Jacob D. (Jacob Dolson) Cox.

Military reminiscences of the civil war online

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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.^ Benham's bri-
gade was temporarily increased by 1500 picked men
from the posts between Kanawha Falls and Charles-
ton. 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

1 O. R., vol. V. p. 254.


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 loth.

For a week after the ist, 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 prop-
erty of West Virginians, and it was a safe presumption
that we had removed the government property from build-
ings 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.^ 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,

1 Captain P. P. Lane of Cincinnati, later colonel of the regiment.


the whole being then planked. Such boats were three
or four tiraes as large as those used for the country fer-
ries 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

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 continu-
ous 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 senti-
nels. In a short time matters thus assumed a shape in
which our work went on regularly, and the only advan-
tage Floyd had attained was to make us move our supply
trains at night. His presence on the mountain overlook-
ing 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 posi-
tion 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

To prepare for my own part in the contemplated move-
ment, 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 computa-
tion showed that we could put over 500 men an hour
with these small scows.

From the sth to the loth Rosecrans had been waiting
for the waters to subside, and pressing Benham to exam-
ine 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. 1 From my picket post at
Montgomery's Ferry I had sent scouts up the Fayette
road, and by the gth 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 com-
mand of the crest of Cotton Mountain overlooking my
camp. On the loth 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. Lieu-
tenant-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

1 O. R., vol. V. pp. 255, 261-265.


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 Cole-
man, attacked sharply, drove back the enemy, and suc-
ceeded 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 oppo-
site 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
Toad 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 ist. 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 skir-
mishing 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 Ben-
ham'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.^ 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.^ Schenck had not
been put across New River at Townsend 's Ferry, because
Rosecrans thought it hazardous to do this whilst Floyd

1 O. R., 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, mean-
ing this elevation on the Fayette road.

2 Id., pp. 266-268.


was near that point in force, and he intended that when
Floyd should be forced to attack Benham (whose com-
mand was now equal to two brigades), it would withdraw
the enemy so far that Schenck would have room to oper-
ate after crossing. But as Benham had not advanced,
toward evening of the nth 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 Re-
mainder of my troops on the mountain in the position
already occupied. Benham was expected to reach Lie-
per's position by ten o'clock that evening, but he did not
reach there in fact till three o'clock in the following after-
noon (i2th).^ 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 be-
yond Fayette C. H. on the 12th, having conceived the
mistaken idea that Benham 's column was a new rein-
forcement of 5000 men from Ohio.^ 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 Ra-
leigh 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 docu-
ments 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
1 o. R., Tol. V. pp. 256, 273. 2 jj_^ p. 287.


communications. Rosecrans was indignant at the balk-
ing of his elaborate plans, and ordered Benham before
a court-martial for misconduct;^ but I believe that
McClellan caused the proceedings to be quashed to avoid
scandal, and Benham was transferred to another depart-
ment. It is very improbable that Schenck's contem-
plated 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 in-
stead 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 fol-
lowed from anticipating him on his line of retreat. Cap-
turing 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 becom-
ing impassable in rainy weather, and the total absence of

1 O. R., vol. V. p. 669.


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 topog-
raphy, 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 expe-
rience 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 phys-
ical 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 exist-
ence through the winter of 1863-64.

VOL. I. — 10



An impracticable country — Movements suspended — Experienced troops
ordered away — My orders from Washington — Rosecrans objects — A
disappointment — Winter organization of the Department — Sifting our
material — Courts-martial — Regimental schools — Drill and picket duty
— A military execution — Effect upon the army — Political sentiments
of the people — Rules of conduct toward them — Case of Mr. Parks —
Mr. Summers — Mr. Patrick — Mr. Lewis Ruffner — Mr. Doddridge —
Mr. B. F. Smith — A house divided against itself — Major Smith's jour-
nal — The contrabands — A fugitive-slave case — Embarrassments as to
military jurisdiction.

FLOYD'S retreat was continued to the vicinity of
Newberne and Dublin Depot, where the Virginia
and East Tennessee Railway crosses the upper waters of
New River. He reported the country absolutely destitute
of everything and the roads so broken up that he could
not supply his troops at any distance from the railroad.''
Rosecrans was of a similar opinion, and on the 19th of
November signified to General McClellan^ his purpose to
hold Gauley Bridge, Cheat Mountain, and Romney as the
frontier of his department, and to devote the winter to
the instruction and discipline of his troops, and the sift-
ing out of incompetent officers. About the ist of De-
cember he fixed his headquarters at Wheeling,^ assigning
the District of the Kanawha to my command, with head-
quarters at Charleston.* This gave me substantially the

1 O. R., vol. V. pp. 287, 288. 2 Id., p. 657.

8 Id., pp. 669, 685. On January 21 I called attention to the anomaly
of bounding the department by the Kanawha River on the south, and cor-
rection was at once made by General McClellan. Id., p. 706.

1 Id., pp. 670, 691.


same territorial jurisdiction I had in the summer, but
with a larger body of troops.

