HDQRS. ARMY OF OCCUPATION WESTERN VIRGINIA,
Camp near Huttonsville, July 14, 1861.
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit, for the information of the Commanding General, the following report of the operations of the forces under my command from the time of my leaving Grafton. Previous to my departure from Grafton I became satisfied that a large body of the rebel army, supposed to consist of six or seven thousand men, under Brigadier General Robert S. Garnett, formerly of the U. S. Army, occupied an intrenched position at Laurel Hill, about thirteen miles south of Philippi, on the turnpike leading to Beverly, with the apparent intention of making a determined stand at that point; whereupon I at once resolved to push on with all the available force at my disposal, and endeavor, by making a rapid detour through Buckhannon, to reach Beverly, and strike their rear, cutting off their supply communication from Staunton.
As soon as I had concentrated my forces at Buckhannon I moved forward, and at the same time ordered General Morris to advance from Philippi, and take a commanding position about a mile and a half distant, and directly opposite the enemy’s works, thereby enabling him to divert their attention from me, also to watch their movements, and be in position to act promptly after I had reached their rear, at Beverly. General Morris promptly responded to my order, and secured the proper position with but slight resistance, and I pushed forward with my column as rapidly as my means of transportation would permit.
On the evening of the 9th instant I arrived at Roading Creek, near the base of Rich Mountain, where i found the enemy in considerable force had destroyed a bridge, and were strongly entrenched at a point where the road enters a defile leading up the mountain, about two miles distant from my camp.
On the morning of the 10th I ordered a reconnaissance in force, consisting of the Ninth and Fourth Ohio Volunteers, and Loomis’ battery, under the supervision of Lieutenant Poe, Topographical Engineers. This was pushed within two hundred yards of the enemy’s guns, and resulted in the loss of one man killed and one wounded, but the dense thickets with which their works were surrounded prevented the attainment of much positive or satisfactory information. It served, however, to confirm my previous supposition, that the entrenchments were held by a large force, with several guns in position to command the front approaches, and that a direct assault would result in a heavy and unnecessary loss of life.
These considerations at once determined me to make an effort to turn their flank and commence the attack from the rear. Accordingly I ordered General Rocecrans to move at 4 o’clock in the morning with the Nineteenth Ohio, the Eighth, Tenth, and Thirteenth Indiana Regiments, and
Burdsal’s dragoons, to cut his way through the almost impenetrable thickets of brush to the lofty summit of Rich Mountain, at Hart’s farm, about five miles distant, and to move thence at once down the turnpike road and attack the entrenchments in rear, and during the progress of his march to communicate with me every hour. The remainder of the force under my command to be held in readiness to assault in front as soon as Rosecrans’s musketry should indicate that he was immediately in their rear.
The order to general Resecrans to advance to attack the rear of the enemy’s lower entrenchments was not carried out, but his brigade remained at Hart’s farm during the remainder of the day and the night, and I received no communication from him after about 11 o’clock a. m., when he was still distant about a mile and a half from hart’s farm.
About the time I expected the general to reach the rear of their entrenchments I moved up all my available force to the front, and remained in person just in rear of the advance pickets, ready to assault when the indicated moment should arrive.
In the mean time i sent Lieutenant Poe to find such a position for our Artillery as would enable us to command the works. Late in the afternoon I received his report that he had found such a place. I immediately detailed a party to cut a road to it for our guns, but it was too late to get them into position before dark, and as I had received no intelligence whatever of General Rosecrans’ movements, I finally determined to return to camp, leaving merely sufficient force to cover the working party. Orders were then given to move up the guns with the entire available infantry at daybreak the following morning. As the troops were much fatigued, some delay occurred in moving from camp, and just as the guns were starting intelligence was received that the enemy had evacuated their works and fled over the mountains, leaving all their guns, means of transportation, ammunition, tents, and baggage behind.
Then, for the first time since 11 o’clock the previous day, i received a communication from General Rosecrans, giving me the first intimation that he had taken the enemy’s position at Hart’s farm, from which it appeared that he, with great difficulty and almost superhuman efforts on the part of his men, had forced his way up the precipitous side of the mountain, and at about 1 p. m. reached the summit, where he encountered a portion of the enemy’s force, with two guns in position behind earth and log works – affording protection to their men.
The attack was commenced by the enemy with heroic spirit and determination. they opened upon the advance of our column with volleys of musketry and rapid discharges of canister, killing several of our men, and at first throwing them into some confusion. They, however, soon rallied, and returned a brisk and accurate fire, which told with terrible effect in the enemy’s ranks – killing and wounding nearly every man at their guns. The troops then advanced, continuing their well-directed fire, until they drove the enemy from their position, and caused them to take flight down the turnpike towards their entrenchments at the base of the mountain.
