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Recollections of West Virginia campaign, with The three months troops May, June, and July 1861 online

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West Virginia Campaign,


May, June, and July, 1861,


friPate copy.

FOR JUNE, 1873.




West Virginia Campaign,


May, June, and July, 1861


/ . ^ .




FOR JUNE, 1873.




£"47 ^ •


Jlr3 '0«



I RECEIVED orders, May 1, 1861,
to join Major-Gen. G. B. McClellan,
Ohio Volunteers, and joined that offi-
cer at Cincinnati upon the 14th of
May ; and the same day I was or-
dered, and passed on, to Cairo, 111.,
as confidential officer and engineer, to
fortify that position, and Bird Point
opposite, on the right bank of the
Mississippi. And during the next
ten days that I remained there, I
traced out, and had commenced, two
lines of defence. The inner one, for
the protection of stores and a garri-
son of some three thousand men, was
well under way, as also a battery at
the South Point. I also laid out a
work at Bird Point, about a hun-
dred yards square, with bastions at
the two diagonal corners, — south-west
and north-east ; the otiier two angles
having been made slightly acute for
a better flanking fire.

From constant and reliable reports
of refugees, and with the knowledge
I had of the thirty-five thousand to
forty thousand troops of Ohio, Indi-
ana, and Illinois, then embodied
under Gen. McClellan's orders, and for
whom I found there were steamers
enough on the rivers near, I was fully
satisfied that the Mississippi could
be swept to New Orleans, and held
firmly ; and, Gen. J. H. Prentiss (111.
Vols.) in command there coinciding, I
then earnestly urged this course upon
Gen. McClellan.

The general at first sent Dr. Stuke-
ly (U.S.A.), and again Capt. John
Rogers (U.S.N.), to learn more defi-
nitely of these probabilities ; and, im-
mediately after Rogers' return, I was
(on May 23) telegraphed to go back to

Cincinnati, as Major Marcy (chief of
staff) informed me on my arrival, for
the purpose of aiding in carrying out
that project for the seizure of the Mis-
sissippi River. •

But, the day after my orders were
sent me, the telegraphic news reached
Gen. McClellan, of the irruption of
the rebel general, R. S. Garnett, into
West Virginia, — a part of his district,
— with a force of several thousand
men. Gen. McClellan immediately
visited Indianapolis to review the In-
diana troops there, commanded by the
Indiana brigadier-general, T. A. Mor-
ris, whom he at once ordered to Grafton,
Va., with several Indiana regiments
(the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth), and
the Ohio Fourteenth, under Col. James
Steedman; which place Gen, Morris
reached (by the way of Wheeling) by
the 1st of June.

While at Cincinnati, awaiting (as
his chief engineer) Gen. McClellan's
return, I received his orders, stated to
be on thi& application of Gen. Morris,
to join that general at Wheeling ;
which I did about May 30 ; and, within
some two days after, I was requested
by Gen. Morris .to act confidentially
for him, and^ according to my best
judgment, in organizing and prepar-
ing the troops then reaching him for
service in West Virginia.

Gen. T. A. Morris was a distin-
guished graduate of West Point, of
the year 1834 ; but, for many years, he
had been a resident of Indianapolis,
where his noble character had en-
deared him to the people of Indiana :
so that his influence was invaluable
to the government in bringing out the
first troops for the war. And, of all

The West Virginia Campaign of 1861.


the first ten generals that I was
brought in contact with in this war,
there was no one surpassed, if any one
equalled, him in his most unselfish
devotion to the public service. His
chief aide (or chief of staff) was Major
John Love, a West-Point graduate,
and a careful, faithful friend of Gen.
Morris ; his junior aide a Lieut. Hines ;
his assistant adjutant-general was
Capt. I. A. Stein, a talented and ac-
complished officer of the volunteers ;
and his quartermaster, Capt. D. L.
Smith, one of the most useful and faith-
ful men for his grade and duties that I
have ever known. These officers were
the main assistants of Gen. Morris, as
his staff, through the whole campaign.
Upon reaching Grafton, a railroad
position some thirty to forty miles
south-west of Wheeling, Col. iielly,
with the First West Virginia Infantry,
was found in command; and it was
learned that Col. G. A. Porterfield of
the rebel Virginians, with his regi-
ment and some other troops, was at
Philippi, twelve miles south. And
two expeditions were at once sent out,
that very night, by Gen. Morris, to
cut him off", — one to our left, or east
of the Tyger River, under Col. Kelly ;
the other under Col. Dumont, Seventh
Indiana, with parts of the Sixth and
Ninth Iaela,(and with Lander assist-
ant aide-de-camp, afterwards general),
went from our right to cut off es-
cape to the south-west. These troops
. marched all night in violent rains, and
met very nearly at daylight, at either
end of the bridge, at the west of the
villag ' of Philippi ; though had Kel-
ly's guide been faithful, or done his
duty, and brought his troops in at the
east of the village, the whole force
must have been captured without re-
sistance. The old road actually en-
tered the town on the east over the
hill north.

