CAMP AT CHEAT MOUNTAIN SUMMIT.
ON THE 7th of January, 1862, our regiment was ordered to pack up and march to the camp on Cheat Mountain Summit, and relieve the Ninth Indiana, which was sent to Kentucky. We left our winter quarters in the picturesque little valley with some regret, and with many misgivings as to the comfort that would attend us on top of the mountains. Two days march and we were in camp amid the towering pines, where we remained until April 5th, almost three months cut off entirely from all forms of civilization, except that of our own isolated lives, and with no contact with the active world that lay below us miles away. Our stay on the bleak summit of Cheat Mountain, was one devoid of much interest, and it required all the ingenuity of the soldiers in the quarters, to provide amusements and pastimes to while away the long winter months. There was a great amount of picket and guard duty, but not sufficient to employ the time of the men, who had been used to such an active life for the past six months. Heavy guards were thrown out on the dismal posts and the heavy hours hung heavily on the hands of the faithful sentinels; but they regarded neither the storms, the hardships nor the dangers that beset them, but bravely met the demands of duty, content to serve their country in whatever form the call to duty came.
On the 22d of January, 1862, the men of the regiment were gladdened by the appearance of Company, B, this being the first time the company had been with us since the organization of the regiment. After the regiment had been formally organized at Beverly in July, Company B was ordered to Bealington, on the pike between Beverly and Phillippi, where it was entrusted with the protection of twenty-five to thirty miles of mail and transportation on the Fairmont, Morgantown and Beverly roads, and served as scouts, pickets, patrols and escorts against the rebel guerillas that infested the mountains, and with whom they had many collisions. While they missed the stirring events through which the rest of the companies passed, in the period referred to, their services were no less valuable on that account, as they did a work that was essential to the safety of their comrades in front. They endured many hardships and had all the dangers that surround a small command, in a country where bushwhacking was the favorite method of warfare by the enemy. In all those six months the communications of our army with the source of supplies were kept open and clear.
Our location was such that we were compelled to carry wood fit for fuel a long distance, and chop it from the trees before it could be carried. It was an almost hourly scene to see some one of the messes, ankle or waist deep in the snow, chopping the beech and birch, and then slowly and laboriously carrying great loads of it to their quarters. It was hard work, but had the merit of giving that form of exercise to the men which was no doubt beneficial, but not in the least enjoyed. Cutting and carrying wood in the deep snow, and in the fierce and bitterly cold winds of the summit, was not a pastime, and had no pleasures comparable to those of the more exciting and dangerous work incident to our stay in Elkwater Valley. But when off duty, after the day's routine, when the tender flapjack, the juicy mess pork and the fragrant coffee had done their work of mellowing our moods, and filling our stomachs, more gentle and agreeable hours filled our barracks with pleasure. The sound of revelry and mirth greeted the ear, and strange contortions of the body greeted the eye. One of our furloughed boys returned from civilization and brought with him a violin, a flute and several jewsharps. A tambourine was made and a bayonet used as a triangle, and an orchestra was formed that made as merry music as ever willing feet moved to. Who can forget those scenes of rare enjoyment? Who would forget them if he could? They were oases in a life that had so much of desert, and many a choice spirit, languishing for home, tired, despondent, utterly cast down, was given renewed life by the merry souls that were always on the lookout for the bright side of even the most gloomy life. Our life on cheat Mountain is a precious memory, but it is saddened by the untimely death of a few of our noble comrades who, far from home and loved ones, gave up their lives for country.
In the three months we were here in camp, numerous scouting parties were sent out, and there was scarcely a day that some of the men were not out in the wilds of the mountains, or in the depths of the valleys, making it lively for marauding parties of the enemy, and very uncomfortable for the rebel garrison on Allegheny heights, but a few miles away, and in plain view of our camp. No matter how fierce the mountain storms, or severe the cold, the details were sent out; and in many cases it seemed a hardship that might be spared, but no duty was omitted. The several scouting parties, foraging expeditions, reconnoisances, forays, their destination and their service, made up of themselves a work that cannot be described in words, or computed in the language of figures. This was the outpost of all that vast and dangerous mountain region. That comparatively small band stood alone to protect our long extended line, while within sight of us, across the valley on the Alleghenies, was the outpost of the confederates, a force larger than ours, watching our every movement, and threatening us all through the winter. Back of them was the active energy of the enemy, planning for the spring campaign, and getting ready to gain a stronger hold on the state, and get nearer to the Ohio river. In all the campaigning of that winter, there was no other service like this, and none which could be compared with it in severity, in any department of our army. We were literally above the clouds, and in full sweep of the terrific wind storms that raged often day and night. The camp was on the summit, and was nearly, if not quite, 4000 feet above the level of the sea, the highest union camp during the war, and perhaps the highest camp of either army, where a command was quartered any length of time. The camp of the enemy on Allegheny Mountain was not quite so high, though there was not much difference. Often without vegetables, with nothing but hard crackers and the thickest of mess pork, fat and juicy, to eat, we were subjected to considerable sickness; and among the rest a mild form of scurvy, with jaundice and fevers. The strongest constitutions were severely tried, but when that hard winter was over, there remained a body of hardy men, that stood the succeeding campaigns as but few men could, and were among the strongest and bravest of the union forces. Opportunities for improvement were also given those who desired them, and for those who cared for literary work, there was enough time to con many a valuable text book, and read many a valuable and interesting work, in the realms of theology, literature and science. On the 22d of February, a meeting was held to celebrate Washington's birthday, and it was one of great interest to every soldier there. Amid the booming of cannons, and the cheers of the patriotic men of the regiment, fervid speeches were made, extoling the virtues of the Father of his Country, and pledging ourselves to fidelity to the Nation which we had sworn to defend against all its enemies.
