Military Reminiscences of the Civil War V1
Jacob Dolson Cox

Part 3 out of 9

my command, I recalled a scene I had witnessed there which left many
doubts in my mind whether he would prove an agreeable subordinate. I
had gone, one morning, to General Bates's office, and as I entered
found McCook expressing himself with more vigor than elegance in
regard to some order which had been issued respecting his regiment.
My presence did not seem to interfere with the fluency of his
remarks or the force of his expletives, but after a moment or two he
seemed to notice a look of surprise in my face, and his own
broadened humorously as his manner changed from vehemence to
geniality. General Bates and he were familiar acquaintances at the
bar in Cincinnati, and McCook had evidently presumed upon this as a
warrant for speaking his mind as he pleased. When he reported to me
at this later period, I found a hearty and loyal character under his
bluff exterior and rough speech, with real courage, a quick eye for
topography, and no lack of earnest subordination when work was to be
done. Although our service together was short, I learned to have
real respect for him, and sincerely mourned his loss when, later in
the war, he met his tragic death. The other brigade commander was
_Colonel E. P. Scammon _ of the Twenty-third Ohio. He had graduated
from West Point in 1837, and had served in the Topographical
Engineers of the regular army and as instructor in the Military
Academy. In the Mexican War he had been aide-de-camp to General
Scott. He had been out of the army for some years before the
rebellion, and was acting as professor of mathematics in St.
Xavier's College, Cincinnati, when he was appointed to the colonelcy
of the Twenty-third Ohio upon Rosecrans's promotion. Like Rosecrans,
he was a Roman Catholic, though himself of Puritan descent. It seems
that at the time of the Puseyite movement in England and in this
country there had been a good many conversions to Romanism among the
students and teachers at West Point, under the influence of the
chaplain of the post, and Scammon, among a number of young men who
subsequently became distinguished officers, was in this number. It
need hardly be said that Scammon was well instructed in his
profession. He was perhaps too much wedded to the routine of the
service, and was looked upon by his subordinates as a martinet who
had not patience enough with the inexperience of volunteer soldiers.
He was one of the older men of our army, somewhat under the average
height and weight, with a precise politeness of manner which
reminded one of a Frenchman, and the resemblance was increased by
his free use of his snuff-box. His nervous irritability was the
cause of considerable chafing in his command, but this left him
under fire, and those who had been with him in action learned to
admire his courage and conduct. He was with me subsequently at South
Mountain and Antietam, and still later had the misfortune to be one
of those prisoners in the Confederates' hands who were exposed to
the fire of our batteries in front of Charleston, S. C.

But being a subordinate, I was most interested in the
characteristics of our commander. Our Camp Dennison acquaintance had
been a pleasant one, and he greeted me with a cordiality that was
reassuring. His general appearance was attractive. He was tall but
not heavy, with the rather long head and countenance that is
sometimes called Norman. His aquiline nose and bright eyes gave him
an incisive expression, increased by rapid utterance in his speech,
which was apt to grow hurried, almost to stammering, when he was
excited. His impulsiveness was plain to all who approached him; his
irritation quickly flashed out in words when he was crossed, and his
social geniality would show itself in smiles and in almost caressing
gestures when he was pleased. In discussing military questions he
made free use of his theoretic knowledge, often quoted authorities
and cited maxims of war, and compared the problem before him to
analogous cases in military history. This did not go far enough to
be pedantic, and was full of a lively intelligence; yet it did not
impress me as that highest form of military insight and knowledge
which solves the question before it upon its own merits and without
conscious comparison with historical examples, through a power of
judgment and perception ripened and broadened by the mastery of
principles which have ruled the great campaigns of the world. He was
fond of conviviality, loved to banter good-humoredly his staff
officers and intimates, and was altogether an attractive and
companionable man, with intellectual activity enough to make his
society stimulating and full of lively discussion. I could easily
understand Garfield's saying, in his letter to Secretary Chase which
afterward became the subject of much debate, that he "loved every
bone in his body." [Footnote: An anecdote told at my table in 1890
by the Rev. Dr. Morris, long Professor in Lane Theological Seminary,
Cincinnati, is so characteristic of Rosecrans that it is worth
repeating. After the battle of Stone's River (January, 1863) Dr.
Morris, who was then minister of a Presbyterian church in Columbus,
was made by Governor Tod a member of a commission sent to look after
the wounded soldiers. He called on General Rosecrans at his
headquarters in Murfreesboro, and among others met there Father
Tracy, the general's chaplain, a Roman Catholic priest. During the
visit Rosecrans was called aside (but in the same room) by a staff
officer to receive information about a spy who had been caught
within the lines. The general got quite excited over the
information, talked loudly and hurriedly in giving directions
concerning the matter, using some profane language. It seemed
suddenly to occur to him that the clergymen were present, and from
the opposite side of the room he turned toward them, exclaiming
apologetically, "Gentlemen, I sometimes _swear_, but I never

Rosecrans's adjutant-general was Captain George L. Hartsuff, an
officer of the regular army, who was well qualified to supplement in
many ways the abilities and deficiencies of his chief. [Footnote:
Hartsuff was appointed brigadier-general of volunteers in the next
year and was severely wounded at Antietam, after which he was made
major-general and commanded the Twenty-third Army Corps in
Burnside's campaign of East Tennessee.] He was a large man, of heavy
frame; his face was broad, and his bald head, tapering high, gave a
peculiar pyramidal appearance to his figure. He was systematic and
accurate in administrative work, patient and insistent in bringing
the young volunteer officers in his department into habits of order
and good military form. His coolness tempered the impulsiveness of
his chief, and as they were of similar age and had about the same
standing in the army before the war, the familiarity between them
was that of comrades and equals more than of commander and

My intercourse with these officers on the occasion of my visit to
Cross Lanes was only the beginning of the acquaintance on which I
based the estimate of them which I have given; but it was a good
beginning, for the cordial freedom of thought and speech in the
conference was such as to bring out the characteristics of the men.
I rode back to my camp in the evening, feeling a sense of relief at
the transfer of responsibility to other shoulders. The command of my
brigade under the orders of Rosecrans seemed an easy task compared
with the anxieties and the difficulties of the preceding three
months. And so it was. The difference between chief responsibility
in military movements and the leadership even of the largest
subordinate organizations of an army is heaven-wide; and I believe
that no one who has tried both will hesitate to say that the
subordinate knows little or nothing of the strain upon the will and
the moral faculties which the chief has to bear.

McCook's brigade joined me on the 16th, and we immediately marched
to Alderson's, where we made a camp afterward known as Camp Lookout.
[Footnote: Official Records, vol. ii. pt. i. p. 481.] I was able to
bring up the Second Kentucky Regiment from Gauley Bridge, giving me
in hand three regiments of my own brigade. I sent forward Major
Hines with five companies as an advance-guard, and with these he
scouted the country as far as the top of Big Sewell Mountain, and
was able to give us definite information that Floyd had retreated as
far as Meadow Bluff, where the Wilderness road joins the turnpike.
Wise halted at Big Sewell Mountain and persisted in keeping his
command separate from Floyd, who ordered him to join the rest of the
column at Meadow Bluff. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. pp.
854,855,862.] On the 20th September my advance-guard occupied the
crest of the mountain, whilst Wise withdrew to a parallel ridge a
mile beyond, and loudly insisted that Floyd should join him there
instead of concentrating the Confederate force at Meadow Bluff.
General Lee reached the latter place in person on the 21st, but
found Wise's headstrong and captious spirit hardly more amenable to
his discipline than to Floyd's. He shared Floyd's opinion that it
was better to await Rosecrans's advance at Meadow Bluff, throwing
upon the National forces the burden of transportation over the
extended line, whilst guarding against a possible turning movement
by the Wilderness road. But Wise was so noisy in his assertions that
his was the only position in which to fight, that Lee hesitated to
order him back peremptorily, and finally yielded to his clamor and
directed Floyd to advance to Wise's position. [Footnote: _Id_., pp.
868,874,878,879.] The scandal of the quarrel between the two
officers had, however, become so notorious that the Richmond
government had authorized Lee to send Wise elsewhere, and, probably
on his advice, the Confederate War Department ordered Wise to report
at Richmond in person. The last scene in the comedy was decidedly
amusing. Wise appealed passionately to Lee to say whether his
military honor did not require that he should disobey the order till
the expected battle should be fought, and Lee, no doubt in dismay
lest he should still fail to get rid of so intractable a
subordinate, gravely advised him that both honor and duty would be
safe in obeying promptly the order. [Footnote: Official Records,
vol. v. p. 879.]