As it was,' with a slight collision, in
which Kelly only was wounded (by a
rebel commissary clerk), the whole
force of Porterfield was routed towards
Beverly, thirty miles south-east (he
himself escaping with only the clothes
he stood in), leaving all the '''public
property," several boxes of " squirrel
rifles," their ammunition, six flags and
colors (four of which I secured for
McClellan), Porterfield's trunk, com-
mission, epaulets, &c. ; and all their
bags and baggage, all their private
property, every thing were left behind

I had made a request to accompany
Kelly's expedition at its starting from
Grafton ; but Gen. Morriff replied,
" I have more important duties for
you here." But when, at noon the
next day. Lander came down, appar-
ently completel}'- exhausted, reporting
a hard fight, and Col. Kelly mortal-
ly wounded, and that our new troops
were greatly disorganized, and in fear
of a return attack from Porterfield,
Gen. Morris turned to me, saying,
"You must go up and take command.'*
And (by an engine kept ready for
the part of the route four miles west
to Webster) I left in ten minutes,
— as soon as Gen. Morris's orders to
take command could be written ; and,
taking horse for the twelve miles
from Webster, I reached Philippi,
at four to five, p.m., and finding Col.
Kelly lying, as was supposed, mortal-
ly wounded, I took Col. Dumont and
the other commandants of regiments,
with me (no one of them hesitating,
or objecting to my command by Gen.
Morris's orders), and, examining the
three outlet roads from the village, I
placed one of these regiments at each
of these roads, witljout*^posts and
pickets in advance against the feared
surprise, retaining Dumont (as senior)
for a reserve at the court-house,


The West Virginia Campaign of 1861.

whither he had found, or caused to be
brought, the most of the captured

A report was at once sent to Gen.
Morris in the morning, that we had
had no attack during the night ; and
about that time, the anticipated dan-
ger being over, Col. Dumont began to
fret, and to ask who was in command,
or whether he was not the senior.
But when, by the return note from Gen.
Morris in the afternoon, I was recalled
to Grafton, as needed there, and Du-
mont found he was to be left on his
own resources, he urged me greatly
to remain in command ; and his pres-
sure afterwards was so strong on Gen.
Morris for this, that I was sent back
for more permanent command there,
the second day after, or about the 5th
or 6th of June.

I had known the rebel commander
(Col. Porterfield) in Mexico, as adju-
tant of Hamtramck's Virginia regi-
ment, and esteemed him so much, that
I had, years afterwards, given him a
clerkship in Washington. And as,
during this second visit, I found we
had captured all his personal baggage,
which we neither wished to pillage nor
retain, as our men had not, at that
time, their appetites whetted for plun-
der (as was the case afterwards, I am
sorry to say, with some at Corrick's
Ford), I had the wish to return him
this personal property : and propos-
ing it to Gen. Morris, then at Grafton,
he telegraphed McClellan, who ap-
proved it ; and within a day or two I
sent out for this purpose a shrewd, con-
fidents officer, with a few men and a
wagon, to take Col. Porterfield's trunk,
&c., to him, to Beverly, where he was
supposed to be, — about thirty miles
south-east of Philippi. Of course,
this officer was not to go with his
eyes shut ; and he did not do so. For
finding no troops on the whole route

to stop him, and but a small guard
at Beverly, he pushed on eight miles
farther, to Huttonsville, to deliver the
property. His return, of course, as-
sured us of our security from any
large force for some forty miles to our

I regret to say that I received
in answer a letter from Porterfield,
which, though very civil otherwise,
was not entirely ingenuous, denying,
as it did, that the trunk was his own.
On which (the mails not being then
entirely stopped) I replied to him
that it contained his own commission
as colonel, military books with his
name in them, and the hat and epau-
lets of his rank. This commission I
had retained; and subsequently, in
August, I received a letter from his
wife at Martinsburg, Va., on our
border-lines, which requested the re-
turn of that commission ; while she
enclosed me the proceedings of a court
of inquiry upon her husband for this
flight from Philippi. This court was,
as it appeared, presided over by Col.
Taliaferro of the Twenty-third rebel
Virginia Regiment ; wliich regiment
we had, in the mean time (in July),
routed, with the capture of his flag
and baggage, iScc, at Corrick's Ford, as
will be seen hereafter.

