IN CAMP AT ELKWATER.
ABOUT this time the enemy was organizing camps for the enlistment and drill of recruits at various points near our lines. One of these was at the base of Elk mountain, at a place called Mingo Flats, one at Huntersville and another at Lewisburg. To break up these camps, and capture or destroy their supplies was a desideratum, inasmuch as the inclement season was coming on, and it was important for us to render such posts untenable and thus put an end to enlistments.
On the 6th of October, Gen. Reynolds ordered out the 2nd Virginia, 3d Ohio, 6th Ohio, Baum's battery and one battalion of cavalry, the colonel of the 3rd Ohio being placed in command. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the expedition left Elkwater. The heavy rains had rendered the narrow road almost impassable, and the mountain streams were swollen bank full; but the column moved forward, and when night fell on that wild and dreary region, they found themselves in a deserted rebel camp, where they remained without shelter, on the wet ground, until morning. It was a fearful night. The rain fell almost in torrents, seeming to ooze from the evergreens over our heads, and as the drops fell on the weary bodies of the soldiers, they cut like icicles, chilling one to the very heart. Any who could were glad to seek shelter under a pile of brush, or under the friendly protection of a fence or pile of stones. The next morning the command was out bright and early, ready for the day's work. The line of march was taken up, and by noon we arrived at Mingo Flats, but the enemy had heard of the approach of the column, and hastened to Huntersville. The cavalry was sent in pursuit and after following them a few miles, found the tents, wagons, guns, etc., of the confederates all in a pile burning, and their cartridge boxes strewed along the way, while several boxes of cartridges were soaking in a stream near by. This, aside from the empty honor of having been bushwhacked, was the sum total of our whole work, and we prepared to return to camp. The column started back, slept on the wet ground that night, and reached camp the next day, wading through the swollen streams more than a dozen times in the one morning.
On the twentieth of the month the detachment of the Second, which had been detained at Beverly for post duty, rejoined the regiment at Elkwater, and the joy of meeting was unbounded. The severe campaigning through which we had just passed had tested the capabilities of the men for the hardships incident to a soldier's life. Many of the men of the regiment were broken down and disabled, and a number were discharged, leaving a body of hardy and brave men, fitted for the most onerous duties of the hard service in the mountains. The regiment was now fitted out with new guns, the best make of Minie muskets. The old muskets were turned back to the government without the shedding of a single tear. It is true the venerable weapons had seen some very active service; some of them had poured forth their contents into the ranks of the enemy, and kicked back about as hard into the shoulders of the men manning them, but these considerations failed to evoke much sympathy. We were tired of carrying howitzers. The order was now given to build winter quarters, and every day the clanking axe could be heard on the hill sides felling trees. Drilling, building quarters and recuperating were the order of the day. Many foraging expeditions were made into the more fertile parts of the valleys and hills to get hay and corn for the use of the horses, and sometimes for something palatable for the men.
On November 11th a party of eighty men went from the Second, scouring the country in the direction of Huntersville, scaring away confederate recruiting officers and soldiers who were on furloughs to their homes. A few prisoners were captured and a large number of cattle brought into camp by them. The regiment had inspired such terror among the bushwhackers that not so much of that warfare was indulged in. Though not a thousand strong, by their skill as marksmen and their indomitable courage, the regiment had become a terror to all the enemy in the Cheat and Elkwater section, and were masters of the whole region.
November 13th Company G of the regiment was detached for transfer to the artillery arm of the service, forming afterward battery G of the First West Virginia Light Artillery. They entered upon their new and untried duties as the only battery we now had in that section, the others having been ordered away. The service of this gallant battery was so intimately connected with that of our regiment, that its history will form a part of that of the regiment, its presence being noted in order of time, in all the battles in which it was engaged.