In the early part of March, Lieut. A. J. Weaver, of Company K, with 63 picked men from the companies of the regiment, was sent to destroy a lot of confederate supplies at Greenbank, about 35 miles from camp, between which place and Cheat Mountain Summit, was the camp of the enemy on Allegheny Mountain. The route of the detail was a circuitous one, through the bleak mountains. They reached Greenbank at 2 o'clock the next morning. When they reached the outskirts of the town, Lieut. Weaver sent Sergt. Quimby, of Company K, with ten men ahead to reconnoiter, and instructed him to return within halt an hour. This detail stopped at the first house they came to, and there learned that there were only about half a dozen confederate soldiers in Greenbank, and that they were sleeping in a church. After short consultation, the detail concluded to go ahead and surround the church and capture the sleeping enemy. They had just got inside the churchyard, finding the church vacant, when they saw in the dim moonlight a squad of men coming down the street toward the church. They of course thought them to be the confederate soldiers, so they dropped down behind the fence, intending to fire on them. Just as the sergeant was ready to give the command to fire, he heard Lieut. Weaver's voice, which undoubtedly prevented some sad work. After firing a building containing large quantities of stores, the party returned to camp, arriving there after dark, nearly exhausted.
In the latter part of March other troops began to arrive on the summit, preparatory to an advance on the enemy camped on Allegheny Mountain. Large quantities of provisions, tents, camp equipage, etc., were brought up, and the word given that ere long active service in the field would again begin. On April 4th word was received that the rebels in Camp Allegheny were evacuating the place, and immediate preparations were made to advance by our command. On the 5th the line of march was taken up, and we left Cheat Mountain summit never again to camp on its inhospitable heights. The forces were under the command of the brave brigadier general, Robert H. Milroy, a brief account of whose life and service is here given.
Robert Huston Milroy, son of Gen. Samuel and Martha Milroy, was born in Washington county, Ind., June 11, 1816, about seven months before the territory was admitted as a State. His father was a hard-working, successful farmer, was a member of the first constitutional convention of Indiana, and afterward for a number of years was a member of the legislature of that State, and at one time speaker of the House. The son aided the father in all the hard work of the farm until his 25th year. Prior to this he had received only a country schooling, but for years had been strongly desirous to secure an education at West Point, or at some college. But his father being a self-educated man, refused this desire of the son, for the reason that he believed that a collegiate education was more injurious than beneficial, and pointing to his fine library told Robert to educate himself. During the winter of 1840-41, his father sent him to Pennsylvania to visit two half uncles, and to collect from them a balance of $200 due from his grandfather's estate, which his father told him to appropriate to his own use in visiting the large eastern cities. But on receiving the money Robert determined to use it in obtaining his highest desire, a collegiate military education. He had heard favorably of Norwich Military University at Norwich, Vt. Capt. A. Partridge, formerly superintendent at West Point, president, and went there and entered for study. By intense application to study, almost day and night, for two years and seven months, he was graduated with the degrees of Master of Military Science, Master of Civil Engineering and Bachelor of Arts. After vainly trying to get a commission as lieutenant in the regular army, he returned home in the spring of 1844 and began the study of law. In the spring of 1845 he went to Texas, took the oath of allegiance to "The Lone Star," and voted for its annexation to the United States. In the Fall of that year he returned home on account of the death of his father, and resumed the study of law. On the breaking out of the war with Mexico, he promptly raised a company of volunteers and was mustered into the service of the United States for one year as captain of Company C, First Indiana Infantry, a part of the Indiana brigade of Brigadier Gen. Joe Lane. When the year was up, Capt. Milroy recruited another company for the war, but it was not accepted. After the muster out of his company, Capt. Milroy returned to his home in Delphi, Ind., and again resumed the study of law. He attended a course of instruction in the Law Department of the Indiana State University during the winter of 1848-9, and was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Law.