I continued at Philippi as captain
— confidential aide — in command^
(though addressed as colonel by Gen.
Morris) for some two to three weeks ;
there being about four regiments, or
some twenty-five hundred to three
thousand men there; Col. James Steed-
man (Fourteenth Ohio), Col. Dumont
(Seventh Indiana), being senior
colon-els : of the others, there were
Col. Crittenden (Sixth Indiana), Col.
Milroy (Xinth Indiana), and Col.
Irvine with a battalion of the Six-
teenth Ohio Regiment, and a section
6f Col. Barnett's (Cleveland, 0.) ar-

The West Viryinia Campaign of 1861.


tillery. In front, south-east, fourteen
miles on the hither side of the Laurel
Mountains, on the Beverly Road, lay
Gen. R. S. Garnett, the chief rebel
commander, in a fortified camp, with,
as it was finally ascertained, some five
thousand to six thousand men at least,
held i n an iron discipline, with some four
hundred to six hundred finely mounted
cavalry. And constant scouting and
skirmishing was occurring night and
day iu the dozen miles between our
camps ; men being killed and taken
on either side now and then. We had
no mounted men, until Gen. Morris,
after much delay, procured fifty Colt's
revolvers ; when he bought horses,
saddles and bridles to match, and we
mounted some fifty men of the infan-
try regiments. But within one week
more than half of them were dismount-
ed and useless; the horses or men
becoming unfit for the service.

We were several (some eight or ten)
days in this position, where some of
the colonels — especially Milroy, a
good, brave, but rash officer — were con-
stantly urging me to attack Garnett ;
for which, I understood, I had the
authority from Gen. Morris (then at
Grafton ) whenever I deemed it to be
judicious. But, not then being able to
obtain the slightest assured information
of the numbers or strength of Garnett's
forces, I constantly and positively
refused until I should have some
such knowledge. I, however, was sat-
isfied that his force was far superior
to our own ; and, sending this word to
Gen. Morris, he telegraphed to McClel-
lan, at Cincinnati, who sent some ad-
ditional regiments ; and, these begin-
ning to arrive about the 12th and
14th of June, I arranged for a double
attack on Garnett at Laurel Hill.
I proposed to start at mid-day, about

and to save them from fatigue) by a
blind forest road, from our rujltt at
Philippi, to take Garnett in rear from
the south side of Laurel Hill ; while
I mj'self planned to move twelve
hours later with the remaining force,
to attack him in front, some twelve to
fourteen miles distant ; and I actually
wrote letters, saying, " Unless bad luck
or McClellan comes, by Friday I will
have Garnett."

But McClellan did come by that
Friday (about the 19th July) ; and,
on explaining the plans to him,
he, soon after this, directed a simi-
lar movement, though over greater
space, and involving greater delay.
Instead of a near attack, by crossing
within the triangle (of fifteen to
twenty miles on a side) between Phi-
lippi, Buckhannon, and Laurel Hill,
to Garnett's Camp, by a march of some
twenty hours, as had been intended, he
decided to act on the roads of the lar-
gest triangle (of twenty-five to thir-
ty miles of a side), which connects
the towns of Philippi, Buckhannon,
and Beverly ; which involved a delay
that was eventually prolonged to four
weeks, — up to the 12th and 13th

In the mean time, McClellan con-
tinued my duties with Morris as his
own confidential officer, — a position
that, in fact, I held with Morris also.
And he soon began to send the bulk
of the troops to Buckhannon (some
thirty-five miles south-west of Graf-
ton) with aZZ^Ae mounted men, — three
organized squadrons ; although, on my
earnest representation to him of their
great necessity to us, he had prom-
ised "<o divide" with us at Philippi,
but did not. And he brought to-
gether there at Buckhannon some nine
thousand men in front of Pegrani's

half my force to go in wagons for
half the distance (for greater speed,

twenty-five hundred, while he left Mor-
ris, with little more than three thou-


The West Virginia Campaign of 1861.

sand men, at Philippi, to watch Gar-
nett's five thousand or six thousand
men intrenched at fourteen miles dis-
tance, to guard that he should not come
North, towards us, or escape to his
right or left, on our side of Laurel
Hill. And, of this force of ours, he
even ordered away the Sixth Ohio
Regiment (some eight hundred men) ;
but he allowed them finally to remain,
upon strong letters of remonstrance
from both Morris and myself, but with
a harsh letter to Morris, that he should
consider any further application for
troops as equivalent to a resignation
of his command.