Whilst waiting at Camp Lookout for authority to move forward, an
incident occurred which gave us a little excitement and amusement,
and which shows, better than much explanation could do, the
difficult and intricate character of the country in which we were
operating. A wagon-master from our camp had gone out hunting for
forage, which was very scarce. He soon came back in excitement,
reporting that he had come upon an encampment of a regiment of the
enemy between our camp and New River and somewhat in our rear. His
report was very circumstantial, but was so improbable that I was
confident there was some mistake about it. He was, however, so
earnest in his assertions that he could not be mistaken, that
McCook, in whose brigade he was, sent out an officer with some men,
guided by the wagon-master, to verify the report. The story was
confirmed, and the matter was brought to me for action. Puzzled but
not convinced, and thinking that as McCook's command was new to the
country, it would be better to send some one who was used to
scouting in the mountains, I ordered a lieutenant named Bontecou, of
the Second Kentucky Regiment, to take a small party and examine the
case anew. Bontecou had done a good deal of successful work in this
line, and was regarded as a good woodsman and an enterprising scout.
He too came back at nightfall, saying that there could be no mistake
about it. He had crept close to the sentinels of the camp, had
counted the tents, and being challenged by the guard, had made a run
for it through the thicket, losing his hat. The position of the
enemy was, by all the reports, about three miles from us, diagonally
in rear of our right flank. It now seemed that it must be true that
some detachment had been delayed in joining the retreating column,
and had found itself thus partly cut off by our advance. I therefore
ordered McCook to start at earliest peep of day, upon the
Chestnutburg road (on which the wagon-master had been foraging), and
passing beyond the hostile detachment, attack from the other side,
it being agreed by all the scouting parties that this would drive
the enemy toward our camp. My own brigade would be disposed of to
intercept the enemy and prevent escape. McCook moved out as ordered,
and following his guides came by many devious turns to a fork in the
road, following which, they told him, a few minutes would bring him
upon the enemy. He halted the column, and with a small skirmishing
party went carefully forward. The guides pointed to a thicket from
which the Confederates could be seen. His instinct for topography
had made him suspect the truth, as he had noted the courses in
advancing, and crawling through the thicket, he looked out from the
other side upon what he at once recognized as the rear of his own
camp, and the tents of the very regiment from which he had sent an
officer to test the wagon-master's report. All the scouts had been
so deceived by the tangle of wooded hills and circling roads that
they fully believed they were still miles from our position; and,
bewildered in the labyrinth, they were sure the tents they saw were
the enemy's and not ours. The march had been through rain and mist,
through dripping thickets and on muddy roads, and the first impulse
was wrath at the erring scouts; but the ludicrous side soon
prevailed, and officers and men joined in hearty laughter over their
wild-goose chase. They dubbed the expedition the "Battle of
Bontecou," and it was long before the lieutenant heard the last of
the chaffing at his talents as a scout. [Footnote: Official Records,
vol. li. pt. i. pp. 484, 485.]

Major Hines's reports of the strength of the position on Sewell
Mountain which the enemy had occupied, and my own reconnoissance of
the intervening country, satisfied me that if we meant to advance on
this line, we ought not to give the enemy time to reconsider and to
reoccupy the mountain top from which he had retreated. On
representing this to General Rosecrans, he authorized me to advance
twelve miles to the Confederate camp on Big Sewell, directing me,
however, to remain upon the defensive when there, and to avoid
bringing on any engagement till he could bring up the rest of the
column. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. li. pt. i. pp. 484, 486.]
His means of crossing at Carnifex Ferry were so poor that what he
had thought would be done in two or three days from the time McCook
joined me, took a full fortnight to accomplish.

I marched with my own and McCook's brigades on the 23d September,
but when I reached the Confederate camp where Hines with the
advance-guard awaited me, it was evident at a glance that we must go
further. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 487.] The position was a very strong
one for resisting an approach from our direction, but was commanded
by higher ground beyond. The true crest of the mountain was two
miles further on, and there alone could we successfully bar the way
against a superior force coming from the east. I therefore marched
rapidly forward and occupied the crest in force. It was impossible
to hide the whole of our camp from view and properly hold the
position, but we made use of such cover as we could find, and
prepared to defend the pass against all comers, since it was vain to
attempt to mystify the enemy as to our advance in force.

On the 24th we had a lively skirmish with Wise's legion in front,
and forced it to retire to a ridge out of range of our artillery. We
dismounted one of his howitzers in the engagement, but contented
ourselves with making him yield the ground which would interfere
with our easy holding of our own position and the spurs of the
mountain directly connected with it. Wise had learned that Rosecrans
was not with my column, and on the supposition that the advance was
made by my brigade only, Lee concluded to order Floyd to Wise's
camp, being now satisfied that no movement of our troops had been
made by way of the Wilderness road. It was at this time that Wise
was relieved of command and ordered to Richmond, and Lee found it
advisable to unite his forces and take command in person.

The relations of these three distinguished Virginians had not begun
with this campaign, but dated back to the capture of John Brown at
Harper's Ferry. Wise was then the governor of his State, and
received from Lee the prisoner whose execution at Charlestown was to
become an historical event. Floyd, who himself had once been
governor of Virginia, was then Buchanan's Secretary of War, and
ordered Lee with the detachment of marines to Harper's Ferry, where
they stormed the engine-house which Brown had made his fort. Dealing
with such men as his subordinates, and with such a history behind
them, it can easily be understood that Lee would feel no ordinary
delicacy in asserting his authority, and no common embarrassment at
their quarrels.

Rosecrans was at first disturbed at my going further than had been
expected; [Footnote: Rosecrans's Dispatches, Official Records, vol.
li. pt. i. pp. 486, 487.] but he was soon satisfied that nothing
better could have been done. It is true that I was thirty-five miles
from the supports in the rear, whether at Carnifex Ferry or Gauley
Bridge; but the position was almost impregnable in front, and by
watchfulness I should know of any attempt to turn it in time to make
safe my retreat to Camp Lookout. On the 26th Scammon's brigade came
within easy supporting distance, and General Rosecrans came in
person to my camp. He had not been able to bring up his headquarters
train, and was my guest for two or three days, sharing my tent with
me. Cold autumnal rains set in on the very day the general came to
the front, and continued almost without intermission. In the hope of
still having some favorable weather for campaigning, the other
brigades were brought forward, and the whole force was concentrated
at the mountain except the necessary garrisons for the posts in the
rear. Brigadier-General Robert C, Schenck reported for duty in the
evening of a fearfully stormy day whilst Rosecrans was still my
tent-mate. He had heard rumors of fighting at the front, and had
hurried forward with a couple of staff officers, but without
baggage. My staff officers were sharing their shelter with the
gentlemen who had accompanied Rosecrans, but the new-comers were
made heartily welcome to what we had. In my own tent General
Rosecrans occupied my camp cot; I had improvised a rough bunk for
myself on the other side of the tent, but as General Schenck got in
too late for the construction of any better resting-place, he was
obliged to content himself with a bed made of three or four
camp-stools set in a row. Anything was better than lying on the damp
ground in such a storm; but Schenck long remembered the aching
weariness of that night, as he balanced upon the narrow and unstable
supports which threatened to tumble him upon the ground at the least
effort to change the position of stiffened body and limbs. One could
not desire better companionship than we had during our waking hours,
for both my guests had had varied and interesting experience and
knew how to make it the means of delightful social intercourse and
discussion. The chilly temperature of the tent was pleasantly
modified by a furnace which was the successful invention of the
private soldiers. A square trench was dug from the middle of the
tent leading out behind it; this was capped with flat stones three
or four inches thick, which were abundant on the mountain. At the
end of it, on the outside, a chimney of stones plastered with mud
was built up, and the whole topped out by an empty cracker-barrel by
way of chimney-pot. The fire built in the furnace had good draught,
and the thick stones held the heat well, making, on the whole, the
best means of warming a tent which I ever tried. The objection to
the little sheet-iron stoves furnished with the Sibley tent is that
they are cold in a minute if the fire dies out.

