attack should come two miles or more in our rear, from a point where artillery had a plunging fire directly into our depot of supplies and commanded our only road for a half-mile where it ran on a narrow bench along New River under Gauley Mountain cliffs, had been so startling as to throw him decidedly off his balance. The error in not occupying Cotton Mountain himself was now not only made plain, but the consequences were not pleasant to contemplate. I saw that the best service I could render him for the moment was to help him back into a frame of mind in which cool reasoning on the situation would be possible. I have already stated the contrast between my own sense of care when in sole command and the comparative freedom from it when a senior officer came upon the field; and I now realized how much easier it was for a subordinate to take things coolly. I therefore purposely entered into a discussion of the probabilities of the situation, and drew it out at length enough to assist the general in recovering full control of himself and of his own faculties. We could not, from where we stood, see the post at Gauley Bridge nor even the place on Cotton Mountain where the enemy's battery was placed, and we walked a little way apart from our staff officers to a position from which we could see the occasional puffs of white smoke from the hostile guns. From our camp the road descended sharply along the shoulders of steep hills covered with wood for a mile and a half, till it reached the bottom of the New River gorge, and then it followed the open bench I have mentioned till it reached the crossing of the Gauley. On the opposite side of New River there was no road, the mass of Cotton Mountain crowding close upon the stream with its picturesque face of steep inclines and perpendicular walls of rock. The bridge of boats which Rosecrans had planned at Gauley Bridge had not been built, because it had been found impossible to collect or to construct boats enough to make it. We were therefore still dependent on the ferry. Whilst the general and I were talking, Colonel De Villiers galloped up, having crossed at the ferry and run the gantlet of skirmishers whom he reported as lining the other side of New River opposite the unsheltered part of our road. He had recently reported for duty, having, as he asserted, escaped in a wonderful way from captivity in Libby Prison at Richmond. [Footnote: The Confederates claimed that he had been allowed to act as hospital attendant on parole, and that he violated his obligation in escaping. We had no means of verifying the facts in the case.] His regiment was at the bridge and he was the senior officer there; but, in his characteristic light-headed way, instead of taking steps to protect his post and re-establish the telegraph communications, he had dashed off to report in person at headquarters. As he was willing to take the risks of the race back again, he was allowed to go, after being fully instructed to set up a new telegraph office in a ravine out of range of fire, to put the ferry-boat out of danger as soon as he should be over, and prepare the ordnance stores to be moved into the valley of Scrabble Creek at night. I begged the general to be allowed to go back with De Villiers, as the thing I most feared was some panic at the post which might result in the destruction of our stores in depot there. He, however, insisted on my staying at headquarters for a time at least.

Information of the attack was sent to the brigades up the river, and Schenck, who was farthest up, was directed to push out scouting parties and learn if there was any advance of the enemy from Sewell Mountain. Benham, who was nearest, was ordered to send down part of his brigade to meet the efforts of the enemy to stop our communication with Gauley Bridge. The battery of mountain howitzers under Captain Mack of the regular army was also ordered to report at headquarters, with the intention of placing it high up on Gauley cliffs, where it could drop shells among the enemy's skirmishers on the opposite bank of the river. An hour or two passed and the detachment from Benham's brigade approached. It was the Thirteenth Ohio, led by one of its field officers, who halted the column and rode up to General Rosecrans for orders. The general's manner was still an excited one, and in the rapidity with which his directions were given the officer did not seem to get a clear idea of what was required of him. He made some effort to get the orders explained, but his failure to comprehend seemed to irritate Rosecrans, and he therefore bowed and rode back to his men with a blank look which did not promise well for intelligent action. Noticing this, I quietly walked aside among the bushes, and when out of sight hurried a little in advance and waited at the roadside for the column. I beckoned the officer to me, and said to him, "Colonel, I thought you looked as if you did not fully understand the general's wishes." He replied that he did not, but was unwilling to question him as it seemed to irritate him. I said that was a wrong principle to act on, as a commanding officer has the greatest possible interest in being clearly understood. I then explained at large what I knew to be Rosecrans's purposes. The officer thanked me cordially and rode away. I have ventured to give this incident with such fulness, because subsequent events in Rosecrans's career strengthened the impression I formed at the time, that the excitability of his temperament was such that an unexpected occurrence might upset his judgment so that it would be uncertain how he would act,--whether it would rouse him to a heroism of which he was quite capable, or make him for the time unfit for real leadership by suspending his self-command. [Footnote: See Crittenden's testimony in Buell Court of Inquiry, Official Records, vol. xvi. pt. i. p. 578. Cist's account of Chickamauga, Army of the Cumberland, p. 226, and chap, xxvii., _post_.]