In May, 1849, he was married to Miss Mary Jane Armitage, of Delphi, and was admitted to the practice of law soon thereafter. In the fall of that year he was elected a member of the convention to remodel the constitution of his state. In 1852 he was appointed circuit Judge, and upon the expiration of his term, in 1854, he moved to Rensselear, Ind., where he continued the practice of law, until the breaking out of the rebellion in April, 1861. Seeing clearly several months prior to that event, that war was inevitable, Judge Milroy, on February 4, 1861, issued a stirring call for the prompt organization of volunteer companies all over the state, to be ready with the volunteers of other states, to crush the coming rebellion in its infancy, and requested that all men qualified for military service, who desired to join such a company at Rensselear, to give or send their names to him, and as soon as a sufficient number of names was received, a meeting would be called for the election of officers, which was done. This was the first call made for volunteers for the great war. When war came, Indiana was called on for 60 companies of three months troops, and Capt. Milroy at once tendered his already organized company, which was mustered into the service April 24, 1861, as a part of the Ninth Indiana Infantry, of which Capt. Milroy was elected colonel. He soon received an order to report with his regiment to Col. B. F. Kelley, at Grafton, Va., and crossed the Ohio river into Virginia, May 30, reporting to Col. Kelley, June 1. He took part in the battle of Phillippi, the first of the war, and his regiment was in the advance in the pursuit of Gen. Garnett, who was killed at Carrick's ford. The three months regiments then returned home.
Colonel Milroy went home with his regiment, but before disbanding, requested them to re-enlist for three years, and by September 12th, he had his regiment filled to the limit. He was appointed brigadier general to date from September 3d, but was not assigned to the command of a brigade until October 10, remaining with his regiment. He reported to General Reynolds at Elkwater on September 19th, and took part in all the campaigns of that section. On December 10, General Reynolds was transferred to another field, and Gen. Milroy was left in sole command of the Cheat Mountain region. He fought the battle of Allegheny Mountain December 13, and directed the expedition to Huntersville December 31, after which the troops went into quarters for the winter. The history of Gen. Milroy from this time until the return to Western Virginia, after the Second Bull Run, is that of our brigade, which he led in every battle and on every march. The full account may be seen in the succeeding chapters, all of his official papers that can be reached, being quoted almost in full.
November 7, 1862, Gen. Milroy left our brigade, and went to New Creek, where he had eight regiments of Infantry, two batteries and three cavalry companies under his command. On December 11, he moved his command from New Creek to Petersburg, and while there sent out scouting parties to Franklin, Brock's Gap settlement and Wardensville, and captured a number of prisoners. On the 21st he sent Gen. Cluseret with his brigade to Strasburg, which he captured, and then to Winchester which he occupied December 25, where Gen. Milroy went January 1, 1863. Here the general received his commission as major general, to date from November 29, 1862, and was presented with a very fine sword by the officers of his command, as a mark of their confidence and esteem. He was very active while here and did good service.
As there has been a great deal of criticism of the action of Gen. Milroy at WInchester from June 12 to 16, 1863, it is but just to state briefly some facts relating to it. In volume 7 of the "Rebellion Records," will be found Gen. Milroy's report and letter relating to the affair, which the survivors of the old Second Virginia, will do well to read, as a vindication of their beloved general, whose memory has been aspersed without cause. Gen. Milroy had a positive order to remain at Winchester, and never received orders to evacuate it. In obedience to the order he remained there, until he demonstrated the impossibility of remaining longer without being annihilated, or compelled to surrender. The former was not demanded for the good of the service, and the latter with him was impossible. He had less than 7,000 effective men, and with that small force would not have deemed it his duty to await the approach of Lee's army, had he known they were coming that way. He had a right to expect that if Lee's army advanced against him from Hooker's front, that he would be informed of it by the general-in-chief, through Gen. Schenck, but no such information was ever received. Gen. Milroy knew nothing of the presence of Lee's army until the end of the second day's fighting, when he captured some prisoners from whom he learned he was fighting Lee's army, which then had him surrounded. He fought them till 8 o'clock on the evening of the third day when his ammunition and provisions, and all hope of succor, being exhausted, he cut his way out at daybreak on the fourth day, June 15, 1863, and got through with over 6,000 effective men, who were on duty in July, as was amply proven before the Court of Inquiry called at his request in August, 1863. As soon as the general-in-chief, Halleck, learned that Milroy had arrived at Harper's Ferry, he telegraphed Gen. Schenck in terms very insulting to Milroy, to give him no