On the 5th of December a small detachment of the regiment was ordered out with two days' rations, to capture some rebel mail carriers near Roaring Creek on the Buckhannon pike. They brought into camp two rustics in butternut suits, claiming to be peaceable farmers. Under the butternut coats were confederate uniforms, and in their shirt bosoms were important letters from prominent citizens to the confederate Gen. "Bill" (Mudwall) Jackson, giving him full details of our forces and operations. Many of these old mountaineers were rebel in sentiment, and we were kept constantly on the alert, to prevent them from giving information to the enemy.
On December 13th, an expedition consisting of 250 of our regiment, 650 of the 9th Indiana, 400 of the 25th Ohio, 300 of the 13th Indiana, 130 of the 32d Ohio and 30 of Bracken's cavalry, attacked the camp of the enemy on the summit of the Allegheny mountains, generally known as Camp Baldwin. The camp was in command of Gen. E. Johnson of Georgia. The 2d left its camp at Elkwater on the 10th of the month, taking the path over Becca creek to Cheat Mountain summit, arriving there about 9 o'clock at night. They remained there until the morning of the 12th, awaiting the arrival of the rest of the troops from Beverly and Huttonville. The line of march was taken up that day, the command reaching Greenbrier camp about 9 p. m., remaining here until about 11 o'clock, when the march was resumed. Here the force was divided, the 9th Indiana and the 2d Va., taking the Greenbank road to the right, while the rest of the command followed the Staunton pike, under command of Brig. Gen. Robert H. Milroy, who kept on in the darkness until he came within half a mile of the enemy's camp when he halted. Hastily reconnoitering his position, he began the ascent of the mountain. Though weak and worn by their long night's march, the soldiers pressed forward, and at early dawn they reached the summit. They were to wait here for the attack of the other column, but they came upon the enemy's pickets, who fell back on their camp. Col. Jones, in command of the advance, seeing that his approach would be known, ordered Lieut. McDonald of the Thirteenth Indiana to pursue them, the regiment pressing over the rocky ground until it came to the edge of the woods in full view of the camp. The enemy was expecting them and was in line of battle. McDonald immediately deployed his men and the battle began, and after a few rounds the enemy retreated in great confusion leaving their dead and wounded behind them. Their officers succeeded, however, in rallying them, and they advanced with great determination, when the contest raged fiercely. The enemy was repeatedly driven back to his cabins, but as often returned to the fight, until after three hours fighting, the ammunition being nearly exhausted, McDonald ordered his men to fall back. This was made the more necessary, from the fact that the other column did not make its appearance. Col. Moody in command, found the march more difficult than he expected, the hill being very steep, and for three miles his men had to toil up the hillside, covered with trees felled by the enemy. The combined attack was to have been made before daylight, but the first column did not reach the summit of the mountain until daylight, and the other not until 8 o'clock, or just after McDonald had fallen back. Thus Col. Moody's division had also to encounter the whole force of the enemy. This they did in the most gallant manner, advancing with cheers, and driving the enemy back to within 200 yards of their camp. The confederate fire then became so destructive, that our troops were compelled to take shelter behind the logs and trees, where their fire was so effective, that the enemy was unable to dislodge them. Majors Milroy and Owens maintained their position here for a long time against three times their number, when seeing no prospect of being supported by the other column, they too fell back. The loss of our command was 137, while our regiment lost 9, among whom was Lieut. Alfred Sickman of Company G, who was instantly killed. Lieut. Sickman was a cool, brave and gallant officer. He ascended the mountain in a meditative mood, as if he apprehended the danger into which he was about to rush, and when the charge was made, he went into it with undaunted courage.
The official report of the confederate commander, Gen. E. Johnson, shows his forces to have been 1,200, anti their loss a heavy one, including some of their best line officers. Under the adverse circumstances, with the enemy's camp fortified, it was a well fought battle, and reflected great credit on the gallant men who bore the brunt of the fighting, which lasted at the several points from 7 o'clock in the morning until 2 o'clock in the afternoon, inflicting a much heavier loss on the enemy than was suffered by our forces. Maj. Owens complimented highly the men of his regiment for their brave conduct on the field. The regiment then returned to its camp at Elkwater.
