Clement Anselm Evans.

Confederate military history; a library of Confederate States history online

. (page 7 of 153)
Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 7 of 153)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

one-third of the State. These results were not only of
present but of great future importance to the Federal
government in the conduct of the war. They not only
gave it control of the navigable waters of the Ohio along
and within the borders of Virginia for transportation pur-
poses, but also gave it access to and control of the impor-
tant coal mines and salt works on the Big Kanawha, and
the newly-discovered petroleum wells in the Little Kana-
wha basin, to the great advantage of Ohio and other
Western States, and enabled it to establish camps of
observation, accessible by rail and river, far within the
borders of Virginia, from which raiding parties were
constantly threatening Virginia's interior lines of cum-
munication through the Great Valley and the lead mines,
salt works, coal mines, blast furnaces, foundries, and
other important industrial establishments in and near
that grand source of military supplies, thus requiring
the detaching of large numbers of troops to watch these
Federal movements, and to guard these important and
indispensable sinews of war. They deprived Virginia of
a large portion of her annual revenues, of a most impor-
tant recruiting ground for troops, and enabled the bogus
government of Virginia to establish and maintain itself at
Wheeling, and under the protection of Federal armies
strengthen the disloyal element in that part of the State,
and organize numerous regiments of infantry and com-
panies of cavalry and artillery to swell the numbers of
the Federal army. McClellan had good reason to exult
at his success, no matter if it had been easily won.


TO JULY, 1861.

THE United States arsenal and armory at Harper's
Ferry, at the junction of the Shenandoah and
Potomac rivers, was the coveted object that first
led to military operations in the Shenandoah val-
ley in 1861. Ex-Governor Wise, early in April, urged
the authorities at Richmond, by letter, to press forward
on three points, the first, "Harper's Ferry, to cut off.
the West, to form camp for Baltimore and point of
attack on Washington from the west. ' '

In Richmond, on the night of April i6th, when it
became evident that the Virginia convention would pass
an ordinance of secession. Wise called together at the
Exchange hotel a number of officers of the armed and
equipped companies of the Virginia militia: Turner and
Richard Ashby of Fauquier, O. R. Funsten of Clarke, all
captains of cavalry companies ; Capt. John D. Imboden,
of the Staunton artillery; Capt. John A. Harman of
Staunton ; Nat Tyler, editor of the Richmond Enquirer,
and Capt. Alfred M. Barbour, late civil superintendent
of the United States armory at Harper's Ferry. These
gentlemen, most of them ardent secessionists, discussed
and agreed upon a plan for the capture of Harper's
Ferry, to be put in execution on the 17th, as soon as the
convention voted to secede, if the concurrence of Gov-
ernor Letcher and railway transportation could be
secured. Col. Edmund Fontaine, president of the Vir-
ginia Central railroad, and John S. Barbour, president
of the Orange & Alexandria railroad, being called in
consultation about midnight, agreed to provide the nec-
essary trains for the movement of troops if requested
to do so by Governor Letcher. A committee was then
sent to the governor, which roused him from sleep and
laid before him the scheme for the capture of the armory
and arsenal. He refused to take any official steps until
after the passage of the ordinance of secession, but



agreed, contingent upon that event, that he would next
day order the movement by telegraph.* He was then
informed what companies would be under arms and ready
to move at a moment's notice. This self-constituted
■committee then wired the captains of the companies
along the above-named railways to be ready to move the
next day, by orders from the governor, which, it was
stated, would be to aid in capturing the Gosport navy
yard, as a precaution lest information of the movement
■should reach Washington. It was well known that the
^ard at Harper's Ferry was only 45 men and could
«asily be captured if surprised ; but Wise had inf ormiation
from Washington that a Massachusetts regiment, 1,000
strong, had been ordered to Harper's Ferry.

After the close of the conference the Ashbys, Fiinsten,
Harman and Imboden secured ammunition and 100 stand
■of arms for the Martinsburg light infantry from the Vir-
ginia armory at Richmond, and had these moved to the
railway station and loaded on a train before sunrise of
the 17th.