command at that place. By orders from Gen. Schenck, he then proceeded to Baltimore, thence to Bloody Run in Bedford county, Pa., where some 3,000 of his command were, that had come through by way of Hancock. He was actively employed, and was preparing to move to the attack on a considerable rebel force in McConnelsburg, where he received an order on the 26th, from Gen. Couch, in whose department he was then acting, to turn over his command to Col. Pierce, Twelfth Pennsylvania cavalry, and report at once to Gen. Schenck in Baltimore, which he did, when by order of the general-in-chief, he was placed in arrest. Thus it was for doing his duty, and staying the advance of Lee's army of 60,000 men for four days, which delay enabled, Gen. Meade to gain time and interrupt Lee's march, and choose the ground to fight the great pivotal battle of the war at Gettysburg, he was placed in arrest like a felon, and his command by his absence greatly crippled in its efficiency, and he made the victim of malice. There being no charges or causes assigned in the order of arrest, and none being furnished after repeated demand, Gen. Milroy demanded a court of Inquiry, to investigate and report upon the evacuation of Winchester. This court was ordered August 4, 1863, and completed its labors September 7, and by its findings and report, and the opinion of President Lincoln thereon October 27, Gen. Milroy was wholly exonerated from all blame. It was an astounding affair, and an act of injustice to a brave and patriotic general, that the exigencies of the service could not excuse.
On May 13, 1864, after being out of command 10 months and 17 days, he received orders to report to Maj. Gen. Thomas, at Nashville, Tenn., for duty, where he arrived on the 22d. While Gen. Milroy was in command in Tennessee, his time was occupied in guarding the various lines of transportation, and occasionally in heavy skirmishing with guerillas. In September he had several engagements with Gens. Williams and Wheeler, and later fought Gens. Forrest and Bates. On December 7th he had a desperate encounter with Bates, near Murfreesboro, in which Bates and Forrest were defeated with heavy loss. This was the last regular battle Gen. Milroy was in, though he remained in command at Tullahoma and Nashville till July 1865, and resigned on the 18th of that month, and was mustered out July 26, 1865. Gen. Forrest said of him that Milroy was the only union general that ever defeated him in a fair fight.
After leaving the service, he remained in Tennessee for some time and then returned to his old home in Delphi, Ind., where he resumed the practice of law. In July, 1872, he was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs for Washington Territory, and moved his family to Olympia, where he resided up to the time of his death. He held this office for two years, when it was abolished. Afterwards he was appointed "United States Indian agent for the Yakima agency, and held this office till President Cleveland removed him in September 1885, for "offensive partisanship." After this he practiced law up to the time of his death, which occurred at Olympia, March 29, 1890, aged 73 years, 9 months and 18 days.
Gen. Milroy was one of the bravest and noblest men of our country. The writer, and the other members of the Second Virginia, had ample opportunity to see the general's bravery tested, and every one will unhesitatingly agree that he was the bravest and coolest man they ever saw in the storm of battle. No braver warrior than Gen. Milroy ever buckled on a sword. His fame is fixed in the annals of his country and in the hearts of his soldiers, all of whom loved him as a father, and followed him wherever he called with implicit faith in his judgment and courage. An experienced officer, and thoughtful writer of the union army, who knew from personal service under Milroy at Winchester, what kind of a commander and fighter he was, has written the following: "Had Gen. R. H. Milroy been put in command in a place where his genius and ability fitted him to fill, he would have been the Murat of America. There was not an officer in the army of the union that excelled him in dash and true native courage."
Gen. Milroy was a profoundly religious man. He was cast on the sea of doubt and skepticism for a number of years, but returned to his early faith and became a member of the Presbyterian church, under the ministry of Rev. J. R. Thompson, of the State of Washington.
The Second Virginia Infantry never served under a general for whom the men had so great an affection. It was the regard of men for friend, and that he was their friend is the testimony of every member of the old regiment. The affection was returned by the noble general, who spoke of them as "my boys," and to whom he had but to speak and they would follow him into the very jaws of death. In a letter to the Historian from one of the general's family, the writer says: "It seems to me that father spoke more frequently of the Second Virginia Infantry than he did of all the other regiments he commanded. - There seemed to be more persons in it that he individually remembered and thought a great deal of." When the general was requested to write some of the early events of his life for this history, though very feeble, he expressed a desire to do so, "because," as he said, "the old Second Virginia Infantry asked for it," and his son said he was willing to do anything he could for the old regiment, "for there was time when he knew the regiment would do anything he asked them to do."