Thursday, August 15, 1861
The famous Major Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame was, by this time, a Brigadier-General. Though his health was failing, he had been placed in command of the Department of Kentucky. Due to that state’s policy of supposed neutrality, Anderson had made his headquarters in Cincinnati. In recent weeks, he had been spending little time at his command, as he was convalescing in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The past week, however, he had felt better and was in Washington, DC, meeting with President Lincoln.
Though Kentucky’s government was officially neutral, her citizens were not. While some went east to fight in Virginia as Confederates, some stayed close to home as Unionists. Lincoln outwardly tolerated Kentucky’s neutrality, but also sent an officer to recruit and organize United States volunteers troops. By early July, Camp Dick Robinson, encamping 2,000 Kentucky Unionists, had been quietly established in the center of the state.
The very existence of the Union camp was enough to violate the state’s neutrality, thought some of the more secessionistic Kentuckians. Even Governor B. Magoffin saw this as a threat.
General Anderson, having been away for some time, was walking back into a virtual hornets nest.1
Missouri Still Building
Having reconfirmed General Anderson as a department commander, President Lincoln turned his mind to another general commanding a department, General John Fremont, commander of the Western Department. The previous day, Fremont telegraphed Lincoln a wild tale of General Grant being attacked by Rebels three times his number. He also placed St. Louis under martial law.
After hearing nothing more from Fremont, Lincoln telegraphed him, explaining that he had been trying to get in touch with the General for three days and asked if he was not getting his messages. Though Fremont had been completely wrong about Grant being attacked, there was indeed a threat of attack.
Confederate troops, roughly three times Grant’s numbers, occupied several camps in southeastern Missouri. Not only that, but a considerable force under General McCulloch was poised to advance at Springfield, victorious after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Much of the state could be retaken by the Rebels.
While the defeated army, still slinking toward Rolla, 100 miles west of St. Louis, could do little to defend itself, Grant’s command at Ironton, nearly the same distance south of St. Louis, could. Reinforcements had arrived and Grant planned to use them.2
As part of General Fremont’s martial law, he ordered two pro-Southern newspapers to stop publishing. According to the General, both the Missourian and the War Bulletin were “shamelessly devoted to the publication of transparently false statements respecting military movements in Missouri.”3
Western Virginia Whipped in Ten Days!
In Western Virginia, the Unionists, hoping to separate from Virginia, were in a panic over General Lee’s troops running uncontested through the hills. “For Gods sake,” wrote John S. Carlisle, Western Virginia statesman, to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, “send us more troops and a general to command, or else we are whipped in less than ten days.”
Carlisle figured there were roughly 20,000 Rebels poised and ready to attack. There were supposedly 8,000 at Monterey, another 8,000 or more west of Huntersville and a force of “considerable size” under Generals Floyd and Wise were marching uncontested towards Wheeling.4
If he only knew….
The reality was both worse and better than Carlisle imagined. The 8,000 Rebels at Monterey and the 8,000 or more at Huntersville had joined and were now twelve miles east of the Union troops at Cheat Mountain. Though only 12,000, they did outnumber their Federal adversaries. The weather, cold and torrential, stopped either side from advancing. Roads turned to mud, sinking wagons and horses alike. Then came the illness, the measles and dysentery. And then the deaths. Row after row of fresh graves, sloshed out of the mud, lined the camps. There was no sign that this would let up anytime soon.
The considerable force under Floyd and Wise, however, was not marching unopposed towards Wheeling. In fact, neither was true. They were not marching and were not unopposed. General Floyd was at his camp in Meadow Bluff, fifteen miles west of Lewisburg, and finally, General Wise was moving the 14 miles west to join him. Even when combined, one could hardly see them as a “considerable force,” as they could only possibly field 3,800 troops (and probably not even that). Floyd had plans to move the next morning, hearing rumors of approaching Yankees.
Opposing this Army of the Kanawha were quite a number of Union troops where Carlisle thought none. Still at Gauley Bridge after chasing General Wise’s Rebels out of the Kanawha Valley, was General Cox’s Brigade, roughly 3,000 strong. About to join him were three regiments sent south by General Rosecrans. On this date, they were twenty miles northeast of Cox at Cross Lanes (near Summersville). Rosecrans was also planning on coming himself with 5,000 more troops.5