The rains, when once they began, continued with such violence that
the streams were soon up, the common fords became impassable, and
the roads became so muddy and slippery that it was with the utmost
difficulty our little army was supplied. The four brigades were so
reduced by sickness and by detachments that Rosecrans reported the
whole as making only 5200 effective men. Every wagon was put to work
hauling supplies and ammunition, even the headquarters baggage
wagons and the regimental wagons of the troops, as well those
stationed in the rear as those in front. We were sixty miles from
the head of steamboat navigation, the wagon trains were too small
for a condition of things where the teams could hardly haul half
loads, and by the 1st of October we had demonstrated the fact that
it was impossible to sustain our army any further from its base
unless we could rely upon settled weather and good roads.

Lee had directed an effort to be made by General Loring, his
subordinate, on the Staunton line, to test the strength of the posts
under Reynolds at Cheat Mountain and Elkwater, and lively combats
had resulted on the 12th, and 14th of September. [Footnote: Official
Records, vol. v. pp. 185-193.] Reynolds held firm, and as Rosecrans
was not diverted from his plans and was pushing forward on the
Lewisburg line, Lee ordered Loring to report to him with most of his
command. Reynolds, in return, made a forced reconnoissance upon the
Confederate position at Greenbrier River on October 2d, but found it
too strong to be carried. The reinforcement by Loring gave Lee a
very positive advantage in numbers, but the storms and foundering
roads paralyzed both armies, which lay opposite each other upon the
crests of Big Sewell separated by a deep gorge. On the 5th of
October the condition of the Kanawha valley had become such that
Rosecrans felt compelled to withdraw his forces to the vicinity of
Gauley Bridge. The freshet had been an extraordinary one. At
Charleston the Kanawha River usually flows in a bed forty or fifty
feet below the plateau on which the town is built; but the waters
now rose above these high banks and flooded the town itself, being
four or five feet deep in the first story of dwelling-houses built
in what was considered a neighborhood safe from floods. The
inundation almost stopped communication, though our quartermasters
tried to remedy part of the mischief by forcing light steamers up as
near to the Kanawha Falls as possible. But it was very difficult to
protect the supplies landed upon a muddy bank where were no
warehouses, and no protection but canvas covers stretched over the
piles of barrels and boxes of bread and sacks of grain. There was
enormous waste and loss, but we managed to keep our men in rations,
and were better off than the Confederates, in regard to whom Floyd
afterward reported to his government that the eleven days of cold
storms at Sewell Mountain had "cost more men, sick and dead, than
the battle of Manassas Plains."

It has been asserted by Confederate writers that Lee was executing a
movement to turn Rosecrans's left flank when the latter marched back
from Sewell Mountain. If so, it certainly had not gone far enough to
attract our attention, and from my own knowledge of the situation, I
do not believe it had passed beyond the form of discussion of a
possible movement when the weather should become settled. Such plans
were discussed on both sides, but the physical condition of the
country was an imperative veto upon aggressive action.

During the 5th of October our sick and spare baggage were sent back
to Camp Lookout. Tents were struck at ten o'clock in the evening,
and the trains sent on their way under escort at eleven. The column
moved as soon as the trains were out of the way, except my own
brigade, to which was assigned the duty of rear-guard. We remained
upon the crest of the hill till half-past one, the men being formed
in line of battle and directed to lie down till the time for them to
march. Our sentinels had been posted with extra precaution, so that
they might be withdrawn an hour or two after the brigade should
move. Extra reserves were assigned to them, and Major Hines put in
command of the whole detachment, with orders to keep in
communication with me at the extreme rear of the marching column. It
was interesting to observe the effect of this night movement upon
the men. Their imagination was excited by the novelty of the
situation, and they furnished abundant evidence that the unknown is
always, in such cases, the wonderful. The night had cleared off and
the stars were out. The Confederate position was eastward from us,
and as a bright star rose above the ridge on which the enemy was, we
could hear soldiers saying in a low tone to each other, "There goes
a fire balloon--it must be a signal--they must have discovered what
we are doing!" The exaggerated parallax at the horizon made the
rising star seem to move rapidly for the first few minutes, and men,
ignorant of this, naturally mistook its character. In a similar way
an occasional shot on the picket line would be the cause of a
subdued excitement. I doubt if soldiers ever make a night movement
in an enemy's presence without being under a nervous strain which
exaggerates the importance of everything they see and hear, and this
gives uncertainty and increases the difficulty of such duty. It is
no small part of the duty of officers, in such cases, to allay this
tendency to excitement, to explain the situation, and by a wise
mixture of information and discipline to keep the men intelligently
cool and in full command of their faculties.

General Rosecrans had gone with the head of the column, and had left
with me Major Slemmer, his inspector-general, to bring him word when
the rear of the column should be in march. Slemmer was the officer
who, as a lieutenant, had distinguished himself by holding Fort
Pickens in Pensacola harbor at the outbreak of the rebellion. He was
a man of marked character, and in view of his experience it may
easily be understood that we had no lack of interesting matter for
conversation as we paced in rear of the reclining men during the
midnight hours. His failing health prevented his taking the
prominent part in the war that his abilities warranted, but I have
retained, from that evening's work together, a pleasing impression
of his character and a respect for his military knowledge and
talents. In impressing on me the fact that my position was the one
of special honor in this movement, he expressed the wish that
Rosecrans had himself remained there; but the result showed that
hardly less than the commanding general's own authority and energy
could have got the column forward in the mud and darkness. The
troops had marched but a mile or two when they overtook part of the
wagon train toiling slowly over the steep and slippery hills. Here
and there a team would be "stalled" in the mud, and it looked as if
daylight would overtake us before even a tolerably defensive
position would be reached. Rosecrans now gave his personal
supervision to the moving of the wagons and
artillery,--wagon-master's work, it maybe said, but it was work
which had to be done if the little army was not to be found in the
morning strung out and exposed to the blows of the enemy if he
should prove enterprising.

We who were at the rear did not know of the difficulty the column
was having, and when my messenger reported the rear of the preceding
brigade a mile or more from the camp, I gave the order to march, and
my men filed into the road. Slemmer went forward to inform the
general that we were in movement, and I remained with Major Hines
till all was quiet, when he was directed to call in his pickets and
sentinels and follow. I had gone hardly a mile when we were brought
to a halt by the head of the brigade overtaking those who had
preceded us. Word was brought back that the artillery was finding
great difficulty in getting over the first considerable hill west of
the mountain. We ourselves were upon the downward road from the
mountain crest, but our way led along the side of a spur of the
mountain which towered above us on our left. We were in a dense wood
that shut out the stars, and in darkness that could almost be felt.
I rode back a little to meet Hines and to keep some distance between
the column and his little rear-guard. We sent a chain of sentinels
over the hill commanding the road, and waited, listening for any
evidence that the enemy had discovered our movement and followed. An
hour passed in this way, and the column moved on a short distance.
Again there was a halt, and again a deployment of our sentries. When
at last day broke, we were only three or four miles from our camp of
the evening before; but we had reached a position which was easily
defensible, and where I could halt the brigade and wait for the
others to get entirely out of our way. The men boiled their coffee,
cooked their breakfast, and rested. Early in the forenoon a small
body of the enemy's cavalry followed us, but were contented with
very slight skirmishing, and we marched leisurely to Camp Lookout
before evening. Such night marches from the presence of an enemy are
among the most wearing and trying in the soldier's experience, yet,
in spite of the temptation to invest them with extraordinary peril,
they are rarely interfered with. It is the uncertainty, the
darkness, and the effect of these upon men and officers that make
the duty a delicate one. The risk is more from panic than from the
foe, and the loss is more likely to be in baggage and in wagons than
in men. I have several times been in command of rear-guards on such
occasions, and I believe that I would generally prefer an open
withdrawal by day. It is not hard to hold even a bold enemy at bay
by a determined brigade or division, and a whole army may be saved
from the exhaustion and exposure which rapidly fill the hospitals,
and may cost more than several combats between rear and advance

My brigade remained two or three days at Camp Lookout, where we were
put upon the alert on the 7th by a reported advance of the enemy,
but it amounted to nothing more than a lively skirmish of some
cavalry with our outposts. Lee was glad to move back to Meadow Bluff
to be nearer his supplies, and Rosecrans encamped his troops between
Hawk's Nest and the Tompkins farm, all of them being now within a
few miles of Gauley Bridge. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. p.
253. See also Official Atlas, pl. ix.] Part of my brigade garrisoned
the post at the bridge, but by Rosecrans's direction my own
headquarters tents were pitched near his own upon the Tompkins farm.
Both parties now remained in observation till near the end of
October. Floyd, more enterprising in plans than resolute or skilful
in carrying them out, had obtained Lee's consent to make an attempt
to render our position untenable by operations on the opposite side
of New River. Lee had intended to co-operate by moving against us
with the rest of his force, but on the 20th of October the reports
from the Staunton region were so threatening that he determined to
send Loring back there, [Footnote: _Id_., p. 908.] and this, of
course, settled it that Lewisburg would be covered in front only by
Wise's Legion, commanded by Colonel Davis. Although Floyd complained
of this change of plan, he did not abandon his purpose, but ordering
the militia on that side of the river to reassemble, he marched to
Fayette C. H. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. p. 286.]