Several scouting parties were sent out during the rest of the month to break up marauding parties of the enemy, and clear the country of the bands sent to harass our lines. The service of this kind, and constant and severe picket duty, were so heavy that but little rest was given the men. Neither weather nor the numbers of the enemy, deterred the expeditions that covered almost every foot of the surrounding country. Settled in our winter quarters, behind a line of fortifications, we had no fear of the enemy even in greater numbers than our depleted regiment, which was now left alone to protect the Elkwater valley and hold the outposts of our entire army. Deep snow added to the discomforts of the situation, but it brought a new amusement to the troops, that of hunting, which was freely indulged in by those who liked the sport. The report was soon circulated that deer were being killed, which created considerable excitement, as many of the men had never seen the animal at freedom in his native wilds. The origin of the report was in a hunting expedition of Serg'ts. D. F. Williamson and G. A. Quimby, who, after tramping over the hills for several hours, brought down a fine young animal, which they thought would make very good eating. It was soon reported in camp that they had shot a deer, and the demand for it exceeded far the supply, the fortunate hunters selling it out at twenty-five cents per pound. Several of the officers were supplied, and the general verdict was that it was a fine specimen of deer. It was a long time before the sergeants dared to tell the purchasers of their game that their deer was nothing more than a common calf. It is believed that more deer of this kind were caught than the native and genuine article. The sport was stimulated by this capture and afforded a great deal of fun, if nothing more substantial.
One cool morning in December, a scouting party was sent out to the mountains, there being a slight fall of snow, and the streams high. They headed for "Windy hollow," wading the river, crossing a ridge and then followed a road that ran along a stream, until they reached a hill which they climbed. On top of the hill they went into camp, building good fires, around which they tried to rest for the night. The snow had melted, and the ground was very wet, making a cold, disagreeable resting place. They lay so close to the fire that nearly everyone of them burned their clothes, and S. J. Clendaniel, of Company I, nearly burned his shoes off his feet, while Billy Bowser, of Company A, lay with his back to the fire, and his suit was burned so that nothing was left but his drawers, and he wore a standing flag of truce. Sam. Kent, Sam. Howe, "Hop" Lancaster, Jehu Dehaven and "Graball," of Company I, were among others on the scout, some of whom received the seeds of disease that never left them. The party returned to camp without accomplishing anything.
Shortly before the battle of Allegheny Mountain, another party was sent out, many of the same men being on it, and were attacked at Elk Mountain, one of the men being wounded by bushwhackers. John Oaks, of Company K, was sent to camp for reinforcements, and Serg't Black, of Company A, with a number of men, went to the relief of the party that had been attacked. They went on to the Little Meadows, arriving there at daylight, thence to Big Springs. Another detail was sent out, making three in all for this one scout. The roads were fearfully rough, in some places impassable, and the men were greatly fatigued and broken down. The return to camp was made without any incidents of special note, and without accomplishing anything of real value.
The frequent tramps out on the hills brought some very queer experiences. One that afforded a good deal of amusement at the time, was the fright received by a member of Company G. An old man lived on the mountains near camp, who had his coffin ready made and in his room, into which he would get when anyone approached the house. On one occasion a member of Company G went to the house, when the old man softly stole into his coffin, and pretended that he was no longer of the land of the living. Company G stepped into the house where all was quiet, and saw a watch hanging on the wall. Further investigation revealed the old man at rest in his narrow wooden house. Said the visitor, "Well, the old man is dead, and I will take his watch, he will not have any further use for it," and went to get it, when a groan from the depths of the coffin, arrested his progress, and, to his horror, he saw the old fellow rise as if from the dead, and get out of the coffin. Horror struck, the intruder jumped through a window, badly cutting his arm on the glass, and hastily made his way to camp.
