July 14th Report of Lt. Col. John Pegram, C. S. Army

BEVERLY, VA., July 14, 1861.

Not knowing where a communication will find General Garnett, I have the honor to submit the following report of the fight at Rich Mountain, which occurred on the 11th instant:

The battle-field was immediately around the house of one Hart, situated at the highest point of the turnpike over the mountain and two miles in rear of my main line of trenches, the latter being at the foot of the western slope of the mountain.

The intricacies of the surrounding country seemed scarcely to demand the placing of any force at Hart’s, yet I had that morning placed Captain De Lagnel, of the Confederate artillery, with five companies of infantry and one piece of artillery, numbering gin all about three hundred and ten men, with instructions to defend it to the last extremity against whatever force might be brought to the attack by the enemy, but also to give me timely notice of his ed for re-enforcements. These orders had not been given two hours before General Rosecrans, who had been conducted up a distant ridge on my left flank and then along the top of the mountain by a man, attacked the small handful of troops under Captain De Lagnel with three thousand men. When from my camp I heard the firing becoming very rapid, without waiting to hear from Captain De Lagner, I ordered up re-enforcements, and hurried on myself to the scene of action. When I arrived the piece of artillery was entirely unmanned, Captain De Langel having been severely wounded, after which his men had left their piece. The limber and caisson were no longer visible, the horses having run away with them down the mountain, in doing which they met and upset the second piece of artillery, which had been ordered up to their assistance. Seeing the infantry deserting the slight breastworks hastily thrown up that morning by Captain De Langel, I used all personal exertions to make them stand to their work until even I saw that the place was hopelessly lost. The last companies which left their posts were the Rockingham Lee Guard, commanded by Captain William M. Skipwith. On my way back to my camp I found the re-enforcing force under command of Captain Anderson, of artillery, in the greatest confusion, they having fired upon their retreating comrades. I hurried on to camp and ordered the remaining companies of my own regiment in camp to join them. This left my right front an right flank entirely unmanned. I then went back up the mountain, where I found the whole force, composed of five companies of the Twentieth and one company of Colonel Heck’s regiment, drawn up in line in ambuscade near the road, under command of Major Nat. Tyler, of the Twentieth Regiment. I called their attention and said a few encouraging words to the men, asking them if they would follow their officers to the attack, to which they responded by a cheer. I was here interrupted by Captain Anderson, who said to me, “Colonel Pegram, these men are completely demoralized, and will need you to lead them.” I took my place at the head of the column, which I marched in single file through laurel thickets and other almost impassable brushwood up a ridge to the top of the mountain.

This placed me about one-fourth of a mile on the right flank of the enemy, and which was exactly the point I had been making for. I had just gotten all the men up together and was about making my dispositions for the attack when Major Tyler came up and reported that during the march up the ridge one of the men in his fright had turned around and shot the first sergeant of one of the rear companies, which had caused nearly the whole of the company to run to the rear. He then said that the men were so intensely demoralized, that he considered it madness to attempt to do anything with them by leading them on to the attack. A mere glance at the frightened countenances around me convinced me that this distressing news was but too true, and its was confirmed by the opinion of the three or four company commanders around me. They all agreed with me that there was nothing left to do but to send the command under Major Tyler to effect a junction with either General Garnett at Laurel Hill or Colonel William C. Scott, who was supposed to be with his regiment near Beverly. It was now 6 1\2 o’clock p. m., when I retraced my steps with much difficulty back to camp, losing myself frequently on the way, and arriving there at 11 1\4 o’clock.

I immediately assembled a council of war, composed of the field officers and company commanders remaining, when it was unanimously agreed that, after spiking the two remaining pieces of artillery, we should attempt to join General Garnett by a march through the mountains to our right. This act was imperative, not only from our reduced numbers, now being about six hundred and our being placed between two large attacking armies, but also because at least three-fourths of my command had no rations left; the other one fourth not having loud enough left for one meal. Having left directions for Sergeant Walke, and given directions to Assistant Surgeon Taylor to take charge of the sick and wounded in camp and to show a white flag at daylight, I then called the companies, G and H, of Twentieth Regiment, with which and seven companies of Colonel Heck’s regiment I started at 1 o’clock a. m., and without a guide, to make my way, if possible, over the mountains, where there was not the sign of a part, towards General Garnett’s camp.

