Chapter 1: Opening Guns
1. "OLD BORY'S COME!"
He would go at once. The request from the President that he come to Richmond offered an opportunity as surely as it conveyed an order. Federal troops had crossed the Potomac. A battle that would assure the triumph of the new Confederacy would be fought ere long in Virginia. At the same time, departure from South Carolina would be regrettable. From the hour of his arrival there, March 6, 1861, the patriots of Charleston had welcomed him. After he forced the surrender of Fort Sumter on April 14, without the loss of a man, they had acclaimed and adopted him. Some of them seemed to find a certain Huguenot kinship in his name -- Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard -- and all of them united to do him honor.
General and staff left on May 29 for Richmond, the newly selected capital of the Confederate States. Multitudes gathered at every station to have a look at the "Hero of Sumter." The journey confirmed everything Beauregard had been told of the incredible popularity he had won by his success in Charleston Harbor. How quickly fame had come to him! When he had resigned from the United States army, February 20, 1861, he had been fifth-ranking captain in the Corps of Engineers and had a brevet as major for gallant conduct in the Mexican War. In his profession he was esteemed; outside of it he was little known till hostilities had been opened at Charleston. Now, seven weeks after the fall of Sumter, he had received the thanks of Congress and the laudation of the Southern press as one of the greatest soldiers in the world. Napoleonic myths had grown up about him. He was said to have warned President Lincoln to remove all noncombatants from Washington by a given date, as if he were determined forthwith to take the city. Not one doubt of his military genius was admitted.
On May 30, ere his train puffed importantly into the station, hundreds of townfolk had gathered there. A carriage and four were waiting to carry the general to the Spotswood Hotel, where a suite had been reserved for him. All the honors that had been paid President Davis upon arrival two days previously were to be repeated for General Beauregard. He was most grateful when he stepped from the car; but, if the committee would permit, he would take a simpler carriage and go quietly to the hotel. Quickly he was wheeled up the hill to the Spotswood. Music and cheers and appeals for a speech were in vain. His mission was war. He must waste no time in needless words.
The next day he conferred with the President and with General R. E. Lee who, in an ill-defined manner, was responsible for military operations in Virginia. Old friends they were, old and admiring. Davis as United States secretary of war had known Beauregard well and, in March 1861, had commended the general to Governor Pickens of South Carolina as "full of talent and of much military experience." In planning immediate steps to combat the fast-developing Federal threat against Virginia, Jefferson Davis felt that he could rely on Beauregard.
No less did the President have self-reliance. He had hurried to Richmond in answer to earnest representations that he and he only could direct aright the defense of the frontier. Montgomery newspapers had reported that Mr. Davis was having his old Mexican War sword sharpened at a gunsmith's in Market Street. A man having his blade made ready of course intended using it. Little doubt was expressed that the President would take the field in person. With others the soldiers would fight and perhaps would win, said the Richmond Examiner, but "with him, the victory would be certain, and chance would become certainty."
The new President felt, as he sat down with Beauregard and Lee, that he had been trained as a soldier and as a commander he had been tried. To his four years of administrative experience as secretary of war he had added that of chairman of the Military Committee of the Senate. Who had so diversified an equipment, who a better reason for self-reliance? He was confident he could discharge in more than a perfunctory sense his prerogative as commander-in-chief of the military forces of the Confederacy.
The third man at the council of May 31 was in public estimation the least distinguished of the three. Robert Lee was the son of a renowned Revolutionary soldier and had enjoyed the high admiration of Winfield Scott. In the Mexican War, Lee's work as an engineer had been brilliant, and when he resigned from the old army he had reached the rank of colonel of cavalry; but he had no such reputation as Beauregard had won at Sumter and no prestige, other than social, that compared with that of Davis.