Every device imaginable was called into service, to while away the hours, and there was no lack of fun and amusement such as the ingenuity of soldiers alone could make and enjoy, with the limited resources at their command. The contact with the mountaineers occasioned a good deal of interest and enjoyment, and sometimes experiences that were not pleasant. Thus the month were away, and the stirring events of war had almost been forgotten, when the news came that confederate officers were enlisting and gathering troops up, the valley, and the word was passed to put a stop to it.
On December 31st a detachment of 400 men of the Twenty-fifth Ohio, and 38 of Bracken's cavalry from Huttonville, and 300 of the Second Virginia, under command of Maj. Webster, of the Twenty-fifth, went to Huntersville to break up the force concentrating there. Shortly after leaving Elkwater they were followed by the rest of the two regiments. It was a severe march, in the dead of winter, with the roads blockaded, and drenching rain and sleet, making a distance of 102 miles in a little less than six days, penetrating the enemy's country thirty miles further than any of our troops had before gone. The expedition was a very successful one, resulting in the complete dispersion of the enemy, who Maj. Webster believed, consisted of 400 cavalry and several hundred of mounted militia, and two companies of infantry. The regular force was stated by Gen. E. Johnson, in command of the rebel troops at Monterey, to be 250. Our force in action consisted of about 700 men, which Gen. Johnson magnified into a force of from 4,000 to 5,000. The contest was a spirited one, but with very little loss on either side, one man of the Twenty-fifth Ohio being wounded; the loss of the enemy not being known. The men were eager for action and charged upon the rebel forces in the town with great impetuosity, driving everything before them. A large quantity of rebel stores was captured, estimated to be worth $30,000, all of which was destroyed by fire. In his report of the expedition, Maj. Webster specially mentions Maj. Owens, Capts. Planky, Gibson and McNally, and Lieuts. West, Ecker, Day, Hunter, Smyth, Huggins and Weaver, of the Second, for the prompt, efficient and gallant manner in which they performed their duty on the march and in action. Of the men, he says: "Too much praise cannot be awarded. They at all times cheerfully submitted to necessary discipline. For one hour and a-half in which they were engaged in driving the enemy from cover to cover, a distance of two miles, not a man flinched." Upon our return to camp, the word was passed that we would change our quarters to Cheat Mountain, and all was bustle and excitement over the matter.
Severe work was also being done in other portions of Western Virginia. Confederate Gen. Henry A. Wise was superseded by Gen. John B. Floyd early in August, who, under the influence of the inspiring news from Bull Run, determined to gain possession of the Valley of the Kanawha, resulting in some spirited fighting during the fall. In the latter part of August, a body of confederate cavalry under command of acting Col. Jenkins, was ambushed at Piggott's Mill, and the demoralization was so complete, that Gen. Wise in his official report says he met men with their subordinate officers, flying at 5 miles distance from the enemy, and so panic struck, that even there they could not be rallied or led back to look after the dead and wounded.
An ambuscade and skirmish between Wise's forces and a small force of union troops occurred September 4th, with a small loss, and no definite results.