With our pickets and detachments
constantly skirmishing day and night,
we continued in this position for six
or eight days, under orders to watch,
and hold Garnett in check ; while
McClellan, as we understood, was pre-
paring to attack him, as we expected,
each day. But at length, one evening,
at ten, p.m., we received orders from
McClellan to move forward, and take
position at Eliot's place, near Beel-
ington (about a mile and a half
short of Garnett's camp), by six the
next morning. And by this order we
were directed to leave the road, and
cross and recross the river on our
right to avoid a sxipposed defile. I
was immediately intrusted with the
entire order and arrangement of the
troops, times of starting, &c. ; and at
once told Gen. Morris that we must
not cross the river as ordered, as it
would give the alarm (if not given
before), and expose us to destruction.
The troops moved at two, a.m., in a
special, written regular order given
out ; and, marching till just before
daylight, we had reached half way,
when we rested at the head of the
column some twenty minutes to close
up. And then we moved rapidly to
Eliot's, reaching there by fi.ve, a.m.,

and meeting mounted pickets, or their
scouts, first, only within a half-mile
of Eliot's, when they fired upon us, and
fled rapidly to the main body, to give
the alarm of " a scouting-party," as we
heard they supposed us to be. We
had expected to meet them several
miles in advance of this position, as
we should have done but for this gross
and unusual negligence on their part.
I led this movement with the ad-
vance company of skirmishers, using
my own judgment in every case before
I would allow delay to the column for
scouting. And, although flanked by
platoons of men scattered on the right
and left, we marched steadily, even
with them and the column close in
rear of us, through all open fields of
two hundred or three hundred yards
width in all cases, — except only in
woods, on a hillside above its, and
the few short distances where woods
occurred on both sides ; and the col-
umn was really not delayed one half-
hour on such accounts. And I have
never doubted, that, had we been per-
mitted to push on, we could have sur-
prised Garnett in his camp that morn-
ing. His pickets or his scouts had
been so unusually and unaccountably
absent or neglectful as to leave the
whole route unguarded, and even un-
watched, as stated.

We established ourselves as directed,
with the headquarters at Eliot's house,
and with most of the command in
advance of us some half-mile, with
pickets beyond to nearly twice that
distance ; and a small intrenchment
was attempted on a rocky hill within
our lines, one afternoon, while, during
a violent thunder-storm, we expected
an attack from Garnett's forces under
cover of the heavy rain and darkness
of the storm. The advance of the ene-
my was actually reported ; and the
precaution of the artillery fire (the

The West Virginia Campaign of 1861.


first that many of our men had ever
witnessed), into the advancing storm-
cloud, supposed to cover the rebel
approach, made a spectacle very ex-
citing as well as grand; while with
each order for the discharge came
forth the approving cheer from the
men at their intrenching work, — the
" Bully for you ! " of the Western men,
— the first time I had ever heard
this cry.

And for nearly a week, with occa-
sional alarms of an attack in force, we
watched this road to the north, and
those to the right and left, along the
north face of the mountain, as ordered
by McClellan ; it being understood (as
was stated by him) that he was to
take care of the road south, over the
mountain ; by which road Garnett
eventually escaped. We had daily
skirmishing — now and then a man
killed, and some two to five wounded
each day, on either side — for the five
or six days we lay there ; from time
to time routing out Garnett's camp
with our artillery, which I had placed
on the different near hills as they
could reach him. This continued until
about seven, a.m., on the morning of
the 12th of July; when a sergeant
of the command (a preacher at home),
who had been on picket, or (scouting
on his own account), came rushing into
Morris's headquarters at Eliot's House,
crying out, " They are gone, they are
all gone ! We can see no one in their
camp," I mounted at once, and went
forward to Garnett's camp, reconnoi-
tring carefully as we came near, and
entered the works, which I found
were in a continuous line from the
woods at the north to the mountain
on the west. I there saw manifest
signs of their leaving in great haste.
Many articles of value, even, had been
abandoned, and much that was useful.
I sent back at once to request that

Gen. Morris would send forward two
regiments, and a wagon-load or two of
biscuit, for the pursuit. And while
waiting for these in Garnett's camp,
about nine, a.m., I received from Gen.
Morris an order sent to him by Gen.
McClellan, informing him of the rout
of Pegram, and f orb iddi7iff him to at'
tack Garnett.