Imboden, by telegraph, ordered all volunteer com-
panies in the county of Augusta to assemble at Staun-
ton at 4 p. m. of the 17th for marching orders. This
produced great excitement, as that was a strong Union
county, and the people assembled in Staunton in great
numbers. When Imboden reached that place, in the
afternoon of the 17 th, he found his own company, the
Staunton artillery, and Capt. William S. H. Baylor's
West Augusta guards, an infantry company, drawn up
to receive him. There were also present Maj.-Gen. Ken-
ton Harper, commanding the Fifth divisibn of the Vir-
jfinia militia, and Brig. -Gen. William H. Harman, com-
manding the Thirteenth brigade of the Virginia militia,
who had a telegram from Letcher ordering them into
service and referring them to Imboden for information.
He inforined them, confidentially, of what had been
dorle. Letcher had wired Harper to take chief command
of the movement and Harman to call out the armed com-
panies of his brigade. At 5 p. m. Harper left for Win-
chester by rapid conveyance, after ordering Harman to
take command of the trains and troops that might report

* "Jackson at Harper's Feny," by Brig.-Gren. John D. Imboden,
in "Battles and Leaders of the Civil war." Century Co., New York



en route. Reaching Winchester at noon of the i8th,
Harper received orders from Letcher to go on to Har-
per's Ferry.

The two companies from Staunton left by the Virginia
Central railroad about sunset; at Charlottesville they
were joined by Capt. W. B. Mallory's Monticello guards
and Capt. R. T. W. Duke's Albemarle rifles, and at
Culpeper by a rifle company. Manassas Junction was
reached at about sunrise of the i8th, when Harman
impressed a Manassas Gap railroad train to take the lead
toward Strasburg, followed by the other trains that had
brought troops to the junction. The Ashbys and Fun-
sten left Richmond on the i6th to collect their cavalry
companies, and those of the Black Horse cavalry under
Capts. John Scott and R. Welby Carter of Fauquier;
these to march across the Blue ridge and rendezvous
near Harper's Ferry. Ashby sent men on the night of
the 17th to cut the wires between Manassas and Alexan-
dria and keep them cut for several days, to prevent
information of this movement reaching Washington.
Before 10 a. m. of the i8th, the trains reached Stras-
burg and the infantry companies took up the line of
inarch for Winchester. Imboden, with great difficulty,
secured horses for his battery, and by noon followed
on to Winchester, 18 miles, which he reached about
dark. The troops were coldly received by the majority
of the people of that conservative town, quite unlike their
conduct during the following years of heroic endurance.

Harper, reaching Winchester in advance, when the
infantry arrived sent them forward by rail to Charlestown,
8 miles from Harper's Ferry, and then ordered back
the train for the artillery. About midnight the infantry
marched to Halltown, within 4 miles of Harper's
Ferry, to which point the artillery was taken by train
and the guns run forward by hand to Bolivar heights
and put in position to shell the place if necessary. Har-
per, who thought the Massachusetts regiment had arrived
at -Harper's Ferry, was making his arrangements to
attack the armory and arsenal at daybreak of the 19th,
when at about 10 p. m. of the i8th a brilliant light from
the direction of the armory convinced him that the Fed-
eral troops in charge had fired it and fled. He promptly
advanced and took possession, but too late to extinguish
the flafnes, which destroyed nearly 20,000 rifles and pis-
Va 5


tols, although the workshops, the armory proper and the
rifle works up the Shenandoah were saved.

On January 2, 1861, Supt. A. M. Barbour had informed
the United States ordnance bureau that he apprehended
an assault on the armory* and that he had organized the
armorers into volunteer companies for its protection.
The next day, Maj. H. J. Hunt, of the Second artillery,
was assigned to command at Harper's Ferry and Lieut.
R. Jones was ordered to report to him for duty with 60
picked men of the mounted rifles from Carlisle barracks.
Hunt was instructed by Adjutant-General Cooper to dis-
pose his force to protect the armory, but to make no dis-
play of it that would cause irritation. He arrived and
took command on the 5th. On the 2d of April, Lieuten-
ant Jones succeeded Hunt in command. His force on
the 1 8th of April was but 45 men. Just before that date
he sent a message to Secretary of War Cameron, asking
for a large reinforcement if it was the intention to save
the contents of the armory. To this he had no reply and
was left to act on his own judgment. On Thursday
morning, April i8th, Col. A. M. Barbour, who had
resigned the superintendency of the armory a short time
before and was now a member of the Virginia convention
from Jefferson county, arrived at Harper's Ferry and
thoughtlessly stated in public that the convention had
passed an ordinance of secession ; that the governor had
called out the volunteers to repulse any effort to rein-
force the command at Harper's Ferry, and that Virginia
intended to take possession of the armory and arsenal.
This caused much excitement, as the citizens were under
the impression that an unlawful seizure of the United
States property was to be made, which they determined
to oppose. In the meantime. Colonel Allen called out
the local regiment, the Second Virginia, to assemble at
Charlestown. Apprised of these things. Superintendent
Kingsbury (Barbour's successor) and Lieutenant Jones,
knowing they could not resist an attack by any consider-
able force, made arrangements to destroy the property.
Dismissing the operatives with the assurance that they
should resume work on the 19th, they closed the gates of
the armory and posted sentinels ; removed the foot bridges
across the canal, and placed kegs and sacks of pow-
der in the arsenal buildings, using bedticks for this pur-
pose ; scattered powder over the floors of the shops, and


