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A History of The Middle
New River Settlements
and Contiguous Territory.

By David E. Johnston (1906).

  
 

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Chapter VII.  1861 - 1865  (Part 4)

 

The 60th Virginia regiment, with its brigade and division, had a most distinguished part in this battle.  Among other things stated by Colonel Starke in his official report of this battle, are the following:: "On Monday evening the 30th, June.  We were ordered to the support of General Kemper's brigade then engaged near Frazier's Farm with an overwhelming force of the enemy.  The regiment advanced at a double quick nearly two miles to the brow of the hill where a battery of eight guns, Randall's Pennsylvania battery, was posted, which had been taken from the enemy and by them recaptured before we reached the ground.  Delivering a few volleys, the regiment moved forward, charged the enemy, drove them into and through the woods for a considerable distance, killing wounding and taking many of them prisoners, and recapturing the battery.    On reaching the wood, however, the enemy poured a heavy fire into our line, upon which the command was given to charge bayonets.  This command was obeyed with alacrity, and very many of the enemy fell before the formidable weapon.  I cannot close this report without noticing the conduct of Privates George R. Taylor of Company E, and Robert A. Christian of Company I.  Private Christian in the bayonet charge of the 30th was assailed by no less than four of the enemy at the same time.  He succeeded in killing three of them with his own hands, though wounded in several places by bayonet thrusts, and his brother Eli W. Christian going to his aid dispatched the fourth."    Both Robert A. and Eli W. Christian belonged to Ryan's Mercer Company.   We again quote from the report of the Federal General McCall, in which he says: "It was here my fortune to witness one of the fiercest bayonet fights that perhaps ever occurred on this continent.  Bayonet wounds, mortal or slight, were given and received.   I saw skulls crushed by the butts of muskets, and every effort made by either party in his life or death struggle, proving indeed that here Greek had met Greek."   The total loss of the 60thVirginia regiment in the engagements of the 26th, 27th and 30th day of June was 204.  It is regretted that the names in full of the killed and wounded in the two Mercer companies of the 60th regiment cannot be given further than already mentioned, and to add to the list of the wounded Washington Hodges, Rufus McComas and Wesley Dillon, the latter mortally.  In the headlong charge of the 60th Virginia regiment on June 30th, and as it reached the log breastworks of the enemy, John Hartwell, of Pack's Mercer Company, a man of about six feet six inches high, raw boned, big footed, clumsy and awkward, caught his foot in getting over the works and fell headlong over and among the enemy, exclaiming as he fell, "Get out of here, you d----d Yankees, or we will kill the last one of you."  John got out safe and all of the enemy not killed, wounded or captured, took John at his word and ran away.

On the next day, July 1st, the battle of Malvern Hill was fought, but neither Kemper's nor Field's brigades were engaged, though drawn up close to the firing line as supports and subjected to a severe shelling from the enemy's batteries in front and his gunboats in the river.  On the night of the first the enemy withdrew from the Confederate front, and retired to a strong position at Harrison's Landing under the cover and protection of his gunboats; and thus ended the second "On to Richmond,"    and the Confederates returned to the vicinity of Richmond and went into camp.

The McComas Battery, now commanded by Captain David A. French, had been brought from Petersburg to the north of the James and was in position on the Confederate right at the battle of Seven Pines, and during the Seven Days Battles, but was not engaged.  After the battle of Malvern Hill it was sent with some infantry down to Turkey Island on the James, and later to a position in front of Harrison's Landing.    During the campaign of 1862 in Northern Virginia and Maryland, it remained as part of the forces left to guard the defenses of Richmond.

A few weeks after the close of the battle around Richmond, August 5th, the 60th Virginia regiment was ordered to join General Loring in western Virginia.    Captain William H. French, as senior Captain, with several companies of cavalry, also joined General Loring in his Kanawha Valley campaign.

