Chapter LVIII - Averell Defeats M'Causland

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 656-664

Early in August, 1864, an important military movement took place in Hampshire county, but the battle occurred in Hardy. It was the most important battle fought in the South branch valley during the war, and deserves mention somewhat in detail. The confederate generals engaged were McCausland and Bradley T. Johnson, while General W. W. Averell was in command of the union forces. McCausland had been on a raid into Pennsylvania, and had burned Chambersburg, after plundering it. General Averell, with a force of cavalry, was ordered to pursue, and if he could overtake McCausland to fight him to a finish. The confederates retreated from Pennsylvania, passed south of Cumberland, attacked the union forces at New Creek and moved leisurely to Moorefield, where they went into camp a few miles below the town, General Johnson on one side of the river and General McCausland on the other. They evidently did not expect pursuit, as no precaution was taken against surprise. General Averell crossed the Potomac at Hancock on August 4, and took the route to Bath, in Morgan county, by Bloomery gap. He reached Springfield, in Hampshire county, the next day, losing one hundred horses from exhaustion. On August 6 he moved to Romney, and during the afternoon his scouts captured a messenger with dispatches from McCausland, and from these he learned the position of the confederates near Moorefield, and he moved at once to the attack, routing the confederates, capturing all their cannon, four hundred horses, thirty officers, four hundred and twenty prisoners, killing many, retaking nearly all the plunder carried from Pennsylvania and pushing the southern forces hurriedly up the mountains east of Moorefield. General McCausland came near being court-martialed for allowing himself to be surprised and whipped. He had notice of the advance of Averell nearly four hours before the union forces came up; yet he suffered his forces to remain separated by the river, and they thus were defeated in detail by the enemy. The fact probably is that, although notified that Averell was coming, McCausland did not expect him so early in the morning. Information of the approach of the federals had been carried to McCausland by W. H. Maloney, of McNeill's rangers. Following will be found Mr. Maloney's account of the affair, as he saw it:

"I was in Romney when General Averell arrived. As he came in at one end of the town I went out at the other. I suspected his design, and hid in the woods near the bridge over the South branch above town and watched his movements. His men halted and fed their horses, and then crossed the river and took the Mill creek road, in the direction of Moorefield. I estimated his force to be between seventeen hundred and two thousand. As soon as Averell was out of sight I started up the river road for Moorefield. I had gone only a few miles when I met Isaac Parsons, and persuaded him to go with me. He reached Moorefield at midnight, and I went at once to the house of Samuel A. McMicken, General McCausland's headquarters. I informed the general that Averell was coming. He seemed to doubt it at first, but I heard him send an order to the camp to get ready to meet the enemy. I was acquainted with Mr. McMicken, having been frequently at his house. I told him that I was very tired and would like to take a sleep. He directed me to a room, where I found a bed, and I was soon asleep. That was the last I knew until daybreak. I arose, and was told that the officers who had slept at the house were all gone. I went out in the yard and listened, but heard no firing or any commotion of any kind, and I concluded that Averell's expected arrival had not yet taken place, and that McCausland was ready for him. I went to the barn and saddled my horse, ready for an emergency. I then returned to the house, just as breakfast was called, and sat down to eat. No one else, except the family, was there. I had buttered a biscuit and was taking the first bite when a young colored girl rushed in and exclaimed: 'Run, Mr. Maloney! De town am full ob yankees!' I ran out at the back door to the stable for my horse, and as I went I heard cavalry advancing, the clatter of sabers against the saddles and the voices of men; but there was no firing and no yelling. I peeped through a crack of the stable to see where the yankees were and Which way I should skip; but, to my surprise, I saw the streets full of rebels and not a yankee insight. I mounted my horse and went out to the street, and realized the situation. Our men were retreating, and were panic stricken. Every man was trying to save himself.