Soon after noon I obtained permission to go to Gauley Bridge and assume command there; but as the road along New River was now impracticable by reason of the increased fire of the enemy upon it, I took the route over the top of Gauley Mountain, intending to reach the Gauley River as near the post as practicable. I took with me only my aide, Captain Christie, and an orderly. We rode a little beyond the top of the mountain, and sending the orderly back with the horses, proceeded on foot down the northern slope. We soon came to the slashing which I had made in August to prevent the enemy's easy approach to the river near the post. The mist of the morning had changed to a drizzling rain. We had on our heavy horsemen's overcoats with large capes, cavalry boots and spurs, swords and pistols. This made it toilsome work for us. The trees had been felled so that they crossed each other in utmost confusion on the steep declivity. Many of them were very large, and we slid over the great wet trunks, climbed through and under branches, let ourselves down walls of natural rock, tripped and hampered by our accoutrements, till we came to the end of the entanglement at what we supposed was the edge of the river. To our dismay we found that we had not kept up stream far enough, and that at this point was a sheer precipice some thirty feet high. We could find no crevices to help us climb down it. We tried to work along the edge till we should reach a lower place, but this utterly failed. We were obliged to retrace our steps to the open wood above the slashing. But if the downward climbing had been hard, this attempt to pull ourselves up again,--

"... superasque evadere ad auras,"--

was labor indeed. We stopped several times from sheer exhaustion, so blown that it seemed almost impossible to get breath again. Our clothes were heavy from the rain on the outside and wet with perspiration on the inside. At last, however, we accomplished it, and resting for a while at the foot of a great tree till we gained a little strength, we followed the upper line of the slashing till we passed beyond it, and then turned toward the river, choosing to reach its banks high up above the camp rather than attempt again to climb through the fallen timber. Once at the water's edge we followed the stream down till we were opposite the guard post above the camp, when we hailed for a skiff and were ferried over.

It was now almost dark, but the arrangements were soon made to have wagons ready at the building on the Kanawha front used as a magazine, and to move all our ammunition during the night to the place I had indicated in the ravine of Scrabble Creek, which runs into the Gauley. The telegraph station was moved there and connection of wires made. We also prepared to run the ferry industriously during the night and to put over the necessary trainloads of supplies for the troops above. A place was selected high up on the hill behind us, where I hoped to get up a couple of Parrott guns which might silence the cannon of the enemy on Cotton Mountain. I was naturally gratified at the expressions of relief and satisfaction of the officers of the post to have me in person among them. They had already found that the plunging fire from the heights across the river was not a formidable thing, and that little mischief would happen if the men were kept from assembling in bodies or large groups within range of the enemy's cannon.