Inasmuch as Lee had just returned from Manassas, he was asked by the President to explain what had been done to prepare that important railroad junction against the Federals, who, on the night of May 23-24, had crossed the Potomac and seized Alexandria. When Lee explained the situation in northern Virginia, Davis decided that Beauregard should have the post of instant danger, that of the Alexandria line. Beauregard exhibited neither concern nor satisfaction. If that was the post the President wished him to have, he would proceed immediately to Manassas. By way of Hanover Junction, Gordonsville, Orange, and Rappahannock Station, names destined to be written red, he traveled on June 1 to Manassas and assumed command. "Old Bory's Come!" cried the South Carolina troops who had served under him at Charleston. The Virginia recruits, hearing the cheers, sought this first opportunity of observing him.
If they expected a theatrical personality, they were disappointed. What they saw was a small man, forty-three years of age and five feet seven inches in height. He weighed about 150 pounds and had much strength in his slight frame, though often he fell sick. With graying hair, cropped mustache, a good brow, high cheekbones, a belligerent chin, and sallow olive complexion, he was as surely French in appearance as in blood. Imaginative Southern writers already pictured him as the reincarnation of one of Napoleon's marshals, but they said that his eyes, which were his most pronounced physical characteristic, were those of a bloodhound, large, dark, and melancholy. In manner he was quiet but cordial. Privately talkative, he was officially uncommunicative. His tongue manifestly was his ally; it was not equally apparent that his pen was his enemy.
Beauregard proceeded to inspect his troops. In command was Milledge L. Bonham, who had fought the Seminoles and the Mexicans as a citizen-soldier and had resigned his seat in Congress to defend his native South Carolina. Under Bonham were two fine regiments, more than 1,500 of the best young men of the Palmetto State. A regiment of Virginians was being organized by Colonel J. F. Preston, another was being recruited rapidly by Colonel R. S. Ewell, and a third by Colonel Samuel Garland, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute. From Alexandria had arrived in retreat a few companies under Colonel G. H. Terrett. At Culpeper, collecting men as rapidly as possible, was Colonel Philip St. George Cocke, a rich planter who had been graduated from West Point in 1832 and had been for two years a lieutenant in the United States army.
The smallness of this force alarmed Beauregard. His position, he explained to the President, his troops, and his service of supply alike were inadequate. "I must therefore," he said, "either be re-enforced at once...or I must be prepared to retire, on the approach of the enemy, in the direction of Richmond...." It would not suffice, Beauregard concluded, merely to exhort the President. The populace must be aroused. To that end, he issued on June 5 a proclamation: "A reckless and unprincipled tyrant has invaded your soil. Abraham Lincoln, regardless of all moral, legal, and constitutional restraints, has thrown his abolition hosts among you, who are murdering and imprisoning your citizens, confiscating and destroying your property, and committing other acts of violence and outrage too shocking and revolting to humanity to be enumerated." Beauregard urged the farmers "to drive back and expel the invaders from your land.... I desire to assure you that the utmost protection in my power will be extended to you all."
In their complete reliance upon Davis and Beauregard and the valor of their own sons, Virginians did not understand, in those first furious days of half-organized war, how difficult it was to muster and equip enough men to meet the four offensives that were being forged against their state. Virginia was singularly vulnerable. From the northwest, the north, and the east she could be assailed. The Federals held Fort Monroe on Hampton Roads and commanded the deep water everywhere. In particular, there was danger of joint land-and-water operations against the Peninsula between the James and York rivers. That operation would be no particular threat to Beauregard. Nor was there immediate danger to his front from an expedition in process of organization around Grafton on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, about 120 miles west of Harper's Ferry. Much nearer to Beauregard's line was the prospect of a Federal attack from Pennsylvania and Maryland on Harper's Ferry, where the Shenandoah flows into the Potomac. Loss of Harper's Ferry would endanger Beauregard's position at Manassas. Conversely, if Beauregard's position at Manassas were taken, an adversary might turn westward and cut the line of retreat of the forces at Harper's Ferry.