placed barrels of it so as to not only destroy the buildings
but any persons who might approach them. They then
sent out mounted sentinels for two or three miles on
different roads to watch the approach of the Virginia
troops. One of these, about 9 p. m. , hailed Colonel Allen
and his command on the road to Charlestown ; when the
colonel ordered a charge to capture him, he rode off rap-
idly and reported to Jones, who at about 10 p. m. fired
the buildings and crossed with his command into Mary-
land and retreated. By great exertions, notwithstanding
the danger from explosions, the citizens (who had gath-
ered in large numbers) and soldiers promptly proceeded
to put out the fires and prevent them from spreading,
thus saving many thousand stand of arms from the
arsenal and preventing any damage to the armory, the
removal of the machinery from which, to Richmond, was
immediately begun.

On the 22d, news reached Harper's Ferry that Virginia
had passed the ordinance of secession, relieving the fears
of many of the officers and troops that had been assem-
bled there, that they had been acting unlawfully.

Within a week after the capture of Harper's Ferry
some 1,300 Virginia troops, the armed and equipped vol-
unteer companies of the militia, were there assembled
under the commands of Brigadier- Generals Carson, Meem
and Harman, from whose jurisdictions they had been
summoned, and all under Major-General Harper, as divi-
sion commander of the militia. These officers, in the full
and brilliant uniforms of their rank, and each with a large
staff, made an imposing display as they rode through the
camps and around the vicinity of Harper's Ferry. The.
reign of the militia lasted about ten days, during which
the only marked event was an ordering of the command
under arms, on the night of the 25th, to capture a train
of Federal troops reported as coming from the West,,
but which was found to have on it only General Harney
of the United States army, who was taken prisoner.,
Letcher, on the 20th, had prohibited the Baltimore &
Ohio from passing troops across Virginia over that,

Imboden relates that he improvised caissons for his artil-
lery from horse carts found in the armory ; procured har-
ness from Baltimore with his own means, and ordered,
red flannel shirts and other service clothing for his men


from Richmond to replace the fine dress uniforms with
which they came to camp.

On the 27th of April, Maj. Thomas J. Jackson, of the
Virginia military institute, was appointed colonel of Vir-
ginia volunteers and ordered to Harper's Ferry to take
command of the forces there assembled. At the same
time an order was issued decapitating every militia oflScer
in the State's volunteer service ahove the rank of cap-
tain, the vacancies thus created to be filled by the gov-
ernor and his council of three. Colonel Jackson arrived
at Harper's Ferry on the 29th of April and took com-
mand on the 30th. This order, resolving the Virginia
forces into units of organization, created much indigna-
tion among the deposed officers, and greatly excited the
troops they had commanded. In the midst of this excite-
ment, Imbodeft ordered the Staunton artillery into line
and informed them that they were required to muster
into service, either for twelve months or the war, at their
option, but urged them to go in for the full period, as it
would be much to their credit to do so and set a good
example to others. His men shouted unanimously, "For
the war!" They were at once mustered in, and their cap-
tain had the pleasure of handing to Colonel Jackson the
roll of the first company mustered in "for the war," for
which the colonel expressed his thanks and asked that
the same be conveyed to the men. Jackson then
requested Imboden to muster in the two other artillery
companies present, which he did and returned the rolls
before sunset. This action of the artillerists was fol-
lowed the next day by the other troops ; all were mustered
in, and the organization into regiments and battalions
began. Soon after this, Letcher appointed Harper col-
onel of the Fifth Virginia, Harman, lieutenant-colonel,
and Baylor, major, and thus was organized one of the
finest regiments of the famous Stonewall brigade.