The fatigues of the day made sleep welcome as soon as the most pressing duties had been done, and I went early to rest, giving orders to the guard at my quarters to call me at peep of day. The weather cleared during the night, and when I went out in the morning to see what progress had been made in transferring the ammunition to a safe place, I was surprised to find the train of wagons stopped in the road along the Gauley in front of the camp. General Rosecrans's ordnance officer was of the regular army, but unfortunately was intemperate. He had neglected his duty during the night, leaving his sergeant to get on without guidance or direction. The result was that the ordnance stores had not been loaded upon the waiting wagons till nearly daylight, and soon after turning out of the Kanawha road into that of the Gauley, the mules of a team near the head of the train balked, and the whole had been brought to a standstill. There was a little rise in the road on the hither side of Scrabble Creek, where the track, cutting through the crest of a hillock, was only wide enough for a single team, and this rise was of course the place where the balky animals stopped. The line of the road was enfiladed by the enemy's cannon, the morning fog in the valley was beginning to lift under the influence of the rising sun, and as soon as the situation was discovered we might reckon upon receiving the fire of the Cotton Mountain battery. The wagon-drivers realized the danger of handling an ammunition train under such circumstances and began to be nervous, whilst the onlookers not connected with the duty made haste to get out of harm's way. My presence strengthened the authority of the quartermaster in charge, Captain E. P. Fitch, helped in steadying the men, and enabled him to enforce promptly his orders. He stopped the noisy efforts to make the refractory mules move, and sent in haste for a fresh team. As soon as it came, this was put in place of the balky animals, and at the word of command the train started quickly forward. The fog had thinned enough, however, to give the enemy an inkling of what was going on, and the rattling of the wagons on the road completed the exposure. Without warning, a ball struck in the road near us and bounded over the rear of the train, the report of the cannon following instantly. The drivers involuntarily crouched over their mules and cracked their whips. Another shot followed, but it was also short, and the last wagon turned the shoulder of the hill into the gorge of the creek as the ball bounded along up the Gauley valley. It was perhaps fortunate for us that solid shot instead of shrapnel were used, but it is not improbable that the need of haste in firing made the battery officer feel that he had no time to cut and adjust fuses to the estimated distance to our train; or it is possible that shells were used but did not explode. It was my first acquaintance with Captain Fitch, who had accompanied Rosecrans's column, and his cool efficiency was so marked that I applied for him as quartermaster upon my staff. He remained with me till I finally left West Virginia in 1863, and I never saw his superior in handling trains in the field. He was a West Virginian, volunteering from civil life, whose outfit was a good business education and an indomitable rough energy that nothing could tire.

During the evening of the 1st of November General Benham's brigade came to the post at Gauley Bridge to strengthen the garrison, and was encamped on the Kanawha side near the falls, where the widening of the valley put them out of range of the enemy's fire. The ferry below the falls was called Montgomery's and was at the mouth of Big Falls Creek, up which ran the road to Fayette C. H. A detachment of the enemy had pushed back our outposts on this road, and had fired upon our lower camp with cannon, but the position was not a favorable one for them and they did not try to stay long. After a day or two we were able to keep pickets on that side with a flatboat and hawser to bring them back, covered by artillery on our side of the Kanawha.

During November 2d Rosecrans matured a plan of operations against Floyd, who was now definitely found to be in command of the hostile force on Cotton Mountain. It was also learned through scouting parties and the country people that Lee had left the region, with most of the force that had been at Sewell Mountain. It seemed possible therefore to entrap Floyd, and this was what Rosecrans determined to attempt. Benham was ordered to take his brigade down the Kanawha and cross to the other side at the mouth of Loup Creek, five miles below. Schenck was ordered to prepare wagon bodies as temporary boats, to make such flatboats as he could, and get ready to cross the New River at Townsend's Ferry, about fifteen miles above Gauley Bridge. McCook was ordered to watch Miller's Ferry near his camp, and be prepared to make a dash on the short road to Fayette C. H. I was ordered to hold the post at Gauley Bridge, forward supplies by night, keep down the enemy's fire as far as possible, and watch for an opportunity to co-operate with Benham by way of Montgomery's Ferry. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. p. 254.] Benham's brigade was temporarily increased by 1500 picked men from the posts between Kanawha Falls and Charleston. He was expected to march up Loup Creek and cut off Floyd's retreat by way of Raleigh C. H., whilst Schenck should co-operate from Townsend's Ferry. On the 5th the preparations had been made, and Benham was ordered to cross the Kanawha. He did so on the night of the 6th, but except sending scouting parties up Loup Creek, he did nothing, as a sudden rise in New River made Rosecrans suspend the concerted movement, and matters remained as they were, awaiting the fall of the river, till the 10th.

