Chapter XLVIII - General Kelley's Campaign

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 2 County History
Pages 563-570

The most important battle fought at Romney during the war was on October 27, 1861, between the confederate forces occupying the town and the union forces under General B. F. Kelley. General Lew Wallace had occupied Romney in June of the same year, expecting that it would not be again occupied by the confederates in strong force. But no sooner had he retired than the confederates took possession of the town. Colonel Cantwell with a union force crossed from New Creek in September to dislodge Colonel McDonald, the confederate officer in command at the town; but that expedition ended in a magnificence horse race from Romney to New Creek, the yankees getting into New Creek about four jumps ahead of the rebels. This state of affairs was not satisfactory to the government at Washington. As a town, Romney was not of enough importance to call for much exertion on the part of either side to hold it. But as a strategic point it was valuable. If the federals expected to keep the Baltimore and Ohio railroad open, which they were determined to do, it was dangerous to leave a confederate force ensconced at Romney, whence, in a few hours, they could cut the railroad, and cripple large operations elsewhere; for that railroad was of vast importance to the federal government. These were the considerations which induced General Kelley to move in October against Romney with a force deemed sufficient to overcome any resistance likely to be met. The warm reception given Colonel Cantwell caused Kelley to advance with caution.

On October 22, 1861, General Scott ordered General Kelley to concentrate his forces at New Creek and attack and capture Romney. In obedience to this order he left New Creek, now Keyser, early on the morning of October 27. The distance to Romney was about twenty-four miles. The confederates proposed to meet him. They planted a twelve pounder rifle cannon and a mountain howitzer in Indian Mound cemetery, ready to fire as the head of the federal column should emerge from Mill creek gap. But they did not idly wait for the federals to appear. A strong party was posted in the gap and the 1ight began there about four o'clock in the afternoon. This confederate outpost soon gave way and the soldiers retreated toward Romney, the federals following closely till they came out into the open country below the mouth of Mill creek. The confederate artillery opened fire; and Kelley unlimbered three guns, and placing them in the pike below the mouth of Mill creek gap, returned the fire of the confederates. Kelley's army did sot pause, but proceeded to Romney. The infantry crossed the bridge, and the cavalry forded the river and charged up the road. The confederates abandoned their cannon and retreated toward Winchester. General Kelley captured two cannon; three wagon loads of new rifles; a considerable quantity of tents and other stores; two hundred horses; and sixty prisoners. Colonel E. M. Armstrong was among the prisoners. The loss was not heavy in killed and wounded on either side, but the exact number cannot be ascertained. Four days after that, General Kelley received from Assistant Adjutant General Townsend at Washington, the following telegram, dated October 30: "Your late movement upon and signal victory at Romney do you great honor in the opinion of the president and of Lieutenant General Scott. You shall be reinforced as soon as practicable. In the meantime, if necessary, call for any troops at Cumberland or New Creek."

General Kelley remained in Romney till January 1, 1862, organizing and drilling troops. He was succeeded at Romney by General Lander. The federals retreated from Romney a few days later at the approach of Stonewall Jackson. When General Kelley entered Romney October 27 he issued the following proclamation: "To the people of Hampshire county and the upper Potomac: My object in addressing you is to give you assurance that I have come among you, not for the purpose of destroying you, but to protect all your rights socially and politically. All persons who have taken up arms against the government of the United States are obliged to lay them down, and return to their homes, and if they will take the oath of allegiance, and conduct themselves as peaceable citizens they will be protected in all their rights under the flag which has so long and so well protected them. You have lived long happy, socially and politically, but if you attempt to carry on a general warfare against my troops by attacking my wagons, shooting my guards or pickets, you will be considered as enemies and treated accordingly here in your own country."

The Wire Bridge Fight. — A skirmish occurred in the latter part of October, 1861, at the wire bridge, seven miles below Romney, between Hampshire militia, under Colonel Alexander Monroe on one side, and several companies of union troops on the other. The union force formed the left column of General Kelley's army in its expedition against Romney. While the main division, marched from New Creek by way of Mill creek gap, the left column proceeded by way of Springfield, with the intention of passing up the river to the objective point. Colonel Monroe's militia at that time was guarding the road leading up the river to Romney. The main force, with two pieces of artillery, was camped at Buffalo creek,, about three miles below the town, while Colonel Monroe was in personal command of a smaller company at the wire bridge. He placed his men in position to rake the bridge with their fire in case the federals should attempt to pass over it. As an additional hindrance to their progress, he removed several planks from the middle of the bridge. When the union troops arrived and reached the opening in the bridge, they were fired upon. One was killed and was left lying on the bridge, and others were wounded. There was a stampede. The federals fled, leaving the militia in possession of the bridge, and leaving thirty-five hats and caps on the bridge. In the meantime cannonading was heard at Romney, which announced that General Kelley was taking the town. The militia which had been posted to guard the road up the river saw that its services were useless there any longer, and that it was liable to an attack in the rear by the federal forces in Romney; and, therefore, a retreat was ordered. Colonel Monroe fell back from the wire bridge, crossed the mountains and reached Blue's gap on the Winchester road. The forces at Buffalo did likewise, hauling their two pieces of artillery up the mountain at the head of Buffalo creek that night, and by that route reached Blue's gap in safety.

When the federal forces approached Springfield, two miles from the wire bridge, on their march to that place, many citizens of the town concealed themselves in their houses. A minister of the gospel who occupied a pulpit in the town, was panic-stricken when he saw the blue uniforms coming, and with a wild yell, "Whoop! I can't stand that!" mounted the first horse he could find and fled, and never came back. Perhaps, in his new field of labor, if he ever found a new field, he preached his first sermon from the text, "The wicked flee when none pursue."