As soon as the first regiment ar-
rived, we started to go over the Laurel
Mountain, and reach the south side,
about three or four miles distant, be-
tween one and two, p.m. Here Gen.
Morris joined us ; and, after remaining
an hour or so, he returned to camp to
bring up the rest of his men. But he
directed me nbt to move from that po-
sition until he rejoined us, as he ex-
pected to some time that afternoon.
We very soon ascertained that Gar-
nett, instead of continuing south to
Beverly (ten or twelve miles distant),
had turned to his left', to the north-
east, on a road at the foot of the Lau-
rel Mountain, towards the village of
New Interest. While delayed here,
and after writing and sending off *
a report to McClellan, I exacted a. pos-
itive jJfoynise from Col. Milroy of the
Ninth Indiana Regiment (whose ill-
judged zeal I greatly feared), that he
would remain there, as we were ordered
by Morris ; and I then made a re-
connoissance to the front, towards
Leedsville, two to three miles south.
Yet upon my return, about dusk, I
found Milroy, in his earnestness, had
broken his word with me, and started
off with his regiment (all the command
following) to the north-east, on the
road at the mountain's foot, on the
trail of Garnett. I overtook him on
the route, about a mile and a half,
and finally prevented his farther ad-
vance, but not till I had lain down in
the road, for his men to march over
me if he persisted.


The West Virginia Campaign of 1861,

The troops then closed up somewhat,
and went into bivouac ; there being but
one small farmhouse near, which gave
cover to many of the officers during a
violent storm that commenced at dark,
and lasted most of the night. About
nine or ten, p.m., Gen. Morris joined
us, and was quite indignant at Mil-
roy's disobedience, saying he should
ixot lead the march in the pursuit on
tbe next day to punish him for this
disobedience of his order; by which
he had found every thing — artillery,
wagons, and all — were in the greatest
confusion on this narrow mountain-
path at midnight.

About ten, p.m., orders came from
McClellan, then at Beverly (in re-
sponse to my report), for us to pursue
with the earliest light, and stating
that Gen. Hill had orders sent him
to intercept Garnett where he was
expected to pass at the " Red House,"
near Oakland, some twenty-five or
thirty miles to the north-east of us.

At daylight of the 13th, I started
in command of the advance column,
with Col. Steedman (Fourteenth
Ohio) leading, then two guns of Col.
Barnett's Cleveland (Ohio) Artillery,
then Col. Dumont (Seventh Indi-
ana), a battalion of the Sixteenth Ohio
(Lieut.-Col. Irvine), and last Col.
Milroy (iSTinth Indiana), placed in
rear on account of disobedience and
breach of promise of the day before ;
there being some eighteen hundred
men in all. On reaching New In-
terest, at six to seven, a.m., we be-
gan to find the camp equipage scat-
tered along the road ; first tent-poles,
then tents, and then camp-furniture.
And soon we made sure that Garnett
had turned off over a winding, hilly
road, to his right, which passed over
several mountain spurs to branches of
the Cheat River, and led to the village
of St. Georges, some fifteen to twenty

miles to the north-east on its right
bank ; and, later, we found, as we
entered this mountain road, that the
more valuable camp-furniture was
then being left behind, and among
the first (probably as an example), the
fine camp-stools, &c. (as marked) of
Gen. Garnett himself We then came
upon barricades of trees felled across
the roads upon the mountain slopes,
and at all defiles and steep "hill-,
sides : " some eighteen or twenty such
obsto^uctions, from eighty to three
hundred yards in extent on the road,
were encountered in the march of
some eight to ten miles over two
spurs of the mountains. The rebels,
fortunately for us, left their axes as
they fled from our advance skirmish-
ers, sometimes by twos and threes,
struck into the trees woodman like,
sometimes by the boxful even ; and
thus we were soon enabled, with our
Western woodsmen, to clear these
roads even for our artillery: so that,
when we eventually reached the Cheat
River, near noon, our guns joined our
advance regiment (Steedman's) with-
in twenty to thirty minutes after.

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Online LibraryHenry Washington] [BenhamRecollections of West Virginia campaign, with The three months troops May, June, and July 1861 → online text (page 1 of 3)