It now becomes necessary at this place to relate some of the incidents occurring in western Virginia.  As has been related, in the summer of 1861, the Federal troops had advanced to Kanawha Falls and Gauley Bridge, General Wise retiring to the Big Sewell Mountain and Hawks Nest district of country, and General Floyd marching out from Lewisburg to reinforce him and to oppose the Federal advance.  After some severe skirmishing by the troops of Wise and with Federal advance, and some maneuvering on the part of both armies, General Floyd advanced to Cross Lanes, in the County of Nicholas, where, on the 26th day of August, 1862, he had a severe combat with the Federal troops, whom he routed.  General Floyd after the battle at Cross Lanes fell back to Carnifix Ferry on the Gauley and fortified his position, which was fiercely assailed by Federal troops under General Rosecrans on the 10th day of September, but they were finally beaten off, Floyd holding his position until after nightfall and then retreating.  In this engagement the Federals outnumbered the Confederates about three to one.  These incidents are merely mentioned because some of the companies from the New River Valley were in the commands of Generals Floyd and Wise.

After the withdrawal, in the fall of 1861, of the troops of Generals Floyd and Wise from the Kanawha District, and the disbanding of the militia brigades of Generals Beckley and Chapman, the Federal troops under General Jacob D. Cox advanced and occupied Fayetteville, the county town of Fayette County, and later Beckley, the county town of Raleigh County at which latter place on the 22nd day of April, 1862, Colonel E. P. Scammon reports Colonel Thomas Little and W. J. Comer as having arrived that evening from Princeton, and who gave as far as they knew statements of Confederate forces, etc., and adds, "Colonel Little confirms reports of intended destruction of town and county property."  In the last days of April the Federal advance reached Flat Top Mountain and encamped at what is known as the Miller Tanyard, place on the turnpike road about two miles south of the main top of the mountain.  At this time the only Confederate troops in the County of Mercer were the small cavalry forces of Colonel Jenifer acting as a mere corps of observation, and the independent company of Captain Richard B. Foley known as "Flat Top Copperheads."  Foley was on the extreme outposts next to the enemy, and in fact was the eyes and ears for Jenifer's command.

General Cox's command consisted of two brigades of infantry; the first commanded by Colonel E. P. Scammon, made up of the 23rd, 30th and 12th Ohio infantry regiments and McMullen's battery; the second brigade under Colonel A. Moor composed of the 28th, 34th and 37th Ohio regiments of infantry and Simmond's battery, also one battalion of Colonel Boler's second Virginia cavalry, and Smith's Ohio cavalry troop, with a train of 250 wagons.

On the last day of April the Federals had thrown forward, under Lieutenant Botsford, some seventy-five of the 23rd Ohio regiment, who on the night of that day occupied the dwelling house of Henry Clark, which is situated on the west side of the Wythe, Raleigh and Grayson turnpike road, about eight miles from Princeton.  Russell G. French acted as guide, as he was thoroughly familiar with the country, his home being in that neighborhood.  Foley and his men, who were on the alert and hovering around the enemy's camp, discovering the least movement on their part, determined on an attack on the Federal outpost at Clark's house.  Lieutenant Botsford and his men had scouted all day of the 30th of April in search of Foley and his men, but were unable to find them; had even gone to Captain Foley's home and throughout the neighborhood on and along the waters of Camp Creek.  They did not see Foley, but he saw them, and when late in the evening tired, and worn by their days tramp, they returned by way of Campbell's Mill and on the turnpike road at Clark's house they determined to camp for the night.  Captain Foley immediately dispatched messengers to Confederate headquarters at Princeton advising of the situation, and an attack was determined upon.  And so on that night Major Henry Fitzhugh, of Kanawha, with the border Rangers, Captain Everett, Kanawha Rangers, Captain Lewis, Mercer cavalry, Captain W. H. French, Lieutenant Graybeal in command, Tazewell troopers, Captain Thomas Bowen, Bland Rangers, Captain William N. Harman, Grayson cavalry, Captain Boring, Nelson Rangers, Captain Fitzpatrick and Captain R. B. Foley's independent company of infantry, moved out to Clark's house reaching there a short while before daylight on May 1st, and took position near the house, some of the companies not fully up.   Mr. Clark was an ardent southern man, and had been compelled to quit his home to keep out of the way of the Federals, but his brave and heroic wife with her small son and daughter remained at home and braved the storm of battle that raged furiously around here for nearly an hour.  Mrs. Clark whose maiden name was Mize, was born and raised in Patrick County, Virginia, and was a woman of strong natural sense, and in her undying devotion to the southern people and their cause, she was excelled by no woman in the south.  She lived to a ripe old age, and died an unrepentant, unreconstructed, Confederate.  It may well be said of her as Whittier, the poet, said of Randolph: :

