Chapter XVI - Contest for the Kanawha

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 1 State History
Pages 189-194

It has been seen that the efforts of the confederates to hold northwestern Virginia met with little success on the tributaries of the Monongahela, about Grafton, Philippi, Beverly and about the headwaters of the Greenbrier. They had been driven from that region by the close of the year 1861. It now remains to be seen what success attended their efforts to gain and retain control of the Kanawha valley. Their campaign in West Virginia for the year 1861 was divided into two parts, in the northwest, and in the Kanawha valley. General Henry A. Wise was ordered to the Kanawha, June 6, two days before General Garnett was ordered to take command of the troops which had been driven south from Grafton. Colonel Tompkins was already in the Kanawha valley in charge of confederate forces. The authorities at Richmond at that time believed that a general, with the nucleus of an army in the Kanawha valley could raise all the troops necessary among the people there. On April 29. General Lee had ordered Major John McCausland to the Kanawha to organize companies for the confederacy. Only five hundred flintlock muskets could be had at that time to arm the troops in that quarter. General Lee suggested that the valley could best be held by posting the force below Charleston. Very poor success attended the efforts at raising volunteers; and the arms found in the district were insufficient to equip the men. Supplies were sent as soon as possible from eastern Virginia.

When General Wise arrived, and had collected all his forces, he had eight thousand men, of whom two thousand were militia from Raleigh, Fayette and Mercer counties. With these he was expected to occupy the Kanawha valley, and resist invasion, should union forces attempt to penetrate that part of the state. General John B. Floyd, who had been secretary of war under President Buchanan, was guarding the railroad leading from Richmond into Tennessee, and was posted south of the present limits of West Virginia, but within supporting distance of General Wise. In case a union army invaded the Kanawha valley, it was expected that General Floyd would unite his forces with these of General Wise, and that they would act in concert, if not in conjunction. General Floyd was the older officer, and in case their forces were consolidated, he would be the commander-in-chief. But General Floyd and General Wise were enemies. Their hatred for the yankees was less than their hatred for each other. They were both Virginia politicians, and they had crossed each other's paths too often in the past to be reconciled now. General Lee tried in vain to induce them to work in harmony. They both fought the union troops bravely; but never in concert. When Wise was in front of General Cox, General Floyd was elsewhere. When Floyd was pitted in battle against General Rosecrans, General Wise was absent. Thus the union troops beat these quarreling Virginian brigadier generals in detail, as will be seen in the following narrative of the campaign during the summer and fall of 1861 in the Kanawha valley.

When Generals Wise and Floyd were sent to their districts in the west if was announced in their camps that they would march to Clarksburg, Parkersburg and Wheeling. This would have brought them in conflict with General McClellan's army. On July 2 McClellan put troops in motion against the confederates in the Kanawha valley. On that date he appointed General J. D. Cox to the command of regiments from Kentucky and Ohio, and ordered him to cross the Ohio at Gallipolis and take possession of Point Pleasant, at the mouth of the Kanawha. On July 23 General Rosecrans succeeded McClellan in command of the department of Ohio. Rosecrans pushed the preparation for a vigorous campaign, which had already been commenced. He styled the troops under General Cox the brigade of Kanawha. On July 17, in Putnam county, a fight occurred between detachments of union and confederate forces, in which the latter appeared for the time victorious, but soon retreated eastward. From that time until September 10 there was constant skirmishing between the armies, the advantage being sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other; but the union forces constantly advanced and the confederates fell back. On August 1 General Wise was in Greenbrier county, and in a report made to General Lee on that date, he says he fell back not a moment too soon. He complains that his militia are worthless as soldiers, and urges General Lee to send him guns and other arms, and clothing and shoes, as his men are ragged and barefooted. On August 20 General Rosecrans was at Clarksburg preparing to go in person to lead reinforcements into the Kanawha. He issued a proclamation to the people of West Virginia, calling on them to obey the laws, maintain order and cooperate with the military in its efforts to drive the armed confederates from the state.