As I remained in camp to see the last company in column, by the time I reached the head of the column, which was nearly on mile long, Captain Silly’s [Lilley’s] company, of Colonel Heck’s regiment, had disappeared and has not been since heard from. The difficulties attending my march with the remaining eight companies it would be impossible for my to exaggerate. We arrived at Tygart’s Vallery River at 7 o’clock p. m., having made the distance of about twelve miles in eighteen hours. Here we were met be several country people, who appeared to be our friends, and who informed us that at Leadsville Church, distant three miles, and situated on the Beverly and Laurel Hill turnpike, there was a small camp, composed of a portion of General Garnett’s command. Leaving Colonel heck with instructions to bring the command forward rapidly, I hired a horse and proceeded forward until within sight of Leadsville Church, when I stopped at a a farm house, where were assembled a dozen men and women. They informed me that General Garnett had retreated that afternoon up the Leading Creek road, in Tucker County, and that he was being pursued by three thousand of the enemy, who had come from the direction of Laurel Hill as far as Leadsville Church, when they turned up the Leading Creek road in pursuit.

This of course rendered all chance of joining General Garnett, or of escape in that direction, utterly impossible. Hurrying back to my command I found them in much confusion, firing random shots in the dark, under the impression that the enemy was surrounding them. Reforming them, I hurried back to the point where we first struck the river, and persuaded a few of the country people to cook all the provisions they had, hoping it might go a little way toward satisfying the hunger of my almost famishing men.

I now found, on examining the men of the house, there was, if any, only one possible means of escape, and that was by a road which, passing within three miles of the enemy’s camp at Beverly, led over precipitous mountains into Pendleton County. Along this road there were represented tome to be but a few miserable habitations, where it would be utterly impossible for even one company of my men to get food, and as it was now 11 o’clock p. m. it would be necessary to leave at once, without allowing them to get a mouthful where they were. I now called a council of war, composed like the one of the preceding night, when it was agreed, almost unanimously (only two members voting in the negative), there was left to us nothing but the sad determination of surrendering ourselves prisoners of war to the enemy at Beverly. The two members who voted in the negative, whilst they did so, stated that they considered our chances of escape very slim, to which I replied that if I thought them as good as slim I should certainly not entertain the idea of surrendering for one moment, and that I was perfectly convinced that an attempt on our part to escape would sacrifice by starvation a large number of the lives of the command. I now dispatched a messenger to Beverly, which was distant some six miles, with a note of which the following is the substance:

SIR: Owing to the reduced and almost famished condition of the force now here under my command, I am compelled to offer to surrender them to you as prisoners of war. I have only to ask that they receive at your hands such treatment as Northern prisoners have invariably received from the South.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant-Colonel, P. A. C. S., Commanding.

Between 7 and 8 o’clock next morning two officers of General McClellan’s staff arrived with his reply, of which the following is an exact copy:

Beverly, Va., July 13, 1861.
Styling himself Lieutenant-Colonel, P. A. C. S.:
SIR: Your communication, dated yesterday, proposing to surrender as prisoners of war the force assembled under command, has been delivered to me. As commander of this department I will received you, your officers and men, as prisoners, and I will treat you and them with the kindness due to prisoners of war, but it is not in my power to relieve you or them from any disabilities incurred by taking arms against the United States.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General, U. S. Army, Commanding Department.

I replied to Major Williams, U. S. Army, the bearer of this letter, who told me that General McClellan had with him at Beverly a force of three thousand men, that I was in no condition to dictate terms, and was obliged to accept those of his general. I then formed the companies, and found that one officer an about forty men had left during the night. I now found my force to be twenty-two officers and three hundred and fifty-nine men of Colonel Heck’s regiment, and eight officers and one hundred and sixty-six men of my own (the Twentieth) regiment. With these I marched towards Beverly. On the way we were met by wagons containing hard bread for my men. On arriving at Beverly we stacked arms. Our men were at once put into comfortable quarters, under charge of a guard, and rations issued to them. The officers are on their parole, with the liberties of the town. I deem it my duty to return my thanks and the thanks of the officers here with me to General McClellan for the kind treatment our men have received from his troops.