Blue's Gap Captured. — Although General Kelley had occupied Romney October 27, 1861, he did not advance to Blue's gap, fifteen miles east, for two months. A confederate force held the gap. It was General Keller's purpose to protect the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and not to waste his time and incur expense in useless expeditions up and down the back country where nothing was to be gained. The time had not yet arrived for an advance from Romney to Winchester, and the federal general was not disposed to push in that direction until the time came. He saw no reason why he should attack the few men at Blue's gap. If he should occupy the place it would necessitate keeping a strong force there to hold it, unless he should abandon it and return to Romney. This would be a useless campaign.

But, as the winter advanced, and the small parties of confederates continued to annoy the outposts and waylay scouting parties, it became a military necessity to drive the confederates from Blue's gap. Captain Sheetz was in command there, With a few hundred men, and had fortified, the pass with two small pieces of artillery — the same guns that had been stationed at Buffalo to guard the Hanging Rocks gap at the time of General Kelley's capture of Romney. Fortifications, not very extensive, but naturally strong, were built in a position to command the gap. Then, when intelligence was received that an attack was to be made, Captain Sheetz moved three miles up the road to Pleasant Dale to meet the enemy. About daybreak the federals came in sight, and Captain Sheetz fell back toward Blue's gap, firing occasionally upon the advancing troops. The bridge across North river was four hundred yards in front of the gap. Having crossed this, it was set on fire by Captain Sheetz, who withdrew toward his fortifications, which he expected the militia to occupy and defend. But the federals came more rapidly than had been expected, and reached the fortifications before the rebel militia could get there, and all hope of successfully defending the pass was lost. The militia retreated toward Winchester, or scattered through the woods and mountains in all directions. Captain Sheetz was compelled to retreat, but withdrew his men in good order until he had gone a mile beyond the pass, where the country was more open. There he was charged, and was driven rapidly back. Pursuit was not long continued. The cannon abandoned by the militia fell into the hands of General Kelley's army. The troops returned to Romney. This expedition took place early in January,. 1863. General Lander was in immediate command at the time. When he fell back from Blue's gap he burned between thirty and forty residences and outbuilding's on each side of the road, between that point and Romney. He defended his course on the ground that it was a military measure rendered necessary because the residents of that part of the country aided and encouraged the confederates in attacking the union outposts.

Frenchburg Burned. — The small group of houses called Frenchburg, six miles east of Romney, on the Winchester road, was burned by federal soldiers late in 1861 on the pretext that the inhabitants were giving aid to rebel bushwhackers. The specific grounds for the charge were these: Sergeant John C. Leps with seven men left the confederate camp at Blue's gap, and concealing his force in a thicket near Frenchburg, fired upon a detachment of union cavalry, and killed and wounded several men, compelling the survivors to retreat. This greatly incensed the federal officers, who refused to recognize bushwhacking as a legitimate method of warfare. Warning was sent out that if the act were repeated, punishment would be inflicted upon the citizens of the district in which the bushwhacking was done. Captain Sheetz with a small party set out from Blue's gap a few days after and repaired to the vicinity of Frenchburg, where there was a strong federal picket post. He climbed a hill near the road and attacked four soldiers who were passing by, wounding one and capturing three. Captain Sheetz then returned to camp at Blue's gap. The result was, orders were gives for the burning of the houses at Frenchburg, and the little village was wiped out.

Capture of an Officer's Horse. — During the early part of the winter of 1861-2, General Kelley with several thousand soldiers was stationed in and near Romney. There was little to do, except to keep a wary eye on Stonewall Jackson at Winchester, and to send out large scouting parties to look after the rebels under Captain Sheetz and others who roamed at will along; North river. There was at that time a youth, sixteen or seventeen years old, named Elisha Shingleton, son of John Shingleton, living a few miles from Romney. This boy was desirous of joining the rebel army. He might have become an infantry soldier at any time, but he wanted to be a cavalryman, and that was not so easy to be done. The Southern Confederacy did not furnish horses for its cavalry; but each soldier must provide one for himself. Young Shingleton had no horse, and saw no prospect of procuring one by the ordinary methods of bargain and sale. But, as he had set his heart on joining the cavalry he was not disposed to submit to being checkmated by so small a thing as the want of a horse. He made up his mind that he would have one. He spied around the outskirts of Romney, and observed that the small boys of the town were in the habit of riding the officers' horses to water at the brook which the pike crosses at the foot of the hill below the cemetery. A deep pool at the base of a large rock was the favorite drinking place for the horses. Just before day young Shingleton concealed himself among some bushes and vines which hung in a dense canopy over the rock, and waited for his chance. Presently a small lad, riding a splendid horse which belonged to a union officer, came down the pike from the town, rode into the pool and the horse put down his head and began to drink. Shingleton reached out and caught the bridle and ordered the lad to get off the horse, which he did in a hurry, dropping in the water. Shingleton mounted the horse and disappeared up the hill in the woods. The boy ran bawling back to town and reported his loss. The yankees galloped up and down the roads for miles around, trying to capture the daring thief; but they returned without success. Meanwhile Shingleton made his way through the woods and along unfrequented paths to the mountains a few miles distant, where he hid the horse in a thicket and kept him several days, canning hay and corn to him at night from neighboring fields. When the excitement had died down he took the horse through the mountains to the confederate lines, and was soon a superbly equipped cavalryman.

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