The Virginia authorities had seized Harper's Ferry and its valuable arms machinery on the night of April 18. In command there was Colonel Thomas J. Jackson, Virginia volunteers. Beauregard probably remembered Jackson, who had been a young artillerist during the Mexican War and been breveted major for gallantry at Chapultepec. Whether or not he recalled the major of the gallant days of '47, Beauregard soon heard of the work Jackson was doing at Harper's Ferry.
The colonel had been professor of physics and instructor in artillery at the Virginia Military Institute. Serious-minded persons at Lexington, the seat of the Institute, respected Jackson's piety, his diligence as a Presbyterian deacon, and his zeal in the religious instruction of the Negroes; the irreverent said he was a "curiosity," a dull teacher who hewed to the line of the text and showed much embarrassment when forced to depart from it. At Harper's Ferry he had been a different, infinitely more competent man. Terse, clear in direction, positive in orders, he was declared to be every inch the soldier. He diligently had been drilling his raw volunteers, and was fast developing to competent performance some of the 8,000 men who had been assembled.
A large invading force might shut up the Confederate troops in the angle made at the Ferry by the rivers, but, for the time, Jackson seemed reasonably safe. The cavalry would give him warning. When Colonel George Deas -- an old inspector of the United States army -- made an official visit to Harper's Ferry, he had noted the alertness of a handsome, spirited young cavalryman, small but vigorous, who was commanding Jackson's mounted outposts. "I am quite confident," Deas reported, "that with the vigilance...exercised by Captain Ashby, no enemy can pass the point which he is directed to observe." Besides, all five of the companies of cavalry, which included Turner Ashby's two, were "in very good condition and quite effective." Their commander was the stocky, broad-shouldered Lieutenant Colonel James E. B. Stuart: "Beauty" Stuart, the boys at West Point had called him, in tactful tribute to his notorious lack of good looks. Stuart had arrived in Richmond from the West on May 7, and, after being assigned to Harper's Ferry, had set out to organize the cavalry.
Beauregard was well acquainted with the officer who had arrived at Harper's Ferry on May 24 and in somewhat unusual circumstances had assumed command. Joseph E. Johnston had been promptly commissioned brigadier general in the Confederate army after declining like rank in the service of Virginia. On reaching the Ferry, where he found Jackson exercising authority under a Virginia commission, Johnston requested Jackson to distribute an order that announced the change of command. Jackson politely but promptly declined to do so. "Until I receive further instructions from Governor Letcher or General Lee," said the former professor, "I do not feel at liberty to transfer my command to another...." General Johnston was not offended by Jackson's refusal. He simply looked among his papers for one that would show he had been assigned to the post. The search was brief. On an application sent him from Richmond the general found this endorsement: "Referred to General J. E. Johnston, commanding officer at Harper's Ferry. By order of Major-General Lee." Shown to Jackson, this was accepted instantly by him as evidence of Johnston's authority. Harper's Ferry formally became a Confederate post.
The correspondence was a trivial incident, but it might have been read even then as an indication of the precise military standard of Colonel Jackson: Authority was bestowed to be exercised; responsibility was not lightly to be shifted; orders were to be obeyed. If this meant that Jackson for the moment had no command, he would await one.
Soon Beauregard heard that Jackson's successor was having difficulties similar to those encountered at Manassas. Neither Johnston's position nor his troops pleased him. As an engineer he saw that Harper's Ferry could be turned, in his words, "easily and effectively from above and below." The volunteers, in his opinion, were utterly lacking in "discipline and instruction." Within a week after assuming command he asked whether it would not be better to withdraw altogether from Harper's Ferry.
Of all this and of much that followed, Beauregard was informed. He listened; he pondered; he planned. French he was...French strategy he would employ, Napoleonic strategy.
2. MAGRUDER AND D. H. HILL EMERGE
Before the ranks of Beauregard began to swell or his strategy to take form, the actors between the James and York rivers commanded the stage. The Federals were concentrating at Fort Monroe, which apparently they intended to use as a base for operations up the Peninsula. If, simultaneously, the mouth of either the James or the York could be opened, vessels of the United States navy might pass the hastily built forts and might land troops close to Richmond. Thus the commanding officer at the mouth of the York River became from the hour of his assignment a conspicuous figure. Indeed, he long had been that in the old army, not because of rank but because of personality.