Rosecrans had distributed his brigades in _echelon_ along the
turnpike,--Schenck's, the most advanced, being ten miles from Gauley
Bridge; McCook's eight miles, where the road from Fayette C. H. by
way of Miller's Ferry comes in across New River; Benham's six miles,
whilst of my own one regiment at the Tompkins farm guarded
headquarters, and the rest were at Gauley Bridge and lower posts
where they could protect the navigation of the Kanawha. [Footnote:
_Id_., p. 253.] McCook by Rosecrans's direction marched to Fayette
C. H. about the 20th of October, and on his return reported that
only guerilla parties were abroad in that vicinity. Rosecrans seems
to have expected that at least a foothold would be kept on the other
side of New River at Miller's Ferry, but McCook left nothing there,
and when he tried to place a detachment on that side about the 25th,
the shore and cliffs were found to be held by a force of
sharpshooters. This marked the advance of Floyd, who established his
camp in front of Fayette C. H. at the forking of the roads to
Miller's Ferry and to Gauley Bridge. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 285.] For
a few days he made no serious demonstration, and Rosecrans hastened
forward the work of clothing and paying his men, recruiting his
teams and bringing back to the ranks the soldiers whom exposure had
sent to the hospital. He had heard in a trustworthy way of Lee's
intention to move against us by the turnpike whilst Floyd advanced
on the other side of the river, but Tie had not yet learned of the
withdrawal of Lee with Loring's troops. He therefore remained quiet
and expectant, awaiting the definite development of events.

As this had been my first service in the field as part of a larger
command, I was keenly alive to the opportunity of comparing the
progress we had made in discipline and instruction with that of
other brigades, so that I might cure defects in my own methods and
improve the soldierly character as well as the administration of my
own command. I was gratified to see in my troops evidence of a pride
in their own organization and a wholesome emulation, which made them
take kindly to the drill and discipline which were necessary to
improvement. I was particularly interested in observing Rosecrans's
methods with the men. His standard of soldierly excellence was high,
and he was earnest in insisting that his brigadiers and his staff
officers should co-operate vigorously in trying to attain it. His
impulsiveness, however, led him sometimes into personal efforts at
discipline where the results were at least doubtful. He would
sometimes go out through the camps in the evening, and if he saw a
tent lighted after "taps," or heard men singing or talking, he would
strike loudly on the canvas with the flat of his sword and command
silence or the extinguishment of the light. The men, in good-humored
mischief, would try different ways of "getting even" with him. One
that gave much amusement to the camp was this: the men in a tent
thus attacked pretended to believe that their regimental
wagon-master was playing a practical joke on them, and shouted back
to him all sorts of rough camp chaff. When the exasperated general
appeared at the door of the tent, they were, of course, overwhelmed
with the most innocent astonishment, and explained that that
wagon-master was in the habit of annoying them, and that they really
had not heard the "taps." I have been with the general in
approaching a picket, when he would hotly lecture a sentinel who
showed ignorance of some of his duties or inattention to them. I
thought I could see in all such cases that it would have been wiser
to avoid any unnecessary collision with the privates, but to take
the responsible officer aside and make him privately understand that
he must answer for such lack of instruction or of discipline among
his men. An impulsive man is too apt to meddle with details, and so
to weaken the sense of responsibility in the intermediate officers,
who hate to be ignored or belittled before the soldiers. But if
Rosecrans's method was not an ideal one, it was at least vigorous,
and every week showed that the little army was improving in
discipline and in knowledge of duty.



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

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

"... 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

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

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.



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 journal--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. [Footnote:
Official Records, vol. v. pp. 287,288.] Rosecrans was of a similar
opinion, and on the 19th of November signified to General McClellan
[Footnote: _id_., p. 657.] 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 sifting out of incompetent officers. About the 1st of
December he fixed his headquarters at Wheeling, [Footnote: _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
correction was at once made by General McClellan. _Id_., p. 706.]
assigning the District of the Kanawha to my command, with
headquarters at Charleston. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 670, 691.] This
gave me substantially the 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 principal 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 sending of orders direct to me. He protested
against the irregularity, and insisted that if his forces were to be
reduced, 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. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. v. p. 671.] He
insisted that I should stay, and whilst the reasons he gave were
sufficiently complimentary, it was none the less a great
disappointment to have to abandon the hope of service in a more
important field. [Footnote: _Id._ pp. 259, 657.] There was nothing
to be done but to summon philosophy to my 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 number 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
supplied. The good policy of these reductions is not to be
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 infantry and one of cavalry
were placed at recruiting stations in the rear, and one Ohio
regiment was posted at Barboursville. 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
Washington by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. General J. J.
Reynolds was assigned to command a new division organizing at
Romney, but was soon transferred to another department.

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. Courtsmartial 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

The work of the military courts gave me one very unpleasant 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 murderous assault
upon another soldier. The circumstances were a little peculiar, and
gave rise to fears that his regiment might resist the execution. I
have already mentioned the affair of Captain Gibbs [Footnote:
Appointed Captain and Assistant Commissary of Subsistence, U. S.
Vols., October 1.] 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 camp 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 prevailed in them both, and camp demagogues
busied themselves 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 complaints to be just among those who
are very imperfectly informed in regard to the facts, and very
unpleasant reports 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
procedure 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. The place chosen was in the meadows
on the lower side of the Elk River, opposite Charleston, a short
distance from the regimental camp. The camps of two other regiments
at the post were half a mile from the place of execution. These
regiments were, therefore, marched to the field with their arms.
That to which the prisoner belonged was marched without arms to its
position as the centre of the parade, and the others were formed on
their right and left at right angles, thus forming the three sides
of the enclosure. The arms of these last regiments were stacked
immediately behind them where they could be seized in a moment, but
the parade was formed without muskets. Captain Gibbs was on duty as
commissary at my headquarters, and his appearance with the staff
would have been unpleasant to himself as well as a possible cause of
excitement in the Kentucky regiment. To solve the difficulty without
making a significant exception, I ordered only the personal staff
and the adjutant-general with the chief surgeon to accompany me,
leaving out the administrative officers of both quartermaster's and
commissary's departments.

When the parade was formed, I took my place with my staff at the
right of the line, and, as upon a review, rode slowly down the whole
line, on the inside of the square. In going along the front of the
First Kentucky, I took especial pains to meet the eyes of the men as
they were turned to me in passing, desirous of impressing them with
my own feeling that it was a solemn but inevitable duty. Immediately
after we returned to our places, the music of the dead-march was
heard, and an ambulance was seen approaching from the camp, escorted
by the provost-marshal and the execution party with the music. The
solemn strains, the slow funereal step of the soldiers, the closed
ambulance, the statue-like stillness of the paraded troops made an
impression deeper and more awful than a battle scene, because the
excitement was hushed and repressed. The ambulance stopped, the man
was helped out at the back, and led by the provost-marshal to his
place upon the coffin, where he was blindfolded. The firing party
silently took its place. The muskets were cocked and aimed, while
the noise of the retiring ambulance covered the sound. The
provost-marshal, with a merciful deception, told the prisoner he
must wait a moment and he would return to him before the final
order, but stepping quickly out of the range of the muskets, he gave
the signal with his handkerchief, and the man fell dead at the
volley, which sounded like a single discharge. The detail of
soldiers for the firing had been carefully instructed that
steadiness and accuracy made the most merciful way of doing their
unwelcome duty. The surgeon made his official inspection of the
body, which was placed in the coffin and removed in the ambulance.
The drums and fifes broke the spell with quick marching music, the
regiments took their arms, sharp words of command rattled along the
lines, which broke by platoons into column and moved rapidly off the

I confess it was a relief to have the painful task ended, and
especially to have it ended in the most perfect order and
discipline. The moral effect was very great, for our men were so
intelligent that they fully appreciated the judicial character of
the act, and the imposing solemnity of the parade and execution made
the impression all the more profound. As it was accompanied and
followed by a searching test of the capacity and character of their
officers, of which they daily saw the effects in the retirement of
some from the service and in the increased industry and studious
devotion to duty of all, it gave a new tone to the whole command. I
spared no effort to make the feeling pervade every regiment and
company, that the cause of the country, their own success and honor,
and even their own personal safety depended upon their entering the
next campaign with such improved discipline and instruction as
should make them always superior to an equal number of the enemy.
Leaves of absence and furloughs were limited as closely as possible,
and I set the example of remaining without interruption on duty,
though there were many reasons why a visit home was very desirable.
My wife made me a visit at Charleston in mid-winter, and this
naturally brought me into more frequent social relations to the
people, and led me to observe more closely their attitude to the
government and its cause.

