CHURCHVILLE, AUGUSTA COUNTY, VA., January 18, 1862.
I was appointed engineer at Camp Garnett, Rich Mountain, Randolph County, Virginia, by you, as commander of the post, on Tuesday, July 2, 1861, and on Wednesday morning, the 3rd, I commenced my duties by initiating a survey of the camp and its vicinity, preparatory to the construction of an accurate topographical map of the locality; and by the aid of parties detailed for the purpose I had nearly completed the necessary triangulations and measurements for the purpose indicated, and had also by barometrical observations ascertained the height of the points occupied by our forces, and had made considerable progress in the drawing of the map of the camp and vicinity, when (the enemy having made their appearance before our lines on the evening of July 9), by your order I spent a portion of the 10th in the breastworks on the hill to the left of your position, and the whole of the 11th, during which day the battle of Rich Mountain was fought and lost. I remained at the breastworks until midnight of that day, the enemy having occupied the parallel ridge in front of us during the day.
At midnight, by your order, I came down from the hill in company with the Augusta Lee Rifles, Captain R. D. Lilley, of your regiment, and followed by the companies of Captains Moorman, Kiracofe, Smith, Hall, and Mullis, and marched with them to the turnpike between the center and right of our position, and was there informed by you that Lieutenant-Colonel Pegram, who had assumed the command on the morning of July 8-he having been ordered by General Garnett to report to you with his regiment, and then he claimed the command of the post as being of the same rank in the Confederate service that you were in the State, and therefore ranking you-had been injured by a fall from his horse on the 11th and had resigned the command to you, again ordering you to march to Laurel Hill, to General Garnett, through the forest on the right of our position. You directed me to lead the front of the column over the hill on the right through the breastworks there, and so on towards the top of Rich Mountain. All the forces left at Camp Garnett were at that time formed in the road. As before said, I was directed to proceed at once, as the enemy was closing down upon our lines in overwhelming numbers, and you told me that you would bring up the rear. I then proceeded to the head of the column to move forward having been passed, was proceeding up the road, intending to reach the top of the hill [by] its easy winding grade, and had proceeded some little distance, when you overtook me and informed me that the enemy occupied the turn of the road on the hill, and that we must go up along the hill and so over by the way of the breastworks on the right.
The column was then countermarched in single file, and the countersign, “Indian,” said to be the countersign of the enemy for the night, was communicated to the men, and then I started up the hill, accompanied by Major Reger, of your regiment, and Major Stewart and Colonel Wilson, who happened to be at our camp. When at the top of the hill, which is very steep and rough, we halted for the column to close up, and then struck into the forest. The rain pouring down in torrents and the night being very dark, the line of march could hardly be kept but by a constant effort on the part of the men to keep almost in contact with each other, and our line was often broken by the fallen trees, dense thickets, and precipices that we encountered. By the advice of Majors Reger and Stewart we took a course bearing to the left, but I soon found that that was bringing us too near the waters of Roaring Creek and the adjacent laurel swamps, as well as too near the position occupied by the camp of the enemy; therefore I protested against going farther in that direction, and was seconded in my views by Captain Lilley and others that were near; and as I had reconnoitered the ground on July 6, they yielded to my opinion and my guidance from that time. We then pushed on, bearing gradually to the right, that we might reach the gap to the north of Hart’s, suffering much from the cold, as we were all drenched, and many of us had not eaten since morning. We did not halt much, and one time, shortly after leaving the camp, a low whistle on our right arrested our attention, and most of the line halted. I replied to the whistle and passed the order quietly to press on, and I have since learned from a prisoner taken from the enemy that a whole regiment was drawn up parallel to our line of march, and was only kept from firing upon us by the reply to our line of march, and was only kept from firing upon us by the reply to their signal and our continued moving.
Daylight found us two-thirds of the way to the top of the mountain, and then and there, to our great surprise and regret, we found that, instead of the whole command, I was only followed by a portion of Captain Lilley’s company and some few others-some fifty men. We were sorely disappointed; but as there was no alternative for safety but rapid flight, as we were certain that the enemy would speedily occupy all the roads by which we could escape, therefore I urged upon the men the necessity for a prompt obedience of orders in marching forward, and they responded with cheerfulness an alacrity, and we pushed rapidly forward and across the summit of the mountain at sunrise through a notch, and following down a ravine we struck the Merritt road, much cut up by the passage of the Churchville cavalry and most of Lieutenant-Colonel Pegrams’ regiment, which had passed over it the evening before, under the command of Major Nat. Tyler. We reached this road at about 8 a. m. of the 12th. Following down that road, we obtained a few mouthfuls of od at a house just on the edge of the valley, where Major Tyler and men had spent part of the night. Then we took across the fields and reached Beverly at about 11 a. m., where we found the people helping themselves to the abandoned commissary stores, and we were informed by Captain Stofer, who was seated on the porch of the hotel, that the enemy was expected every moment, and that our forces under Colonel Scot had gone to Huttonsville. We then helped ourselves to a supply of crackers, &c., from the stores and proceeded towards Huttonsville. Finding a large quantity of tents, blankets, socks, &c., abandoned by the roadside, just across Files Creek, we took each one a supply of these needful articles, just across Files Creek, we took each one a supply of these needful articles, and had started on when we met a team going to Beverly, which we impressed and sent back and loaded up, an then went on towards Huttonsville. Overtaking stragglers from various companies by the way, and it being rumored that the enemy was in rapid pursuit of us, we had our men fire off their guns and reload them, each one having held on to his gun, and then made all fall into ranks and so march in order, and having overtaken a wagon loaded with provisions, we kept it along and guarded it. Reaching Huttonsville at about 3 p. m., where we confidently expected to find Colonel Scott, we found the bridge just falling down from its conflagration by his order, and were told that he had gone to Stipe’s.