John Bankhead Magruder, No. 15 in the somewhat undistinguished class of 1830 at West Point, had procured transfer from the 7th Infantry to the 1st Artillery in 1831, had earned his brevet as lieutenant colonel during the Mexican War, and thereafter held some of the choicest posts in the artillery. At Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island, he had won a great name as a bon vivant and as an obliging host. Whenever celebrities were to be entertained, Colonel Magruder -- "Prince John" -- would tender a dress parade, with full trappings of gold-braided pomp, and this he would follow with a flawless dinner. From Fort Adams he had been transferred to far-off Fort Leavenworth, but there, too, he had held dress parades and reviews, though the spectators might be only Indians or frontiersmen. In the serious work of his profession he directed the new artillery school at Leavenworth and convinced interested juniors that he knew his ranges as thoroughly as his vintages.
The winter of 1860-61 found Magruder and his battery in Washington. When he resigned, rumor had it that he galloped off to the defense of Virginia with his men and his guns. Nothing would have delighted Magruder more, for he loved the dramatic and when occasion offered he would majestically tread the creaking boards of a garrison theater. Nor did he make a casual entrance on the stage of Virginia's tragedy. He gained an immediate audience with the governor's Advisory Council. To that serious, burdened group of devoted men, Colonel Magruder said with frowning fervor: "I have just crossed the Long Bridge, which is guarded by my old Battery. The men recognized me by moonlight and would have cheered me but I repressed them. Give me 5,000 men and if I don't take Washington, you may take not only my sword but my life!" On so bold a proposal the Council sought the judgment of General Lee. Lee shook his head. "We have not the men," said he -- that and no more.
Prince John was too well-disciplined a soldier to be disappointed at this. He was commissioned colonel of Virginia volunteers, and on May 21 was sent to command operations on the lower Peninsula, with headquarters at Yorktown. There he found no cavalry, little infantry, and scant equipment. Naval officers scarcely had gear for mounting the guns that were to keep the enemy's fleet at a distance. With furious energy Magruder went to work to improve his troops and his position, but like Johnston at Harper's Ferry and Beauregard at Manassas he felt his first need was of a larger force. To guard a line that extended from the James to the York, he must have, he said, 8,000 to 10,000 men. Without them he would be compelled to fall back. In opening correspondence on this subject he was detailed and insistent. Like many another professional soldier who long had dealt with the War Department, he believed with all his heart that the importunate widow who wearied the unjust judge till he avenged her was the model to be followed by the commander in seeking what was required. His early dispatches doubtless were read with eagerness. Soon the sight of one of them was to evoke groans.
Fortune smiled on diligence. Prince John had the opportunity of directing the South's first land "battle" and of winning the intoxicating first victory. At the very time of Magruder's arrival, one of the regiments needed to bring up his force to the required minimum had landed at Yorktown, 1,100 enthusiastic young men of the 1st North Carolina volunteers. Their colonel, Daniel Harvey Hill, and their lieutenant colonel, C. C. Lee, were West Pointers; their major, James H. Lane, was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute.
So well trained was the 1st North Carolina that on June 6, Magruder sent it, with four guns and a few other troops, to an advanced position at Big Bethel Church, thirteen miles below Yorktown and eight from Hampton. The enemy was at Hampton and Newport News and seemed inclined to advance. Four days later Hill received notice that the enemy was approaching. The very prospect set every heart to beating fast. Hill moved out his troops, ascertained by what roads the Federals were moving, and then withdrew in the face of superior force to his prepared position. With Magruder directing a few changes in his dispositions, Hill met and repulsed at Big Bethel some feeble, poorly handled assaults by Federals who already had sustained casualties by firing wildly into one another.