Before the secession of Virginia a very large majority of the
inhabitants of the Kanawha valley were Unionists; but the attachment
to the state organization had become so exaggerated in all
slave-holding communities, that most of the well-to-do people
yielded to the plea that they must "go with their State." The same
state pride led this class of people to oppose the division of
Virginia and the forming of the new State on the west of the
mountains. The better class of society in Charleston, therefore, as
in other towns, was found to be disloyal, and in sympathy with the
rebellion. The young men were very generally in the Confederate
army; the young women were full of the most romantic devotion to
their absent brothers and friends, and made it a point of honor to
avow their sentiments. The older people were less demonstrative, and
the men who had a stake in the country generally professed
acquiescence in the position of West Virginia within the Union, and
a desire to bring back their sons from the Confederate service. The
necessity of strict watch upon the communications sent through the
lines brought to my notice a great deal of family history full of
suffering and anxiety, and showed that that was indeed a fearful
situation for a family when its young men were not only separated
from them by military service in the field, but could only be heard
from by the infrequent chances of communication under flags of
truce, and with all the restrictions and reserves necessary to the
method. The rule I adopted in dealing personally with non-combatants
of either sex was to avoid all controversy or discussion, to state
with perfect frankness but courteously my own attitude and sense of
duty, and to apply all such stringent rules as a state of war
compels with an evenness of temper and tone of dispassionate
government which should make as little chafing as possible. Most
intelligent people, when they are not excited, are disposed to
recognize the obligations imposed upon a military officer in such
circumstances, and it was rarely the case that any unpleasant
collisions occurred.

The following incident will illustrate some of the embarrassments
likely to occur. When I reached Charleston in July previous, I was
visited by the wife of a gentleman named Parks, who told me that her
husband had left the valley with General Wise, but not in any
military capacity, being fearful that he might suffer arrest at our
hands on account of his sympathy with the Confederates. I told her,
what I had told to a formal deputation of citizens, that I did not
propose to meddle with non-combatants if they in good faith remained
at home, minding their own business, and carefully abstaining from
giving aid or information to the enemy. I had, on general
principles, a dislike for test oaths, and preferred to make conduct
the test, and to base my treatment of people on that, rather than on
oaths which the most unscrupulous would be first to take. Had her
husband known this, she said, he would not have left home, and
begged that she might be allowed to send an open letter through the
lines to him to bring him back. I allowed her to do so at the first
proper opportunity, and Mr. Parks at once returned. In the latter
part of September, however, Governor Peirpoint of West Virginia
thought it necessary to arrest some prominent citizens, known as
Secessionists, and hold them as hostages for Union men that the
Confederate troops had seized and sent to Richmond. It happened that
Mr. Parks was arrested as one of these hostages, without any
knowledge on the part of the civil authorities of the circumstances
under which he had returned home. I was ignorant of his arrest till
I received a letter from the lady, complaining bitterly of what
seemed to her a breach of faith. I was at Sewell Mountain at the
time, but lost no time in writing her a careful explanation of the
complete disconnection between his arrest by the civil authorities
as a hostage, and a promise of non-interference with him on my part
as an officer of the United States army. I also showed her that the
arrest of non-combatant Union men by the Confederate forces was the
real cause of her husband's unpleasant predicament. In view of the
circumstances, however, I thought it right to request the Governor
to substitute some other hostage for Mr. Parks, so that there might
not be the least question whether the letter or the spirit of my
military safeguard had been broken, and the result was that the
gentleman was very soon at home again.

The most prominent citizen of the valley was the Hon. George
Summers, who had represented it in the Congress of the United
States, and had opposed secession in the Virginia Convention with a
vigor that had brought him into personal peril. When, however,
secession was an accomplished fact, his ideas of allegiance to his
State so far influenced him that he was unwilling to take active
part in public affairs, and sought absolute retirement at his
pleasant home a little below Charleston on the Kanawha. His house
was on a hill overlooking the beautiful valley, broad enough at this
point to give room for ample fields in the rich bottom lands. I had
called upon him, as I passed with my troops when I went up the
valley. He was a dignified and able man, just past middle life, but
in full physical and mental force, and capable of exerting a very
great influence if he could have thrown himself heartily into public
activity. But he was utterly saddened and depressed by the outbreak
of civil war, and deliberately chose the part of suffering in
seclusion whatever it might bring, unable to rouse himself to a
combative part. As a slave-holder, he was bitter against the
anti-slavery movement, and as a Unionist he condemned the
Secessionists. He was very glad to have the Kanawha valley in the
possession of the National troops, now that Wise had made the effort
to occupy it for the Confederacy; though he had tried to procure the
adoption of a policy which should leave it neutral ground,--a policy
as impossible here as in Kentucky. The result was that he was
distrusted by both sides, for in civil war each acts upon the maxim
that "he that is not for us is against us." I renewed my
acquaintance with him in the winter, making his house the limit of
an occasional ride for exercise. I appreciated his feelings, and
respected his desire to set an example of obedient private
citizenship with renunciation of all other or more active influence.

There were other men of social prominence who had less hesitation in
throwing themselves actively upon the National side. Mr. Patrick was
an elderly man, of considerable wealth, whose home was a very
similar one to Mr. Summers', a little nearer to Charleston upon the
same road. His wife was of old Virginia stock, a relative of Chief
Justice Marshall, and a pronounced Southern woman, though too good a
wife to make her sympathies give annoyance to her husband or his
guests. Lewis Ruffner was also a prominent Union man, and among the
leaders of the movement to make West Virginia a separate State. Mr.
Doddridge, long the cashier and manager of the Bank at Charleston,
whose family was an old and well-known one, was an outspoken
Unionist, and in the next year, when the war put an end for the time
to banking in the valley, he became a paymaster in the National
army. Colonel Benjamin F. Smith was a noteworthy character also. He
was a leading lawyer, a man of vigorous and aggressive character,
and of tough fibre both physically and mentally. He shared the wish
of Summers to keep West Virginia out of the conflict if possible,
but when we had driven Wise out of the valley, he took a pronounced
position in favor of the new state movement. A little afterward he
was appointed District Attorney for the United States. Although the
loyal people had such competent leaders, the majority of the men of
wealth and of the families recognized as socially eminent were
avowed Secessionists. They were a small minority of the whole
people, but in all slave-holding communities social rank is so
powerful that their influence was out of proportion to their
numbers. Even the leaders of the Unionists found their own "house
divided against itself," for scarce one of them but had a son in
Wise's legion, and the Twenty-second Virginia Regiment was largely
composed of the young men of Charleston and the vicinity. I have
already referred to the journal of Major Smith which fell into my
hands as "captured rebel mail," and its pages are full of pathetic
evidence of the conflicting emotions which such a situation excited.
He was the son of B. F. Smith, whom I have just mentioned, and
whilst in Floyd's camp in front of us at Sewell Mountain he wrote:
"My source of constant trouble is that my father will be in danger.
Wicked and unscrupulous men, with whom he has lived in friendship
for years, absolutely thirst for his blood, as I truly believe. He
and Summers, as one of their friends remarked to me to-day, are
especial objects of hatred and aversion to men here. I am actually
leading a set of men one of whose avowed objects is the arrest and
the judicial or lynch murder of my father!" In the next month he
heard "the startling news" that his father had fully identified
himself with the new state movement, and writes: "Those with whom I
was connected, call and curse him as a traitor,--and he knew it
would be so! Why my dear father has chosen to place me in this
terrible situation is beyond my comprehension. I have been shocked
beyond description in contemplating the awful consequences to the
peace, safety, and happiness of both of us!" The family distress and
grief revealed by accident in this case is only an example of what
was common in all the families of prominent Union men. In some
cases, as in that of Major Smith, the young men resigned their
commissions and made their way home, finding the mental and moral
strain too great to bear; but in many more, pride and the influence
of comrades kept them in the Confederate service with the enlisted
men who could not resign, and with hearts sorely torn by conflicting
duties, they fought it out to the end.