For a week after the 1st, Floyd's battery on Cotton Mountain fired on very slight provocation, and caution was necessary in riding or moving about the camp. The houses of the hamlet were not purposely injured, for Floyd would naturally be unwilling to destroy the property of West Virginians, and it was a safe presumption that we had removed the government property from buildings within range of fire, as we had in fact done. Our method of forwarding supplies was to assemble the wagon trains near my lower camp during the day, and push them forward to Gauley Mount and Tompkins farm during the night. The ferry-boat at Gauley Bridge was kept out of harm's way in the Gauley, behind the projection of Gauley Mount, but the hawser on which it ran was not removed. At nightfall the boat would be manned, dropped down to its place, made fast to the hawser by a snatch-block, and commence its regular trips, passing over the wagons. The ferries, both at the bridge and at Montgomery's, were under the management of Captain Lane of the Eleventh Ohio and his company of mechanics. [Footnote: Captain P. P. Lane of Cincinnati, later colonel of the regiment.] We had found at points along the Kanawha the gunwales of flatboats, gotten out by lumbermen in the woods and brought to the river bank ready to be put into boats for the coal trade, which had already much importance in the valley. These gunwales were single sticks of timber, sixty or eighty feet long, two or three feet wide, and say six inches thick. Each formed the side of a boat, which was built by tying two gunwales together with cross timbers, the whole being then planked. Such boats were three or four times as large as those used for the country ferries upon the Gauley and New rivers, and enabled us to make these larger ferries very commodious. Of course the enemy knew that we used them at night, and would fire an occasional random shot at them, but did us no harm.

The enemy's guns on the mountain were so masked by the forest that we did not waste ammunition in firing at them, except as they opened, when our guns so quickly returned their fire that they never ventured upon continuous action, and after the first week we had only occasional shots from them. We had planted our sharpshooters also in protected spots along the narrower part of New River near the post, and made the enemy abandon the other margin of the stream, except with scattered sentinels. In a short time matters thus assumed a shape in which our work went on regularly, and the only advantage Floyd had attained was to make us move our supply trains at night. His presence on the mountain overlooking our post was an irritation under which we chafed, and from Rosecrans down, everybody was disgusted with the enforced delay of Benham at Loup Creek. Floyd kept his principal camp behind Cotton Mountain, in the position I have already indicated, in an inaction which seemed to invite enterprise on our part. His courage had oozed out when he had carried his little army into an exposed position, and here as at Carnifex Ferry he seemed to be waiting for his adversary to take the initiative.

To prepare for my own part in the contemplated movement, I had ordered Captain Lane to build a couple of flatboats of a smaller size than our large ferry-boats, and to rig these with sweeps or large oars, so that they could be used to throw detachments across the New River to the base of Cotton Mountain, at a point selected a little way up the river, where the stream was not so swift and broken as in most places. Many of our men had become expert in managing such boats, and a careful computation showed that we could put over 500 men an hour with these small scows.