It was a small battle, to be sure. Not more than 300 of the 1,400 Confederates had been engaged simultaneously and then for no longer than twenty minutes. Three years later such a clash would have been accounted a skirmish and perhaps been the subject of a two-line dispatch. It was different on June 10, 1861. Green troops had stood, had fought, had sustained eleven casualties, had driven the enemy back to his starting point! At Yorktown headquarters there was excitement, felicitation, and exultation. The Federal casualties Hill put at 300, though actually the figure was 76.
When news of this victory reached Richmond and spread across the South, there was immense satisfaction over what was proclaimed to be the demonstrated, indisputable superiority of the Confederate soldier in combat. No detail of the engagement was too trivial for mention, none was incredible. Swift promotion to the rank of brigadier general was demanded for Magruder and was granted. He took his place among the foremost of Southern celebrities, a hero second only to Beauregard. Magruder accepted his new honors gratefully. In mien and dignity he lived up to his role. At fifty years of age he was tall, erect, and handsome, and was impressive despite a curious lisp. Usually he dressed in full uniform -- looking "every inch a King," one newspaper insisted -- and with his staff in attendance he daily made the rounds of his slowly mounting fortifications. He was a fighter, the South joyfully asserted, a personal fighter, too. Was it not rumored that he had challenged the Federal commander, General Ben Butler, to mortal combat?
Harvey Hill, who had been in direct command at Big Bethel, did not appeal to the eye or to the imagination in the measure his chief did, but he had his full share of honor. He came of fighting stock. His paternal grandfather had made cannon for the Continental army and had been one of Thomas Sumter's colonels. On the maternal side Harvey Hill had as grandparent that wily scout Thomas Cabeen, who Sumter often said was the bravest man he ever commanded. Not unnaturally, with that inheritance, Harvey Hill had gone to West Point, where, despite poor health, he had been graduated No. 28 in the excellent class of 1842. Five years later, by the unhesitating display of the most reckless valor, he had won promotion from first lieutenant to brevet major during the Mexican War; but as he found army life unstimulating in time of peace he had resigned in February 1849, had taught mathematics for five years at Washington College, and then had become professor of mathematics and civil engineering at Davidson College, North Carolina.
While there Hill developed a marked interest in theology and, at the same time, a most vehement hatred of Northerners. His Consideration of the Sermon on the Mount (1856) had been followed by a "Southern Series" of mathematical works in which he based many of his problems on "Yankee cunning." For example, "A Yankee mixes a certain quantity of wooden nutmegs, which cost him one-fourth cent apiece, with a quantity of real nutmegs, worth four cents apiece"; again, "the year in which the Governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut sent treasonable messages to their respective legislatures, is expressed in four digits...." In 1859, Hill decided that war with the fictitious masters of this alleged cunning was probable, and he accepted the superintendency of the North Carolina Military Institute. In 1861 he was called to command the camp of instruction for the North Carolina volunteers, and as a reward for diligent service was elected colonel of the 1st Regiment. He was then nearing his fortieth birthday.
In person he was inconspicuous -- five feet ten, thin, critical of eye, slightly bent from a spinal affliction and cursed with an odd humor; he was stiff and sharp when on duty and was wholly unpretending when not in command. Hill observed the Sabbath as diligently as did his brother-in-law, Colonel Thomas J. Jackson, then at Harper's Ferry, and he always gave God the credit for victory. Upon the expansion of the Confederate force on the Peninsula after the fight at Big Bethel, Magruder gave him the post at Yorktown. On July 10, in recognition of his achievements, Hill was commissioned brigadier general.
How fast and how far would he rise? What service would he render? Intense he was in his admiration, bitter in his antagonism. He could hate as hard as he could pray: Would that make him a better soldier or a worse? An applauding country did not know enough about him to make the inquiry, nor would it have looked otherwise than with suspicion on anyone who raised that or any other question about any Confederate leader. Old Bory, Prince John Magruder, pious Harvey Hill -- these three at the beginning of the summer of 1861 were men to be trusted, to be followed. They were great soldiers. Of that the South was satisfied. No less were all Southerners convinced that new military genius would blaze on every battlefield.