The slavery question was the vexed one which troubled the relations
of the army and the people in all the border States. My own position
was that of the party which had elected Mr. Lincoln. We disclaimed
any purpose of meddling with the institution in the States which
remained loyal to the Union, whilst we held it to be within the war
powers of the government to abolish it in the rebellious States. We
also took satisfaction in enforcing the law which freed the
"contrabands" who were employed by their masters in any service
within the Confederate armies. These principles were generally
understood and acquiesced in by the West Virginians; but it was
impossible to come to any agreement in regard to fugitive slaves who
took refuge in our camps. The soldiers and many of the officers
would encourage the negroes to assert their freedom, and would
resist attempts to recapture them. The owners, if Union men, would
insist that the fugitives should be apprehended and restored to them
by military authority. This was simply impossible, for the public
sentiment of the army as a whole was so completely with the slaves
that any such order would have been evaded and made a farcical dead
letter. The commanders who made such orders uniformly suffered from
doing it; for the temper of the volunteer army was such that the
orders were looked upon as evidence of sympathy with the rebellion,
and destroyed the usefulness of the general by creating an incurable
distrust of him among his own men. Yet nearly all the department
commanders felt obliged at first, by what they regarded as the
letter of the law, to order that fugitive slaves claimed by loyal
citizens should be arrested, if within the camps, and delivered up.

Within the district of the Kanawha I tried to avoid the difficulty
by stringent orders that slaves should be kept out of the camps; but
I declined to order the troops to arrest and return them. I had two
little controversies on the subject, and in both of them I had to
come in collision with Colonel Benjamin Smith. After they were over
we became good friends, but the facts are too important an
illustration of the war-time and its troubles to be omitted.

The first raised the question of "contraband." A negro man was
brought into my camp by my advance-guard as we were following Floyd
to Sewell Mountain in September. He was the body-servant of Major
Smith, and had deserted the major, with the intention of getting
back to his family at Charleston. In our camp he soon learned that
he was free, under the Act of Congress, and he remained with us, the
servants about headquarters giving him food. When I returned to
Gauley Bridge, Mr. Smith appeared and demanded the return of the man
to him, claiming him as his slave. He, however, admitted that he had
been servant to Major Smith in the rebel army with his consent. The
man refused to go with him, and I refused to use compulsion,
informing Mr. Smith that the Act of Congress made him free. The
claimant then went to General Rosecrans, and I was surprised by the
receipt, shortly after, of a note from headquarters directing the
giving up of the man. [Footnote: Letter of Major Darr, acting A. A.
G., November 18.] On my stating the facts the matter was dropped,
and I heard no more of it for a month, the man meanwhile
disappearing. Soon after my headquarters were moved to Charleston,
in December, I received another note from headquarters, again
directing the delivery of the fugitive. [Footnote: Letter of Captain
Hartsuff, A. A. G., December 13.] Again I gave a temperate and clear
statement of the facts, adding that I had reason to believe the man
had now taken advantage of his liberty to go to Ohio. Mr. Smith's
case thus ended, but it left him with a good deal of irritation at
what he thought a wrong done to him as well as insubordination on my

In March following, another case arose, and I received a paper from
headquarters containing an alleged statement of the facts, and
referred to me in usual course for report. I had been absent from
Charleston when the incidents occurred, but made careful inquiry
satisfying myself of the truth, and perhaps cannot give an
intelligent explanation better than by quoting the report itself,
for its tone shows the sort of annoyance I felt, and it exhibits
some of the conditions of an army command involving administrative
duties that were far from pleasant.

I said: "The document is in the handwriting of B. F. Smith, Esq., U.
S. District Attorney, residing here, though signed only by John
Slack, Jr., and William Kelly; the former an acting deputy U. S.
marshal, the latter the jailer at the county jail. Its composition
is so peculiar that it is difficult to tell what part of the
statement is Slack's or Kelly's and what is Colonel Smith's, and
therefore I do not know whom to hold responsible for the
misstatements contained in it.

"Mr. Slack is a respectable young man, who I believe would do his
duty as far as he understands it, but who has not energy enough to
keep him from being the tool of others. Mr. Kelly, the jailer, is
sufficiently described when I state the fact that he has attempted
to add to his profits as turnkey by selling bad whisky to soldiers
put in his calaboose, at the rate of five dollars per pint bottle.
Mr. Smith, the District Attorney, has lost no opportunity of being
annoying to the military officers here, since the controversy about
the negro man captured from his son, Major Isaac Smith of the rebel
army. This reference to the parties concerned is necessary to enable
the commanding general to understand the _animus_ of their

"The facts are substantially as follows: Henry H. Hopkins is a
notorious Secessionist living near Coal River, and a man of
considerable property. Some time before his arrest he sent the negro
man mentioned in the complaint _South_, in charge of some Logan
County 'bushwhackers.' On his way and in McDowell County the man
managed to escape and returned into Hopkins's neighborhood, near
Boone C. H., where he took his wife and three children alleged to
have been the property of a woman named Smoot, and brought them to
this post. Upon his representation that he had escaped from armed
rebels in McDowell County, and without further knowledge of the
facts, the Post Quartermaster set him at work. About the 19th of
February Hopkins came to town with Mrs. Smoot, and without notice to
the quartermaster or any color of authority by any civil process,
procured the aid of Kelly, the jailer, seized the negro and took him
to Wright's hotel. The provost-marshal, knowing that Hopkins was an
active Secessionist and that he had been personally engaged in the
combat at Boone C. H. last fall, ordered his arrest. Shortly after,
he was waited upon by B. F. Smith, Esq., U. S. District Attorney,
who stated that he had known Mr. Hopkins for a good many years and
was confident he was a good Union man, although in fact the
deputy-marshal at the very time held a warrant for the arrest of
Hopkins for treason and conspiracy, under an indictment found in the
U. S. Court, of which, to say the least of it, it is very strange
Mr. Smith should have been ignorant. At the request of the
provost-marshal, the warrant was served on Hopkins, who was admitted
to bail in the sum of $2000, which is most inadequate security for
the appearance of a man of Hopkins's wealth and influence, accused
of such a crime. After the arrest of Hopkins, the negro being left
to himself returned to his quarters, but sometime during the night
stole a skiff and attempted to escape with his family down the
Kanawha River. The circumstances of his accident in the river, the
drowning of his family and his subsequent capture, I have not been
able to investigate fully.

"The only matter of controversy now is in regard to the horse. The
bar-keeper at the tavern denies that he has said it was taken by
Wagon-master West (a man who has since been discharged by the Post
Quartermaster), and I have been unable to trace it, although every
effort has been made in perfect good faith to do so. The man West
was put under arrest, to see if that would make him admit anything
with regard to it, but without effect. I advised Slack to procure
some one who knew the horse to pass through the government stables
and teams, and if he recognized the animal to let me know at once,
and I would give an order to him to obtain it. The statement that
'Slack says he told Cox he could not find him, that a soldier or
employee in his command got him, and if proper measures were taken
he could be had,' is both impudent and false, and I respectfully
submit that it is not, in matter or manner, such a complaint as the
Commanding General should call upon me to reply to.