On the last day of August, Gen. Rosecrans advanced southward over Krutz and Powell mountains to Summersville, drove back the enemy's advance posts, and pushed on by a forced march of seventeen miles and a half toward Gauley river, finding the enemy on the heights over looking Carnifix Ferry. The march of Rosecrans was through the broken country, and on the difficult and well nigh impassable roads of the mountains. Climbing the rugged mountains and dragging their heavy cannon after them, was but a part of the work of these brave men. Crossing the summit of the mountains, they encountered on the other side a body of cavalry which was driven before them. They were soon on their way to Summersville, and hearing firing ahead, they double quicked to the scene of conflict, in time to see the rebels fleeing along the hillsides beyond. Pressing forward they soon came upon the enemy's pickets, and the firing of the advance commenced. Having now arrived in presence of the main body of rebels, Gen. Benham was sent forward to reconnoiter their position. The brigade went forward and while laboring up the hill with the artillery, suddenly a prolonged and terrific roar of musketry was heard in the woods directly in their front. These severe and terrible volleys of the rebels were met in an instant, by the well directed and deliberate volleys of the gallant brigade. Ere long the artillery opened, making grim music among the mountains. The 12th Ohio was ordered up. Charging along at double quick with thundering cheers, they dashed into the thicket out of which the volleys rang. Cannon and howitzers followed heavily after, and directly McCook's German brigade was ordered to charge the rebels' intrenchments. It was just what they desired, and the colonel galloped along the lines, telling the brave boys what work was before them. Cheer after cheer rent the air at this announcement and they moved steadily forward as on parade, to do their dreadful work. A part of them had charged almost to the enemy's works, when they were recalled. Night was coming on and it was not deemed prudent to storm the works in the dark. Gallantly had they fought for four long hours and now they lay down to sleep resting on their arms, a part of them within two or three hundred yards of the fort. When morning came, the enemy was gone, leaving behind them large quantities of ammunition and stores, and hastily crossed the Gauley river and destroyed the ferry boat so that our troops might not follow. We lost about 120 killed and wounded, Col. Lowe, of the 12th Ohio being among the killed. The rebels retreated to Meadow Bridge.
In the northeast of Western Virginia Gen. Kelley, who held and guarded the Allegheny section of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, started from New Creek on the night of the 25th of October, advanced rapidly to Romney, the capital of Hampshire county, driving out a rebel battalion. It was a very spirited dash, well worthy of the gallant boys who were guarding that portion of the State. Placed against anything like equal numbers, they were well nigh invincible, and when they came upon the rebels, on this occasion, they swept upon them like a tornado, capturing two cannons, sixty prisoners, several hundred stand of arms, with all the camp equipage, provisions and munitions of war. It was a severe blow to the enemy and for a time cleared this portion of the State of rebels.
On the 10th of November, just after 7 o'clock in the evening, 150 men of the Ninth Virginia Infantry, a new regiment just being formed, was completely surprised by 700 cavalry, under command of Colonel Jenkins, the guerrilla chief, all being killed or captured, except fifty or sixty who escaped. The place was held by Jenkins until the next morning, when Col. Zeigler and his brave Fifth Virginia boys came upon the scene, accompanied by a number of the Home Guards of Lawrence county, Ohio, and the confederates were driven from the place on the double quick. The Home Guards were so incensed at the secession citizens of the place who, it was claimed, encouraged Jenkins, that they set fire to the town, and a large portion of it was burned.
Rosecranz, who was now in command of all the troops in Western Virginia, had posted himself at Gauley Mountain on New river, three miles above its junction with the Gauley river. Floyd and Wise, after Lee's departure, took position on the southside of the river and employed themselves in intercepting and cutting off the union teamsters engaged in supplying our troops. To put an end to this petty warfare Rosecrans advanced against Floyd. The attack in front was duly made on November 12th and Floyd retreated, and on the 14th Floyd's rear guard of cavalry was attacked and driven by Benham, its colonel, St. George Croghan, being killed. No further pursuit was attempted. Floyd retreated to Peterstown, more than 50 miles southward. Floyd was then ordered with his brigade to Tennessee, and Wise's brigade went to Richmond, from which place it was sent to Roanoke Island.
On the 29th of December, Suttonville garrisoned by Rowand's company of the First Virginia cavalry, was attacked by 135 rebel guerillas, and the company was compelled to retreat to Weston, when the guerillas burned the town. Col. Crook, with four companies, went in search of the same gang from Summersville, encountered them in Clay and Braxton, killing six, the rest being chased into the mountains. On the 30th Col. Anisansel, with three companies of the First Virginia Cavalry, and three of the Third Virginia Infantry, marched to punish the marauders, and killed 22, thus breaking up their nest in the Glades. There wasn't another conflict with guerillas at Guyandotte, January 14, 1862, which closed operations in Western Virginia, until the grand movement of our armies in the spring.