Prior to that time, Colonel E. B. Tyler with a union force had advanced to the Gauley river, and on August 13 he took up a position at Cross Lanes. He thus covered Carnifex Ferry. General Cox was at that time on the Gauley, river, twenty miles lower down, near the mouth of that stream, nearly forty miles above Charleston. General Floyd advanced, and on August 26 crossed the Gauley at Carnifex Ferry with twenty-five hundred men, and fell upon Colonel Tyler at Cross Lanes with such suddenness that the union troops were routed, with fifteen killed and fifty wounded. The latter fell into the hands of the confederates, who took fifty other prisoners also. The remainder of Tyler's force made its retreat to Charleston; and General Floyd fortified the position just gained, and prepared to hold it. On September 3, General Wise made an attack on General Cox at Gauley Bridge, near the mouth of the river, twenty miles below Carnifex Ferry. The attack failed, the confederates were beaten and were vigorously pursued. Had Wise held Gauley Bridge, Floyd already being in possession of Carnifex Ferry, they would have been in positions to dispute the further advance of the union forces up the Kanawha valley.

General Rosecrans left Clarksburg September 3 with reinforcements, and after a march of seven days reached Carnifex Ferry, and that same evening began an attack upon the confederates under General Floyd, who were entrenched on the top of a mountain on the west bank of the Gauley river, in Nicholas county. This proved to be the severest battle fought in West Virginia west of the Alleghanies during the war. General Floyd had about four thousand men and sixteen cannon, and his position was so well protected by woods, that assault, with chance of success, was considered exceedingly difficult. He had fortified this naturally strong position, and felt confident that it could not be captured by any force the union general could bring against him. The fight began late in the afternoon, General Rosecrans having marched seventeen miles that day. It was not his purpose to bring on a general engagement that afternoon, and he directed his forces to advance cautiously and find where the enemy lay for the position of the confederates was not yet known. While thus advancing, a camp was found in the woods, from which the confederates had evidently fled in haste. Military stores and private property were scattered in confusion. From this fact, it was supposed that the enemy was in retreat, and the union troops pushed on, through thickets and over ridges. Presently they discovered that they had been mistaken. They were fired upon by the confederate army in line of battle. From that hour until darkness put a stop to the fighting, the battle continued. The union troops had not been able to carry any of the rebel works; and General Rosecrans withdrew his men for the night, prepared to renew the battle next morning. But during the night General Floyd retreated. He had grown doubtful of his ability to hold out if the attack was resumed with the same impetuosity as on the preceding evening. But he was more fearful that the union troops would cut off his retreat if he remained. So, while it was yet time, he withdrew in the direction of Lewisburg, in Greenbrier county, destroying the bridge over the Gauley, and also the ferry across that stream. General Rosecrans was unable to pursue because he could not cross the river. It is a powerful, turbulent stream, and at this place flows several miles down a deep gorge, filled with rocks and cataracts. Among spoils which fell into the hands of the victors was General Floyd's hospital, in which were fifty wounded union soldiers who had been captured when Colonel Tyler was driven from this same place on August 26. General Rosecrans lost seventeen killed and one hundred and forty-one wounded. The confederate loss was never ascertained.

After a rest of a few days the union army advanced to Big Sewell mountain. The weather was wet, and the roads became so muddy that it was almost impossible to haul supplies over them. For this reason it was deemed advisable to fall back. On October 5 General Rosecrans began to withdraw his forces to Gauley Bridge, and in the course of two weeks had transferred his command to that place, where he had water communication with his base of supplies.

On November 10 another action was fought between General Floyd and General Rosecrans, in which the confederates were defeated. This virtually closed the campaign for the year 1861 in that quarter, and resulted in the occupation of all the lower Kanawha valley and the greater part of the upper valley. The confederates were finally driven out, and never again obtained a foothold in that part of the state, although large bodies were at times in tie valley of the Kanawha, and occasionally remained a considerable time.

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