"The statement of these civil officials at once gives me the
opportunity and makes it my duty to state to the Commanding General
that the only occasions on which these gentlemen show any vitality,
is when some Secessionist's runaway negroes are to be caught. For
any purpose of ordinary municipal magistracy they seem utterly
incompetent. I have urged the organization of the county and of the
town, but to no effect. Every street that is mended, every bridge
that is repaired, or wharf that is put in order, must be done by the
army at the expense of the U. S. government. They will not elect
officers to look after the poor, but leave us to feed the starving
near our camps. They will establish no police, and by force of
public opinion keep suitors out of the courts ordered to be held by
Governor Peirpoint. Yet a U. S. Commissioner, without any warrant or
even pretended jurisdiction, will stop any vagrant negro, drive him
through the streets in person, and say that he does it as a U. S.
officer! Of course we simply look on and have had no controversy
with them, unless driven to it by direct efforts on their part to
interfere with our necessary regulations.

"The simple fact is that a few men of property who are avowed
Secessionists control the town and make its public sentiment. By
this means they practically control these officers also. Many of the
negroes employed at the salt-works, and under hire in other
capacities in the vicinity, are the slaves of rebels who are either
in the rebel army or fled with it from the valley. The great problem
upon which the Secessionists remaining here are exercising their
ingenuity is to find the means of using the U. S. Commissioner and
Marshal to secure to them the services of these persons without cost
or legitimate contract of hiring, for the present profit of these
gentlemen here, and the future advantage of their compatriots across
the lines.

"Colonel Smith and Mr. Slack say that they made the statement at the
express request of Major Darr of the Commanding General's staff. A
simple inquiry by the Major would have saved me the necessity of
writing this long letter."

It is due to General Rosecrans to say that although he had been
anything but an anti-slavery man before the war, he made no pressure
upon me to violate my own sense of right in these or similar cases,
and they ended with my reports of the facts and of my reasons for
the course I pursued. The side lights thrown upon the situation by
the letter last quoted will be more instructive than any analysis I
could now give, and the spice of flavor which my evident annoyance
gave it only helps to revive more perfectly the local color of the
time. In the case of Mr. Smith's "negro boy Mike," I had the
satisfaction of finding in the intercepted correspondence of his son
the major, the express recognition of the man's right to liberty by
reason of his use in the enemy's service, and could not deny myself
the pleasure of calling attention to it in my letters to

My experience during the winter begot in me a rooted dislike for the
military administration of the border districts, and strengthened my
wish to be in the most active work at the front, where the problems
were the strictly military ones of attack and defence in the
presence of the armed enemy. [Footnote: I did not lack evidence that
a steady rule, based on principles frankly avowed and easily
understood, was rapidly bringing the people to be content to be in
the Union, even those most inclined to secession. This result I am
gratified to find attested by General Lee and General Floyd, who in
dispatches very lately printed confessed the effect my
administration had in quieting the valley during the first months of
my occupation. Official Records, vol. li. pt. ii. pp. 220, 225.] Not
that the winter was without compensating pleasures, for we were
recipients of much social attention of a very kindly and agreeable
sort, and carried away cherished memories of refined family circles
in which the collision of opinions and the chafing of official
relations were forgotten in hearty efforts to please. With the
unconditionally loyal people our sympathies were very deep, for we
found them greatly torn and disturbed in the conflict of duties and
divided affections, where scarce a single household stood as a unit
in devotion to the cause, and where the triumph of either side must
necessarily bring affliction to some of them.



High quality of first volunteers--Discipline milder than that of the
regulars--Reasons for the difference--Practical efficiency of the
men--Necessity for sifting the officers--Analysis of their
defects--What is military aptitude?--Diminution of number in
ascending scale--Effect of age--Of former life and
occupation--Embarrassments of a new business--Quick progress of the
right class of young men--Political appointments--Professional
men--Political leaders naturally prominent in a civil war--"Cutting
and trying"--Dishonest methods--An excellent army at the end of a
year--The regulars in 1861--Entrance examinations for West
Point--The curriculum there--Drill and experience--Its
limitations--Problems peculiar to the vast increase of the
army--Ultra-conservatism--Attitude toward the Lincoln
administration--"Point de zéle"--Lack of initiative--Civil work of
army engineers--What is military art?--Opinions of experts--Military
history--European armies in the Crimean War--True
generalship--Anomaly of a double army organization.

The work of sifting the material for an army which went on through
the winter of 1861-62, naturally suggests an analysis of the classes
of men who composed both parts of the military force of the
nation,--the volunteers and the regulars. I need add nothing to what
I have already said of the unexampled excellence of the rank and
file in the regiments raised by the first volunteering. Later in the
war, when "bounty jumping" and substitution for conscripts came into
play, the character of the material, especially that recruited in
the great cities and seaports, was much lower. I think, however,
that the volunteers were always better men, man for man, than the
average of those recruited for the regular army. The rigidity of
discipline did not differ so much between good volunteer regiments
and regulars, as the mode of enforcing it. There were plenty of
volunteer regiments that could not be excelled in drill, in the
performance of camp duty, or in the finish and exactness of all the
forms of parades and of routine. But it was generally brought about
by much milder methods of discipline. A captain of volunteers was
usually followed by his neighbors and relatives. The patriotic zeal
of the men of the company as well as their self-respect made them
easily amenable to military rule so far as it tended to fit them
better to do the noble work they had volunteered for, and on which
their hearts were as fully set as the hearts of their colonels or
generals. In the regular army, officers and men belonged to
different castes, and a practically impassable barrier was between
them. Most of the men who had enlisted in the long years of domestic
peace were, for one cause or another, outcasts, to whom life had
been a failure and who followed the recruiting sergeant as a last
desperate resource when every other door to a livelihood was shut.
[Footnote: Since inducements to enlist have been increased by
offering the chance to win a commission, I believe the quality of
the rank and file of the regulars has been much improved, and as a
natural consequence the officers have found it easy to enforce
discipline by less arbitrary methods.] The war made some change in
this, but the habits and methods of the officers had been formed
before that time and under the old surroundings. The rule was
arbitrary, despotic, often tyrannical, and it was notorious that the
official bearing and the language used toward the regular soldiers
was out of the question in a volunteer organization. Exceptions
could be found in both parts of the service, but there could be no
doubt as to the custom and the rule. To know how to command
volunteers was explicitly recognized by our leading generals as a
quality not found in many regular officers, and worth noting when
found. A volunteer regiment might have a "free and easy" look to the
eye of a regular drill sergeant, but in every essential for good
conduct and ready manoeuvre on the field of battle, or for heroic
efforts in the crisis of a desperate engagement, it could not be
excelled if its officers had been reasonably competent and faithful.
There was inevitable loss of time in the organization and
instruction of a new army of volunteers; but after the first year in
the field, in every quality which tends to give victory in battle to
a popular cause, the volunteer regiment was, in my judgment,
unquestionably superior. It is necessary to say this, because there
has been a fashion of speaking of regular regiments or brigades in
the civil war as though they were capable of accomplishing more in
proportion to their numbers or on some occasion of peculiar peril
than the volunteers. I did not find it so.

The material in the line, then, was as good as could be; the
weakness was in the officers, and it was here that the sifting was
necessary. Most of these officers had themselves enlisted as
privates, and their patriotic zeal was not to be questioned. They
had been chosen to be lieutenants, captains, and even colonels by
their men because of faith in their ability to lead, or to recognize
their influence in raising the troops. Yet a considerable part of
them proved incompetent to command. The disqualifications were
various. Some lacked physical strength and stamina. Some had or
quickly developed intemperate habits. Some lacked the education and
intelligence needful for official responsibility. Some were too
indolent to apply themselves to the work of disciplining themselves
or their men. Fitness for command is a very general term, yet it
implies a set of qualities which intelligent people easily
understand and attach to the phrase. Self-command is proverbially
one of the chief. Courage and presence of mind are indispensable.
Ability to decide and firmness to stick to a decision are necessary.
Intelligence enough to understand the duties demanded of him and to
instruct his subordinates in theirs is another requisite. But beside
all these, there is a constitution of body and mind for which we can
find no better name than military aptitude. For lack of it many
estimable, intelligent, and brave men failed as officers. Again, not
every good captain made a good colonel, and not every good brigade
commander was fit for a division or a larger command. There was a
constantly widening test of capacity, and a rapid thinning of the
numbers found fit for great responsibilities until the command of
great armies was reached, when two or three names are all that we
can enumerate as having been proven during the four years of our
civil strife to be fully equal to the task.