From the 5th to the both Rosecrans had been waiting for the waters to subside, and pressing Benham to examine the roads up Loup Creek so thoroughly that he could plant himself in Floyd's rear as soon as orders should be given. Schenck would make the simultaneous movement when Benham was known to be in march, and McCook's and my own brigade would at least make demonstrations from our several positions. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. pp. 255, 261-265.] From my picket post at Montgomery's Ferry I had sent scouts up the Fayette road, and by the 9th had discovered such symptoms of weakness in the enemy that I thought the time had come to make an effort to dislodge the battery and get command of the crest of Cotton Mountain overlooking my camp. On the both I made a combined movement from both my upper and lower camps. Colonel De Villiers was ordered to take all of the Eleventh Ohio fit for duty (being only 200 men), and crossing by the small boats, make a vigorous reconnoissance over the New River face of Cotton Mountain, reaching the crest if possible. Lieutenant-Colonel Enyart of the First Kentucky was directed to cross below the falls with a similar force, and push a reconnoissance out on the Fayette road, whilst he also should try to co-operate with De Villiers in clearing the enemy from the heights opposite Gauley Bridge. The place at which De Villiers crossed was out of sight and range from the enemy's battery. His first boat-load of forty men reached the opposite shore safely, and dividing into two parties, one pushed up the New River to a ravine making a somewhat easy ascent toward the crest, whilst the others skirmished up the almost perpendicular face of the rocks where they landed. The remainder of the men of the Eleventh were put over as fast as possible, and joined their colonel in the ravine mentioned, up which they marched to a little clearing high up the hill, known as Blake's farm, where the advanced party had found the enemy. The battery was withdrawn as soon as De Villiers' approach at the Blake farm was known, supports being sent to the outpost there to check our advance. The men of the Eleventh, led by Major Coleman, attacked sharply, drove back the enemy, and succeeded in extending their right to the crest above the recent position of the battery. They were of course stretched out into a mere skirmish line, and I directed them to hold the crest without advancing further till Enyart should be heard from. He also found the enemy indisposed to be stubborn, and skirmished up the opposite side of the mountain till he joined hands with De Villiers on the top. The enemy seemed to be increasing before them, and our men held their position as directed, having relieved us from the hostile occupation of ground commanding our camps. Enyart's reconnoitring party sent toward Fayette advanced a mile on that road and remained in observation, finding no enemy. I reported our success to Rosecrans, and doubtful whether he wished to press the enemy in front till Benham and Schenck should be in his rear, I asked for further instructions. General Rosecrans authorized me to take over the rest of my available force and press the enemy next day, as he was very confident that Benham would by that time be in position to attack him in rear. Accordingly I passed the Second Kentucky regiment over the river during the night and joined them in person on the crest at daybreak. The remainder of the First Kentucky, under Major Lieper, was ordered to cross at Montgomery's Ferry later in the day, and advance upon the Fayette road as far as possible. My climb to the crest of Cotton Mountain was a repetition of the exhausting sort of work I had tried on Gauley Mount on the 1st. I took the short route straight up the face of the hill, clambering over rocks, pulling myself up by clinging to the laurel bushes, and often literally lifting myself from one great rocky step to another. This work was harder upon officers who were usually mounted than upon the men in the line, as we were not used to it, and the labor of the whole day was thus increased, for of course we could take no horses. Resuming the advance along the mountain crest, the enemy made no serious resistance, but fell back skirmishing briskly, till we came to more open ground where the mountain breaks down toward some open farms where detachments of Floyd's forces had been encamped. Their baggage train was seen in the distance, moving off upon the Fayette turnpike. As we were now in the close neighborhood of the whole force of the enemy, and those in our presence were quite as numerous as we, I halted the command on the wooded heights commanding the open ground below, till we should hear some sound from Benham's column. Toward evening Major Lieper came up on our right to the place where the Fayette road passes over a long spur of the mountain which is known in the neighborhood as Cotton Hill. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. pp. 272-275, and map, p. 82, _ante_. The greater mass in the angle of the rivers was not uniformly called Cotton Mountain then, and in my report I spoke of passing along those crests toward Cotton Hill, meaning this elevation on the Fayette road.] Here he was halted, and nothing being heard from co-operating columns, the troops bivouacked for the night.