"I was unable to understand why they were running and so much excited. The street was so crowded and jammed that I was afraid to enter it. Every man was exclaiming, 'Go on! go on!' Nearly opposite me was a street that was not open, except for a short distance. It was closed by a fence. Our men entered this cul-de-sac, and when the front men came to the fence there was a jam. Those behind were crowding forward, yelling, 'Go on! go on! the yankees are sabering us! Go on! go on!' I called to them that they could not get out that way, and they turned back in the street, and made the jam and panic worse than ever. The horses were running the best they could, but so crowded was the street that everybody was in danger of being crushed. While I was standing on the sidewalk I caught sight of Isaac Parsons, who had come up with me the day before. He had been caught in the retreat, and was being swept along with the rest. Edward Washington was riding a horse and leading another. The horse which he rode ran on one side of Isaac Parsons, and the horse he was leading ran on the other side; the leading rope was stretched under Mr. Parsons' body, across the saddle. Washington's horses were going a little too fast for Parsons, and the rope was nearly lifting him out of the saddle at every jump. In vain did he try to free himself from the rope, but he could not; and the last I saw of him he was riding the rope instead of the saddle as he went bobbing and bouncing up and down in the distance.

"In all this time not a yankee was in sight, nor was a gun heard. The noise of the galloping horses had wakened the people of the town, and they appeared at their doors and windows and on their porches. Nearly all of them were our friends, and they looked with disgust at the panic, while not a blue coat was in sight. A lady standing on a porch called to the soldiers: 'Shame! Shame! Oh, shame! Go back and fight! Don't run! Go back and fight! If we had our South branch men here they would not run!' A soldier who heard her looked up and answered: 'Madam, if your South branch men had been over in Pennsylvania stealing as much as we have, they would run, too.'

"I was still by the street, afraid to enter because of the danger of being trampled to death. Just then Lieutenant Gibson came up, with his hat off, and calling me by name, asked me to help him rally the men. I told him it was no use trying, as they were in a panic. He wheeled his horse, rode into the street and tried to stop the stampede. They rode over him and his horse and threw them down. The last I saw of him he was on his feet trying to fight the men back. I think he regained his horse and escaped with the rest of them. When the worst of the rout had passed, I followed after and climbed a hill near by, from which I could oTerlook the town. The yankees soon appeared and quietly came up the street. They went no further, and after a short time withdrew, and returned the way they had come. In all this time I did not hear the firing of a single gun. The fight several miles below Moorefield took place while I was asleep. After Aver ell left the town I went to the battlefield with others, and brought off the wounded and buried the dead, union as well as confederate."

Keyser Captured. — On November 28, 1864, General Rosser with a force of confederates captured New Creek, now Keyser, and destroyed large quantities of military stores. That town was among the first places occupied and fortified by the federal forces in the war. General Lew Wallace took possession of it early in June, 1861. Its importance, from a military standpoint, is easily understood. It lies at the eastern base of the Alleghany mountains, at the mouth of New creek. Roads lead to that place from Franklin in Pendleton county; from Petersburg, Grant county; Moorefield, Hardy county, and from Romney, Hampshire county. At the period when Lew Wallace occupied New Creek, all of the towns mentioned were in possession of the confederates, or, at least, were not in possession of union forces, and might be occupied at any time by the confederates, who were masters of the situation east of the Alleghanies. A march of eighteen miles from Romney would have placed them at New Creek. Petersburg was forty miles distant; Moorefield not so far; while Winchester was only sixty miles distant. It can thus be seen that New Creek was exceptionally open to attack from the confederates; and if once in their possession, and so long as in their possession, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad would be useless to the federal government. It Was, therefore, early determined by the government that New Creek should be occupied and held, and this policy was never departed from throughout the war. At times the place was strongly garrisoned, and it was frequently made the center from which important military movements were made. From there the troops were sent which occupied Romney in June, 1861. Again, in September of the same year, Colonel Cantwell marched to Romney from New Creek. In October General Kelley went from the same place to attack Romney. From there General Milroy marched to Petersburg, Grant county, and made a fortified camp. From the same place marched General Fremont into Pendleton county early in 1862. General Averell started from New Creek on the famous Salem raid in December, 1863. The troops were sent from New Creek which overtook McNeill below Moorefield when he was carrying Generals Crook and Kelley off, but they failed to retake their generals. Various other circumstances and movements might be mentioned to show the importance of the place as a military headquarters; and it is not to be wondered at that the confederates considered it very much in the way of their operations. They never seriously contemplated capturing it and holding it for themselves; but they cherished the hope of destroying the stores at that place and harrassing it as muck as possible. General McCausland made an attack upon it in August, 1864, while returning from his Chambersburg raid; but was defeated with considerable loss.