The period of Jackson's command at Harper's Ferry
was marked by few notable incidents. The colonel com-
manding, in the simple uniform of a major on duty at
the Virginia military institute, quietly, but firmly and
unceasingly, worked to change citizens that had patriot-
ically rushed to arms, most of them young men, many of
them mere boys, into disciplined soldiers, nearly all the
officers needing this as badly as the privates. His long
experience as a trainer and drill-master of the same kind


of material at the military institute fitted him admirably
for such work. Jackson regulated the trains on the Bal-
timore & Ohio, seeing that they were not used to the
detriment of Virginia, as Governor Letcher ordered, and
when supplies from Baltimore for Virginia were
detained by Butler at the Relay house, May 9th, he
retaliated by seizing five carloads of beeves and one of
horses from the West, intended for Federal use, and
appropriated them to the use of his own army ; buying
from the quartermaster one of the captured horses, to
which he took a fancy, that became famous as his favor-
ite war-horse, "Little Sorrel."

As soon as he took command at Harper's Ferry there
was an immediate change in the condition of the camp.
Orders for instruction in military duties and for regular
drills were at once issued, and strict military discipline
enforced. He also began the construction of defenses on
■ the surrounding heights, both in Virginia and in Mary-
land, to' put his position in a state of defense against any
attack that might be made by the Federal forces that
were being pushed forward from Washington up the
north bank of the Potomac, down the Cumberland valley
from Chambersburg toward Hagerstown, and from the
northwest by McClellan along the line of the Baltimore
& Ohio railroad. His outposts were extended along the
Baltimore & Ohio to Point of Rocks, 12 miles below
Harper's Ferry, whence a wagon bridge crossed the Poto-
mac into Virginia and where the railroad from Baltimore
reached that river, thus guarding his position against the
approach of Federal troops under General Butler from
toward Baltimore, and of those under Colonel Stone up the
Potomac from Washington. The staff departments of
his command were promptly organized, with Maj. John
A. Harman, as quartermaster, Maj. Wells J. Hawks, com-
missary, and Dr. Hunter McGuire, medical director.
These gentlemen and Lieutenant Pendleton (afterward
lieutenant-colonel), and others appointed later, continued
as the efficient heads of departments during his subse-
quent famous military career.

About this time Lieut. -Col. J. E. B. Stuart reported to
Jackson for duty, and the latter ordered the consolidation
of all his cavalry companies into a battalion, to be com-
manded by Stuart, thus relieving Capt. Turner Ashby,
the idol of all the troopers, from chief command of the


cavalry. One of the bravest, shrewdest and most daring
men ever put on outpost duty, he was lacking in the dis-
ciplinary qualities which Stuart, as a trained soldier, had
in such an eminent degree. Ashby felt so aggrieved by
this action that he determined to resign his captaincy,
but was persuaded by Imboden to pay Jackson a visit and
discuss the situation, the result of which was that the
companies present were divided into two regiments, one
under command of Col. Angus W. McDonald, with
Ashby as lieutenant-colonel, who soon became its colonel,
and the other under Stuart.

When on the 17 th of April Virginia passed in conven-
tion its ordinance of secession, Brig. -Gen. Joseph E.
Johnston was stationed at Washington as quartermaster-
general of the United States army. This action of Vir-
ginia was not known in Washington until Saturday, the
19th, when he at once wrote his resignation. On Mon-
day morning he ofifered it to the secretary of war, who
accepted it. That done, he left Washington on Tuesday,
with his family, for Richmond, but in consequence of
railway accidents did not reach there until Thursday the
2sth, when Governor Letcher at once gave him the
appointment of major-general of Virginia volunteers,
and Maj.-Gen. R. E. Lee, who had been appointed com-
mander-in-chief of the Virginia forces on the 2 2d,
assigned to him the duty of organizing and instructing
the volunteers who were then arriving in Richmond.
General Lee had already selected the points to be occu-
pied for the defense of the State and the number of
troops to be assigned to each. These points were : Nor-
folk, in front of Yorktown ; the front of Fredericksburg ;
Manassas Junction, Harper's Ferry and Grafton. John-
ston was assisted in the duties assigned him at Richmond
by Lieutenant-Colonel Pemberton, Majors Jackson and
Oilham, and Capt. T. L. Preston, who had all recently
reported for duty. Johnston was employed in this way
some two weeks, when, Virginia having joined the
Southern Confederacy, President Davis offered him, by
telegraph, a brigadier-generalship in the Confederate
army, which he promptly accepted, and on reporting to
the war department at Montgomery was assigned by
President Davis to the command at Harper's Ferry. He
reached that place Friday, May 23d, accompanied by his
staff, Col. E. Kirby Smith, assistant adjutant-general