I have now to bring to your attention the gallantry of our troops at Hart’s. this is shown by the mere statement that they held their position for three hours in the face of a force ten times their own number, and did not retire until they had lost in killed and wounded nearly one-third of their number. Having been confined to a bed of illness ever since my arrival here, I have been unable to find out our exact loss in killed and wounded, but from what I can gather it is as follows: Killed, Captain William M. Skipwith and Second Lieutenant Boyd, Twentieth Virginia Volunteers, and between 40 and 45 men, names not known. Wounded, Captain C. H. Irving, Twentieth Virginia Volunteers, severely; Captains Curry and Higginbotham, Colonel Heck’s regiment, and Second Lieutenant J. S. Dorset, Twentieth Virginia Volunteers, slightly; and about 20 men. Missing, Captain De Lagnel, C. S. Army, known to be badly wounded.

I, of course, lost all my baggage and camp equipage. I now wish to add that had I known the number of the enemy, and their means of getting to my rear, which all of my so-called reliable woodsmen informed me was impossible, I would have retreated on the night before, cutting down trees on both sides of the mountain, thus giving time to General Garnett to retreat by the way of Beverly and Huttonsville.

The loss of the enemy was not less than thirty killed and forty wounded.

When all so distinguished themselves by their gallantry it would be invidious to particularize, so I will only give a list of the companies engaged under the gallant De Lagnel: Company B, Twentieth Regiment, Lieutenant Williams commanding; Company D, Twentieth Regiment, Captain Skipwith and Lieutenant Dorset; Company E, Twentieth Regiment, Captain Irving; Company B, Colonel Heck’s regiment, Captain Curry; Company A, Colonel Hecks’ regiment, Captain Higginbotham, besides a detachment of twenty-one men from the two regiments under Lieutenant Boyd, Twentieth Regiment Virginia Volunteers.

Of the officers with the companies sent to re-enforce Captain De Langel I particularly observed Lieutenant Brander’s conduct in his efforts to rush his men on to their duty.

BEVERLY, VA., July 15, 1861.

I find on examination that I have failed to mention my whole force at Rich Mountain on the 11th instant. It was about thirteen hundred men, of whom certainly not more than three hundred and fifty at the utmost were engaged in the battle at Hart’s house. As I placed them there myself, I am positive on this point. The whole force opposed to me was nearly ten thousand; their force engaged at hart’s as before mentioned, three thousand.

I have also failed to mention that very early on the morning of the 11th I made two most urgent appeals to the chief commissary stationed there for three days’ rations of hard bread and bacon.

I have now only to give you a list of all the officers who are prisoners here, and to urgently request you will have our exchange effected at the earliest possible day, as it is and always will be our most ardent wish to shed the last drop of our blood in the defense of our noble cause.

Lieutenant Cols. John Pegram, Provisional Army C. S., and J. M. Heck, Virginia Volunteers; Capts. J. B. Moorman and H. Hall, of Colonel Hecks’ regiment; Capts. J. M. P. Atkinson and John C. Coleman, Twentieth Virginia Volunteers; Capts. George H. Smith and J. H. Everly, Colonel Hecks’s regiment; First Lieutenant John Clark, First Lieutenant A. F. Rice, and Third Lieutenant t. M. McCorkle, Twentieth Virginia Volunteers; Second Lieutenant Miles Harold, First Lieutenant M. W. Gamble, Second Lieutenant G. S. Harness, Third Lieutenant T. M. McCorkle, Twentieth Virginia Volunteer; Second Lieutenant Miles Harold, First Lieutenant M. W. Gamble, Second Lieutenant G. S. Harness, third Lieutenant P. D. Turley, and first Lieutenant John F. Cowan, Colonel Hecks’ regiment; First Lieutenant A. R. H. Ranson, Provisional Army C. S.; Third Lieutenant William H. Headspeth, Twentieth Virginia Volunteers, First Lieutenant George Bean, First Lieutenant William J. Hopkins, Second Lieutenant James W. Kee, Third Lieutenant Gransville J. Dyer, James P. Payne, and Second Lieutenant A. G. McGriffin, Colonel Hecks’ regiment; Second Lieutenant John S. Dorset, Twentieth Virginia Volunteers; First Lieutenant J. S. Bowman, Second Lieutenant J. K. Kiser, and Third Lieutenant William E. Plecker, Colonel Hecks’ regiment.

Killed, two officers and between forty and forty-five men; wounded five officers and about twenty men.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Lieutenant-Colonel, P. A. C. S.



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.