"Too honest and too proud to feign
A love she never cherished,
Beyond Virginia's border line
Her patriotism perished."

At dawn on the 1st day of May the Federals came out of the house into the yard and fell into line for rollcall, apparently little suspecting that a lurking foe was so close at hand.  The Confederates, that is Foley's, Harman's, Bowen's and French's companies now in position, immediately opened fire, the enemy rushing quickly into the house, which is of hewn oak logs--equal to a block house, a secure fortress against rifle balls.  The house as it then existed, since removed, was only one and one half stories high and had a rather flat roof covered with chestnut shingles.  The position occupied by a portion of the Confederates was on high ground above the house, the Federals occupying the second floor of the house and were exposed to the balls fired by the Confederates into and through the roof, and it was chiefly from these balls that the Federals suffered loss.  It has already been stated that four of the Confederate companies had taken their position before the firing began, but in point of fact this is not strictly correct.  Toley's company was the only one in proper position, the others were moving to position and the remaining companies had not all gotten up.    The intention of the Confederates was to surround the house, and compel the surrender of the Federal troops that had taken shelter therein, but the unexpected appearance of the enemy in the yard for rollcall prematurely precipitated the opening of the fight.  The soldiers in the house displaced the filling between the logs, and utilized the space for placing their guns therein to fire, their bodies being in a great measure protected by the walls of the house.  The Federals boldly and bravely maintained the fight, and just as Major Fitzhugh had given the order to surround and charge the house, the head of a column of Federal reinforcements came in sight and immediately opened fire, advancing rapidly at a double quick, their cavalry at full speed.    The Confederates were now greatly outnumbered, they beat a hasty retreat closely followed by the whole of General Cox's forces.  The loss on the Confederate side was only eight wounded, viz: Captain R. B. Foley, James H. Fletcher, James Butler, Hugh Farmer, and Alexander Miller, severely, and Greene Bryson, and Montgomery Cox, mortally.   Fletcher and Butler belonged to the Mercer Cavalry, Cox to the Tazewell Troopers, Bryson and Farmer to Foley's Company, and Miller to Harman's Bland Company.  The Federal loss was 20, one killed and 19 wounded, among the latter, Russell G. French.   Colonel R. B. Hayes, of the 23rd Ohio regiment, reporting this engagement to Colonel E. P. Scammon, mentions Mr. French and says: "French will perhaps be crippled for life, probably die; can't he be put in the position of a soldier enlisted or something to get his family the pension land, etc.?  What can be done?   He was a scout in our uniform on duty at the time of receiving his wound."    French lived until recently, having died in Mercer County at the age of about eighty seven years.   He was a great sufferer from the wound he received.   He lived in Mercer County at the beginning of the war, and was on principle opposed to the war, and became an earnest, zealous, conscientious Union man.  During the retreat of the Confederates from Clark's house to Princeton, Cornelius Brown, an independent Confederate volunteer and a Mercer County man, was killed on Camp Creek, near the house formerly owned and occupied by Captain Thomas J. George.  The retreat which was continued through Princeton to Rocky Gap and beyond, was covered by the Bland Rangers, commanded by Captain William H. Harman, and well and gallantly did this devoted body of men and officers perform this service.