(afterward lieutenant-general); Maj. W. H. C. Whiting,
of the engineers (who fell at Fort Fisher a major-gen-
eral); Maj. A. McLean, quartermaster, and Capt. T. L.
Preston, assistant adjutant-general. Within an hour
after his arrival, Col. T. J. Jackson called on General
Johnston, learned the object of his coming, and saw his
orders ; but when Johnston, the next morning, sent him
orders announcing the change of commanders to be
made known to the troops, Jackson courteously replied
that he did not "feel at liberty to transfer his command
to another without further instructions from Governor
Letcher or General Lee;" but offered to furnish John-
ston at once every facility for obtaining information rela-
tive to the post. Jackson soon learned that the Virginia
forces had been turned over to the Confederacy, when
he promptly obeyed Johnston's orders.

On assuming command at Harper's Ferry, Johnston
had under him the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Tenth, Thir-
teenth and Twenty-seventh Virginia regiments of
infantry; the Second and Eleventh Mississippi; the
Fourth Alabama; a Maryland and a Kentucky battalion;
four companies of Virginia artillery, of four guns each,
but without caissons, horses or harness; and the First
regiment of Virginia cavalrj'-, about 250 men, including
Capt. Turner Ashby's company, temporarily attached to
it by Colonel Jackson; about 5,200 effective men in all.
Among the officers present were T. J. Jackson and A. P.
Hill, who became lieutenant-generals; Stuart, "match-
less as a commander of outposts," as Johnston wrote,
and Capt. W. N. Pendleton, who became brigadier-gen-
eral and Lee's chief of artillery. As Johnston wrote,
the troops were undisciplined, of course, also "badly
armed and equipped — several regiments being without
accouterments ; were almost destitute of ammunition,
and, like all new troops assembled in large bodies, they
were suffering very much from sickness; nearly 40 per
cent, of the total being in the hospitals, there or else-
where, from the effects of measles and mumps. "

Johnston had been distinctly informed, in his conversa-
tions with Lee and Davis, that they regarded Harper's
Ferry as a natural fortress commanding the entrance to
the valley of Virginia from Pennsylvania and Maryland,
and that his command was not of a military district, or
of an active army, but of a fortress and its garrison. A


study of the strategic environments at Harper's Ferry,
after extended reconnoissance, convinced Johnston that
the route of invasion into the valley from Pennsylvania
was across the Potomac at Williamsport to Martinsburg,
20 miles west of Harper's Perry and beyond the
control of its garrison ; and a careful examination of the
position and its immediate surroundings, made on May
2Sth, with Engineer Whiting, convinced him that the
place could not be held, even against equal numbers, by
the force then in hand ; that it was untenable unless he
also had possession of the neighboring heights north of
the Potomac and east of the Shenandoah, as artillery on
those heights could sweep every part of the position and
it could easily be turned by the fords of the rivers.

When Johnston took command at Harper's Ferry, the
three Federal armies threatening Virginia, each, directly
or indirectly, also menaced his position. He supposed
that they would co-operate with Richmond as their
objective, and from what he could learn, that Patterson
and McClellan would direct their first movements so as
to combine at Winchester. He considered it absolutely
necessary that the troops in the Shenandoah valley under
his command should be always ready, not only to meet
the attack of Patterson from the northeast and of
McClellan from the northwest, but also to unite quickly
with the army of the Potomac at Manassas Junction,
whenever threatened by McDowell. For such purposes
he regarded his army at Harper's Ferry wrongly placed,
since Patterson, coming from Chambersburg and march-
ing through Williamsport and Martinsburg toward
Winchester, would pass a day's march to the west of it.
The only direct road from Harper's Ferry to Manassas,
that down the south bank of the Potomac and across by

Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 7 of 153)