Rosecrans had informed Benham of my advance and ordered him to push forward; but he spent the day in discussing the topography which he was supposed to have learned before, and did not move. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 266-268.] Schenck had not been put across New River at Townsend's Ferry, because Rosecrans thought it hazardous to do this whilst Floyd was near that point in force, and he intended that when Floyd should be forced to attack Benham (whose command was now equal to two brigades), it would withdraw the enemy so far that Schenck would have room to operate after crossing. But as Benham had not advanced, toward evening of the 11th Rosecrans sent him orders to march immediately up the Kanawha to my position and follow Major Lieper on the road that officer had opened to the top of Cotton Hill, and as much further toward Fayette C. H. as possible, taking Lieper's detachment with him; meanwhile I was ordered to keep the remainder of my troops on the mountain in the position already occupied. Benham was expected to reach Lieper's position by ten o'clock that evening, but he did not reach there in fact till three o'clock in the following afternoon (12th). [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. pp. 256, 273.] After some skirmishing with an outpost of the enemy at Laurel Creek behind which Major Lieper had been posted, nothing more was done till the evening of the 13th. Floyd's report shows that he retired beyond Fayette C. H. on the 12th, having conceived the mistaken idea that Benham's column was a new reinforcement of 5000 men from Ohio. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 287.] Abandoning the hope of using Schenck's brigade in a movement from Townsend's Ferry, Rosecrans now ordered him to march to Gauley Bridge on the 13th, and joining Benham by a night march, assume command of the moving column. Schenck did so, but Floyd was now retreating upon Raleigh C. H. and a slight affair with his rear-guard was the only result. Fayette C. H. was occupied and the campaign ended. It would appear from official documents that Floyd did not learn of Benham's presence at the mouth of Loup Creek till the 12th, when he began his retreat, and that at any time during the preceding week a single rapid march would have placed Benham's brigade without resistance upon the line of the enemy's communications. Rosecrans was indignant at the balking of his elaborate plans, and ordered Benham before a court-martial for misconduct; [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. p. 669.] but I believe that McClellan caused the proceedings to be quashed to avoid scandal, and Benham was transferred to another department. It is very improbable that Schenck's contemplated movement across New River at Townsend's Ferry could have been made successfully; for his boats were few and small, and the ferrying would have been slow and tedious. Floyd would pretty surely learn of it soon after it began, and would hasten his retreat instead of waiting to be surrounded. It would have been better to join Schenck to Benham by a forced march as soon as the latter was at the mouth of Loup Creek, and then to push the whole to the Fayette and Raleigh road, Rosecrans leading the column in person. As Floyd seems to have been ignorant of what was going on in Loup Creek valley, decisive results might have followed from anticipating him on his line of retreat. Capturing such a force, or, as the phrase then went, "bagging it," is easier talked of than done; but it is quite probable that it might have been so scattered and demoralized as to be of little further value as an army, and considerable parts of it might have been taken prisoners.

Rosecrans had begun the campaign in August with the announced purpose of marching to Wytheville and Abingdon in the Holston valley, and thence into East Tennessee. McClellan had cherished the idea of making the Kanawha line the base of operations into the same region; still later Fremont, and after him Halleck did the same. Looking only at the map, it seemed an easy thing to do; but the almost wilderness character of the intervening country with its poor and sparsely scattered people, the weary miles of steep mountain-roads becoming impassable in rainy weather, and the total absence of forage for animals, were elements of the problem which they all ignored or greatly underestimated. It was easy, sitting at one's office table, to sweep the hand over a few inches of chart showing next to nothing of the topography, and to say, "We will march from here to here;" but when the march was undertaken, the natural obstacles began to assert themselves, and one general after another had to find apologies for failing to accomplish what ought never to have been undertaken. After a year or two, the military advisers of the War Department began to realize how closely the movements of great bodies of soldiers were tied to rivers and railways; but they seemed to learn it only as the merest civilian could learn it, by the experience of repeated failures of plans based on long lines of communication over forest-clad mountains, dependent upon wagons to carry everything for man and beast.

Instead of reaching Wytheville or Abingdon, Rosecrans found that he could not supply his little army even at Big Sewell Mountain; and except for a few days, he occupied no part of the country in advance of my positions in August, then held by a single brigade in the presence of the same enemy. It was not Floyd's army, but the physical obstacles presented by the country that chained him to Gauley Bridge. I shall have occasion hereafter to note how the same ignoring of nature's laws came near starving Burnside's command in East Tennessee, where the attempt to supply it by wagon trains from Lexington in Kentucky or from Nashville failed so utterly as to disappear from the calculation of our problem of existence through the winter of 1863-64.

 

 

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