As before stated, Colonel Jenifer, whose headquarters when the flight took place, were at Princeton, was in the immediate command of all the forces then operating in Mercer County.  He had won fame and reputation as a Lieutenant-Colonel of cavalry at the battle of Ball's Bluff, on the Potomac, in October, 1861, but now he was about to    and  did commit an act of vandalism almost, if not quite unparalleled in the annals of civilized war, and one which tarnished his fair name, and overshadowed all the glory and laurels won by him at Ball's Bluff.  To destroy the homes of non-combatant enemies in time of war is horrible enough!  What excuse can be offered for one who destroys the homes of his friends, especially of as devoted and self sacrificing a people as those of Princeton?

Learning, for he was near the fight, that his forces were retreating before the army of General Cox and that the latter would in a few hours occupy the village of Princeton, Colonel Jenifer, without warning or notice, ordered the burning of the village, which was accomplished under his own supervision, whereby old men, women and children were not only deprived of shelter, and of all their worldly goods, but were turned out into the highways in the mud and cold rains to flee wheresoever they might, and to find food and shelter wheresoever they could.  Not only did this man Jenifer have burned the houses in the village, including the public buildings, except the jail, but had the church buildings in the western and southern part of the county destroyed, and then fled to Wytheville and advised the burning of that town.  In volume 12, part 1, Rebellion Records 450, will be found the official report of Colonel Jenifer to General Heth concerning the burning of this village which is inserted herein and is as follows:  "On April 30th it was reported to me at Rocky Gap, that the enemy was advancing from the direction of Raleigh.    In consequence of this report I ordered out Lieutenant Colonel  Fitzhugh with about 120 dismounted cavalry and some 70 or 80 militia to meet the enemy and to detain him if possible until I could remove the few remaining stores from Princeton to Rocky Gap.   I also ordered up the forty-fifth, Colonel Peters, to the support of Colonel Fitzhugh, but before this regiment could reach Princeton the enemy had advanced so rapidly that fearing Colonel Peters would be cut off  I ordered him back to his camp, and in returning his regiment was ambushed by the enemy and thrown into some confusion.  In order to enable me to save stores and property at Princeton, it became necessary to engage the enemy's advance column, which Colonel Fitzhugh did, inflicting considerable loss on the enemy.  The fight was kept up for thirteen hours and for a distance of 22 miles, was well contested by the small force under Colonel Fitzhugh.   During the engagement we lost one killed, four or five seriously wounded, and eight or nine slightly wounded.   The wounded were all brought off safe from the field; the few who were seriously wounded, were taken to houses near the field.  The enemy's loss is supposed to be 35 in killed, wounded and missing.  I evacuated Princeton just as the enemy entered it, having first fired the town."

The official report of the engagement at Clark's house on May 1st by Colonel E. P. Scammon, 23rd Ohio regiment is as follows:  This morning at daylight the advance guard of Lieutenant Colonel Hays, a company of 23rd regiment under Lieutenant Botsford    was surrounded and attacked by about 300 rebels at Camp Creek.   Lieutenant Botsford reports one man killed and twenty wounded,  all but three or four slightly; six or seven of the enemy killed; wounded not yet known.  Six prisoners, three wounded, had been taken, and others being brought in when messenger left.   The enemy fled and Lieutenant Colonel Hayes  had reached Camp Creek."

The turnpike road leading southward from Princeton to Rocky Gap was literally lined and thronged with soldiers and civilians, the latter mostly of women, children and old men, fleeing from the vanguard of the Federal army which was entering Princeton as the last of these people were passing out.  The Federal soldiers did what they could to save the burning buildings, and among these Federal soldiers were two who became Presidents of the United States, viz:  R. B. Hayes and William McKinley.  The Federals seemed satisfied when they reached Princeton, and did not immediately pursue the retreating Confederates.

By this time the Confederate authorities had become aroused by the gravity of the situation, and the threatened advance of the army of General Cox to  the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, and they took prompt steps to gather a force to repel the invasion.

 

 

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