3. FIRST LOSS OF A LEADER
Exultant praise of Magruder, D. H. Hill, and the other victors at Big Bethel was interrupted by news of another sort, from western Virginia. There, from the very hour of secession, the Federals realized that the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad between Washington and Parkersburg was at once the most important and the most exposed link in the iron chain that bound together the East and the Midwest. They determined to organize at Grafton an army that would protect the line in the surest manner -- by clearing all Confederate troops from northwestern Virginia.
Soon Richmond was aware of these formidable preparations. On May 20 the advance of a strong Union column compelled a small Confederate force to evacuate Grafton. Four days later the Federals surprised at Philippi the units withdrawn from Grafton, and the undisciplined, bewildered troops had to hasten thirty miles farther south to Beverly, and thence twelve miles in the same direction to Huttonsville. As Beverly was the junction of the Staunton-Parkersburg road with the turnpike to Grafton, the Confederates could not permit the enemy to penetrate farther. Such troops as were available must, then, be hurried to Staunton and over the mountains to reoccupy Beverly. Because every other qualified officer already was assigned to field duty, Colonel Robert Selden Garnett, adjutant general at Lee's headquarters, though he was irreplaceable, was detached and ordered to proceed to western Virginia.
Garnett was forty-two years of age, the eldest son of R. S. Garnett, for twelve years a member of Congress from Virginia, and a representative of one of the most intellectual families of the Old Dominion. After Robert Garnett was graduated midway in the class of 1841 at West Point, he was given virtually every post a young officer could desire -- assistant instructor of tactics at West Point, aide to Generals Wool and Taylor during the Mexican War. Garnett measured up to his opportunities and won his brevet as major for gallantry at Buena Vista. In 1857, while on duty at Fort Simcoe, Washington Territory, he returned from an expedition to find that both his wife and child had died in his absence. From the time he lost his family his entire interest had been fixed on his profession. It was his escape, his passion, his life. With his native austerity deepened by grief, he seemed "frozen and stern and isolated." With secession he resigned promptly and was appointed Lee's adjutant general. Now, promoted brigadier general, he had challenge, opportunity, and -- more than either -- the difficulties of a strange country and a raw command.
Garnett left Huttonsville on June 15 and pushed straight for Rich Mountain. Over this mountain, by Buckhannon Pass, crossed the Staunton-Parkersburg road. Around the north end of Rich Mountain, under Laurel Hill, was the Grafton-Beverly road. Not content with halfway measures, Garnett occupied both Laurel Hill and Buckhannon Pass and felt, as he put it, that he held "the gates to the northwestern country."
Most of his officers were as inexperienced as his troops, but some of them were unusual men. Most conspicuous among them was Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram of the 20th Virginia, twenty-nine, a West Pointer of the class of 1854 and a former lieutenant of the 2nd Dragoons. Pegram had spent two years in Europe and had many fine social qualities, but he was a recent comer to western Virginia and had scant acquaintance with the tangled country. On July 7 he went with his regiment to a post called Camp Garnett, eight miles west of Beverly.
A second interesting officer among Garnett's subordinates was Captain Julius A. de Lagnel, a native of New Jersey but long a resident of Virginia and for fourteen years a lieutenant in the old army. De Lagnel was chief of artillery for Garnett's little command and was stationed with Pegram on the western flank of Rich Mountain.
At that camp also reported for duty a man destined to have a place in Confederate service almost unique. Jedediah Hotchkiss, descendant of an old and distinguished Connecticut family, had been born in Windsor, New York, in 1828 and been educated in academies there. When nineteen he had come to Virginia on a walking tour. Soon he acquired so deep an attachment to the state that he decided to settle in Augusta County. He established Mossy Creek Academy, which soon was successful. Busy though he was as a teacher, and active in religion, he found time to learn, unhelped, the principles of engineering, and as his avocation he made maps. "Professor Hotchkiss," as he first was called in the army -- he had no rank at the time -- could sketch an area with substantial accuracy after riding over it once, and as he was a swift and indefatigable worker, he was to supply an incredible number of much-needed maps.