The troops then encamped on the battle-field at about 2 o’ clock p. m., and remained there until the following morning, when I made a rapid march and occupied Beverly. I here learned that General Garnett, as soon as he discovered we were approaching his rear and cut off his retreat in this direction, abandoned his entrenchments at Laurel Hill, leaving his tents and other property, and had made a hasty retreat in the night over a rough country road leading towards Saint
George. General Morris had been repeatedly instructed by me to keep a close watch upon Garnett’s movements, and to be ready the moment he retreated to follow him up vigorously with all his available force, and crush him if possible; but, much to my surprise, when he discovered that Garnett had escaped, he only sent a portion of his force about eight miles, and then halted it for several hours, to
communicate with me bring up re-enforcements. This detention gave Garnett the opportunity to get far in advance, and had it not been for the rapid and well-directed march of the advance, conducted by Captain Benham, it is believed that the rebel general would have escaped unharmed. Captain Benham is entitled to great praise for prompt and energetic movement upon Garnett’s rear, the result of which will be seen from his report inclosed. This shows that General Garnett and about twenty others of the enemy were killed, and fifty, and fifty prisoners and two stands of colors and one rifle cannon taken, besides the baggage train and a large amount of other property. I take very great pleasure in recommending Captain Benham to the especial notice of the General-in-Chief. Immediately after learning that Garnett had retreated, I ordered Brigadier-General Hill, commanding at Grafton, to assemble all his disposable force, and endeavor, by a rapid march upon Saint George or West Union, to cut off the retreat of the rebels, but I have not yet heard the results of his movement. My last advises this evening report General Hill’s advance within four miles of the retreating rebels.
I have not time now to notice individual acts of merit and bravery displayed in the recent conflicts, but shall take an early opportunity of presenting them to you in detail. I cannot, however, let the present occasion pass without making mention of the services of Brigadier-General Rosecrans in conducting his command up the very precipitous sides of the mountains and overcoming the formidable obstacles which impeded his progress; also for the very handsome manner in which he planned and directed his attack upon the rebels at hart’s farm, carrying them after a stout and determined resistance.
I also conceive it to be due to my volunteer aide-de-camp, Colonel F. W. Lander, to speak of his services in the connection. He, by the request of General Rosecrans, accompanied his column, and by his experience assisted materially in concluding the troops over a most difficult country, and displayed extraordinary activity and courage in the battle. He escaped unhurt, having the horse under him disabled by a canister shot.
I pursued the retreating rebels yesterday as far as Cheat River, and became satisfied that they would not stop short of Staunton. I therefore returned to this camp, which commands the communication between Eastern and Western Virginia, over the Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike.
General Garnett’s command when last heard from were retreating in great confusion near the North Branch of the Potomac, on the road leading from West Union to Williamsport.
I trust I will not be regarded as merely conforming to a formula when I express the great obligations due to my personal and general staff, who by their good judgment, untiring energy, and cool conduct have enabled me to overcome the inevitable difficulties of an imperfect and hasty organization, and to accomplish whatever good result have been achieved. As far as I have myself observed and learned from their officers, the conduct of the volunteers who participated in the actions at Rich Mountain and at Carrick’s Ford was unexceptionable. They invariably displayed an ardent desire to meet the enemy, and
great gallantry in action, and in my judgment all they require to make good and reliable soldiers is a little more drill and discipline.
The result of the action at Rich Mountain, as nearly as can be ascertained, were as follows:
Our loss in killed, 12; wounded, 59; no prisoners. The loss of the enemy in killed, 135; wounded and prisoners not yet reported, as near as can be determined between 800 and 900. Two brass 6-pounder cannon, a large number of muskets, two stands of colors, and other property were take. Two 6-pounder brass cannon were captured at the lower entrenchments with a large wagon train, with horses and a large number of tents.
But the really important results of these operations are the complete rout and annihilation of the rebel forces; the capture of one and the death of the other of their leaders; that the position of Western Virginia is entirely freed from their presence, and that there is now not one single organized band of the rebels on this side of the mountain north of the Kanawha Valley.
After my arrival at Beverly I received a note from Colonel Pegram, containing a proposition to surrender his command as prisoners of war. This note with my reply are inclosed. His command, consisting of 33 commissioned officers and 560 men, are now prisoners.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General, U.S. Army, Commanding.
Colonel E. D. TOWNSEND,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Hdqrs. of the Army, Washington, D.C.
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.