Thursday, September 26, 1861
General John C. Fremont’s plan to organize and move the Army of the West from various points in Missouri to Lexington was creating a plethora of logistical problems. General Pope, commanding the right wing of the army, wasn’t even in the state. He had been ordered by Fremont to Iowa to raise more troops. Fremont then ordered him to report to Booneville (Missouri) where two regiments were waiting for him. It would take Pope a few days to arrive.
General Hunter, commanding the left wing, received word of which regiments would be a part of his division. Fremont, however, neglected to note whether the regiments were to report directly to Hunter, and if so, where. Rations for Hunter’s Division, as well as other divisions, were also neglected.
While Hunter was at Jefferson City, one of his brigades was sixty-five miles south, at Rolla. There were rumors of 4,000 Rebels at Linn Creek, seventy miles west of Rolla. If Hunter’s troops were to come to him at Jefferson City, it would leave those Rebels to do what they pleased. Since Fremont appeared to be on the move in the direction of Rolla, Hunter offered up the idea that Fremont take command of the brigade and move on Linn Creek.1
Fremont may have been of the opinion that the division commanders would take care of the details of gathering, feeding and restoring to working order, all of the troops. His Army of the West, however, was spread out all over central Missouri and would take time to bring itself together. Time was a luxury that General Fremont didn’t have.
The Cold, Autumnal Rains of Western Virginia
The cold Western Virginia rains fell in sheets upon both General Lee’s Army of the Kanawha and General Cox’s Union troops along Big Sewell Mountain. It was the rain that saw General Wise off on his trip to Richmond, effectively ending the feud and power struggle between him and General Floyd. With Wise gone, the entire Army could now act as a single unit under the command of General Lee.
The rains, however, stopped everything; turning roads to knee-deep mud and streams into rivers.
On the Union side, General Rosecrans, whose troops were still stuck on the wrong side of the swollen Gauley River at Carnifex Ferry, moved his command to Big Sewell. Being the commander of all Union forces in Western Virginia, he took direct command of Cox’s troops. It was here that General Rosecrans and General Lee stared each other down across a mile wide valley. Each held a seemingly impregnable defensive position and each dared the other to attack.
Rosecrans came to the front in a hurry that beat his supply wagon by several days. He set up his headquarters, sharing a tent with General Cox. Accommodations being in short supply, Cox allowed Rosecrans to take his own cot, while Cox made a makeshift bed on the other side of the tent. Later that night, General Schenck, a brigade commander, arrived, and Cox made him feel at home with a bed consisting of several camp chairs lined up in a row.
As Cox related: “Anything was better than lying on the damp ground in such a storm; but Schenck long remembered the aching weariness of that night, as he balanced upon the narrow and unstable supports which threatened to tumble him upon the ground at the least effort to change the position of stiffened body and limbs.”2
A Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer
President Abraham Lincoln ordered this day to be a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer.” This was a day for the people of the Union to offer “fervent supplications to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, his blessings on their arms, and a speedy restoration to peace.”