West Virginia campaign

David Moore

Sergeant Major
Mar 26, 2014
Washington, DC
Lee wanted Rosecrans to attack him at Sewell Mountain. Rosecrans withdrew instead as did Lee later. The result was that western Virginia was under Union control.
This excerpt from a letter written on Oct 7 by Lee to his wife gives an insight into his thinking:

“The force of the enemy, by a few prisoners captured yesterday and civilians on the road, is put down from 17,000 to 20,000. Some went as high as 22,000. General Floyd thinks 18,000. I do not think it exceeds 9,000 or 10,000, though it exceeds ours. I wish he had attacked us, as I believe he would have been repulsed with great loss. His plan was to attack us at all points at the same time. The rumbling of his wheels, etc., was heard by our pickets, but as that was customary at night in the moving and placing of his cannon, the officer of the day to whom it was reported paid no particular attention to it, supposing it to be a preparation for attack in the morning. When day appeared, the bird had flown, and the misfortune was that the reduced condition of our horses for want of provender, exposure to cold rains in these mountains, and want of provisions for the men prevented the vigorous pursuit and following up that was proper. We can only get up provisions from day to day—which paralyses our operations.

“I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of the armies cannot keep pace with the expectations of the editors of papers. I know they can regulate matters satisfactorily to themselves on paper. I wish they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than I do and would be happy to see them have full swing. I hope something will be done to please them. Give much love to the children and everybody, and believe me.

“Always yours,

“R. E. Lee.”

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Nov 10, 2006
Of interest to some, this is the contents of the Prisoner of War cage immediately after Rich Mountain. It includes two slaves (*) who refused McClellan's offer of emancipation.

20th Va, Coy H
20th Va, Coy C
20th Va, Coy G
25th Va, Coy G
25th Va, Coy H
25th Va, Coy F
25th Va, Coy C
20th Va, Coy F
25th Va, Coy K
25th Va, Coy E
25th Va, Coy I
Bn Offrs
44th Va
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Oct 24, 2019
Meanwhile back at Rich Mountain I found this on page 103 of Lesser's Rebels at the Gate while researching the 19th Ohio:

A Mooning Occurs
Union sharpshooters fired a volley at some Rebels on the opposite slope but failed to find their marks. One Confederate decided to insult the Yankees on the opposite hill by dropping his pantaloons and positioning his posterior to the Yanks. One Yank who had recovered his skills. answered with a "center shot" that left the ridiculing Rebel in a rather demeaning position.

Based on positions of seven companies of the 19th Ohio it may have been the source of that shot since they are reported as firing two volleys as Rosecrans assaulted the Rebel works at the Hart farm.

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Nov 10, 2006
Rosecrans combat was much longer than commonly appreciated. It was so long that the 6 pounder at the Hart House got off 165 rounds against Rosecrans' troops, which is 1.5 hours at rapid. If we exclude the initial skirmishing, there is contact for about 1.5-2 hours before Rosecrans' men finally charged.

Initially Rosecrans tried to fight a classic fire action in line-of-battle action. He got 3 regiments in line and had them crest the hill, but within 20 minutes the men had all fled back behind the hill. The rejoicing rebels thought they'd won, and taunted the Federals, including our mooner. However, the rifle armed men in Rosecrans' column had been order up to snipe at the enemy whilst Rosecrans tried to get his men back in order. One of them is well reported to have shot the mooner with a "center shot" It was close to 1700 hours when the rebel 6 pdr ran out of ammunition and Rosecrans charged the enemy.

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Nov 10, 2006
On the strength at Rich Mountain...

For the rebels we have 8th July returns for the 25th Va, Sterret's cavalry coy and the battery at Rich Mountain:

25th Va = 732 PFD
Sterret's cavalry = 55 PFD
Anderson's Battery = 90 PFD with 4x bronze 6 pdrs

There is no available return for the 20th Va, which was between the stations of Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain on 8th July and reported at neither. However, it appears to be roughly average or above average. The 44th Va, which was involved in the fight is a stronger regiment described by her surgeon as 800 R&F, say 850 PFD.

Thus on the mountain is approximately:
1,500 infantry (with 850 infantry approaching from Beverly)
55 cavalry
4x 6 pdr guns, fully manned.