Garnett soon learned something of the men entrusted to him. City-dwellers he had who had never seen mountains, and with them he had mountaineers who had never seen cities. Two things only did these soldiers possess in common -- vast zeal and military inexperience. To them Garnett gave such slight instruction as time permitted. He also improved rapidly his position on Laurel Hill and at Buckhannon Pass. He occupied his fortifications, unassailed by the enemy, until July 6. Then skirmishing began. By July 8, the day Pegram took command at Buckhannon Pass, the enemy was active in that quarter.
On the morning of the eleventh, from a captured Union sergeant, Pegram learned that the Federals were endeavoring to turn one of his flanks. He concluded that the attack was to be against his right, and he sent word to Colonel William C. Scott to hold his 44th Virginia one and a half miles west of Beverly. Although Pegram believed the approach to his left-rear almost impracticable for the enemy, he sent back Captain de Lagnel with one gun and five thin companies of infantry to Hart's house at the highest point in the gap. As of July 11, the situation, in summary, was this: Garnett at Laurel Hill, northeast of Pegram's position, had no intimation of attack, though Union troops were known to be close at hand. In front of Camp Garnett the Federals were visible but gave no evidence of any purpose to come directly up the mountain. At the camp, Pegram was on the alert and was expecting an attempt to turn his right. About one and a half miles in his rear, at the Hart house, were de Lagnel, his gun, and 310 men. Across the mountain to the eastward, Colonel Scott was posting his 44th Virginia.
At 11:00 A.M. there came an unhappy surprise: With a shout and a dash, the Federals drove in the Confederate pickets at the pass and swarmed from the laurel thickets for an assault on de Lagnel's little command. The enemy came from the left and not, as anticipated, from the right. Captain de Lagnel made the utmost of his scant numbers and his single gun. When most of his artillerists were shot down, he served the piece himself. Presently he fell with a serious wound. Colonel Pegram arrived from Camp Garnett, and by example and plea tried to get his soldiers to drive off the enemy and hold the road. His shouts and commands were in vain. The troops broke; the enemy seized the road and the gap. Pegram rode back down the hill to camp. A grim plight was his. The Unionists were squarely across his only line of retreat.
What was to be done? Pegram decided to try the one expedient open to him: He would leave half his force to hold Camp Garnett and, with the other half, he would go back up the mountain and try to clear the enemy from the road. At last his volunteers reached an elevation that appeared to be on a line with the flank of the enemy, but the pull up the mountain had exhausted them. Pegram realized that if they were thrown forward they would be slaughtered. The sole hope of escape was to go on over the crest and try to reach Beverly. Pegram entrusted this difficult mission to Major Nat Tyler of the 20th Virginia, and started back to Camp Garnett -- his second descent of the day. It was 11:30 P.M. when he and his mount staggered into the camp.
The 600 men who remained there were awake and miserable. Pegram decided that an effort must be made to cross the mountain and join Garnett at Laurel Hill. He was so exhausted that he did not believe he could attempt another ascent. A column was formed, the head of which was assigned to Professor Hotchkiss. With his singular sense of direction, Hotchkiss started confidently upward. Pegram, by that time, had decided that he would make the effort, come what might, and he passed word for the troops to halt until he could reach the front. This order never reached the lead company, which continued to follow Hotchkiss.
These hours had been an anxious time for General Garnett at Laurel Hill. On his own front, as the Federals shelled his position, he prepared to repel attack. All day he had watched, and waited for word from Pegram. After nightfall a panting messenger brought news that Pegram was cut off and that the enemy commanded the road through the gap. This meant that Garnett's own line of retreat was endangered. One of the "gates to the northwestern country" had been stormed. The other would not hold. As he did not know in what direction Pegram would retire, he did what a man of his temper and training most regretted to do: He abandoned his detached force, left his tents in place to deceive the enemy, and marched eastward with his regiments.