In November, 1864, General Rosser prepared to attack the town and moved against it from Moorefield. His design was unsuspected by federal officers. They did not know that a strong confederate force was at Moorefield, otherwise they would not have sent a small body of troops to certain destruction; for they dispatched several companies to Moorefield, presuming that the only confederates there were McNeill's men, with perhaps a few others. The particulars of this ill-fated expedition may properly be given here, as it was directly connected with Rosser's march to New Creek: Colonel Latham, acting under orders from General Kelley, ordered Colonel R. E. Fleming to Burlington, thirteen miles from New Creek, with instructions to march to Moorefield and endeavor to capture McNeill, who was believed to be in the vicinity with his company. Colonel Fleming undertook to surround McNeill, the more certainly to effect his capture, and for that purpose sent Major Potts with two hundred men to the rear of Moorefield, while, with the remaining one hundred, Colonel Fleming proceeded directly to Moorefield, reaching the north bank of the South branch on the evening of November 27, 1864, and there encamped. Within less than half an hour the intelligence was brought by scouts that a large force of confederates had been seen just south of Moorefield. Colonel Fleming remounted his men, sent a small detachment across the river to gain more exact information, and awaited developments. He had not long to wait. The scouts came back with the report that General Rosser, with more than three thousand men, was in the vicinity. The federals had only one piece of artillery. This was placed in position on the river bank, and as the confederates approached, fire was opened upon them. General Rosser returned the fire from the opposite bank. Colonel Fleming held his ground until he discovered that Rosser was about to surround him by sending troops across the river, both above and below. Retreat in double-quick time was all that remained for the federals, and they fell back, hotly pursued by the confederates.

The only avenue of escape was a narrow wagon read leading through a gap between two mountains. The artillery was placed in front and the retreat began. It was a running fight all the way to the gap. The narrowness of the road prevented Rosser from making use of his superior numbers, otherwise the whole command of Fleming would have been captured in a short time. In the gap the artillery broke down and was abandoned. A hand-to-hand fight with sabers occurred in the narrow pass, as darkness was closing the scene. Only one termination was possible. The federals were defeated and almost annihilated. Fifty men were left dead or wounded on the field. The fugitives fled in the darkness, and reached New Creek in four hours, a distance of nearly forty miles, carrying the report that General Rosser, with at least three thousand men, was advancing. The report proved correct. Colonel Latham, who was in command at the place, had little time in which to prepare for the attack.

General Rosser stripped the uniforms from the dead, wounded and captured union soldiers, and dressed his own soldiers in blue, and sent them as an advance guard toward New Creek, while his main army followed. This was done for the purpose of getting into New Creek before the garrison should discover that the men were rebels in disguise. The plan succeeded. The front of the rebel column, dressed in yankee uniform, approached the town. The union pickets supposed some of their own men were getting in, and allowed them to approach unchallenged. In fact, so little did they suspect the truth that as Rosser's men drew near New Creek a yankee picket, supposing that he was addressing yankees, called out familiarly: "Well, you got whipped again, did you!" The pickets, taken by surprise, were overpowered, and the capture of New Creek was quickly done. The chief part of the garrison escaped across the river into Maryland, where, from the wooded hills, they witnessed the destruction of the military stores and the burning of public property. General Rosser set fire to the magazines, and the bursting of shells made the mountains echo for twenty miles around, leading the citizens to believe that a heavy battle was in progress. George W. Washington wrote in his diary that day: "I heard heavy firing in the direction of New Creek;" and later he added: "The report is that General Rosser has captured New Creek and burnt the government stores there. I think it is doubtful."

General Rosser did not attempt to establish himself there, but withdrew his force after a few hours, having destroyed many thousand dollars worth of military stores and railroad property. The next day the union troops returned and re-established the camp. Colonel Latham, who had given up the place almost without resistance, was relieved from duty and Colonel Fleming placed in command, and remained there till January 12, 1865.

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