The Federal strength is more nebulous. Rosecrans give the strength of his 4 regts as 1,842 infantry "rank and file" (in round figures 2,000 PFD) and 75 cavalry. At Roaring Creek are three regiments, but no strengths are known. If they are average to Rosecrans then this is 1,500 infantry. The newest and strongest regiment present in the morning (13th Indiana, a newly enlisted 3 year regiment) is with Rosecrans and he gives it as 650 R&F (say ca. 700 PFD). The three regiments with McClellan are old 3 months regiments and so 1,500 may be a generous estimate. Around lunchtime the 14th Indiana (also a new 3 year regiment) joins McClellan, and we can assume it is as strong as the 13th - 700 PFD. The 15th Indiana doesn't join until the evening and isn't available for the fighting on the 11th July.

Thus a generous estimate of the strength available to McClellan for a frontal assault in the afternoon is around 2,200 PFD.

With McClellan is one company of cavalry - the Chicago Dragoons. They carried 110 on rolls, but their actual strength is unknown.

McClellan has three companies of artillery, but one (Mack's Company I, 4th US Artillery) has no guns and is serving as infantry and McClellan's guard. They would be mounted as a battery on 22nd July, 11 days after the battle. Loomis' Michigan Clearwater Artillery is a full battery of 6x 6 pdrs. It is unclear exactly what armament Howe's Battery G, 4th US had, but they certainly had a pair of 12 pdr field howitzers and probably 4x 6 pdrs.

Thus we can estimate the strength of the two Federal columns as:

Rosecrans' column
2,000 infantry
75 cavalry

McClellan's column
1,500 infantry (+700 after lunchtime and another 700 due but arriving too late)
ca. 75 cavalry (say the same)
12 guns (10x 6 pdrs and 2x 12 pdr field howitzers)


Lt. Colonel
Feb 23, 2010
I think it's important to remember that Lee had spent most of his career as an engineer. Besides the problematic command situation others have pointed out in this thread I think it's not unreasonable to think Lee might have had some trouble early on getting his bearings. His later success with the ANV was a somewhat bumpy road and it took some time for him to figure out who he could rely on and who he wanted sent away for being unreliable. And in WV he wasn't exactly working with good subordinates.

From his viewpoint, Lees problem was that he did have a real command, but, instead, he seemed to to see as being a senior advisor to the two real confederate army commanders.

As I have noted, Lee did not really try to assert any real authority that he did have. IMO he did this not because he couldnt, but because, if he had been successfully welded the two forces into an effective force and directed it to a victory, it would be likely he would be put in command for read, and, that, as I have noted, would be last thing he would have wanted.


Lt. Colonel
Feb 23, 2010
Did Lee have Davis' trust at this point? Or did that only happen when Lee was the president's military advisor before becoming ANV commander?
Lee's hands-off command style was not well-suited for weak andfractious subordinates, but the space and terrain of WV may not have been well-suited for hands-on regional command either.

Certainly Davis confidence did grow over time, and success, but Lee was well known and respected within the walls of Va. leadership and Davis an outsider from Mississippi, of all places, made it a point to listen to his Va. compatriots in the confederate govt.

Davis was handling the command in W. Va. with discretion from mainly political consideration, but if Lee really wanted to expand his influence, he could easily have done so, if he wanted. But, as I have already noted, I do not think he wanted a command in the godforsaken mtns of Western Va.., just as he did not want to be in the Carolinas building defensive works. In both instances, he was, I believe, glad to get away from an onerous task he had no taste for.

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Nov 10, 2006
In a minor correction to the above, on 6th July 1861 (SO 21) McClellan reorganised his army and titled the whole force "The Army of Occupation of Western Virginia".

The army directly under McClellan was then organised into 5 elements (in order of march):
  1. 3rd Brigade (Advance Guard): 4th and 9th Ohio, Loomis' Michigan Battery (with 6 guns) and Bursdall's cavalry company under Col. McCook, 9th Ohio Militia
  2. Reserve and HQ escort: Mack's Company (4th US Arty) as infantry, Howe's battery (with 6 guns), the Sturgis Rifles coy, 2 coys Virginia volunteers (Coy A, 2nd Va and Coy E, 3rd Va) and the Chicago Dragoons coy under Capt Mack, 4th US Arty
  3. 2nd Brigade: 3rd Ohio, plus other regiments en route under BG Schleich, Ohio Militia
  4. 1st Brigade: 8th, 10th and 13th Indiana and 19th Ohio under BG Rosecrans, Ohio Militia
  5. Rearguard consisting of 4 coys detached from Rosecrans
Bizarrely, Schleich's brigade at the time of Rich Mountain still consisted of one regt (3rd Ohio), with the 14th and 15th Indiana joining it during the battle. Schleich was a "know-nothing" and wanted to expel all African-Americans from the country. This would soon end his career.