Daylight on the twelfth of July found the army of Garnett in five retreating fragments. Colonel Scott had abandoned his futile watch on the eastern side of Rich Mountain and was on the road to Huttonsville. Jed Hotchkiss was two thirds of the way to the top of the mountain, on the western side, and was disgusted to find that only one company was following him. Major Nat Tyler of the 20th Virginia, having crossed the mountain, was at Beverly. Pegram's wet and hungry men were on a high ridge whence, after sunrise, they could look down on Beverly. Garnett's hurried march was under way without pursuit by the enemy.
The dénouement came quickly. Scott, Tyler, and Hotchkiss were able to get away in safety. Pegram lost his opportunity of reaching Beverly before the Federals, and, after wandering all day in search of food, sent at midnight an offer to surrender the troops with him. On the thirteenth his 555 officers and men laid down their arms. All except Pegram were paroled. He was held as a prisoner of undetermined status because of his previous service in the United States army.
Garnett's march on the twelfth carried him to Kaler's Ford on the Cheat River, where the men bivouacked in a heavy rain. The next morning he continued his retreat over a heavy road and through a difficult country. Ford after ford lay ahead. The cavalry brought the grim news that the enemy was near at hand. By successive halts and withdrawals, the infantry covered the wagon train until Carrick's Ford was reached. At that swift, deep crossing some of the wagons stalled. The 23rd Virginia crossed and took up a defensive position, and after the 1st Georgia secured the train and passed through their line, the Virginians held off the Federals long enough for the wagons to get a good lead.
When the 23rd reached the next ford, Garnett was waiting on the farther bank with a single junior aide. The general directed Colonel William B. Taliaferro to halt beyond a near turn in the road. Would Taliaferro send back ten good marksmen? In a few minutes the Federals came in sight and encountered the fire of the sharpshooters. As only Garnett and his aide Sam M. Gaines were visible, the Federals directed their fire at them. The missiles flew past. Young Gaines ducked. Garnett, erect and calm, reproved the youth. "When I told him I had felt on my face the wind from several bullets, and that I could not help but stoop," Gaines wrote years later, "he changed his tone and talked to me in a fatherly way as to the proper bearing of a soldier under fire."
The enemy by this time was only fifty yards distant. Garnett turned his horse to see if the support he had ordered was coming up. At that instant a bullet hit him in the back. He fell from his horse. Gaines dismounted and tried to lift the general to his own saddle. The younger man struggled at the task until the Federals were close to the ford. Then he caught Garnett's horse, jumped to the back of his own animal, and galloped off unscathed.
After long and wearing marches the tattered and exhausted force escaped to Monterey. The South was relieved that so many had escaped, but was grieved and humiliated that more than 700 had been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. After some hesitation, the Federals decided to hold Pegram as a prisoner of war and not as an army officer in rebellion. He was much criticized in the South for what the barroom strategists pronounced a poor deployment. Garnett's fate and the abandonment of the western approaches to the Shenandoah Valley were lamented equally. The general was dying when he fell, and as the Federals arrived he drew his last breath. His body, with all his belongings, was returned to his family by old friends in the Union army. From the list of those to whom the South looked hopefully, his high name had to be stricken -- the first officer of his rank on either side to be killed in action.
Although his grim defeat humiliated the South, the troops opposed to him were numerically superior and far better equipped. Their leader was Major General George B. McClellan. The attack against Pegram at Rich Mountain was delivered by McClellan's ablest subordinate, Brigadier General W. S. Rosecrans. Good Federal management, the weakness of the Confederate force, and McClellan's telegraphic reports of his success made the campaign appear on one side an example of incompetence and, on the other, of military brilliance. Garnett was buried and forgotten by the public; McClellan was the hope of the North.
Copyright © 1998 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.