We had already marched some twenty-two miles, but we went on to Stipe’s and there found that he had gone, it was said, to the foot of Cheat Mountain; still pursuing, we reached the foot of Cheat Mountain, eight miles farther, and there, after eating a scanty suppe, we disposed of ourselves upon the bluff commanding the road up the mountain and it approaches, and there spent the night, resting on our arms, for fugitives had reported that 1,200 of the enemy’s cavalry was in close pursuit; but we decided that an encounter from an ambuscade was preferable to further retreat in our exhausted condition, having spent a whole day and half the night on our feet in the breastworks, and then retreated thirty miles through dense thickets, over fallen timber and ledges of rocks, through water-courses and along muddy roads; but every man had his arms and ammunition and was ready for an encounter.
On the morning of the 13th we proceeded to the top of Cheat Mountain, at White’s, and there found the Churchville and Bath cavalry companies and portions of many other companies collected there after the retreat. All agreed that we would stay there and keep back the enemy, and I was selected as a committee of one by those on the top of the mountain to see Governor Letcher, who we had learned was at Greenbrier River, an get his consent to let us remain there.
Dr. O. Butcher, of Huttonsville, took me down in his sulky, and I had an interview with the governor, whom I found at Yeager’s, where the regiment of Colonel Scott and encamped and Lieutenant-Colonel Pegram’s regiment, under the command of Major Tyler, and where the regiment of Colonel Johnson (the Twelfth Georgia) came up.
The governor consented to our staying, and we had started back a short distance when a messenger came up and ordered all the men down, and we came down and proceeded up the Alleghany Mountains. That night slept a few hours on the summit, at Yearger’s, and then went on Sunday to Monterey, where we encamped. Major Reger procured a horse and left us at Beverly and went on the Yearger’s, and got his family and sent them on to Staunton, and then joined us at Monterey on the 14th.
By your order I did not go to my tent on the night of the retreat, and therefore lost all my instruments, notes, maps, and baggage; therefore I am unable to report to you an accurate map of Camp Garnett; but I accompany this report with a map drawn from memory of the camp and surrounding this report with a map drawn from memory of the camp and surrounding country, showing the route of the enemy, and also the route of our retreat as far as Beverly.
After we had been some days in Monterey we were informed that shortly after we left Camp Garnett Lieutenant-Colonel Pegram resumed the command of the forces and sent some one of his staff forward to halt the column, and that owing to the darkness and steepness of the hill he was unable to reach the head of the column, and therefore he interposed himself and a musket into the midst of Captain Lilley’s company and so divided it. Private Brownlee Bell, who was at the head of the forces cut off, gave us this information.
As imputations have been cast upon you in reference to the management of the army, &c., at Rich Mountain, on the retreat, &c., I may be permitted, from the opportunity I had of knowing all the facts and circumstances of your situation, to state that to my personal knowledge you sent one that came to you with information in reference to the designs or operation of the enemy in turning our left flank to communicate the same to Lieutenant-Colonel Pegram the day before the battle, and I heard you offer to communicate to him all the information you had in reference to the camp and its surroundings, referring him to me in person as having a partially-prepared map of it, and he did not avail himself but to a very limited extent of the large fund of information you had with diligence collected in reference to your position and the movements said, to report himself and command to you, he at once arrogantly demanded the command of the post because of his superiority in rank before asking for it or you had refused to give it to him; and after you had expressed a willingness to give it up to him if you could be assured that such was the desire of General Garnett, and afterwards by his arbitrary and selfish direction of affairs, in the opinion of many concerned and engaged, brought about the disasters that attended and followed the battle of Rich Mountain, and led to the surrender of 600 brave men to the enemy.
My report has been delayed by pressing engagements in the army and sickness to this late day.
Most respectfully submitted.
Topographical Engineer at Camp Garnett.
Lieutenant Colonel J. M. HECK, Commanding Post.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. II. With additions and corrections. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902.