Besides the indications of unfitness for the subordinate commands
which I have mentioned, another classification may be made. In an
agricultural community (and the greater part of our population was
and is agricultural), a middle-aged farmer who had been thrifty in
business and had been a country magistrate or a representative in
the legislature, would be the natural leader in his town or county,
and if his patriotism prompted him to set the example of enlisting,
he would probably be chosen to a company office, and perhaps to a
field office in the regiment. Absolutely ignorant of tactics, he
would find that his habits of mind and body were too fixed, and that
he could not learn the new business into which he had plunged. He
would be abashed at the very thought of standing before a company
and shouting the word of command. The tactical lessons conned in his
tent would vanish in a sort of stage-fright when he tried to
practise them in public. Some would overcome the difficulty by
perseverance, others would give it up in despair and resign, still
others would hold on from pride or shame, until some pressure from
above or below would force them to retire. Some men of this stamp
had personal fighting qualities which kept them in the service in
spite of their tactical ignorance, like brave old Wolford of
Kentucky, of whom it used to be jocosely said, that the command by
which he rallied his cavalry regiment was "Huddle on the Hill,

A man wholly without business training would always be in
embarrassment, though his other qualifications for military life
were good. Even a company has a good deal of administrative business
to do. Accounts are to be kept, rations, clothing, arms,
accoutrements, and ammunition are to be receipted and accounted for.
Returns of various kinds are to be made, applications for furlough,
musters, rolls, and the like make a good deal of clerical work, and
though most of it may fall on the first sergeant, the captain and
commissioned officers must know how it should be done and when it is
well done, or they are sure to get into trouble. It was a very rare
thing for a man of middle age to make a good company officer. A good
many who tried it at the beginning had to be eliminated from the
service in one way or another. In a less degree the same was found
to hold true of the regimental field officers. Some men retain
flexibility of mind and body longer than others, and could more
easily adapt themselves to new circumstances and a new occupation.
Of course such would succeed best. But it is also true that in the
larger and broader commands solidity of judgment and weight of
character were more essential than in the company, and the
experience of older men was a more valuable quality. Such reasons
will account for the fact that youth seemed to be an almost
essential requisite for a company officer, whilst it was not so in
the same degree in the higher positions.

It was astonishing to see the rapidity with which well-educated and
earnest young men progressed as officers. They were alert in both
mind and body. They quickly grasped the principles of their new
profession, and with very little instruction made themselves masters
of tactics and of administrative routine. Add to this, bravery of
the highest type and a burning zeal in the cause they were fighting
for, and a campaign or two made them the peers of any officers of
their grade in our own or any other army.

Another class which cannot be omitted and which is yet very hard to
define accurately, is that of the "political appointments."

Of the learned professions, the lawyers were of course most strongly
represented among officers of the line. The medical men were so
greatly needed in their own professional department that it was hard
to find a sufficient number of suitable age and proper skill to
supply the regiments with surgeons and the hospitals with a proper
staff. The clergy were non-combatants by profession, and a few only
were found in other than chaplain's duty. Civil engineers, railroad
contractors, architects, and manufacturers were well represented and
were valuable men. Scarce any single qualification was more useful
in organizing the army than that of using and handling considerable
bodies of men such as mechanics and railway employees.

The profession of the law is in our country so closely allied to
political activity that the lawyers who put on the uniform were most
likely to be classed among political appointments. The term was
first applied to men like Banks, Butler, Baker, Logan, and Blair,
most of whom left seats in Congress to serve in the army. If they
had not done so, it would have been easy for critics to say that the
prominent politicians took care to keep their own bodies out of
harm's way. Most of them won hard-earned and well-deserved fame as
able soldiers before the war was over. In an armed struggle which
grew out of a great political contest, it was inevitable that eager
political partisans should be among the most active in the new
volunteer organizations. They called meetings, addressed the people
to rouse their enthusiasm, urged enlistments, and often set the
example by enrolling their own names first. It must be kept
constantly in mind that we had no militia organization that bore any
appreciable proportion to the greatness of the country's need, and
that at any rate the policy of relying upon volunteering at the
beginning was adopted by the government. It was a foregone
conclusion that popular leaders of all grades must largely officer
the new troops. Such men might be national leaders or leaders of
country neighborhoods; but big or little, they were the necessity of
the time. It was the application of the old Yankee story, "If the
Lord _will_ have a church in Paxton, he must take _sech as ther' be_
for deacons."

I have, in a former chapter, given my opinion that the government
made a mistake in following General Scott's advice to keep its
regular army intact and forbid its officers from joining volunteer
regiments; but good or bad, that advice was followed at the
beginning, and the only possible thing to do next was to let popular
selection and natural leadership of any sort determine the company
organizations. The governors of States generally followed a similar
rule in the choice of field officers, and selected the general
officers from those in the state militia, or from former officers of
the army retired to civil life. In one sense, therefore, the whole
organization of the volunteer force might be said to be political,
though we heard more of "political generals" than we did of
political captains or lieutenants. When the organization of the
United States Volunteers took the place of the state contingents
which formed the "three months' service," the appointments by the
President were usually selections from those acting already under
state appointment. The National Government was more conservative
than the Confederacy in this respect. Our service was always full of
colonels doing duty as brigadiers and brigadiers doing duty as
major-generals, whilst the Southern army usually had a brigadier for
every brigade and a major-general for every division, with
lieutenant-generals and generals for the highest commands. If some
rigid method had been adopted for mustering out all officers whom
the government, after a fair trial, was unwilling to trust with the
command appropriate to their grade, there would have been little to
complain of; but an evil which grew very great was that men in high
rank were kept upon the roster after it was proven that they were
incompetent, and when no army commander would willingly receive them
as his subordinates. Nominal commands at the rear or of a merely
administrative kind were multiplied, and still many passed no small
part of the war "waiting orders." As the total number of general
officers was limited by law, it followed, of course, that promotion
had to be withheld from many who had won it by service in the field.
This evil, however, was not peculiar to the class of appointments
from civil life. The faults in the first appointments were such as
were almost necessarily connected with the sudden creation of a vast
army. The failure to provide for a thorough test and sifting of the
material was a governmental error. It was palliated by the necessity
of conciliating influential men, and of avoiding antagonisms when
the fate of the nation trembled in the balance; but this was a
political motive, and the evil was probably endured in spite of its
well-known tendency to weaken the military service.

A few months' campaigning in the field got us rid of most of the
"town-meeting style" of conducting military affairs in the army
itself, though nothing could cure the practice on the part of
unscrupulous men of seeking reputation with the general public by
dishonest means. The newspapers were used to give fictitious credit
to some and to injure others. If the regular correspondents of the
press had been excluded from the camps, there would no doubt have
been surreptitious correspondence which would have found its way
into print through private and roundabout channels. But this again
was not a vice peculiar to officers appointed from civil life. It
should be always remembered that honorable conduct and devoted
patriotism was the rule, and self-seeking vanity and ambition the
exception; yet a few exceptions would be enough to disturb the
comfort of a large command. To sum up, the only fair way to estimate
the volunteer army is by its work and its fitness for work after the
formative period was passed, and when the inevitable mistakes and
the necessary faults of its first organization had been measurably
cured. My settled judgment is that it took the field in the spring
of 1862 as well fitted for its work as any army in the world, its
superior excellences in the most essential points fully balancing
the defects which were incident to its composition.

This opinion is not the offspring of partiality toward the volunteer
army on the part of one himself a volunteer. It was shared by the
most active officers in the field who came from the regular service.
In their testimony given in various ways during the war, in their
Official Records, and in their practical conduct in the field which
showed best of all where their reliance was placed, these officers
showed their full faith in and admiration for the volunteer
regiments. Such an opinion was called out by the Committee on the
Conduct of the War in its examination of General Gibbon in regard to
the Gettysburg campaign, and his judgment may fairly be taken as
that of the better class of the regular officers. He declared of
some of these regiments in his division, that they were as well
disciplined as any men he ever wished to see; that their officers
had shown practical military talent; that a young captain from civil
life, whom he instanced, was worthy to be made a general. He named
regiments of volunteers which he said were among the finest
regiments that ever fought on any field, and in which every officer
was appointed from civil life. [Footnote: Report of Committee on
Conduct of the War, vol. iv. pp. 444-446.] He added the criticism
which I have above made, that no proper method of getting rid of
incompetent officers and of securing the promotion of the
meritorious had been adopted; but this in no way diminishes the
force of his testimony that every kind of military ability was
abundantly found in our volunteer forces and needed only recognition
and encouragement. It would be easy to multiply evidence on this


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