Before we left Gauley Bridge, however, I received orders
direct from army headquarters at Washington to take my
three oldest Ohio regiments and report to General Buell
in Kentucky. This was exactly in accordance with my
own strong desire to join a large army on one of the prin-
cipal lines of operation. I therefore went joyfully to
Rosecrans, supposing, of course, that he also had received
orders to send me away. To my intense chagrin I found
that he not only was without such orders, but that he was,
naturally enough, disposed to take umbrage at the send-
ing of orders direct to me. He protested against the
irregularity, and insisted that if his forces were to be re-
duced, he should himself indicate those which were to go.
He carried his point on the matter, and was directed to
send eight regiments to Buell.^ He insisted that I should
stay, and whilst the reasons he gave were sufficiently com-
plimentary, it was none the less a great disappointment to
have to abandon the hope of service in a more important
field.^ There was nothing to be done but to summon
philosophy to ray aid, and to hope that all would turn
out for the best. Before Rosecrans left Gauley Bridge
four more regiments were added to the eight already
ordered away, together with four batteries of artillery.
Some new regiments had joined us, and the aggregate of
troops remaining was perhaps not much below the num-
ber present when Rosecrans reached Carnifex Ferry in
September; but most of them were freshly organized
regiments, with whom the work of drill and discipline
had to begin at first lessons. Three of the batteries taken
away were regulars, and the other was Loomis's Michigan
battery, one of the oldest and best instructed of our
volunteer batteries. The places of these were not sup-
plied. The good policy of these reductions is not to be

1 o. R., vol. V. p. 671. 2 Id., pp. 259, 657.


questioned; for it was agreed that nothing aggressive
could be done in the mountains during the winter, and
it was wise to use part of the forces elsewhere. Yet for
those of us who had hoped to go with the troops, and now
found ourselves condemned to the apparently insignificant
duty of garrisoning West Virginia, the effect was, for the
time, a very depressing one.

General Schenck had left us on account of sickness, and
did not return. His brigade was again commanded by
Colonel Scammon, as it had been at Carnifex Ferry, and
was stationed at Fayette C. H. One regiment was at
Tompkins farm, another at Gauley Bridge, two others
at intervals between that post and Charleston, where were
three regiments out of what had been my own brigade.
Three partially organized West Virginia regiments of in-
fantry and one of cavalry were placed at recruiting stations
in the rear, and one Ohio regiment was posted at Barbours-
ville. The chain of posts which had been established in
the summer between Weston and Cross Lanes was not
kept up; but the Thirty-sixth Ohio, Colonel George
Crook, was stationed at Cross Lanes, reporting to me, as
did all the other troops enumerated above.

The Cheat Mountain district continued in command of
General Milroy, his principal posts being at Beverly and
Huttonsville, with small garrisons holding the mountain
passes. General Kelley remained also in command of the
railroad district covering the communication with Wash-
ington by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. General J. J.
Reynolds was assigned to command a new division organ-
izing at Romney, but was soon transferred to another

Such was the general organization of the department
for the winter, and we soon settled down to regular work
in fitting the troops for the next campaign. Courts-
martial were organized to try offenders of all grades, and
under charges of conduct prejudicial to good order and


military discipline, worthless officers were driven from
the service and negligent ones disciplined. Regimental
schools were opened, and strenuous efforts were made to
increase the military knowledge and skill of the whole
command. Careful drill was enforced, and picket and
outpost duty systematically taught. Each post became
a busy camp of instruction, and the regiments repeated
under more favorable circumstances the work of the
original camp in Ohio.

The work of the military courts gave me one very un-
pleasant duty to perform, which, happily, was of rare
occurrence and never again fell to my lot except on a
single occasion in North Carolina near the close of the
war. A soldier of the First Kentucky Volunteers was
condemned to death for desertion, mutiny, and a mur-
derous assault upon another soldier. The circumstances
were a little peculiar, and gave rise to fears that his regi-
ment might resist the execution. I have already men-
tioned the affair of Captain Gibbs, ^ who had shot down a
mutinous man of the Second Kentucky at Gauley Bridge
in the summer, and who had been acquitted by a court-
martial. The tamp is very like a city in which popular
impressions and rumors have quick circulation and large
influence. The two Kentucky regiments were so closely
related as to be almost one, and were subject to the same
influences. A bitter feeling toward Captain Gibbs pre-
vailed in them both, and camp demagogues busied them-
selves in trying to make mischief by commenting on the
fact that the officer was acquitted whilst the private was
condemned. There was not a particle of justice in this,
for the one had simply suppressed a mutiny, whereas the
other was inciting one. But it is not necessary for com-
plaints to be just among those who are very imperfectly
informed in regard to the facts, and very unpleasant re-

^ Appointed Captain and Assistant Commissary of Subsistence, U. S.
Vols., October i.


ports were received as to the condition of things in the
regiment to which the condemned man belonged.

It is the military custom, in executions by shooting, to
select the firing party from the regiment to which the
condemned man belongs. To have changed the rule
would have looked like timidity, and I determined that
it must not be done, but resolved upon an order of pro-
cedure which would provide, as far as possible, against
the chances of interference. On such occasions the troops
are usually paraded upon three sides of a hollow square,
without arms, the place of execution being in the middle
of the open side, where the prisoner kneels upon his coffin.

Online LibraryJacob D. (Jacob Dolson) CoxMilitary reminiscences of the civil war → online text (page 13 of 45)