Rosecrans' brigade during Rich Mountain was 3.5 regts, as 4 coys were left to protect the campsite, and he'd just disarmed and disbanded a company for declaring themselves to be "The Avengers of John Brown".

As we know, the 3rd Brigade and Reserve did attempt a frontal assault straight off the march on 10th July with maybe 1,200 infantry, but the weight of fire led them to pull back. Rosecrans departed on his flank movement with 2,000 infantry, leaving McClellan with about 1,650 infantry at the base of the hill (adding Mack's reserve infantry Bn). The 14th Indiana arrived lunchtime of the 11th with say 700 giving McClellan at most 2,350 infantry.

John Wolf Smith

Nov 6, 2019
He was the GOC of the Virginia Forces. He did devise a scheme wherein Rosecrans would be lured into the Kanawha valley by Floyd's Brigade (5 regts) and Wise's brigade (3 inf regts) working as a division with an additional 3 regts he sent under Wise demonstrating at Gauley bridge and then strike at Cheat Mountain with part of the Army of Northwestern Virginia (6 bdes, 20 regts equiv). Floyd and Wise did not work well together and on the 20th (?) September Lee relieved Wise of his command, ordered all his forces be directly under Floyd and had Wise come to Richmond.

Lee probably had ca. 20,000 effectives in West Va. in 29 complete infantry regts, 4 Bns (each ca. a half-regiment strong), 11 batteries and about 2 regts worth of cavalry. If he'd have command directly and actually concentrated to strike Rosecrans, he could perhaps of overwhelmed him.

1st Bde - remained with "Allegheny" Johnston's rump ANWVa
2nd Bde - to Fredericksburg and hence to GW Smith's Grand Division
3rd Bde - broken up. The 2 TN regts to AS Johnston (fought at Shiloh) and 2 GA regts to ANV
4th and 6th Bdes (minus 6th NC) - to the Stonewall Division as Burks' Bde
5th Bde - broken up. 27th and 37th Va to Stonewall Division, 44th remained with rump ANWVa

Floyd - 22nd and 45th Va remained in the Kanawha, but the rest of the bde went to Fort Donelson...
Wise - 46th and 60th Va to ANV, 59th to Roanoke Island (mostly captured)
Reinforcements - 24th NC and 13th GA to ANV, 30th is a mystery due to renumbering April 1862...

The Orbats of the Formations were:

Army of Northwestern Virginia (Loring)

1st Bde (BG HR Jackson):
3rd Arkansas
31st Virginia
Hansbrough's Battalion (9th Va Bn) - 4 coys
(these three units were under Col Rust as a column)
12th Georgia
52nd Virginia
Danville Artillery
Maj Jackson's Cavalry

2nd Bde (BG SR Anderson)
1st Tennessee
7th Tennessee
14th Tennessee
Hampden Artillery
Capt Alexander's cavalry company

3rd Bde (BG Donelson)
8th Tennessee
16th Tennessee
1st Georgia
14th Georgia
Greenbriar Cavalry
(no arty, a section of the Hampden arty to be attached)

4th Bde (Col Wm Gilham)
21st Virginia
6th North Carolina
1st Bn of the Va Provisional Army (1st Va Bn)
Troup Artillery

5th Bde (Col. Wm B Taliaferro)
25th Virginia "Reger's battalion" (residue of regiment)
37th Virginia
(these two regiments were under Fulkerson as a column)
23rd Virginia
44th Virginia
Rice's Battery
Lee's Battery

6th Bde (Col JS Burke)
42nd Virginia
48th Virginia
Lee's Cavalry
(no arty, section of Troup Arty to be attached)
(20th Virginia had been effectively destroyed in July, and on 10th September it was formally disbanded and the remaining personnel transferred to other regts)

The 1st and 5th Bdes were used to attack Cheat Mountain.

Army of the Kanawha

Floyd's Brigade

22nd Virginia
36th Virginia
45th Virginia
50th Virginia
51st Virginia
Kanawha Militia Bn (from the 51st Va Militia)
2x coys of cavalry
2x batteries (Adam's Va Gauley Artillery and Guy's State Volunteer Artillery)

Wise's Brigade (Wise Legion)
46th Virginia
59th Virginia
60th Virginia
8th Virginia Cavalry
Wise Legion Arty Bn (4 btys)

Reinforcing Brigade (joined around the retreat from Carnifex Ferry)
14th (24th) North Carolina Volunteers (14th Vols renumbered 24th NC State in November)
13th Georgia
30th Georgia
I think the 30th Georgia could be the 20th Mississippi Regiment.