Confederate Retreat at Carnifex Ferry; Lincoln’s Visit from Mrs. Fremont

Tuesday, September 10, 1861

General Rosecrans and his three Union brigades had marched over 100 miles from Clarksburg, Western Virginia. Their objective was to aide General Cox who was holed up at Gauley Bridge, an adequate defensive position had it not been for the Confederate Army of the Kanawha.

Luckily for Cox, the Rebel Army was divided into two wings commanded by Generals Floyd and Wise who simply couldn’t get along. Cox feared that Floyd would attack from the north, via Carnifex Ferry, while Wise attacked from the east, via Hawks Nest. Gauley was the key to the Kanawha Valley. If the Confederates defeated Cox, they would hold the Kanawha River and give the South access to the Ohio. Rosecrans was on his way to stop this from happening and was, on the morning of this date, he occupied Summersville, ten miles northeast of Carnifex Ferry and Floyd.

Meanwhile, a flurry of exchanges between Floyd and Wise, seventeen miles apart, crossed each other in the morning and early afternoon. Floyd ordered Wise to send 1,000 troops, which would have depleted the entire command at Hawks Nest. Wise, again, refused to send troops. Floyd, again, acted surprised and reissued the order. Wise, yet again, refused. He had, twice before, obeyed orders to move his command to Carnifex and twice before, upon his arrival, he was ordered to return.

The loyal Unionists of Summersville told Rosecrans that Floyd was entrenched just south of Cross Lanes, along the road that crossed the ferry and would eventually lead to Dogwood Gap and the rear of General Wise’s men. Wanting to either “whip or pass” Floyd to unite with General Cox at Gauley, Rosecrans marched on, reaching Cross Lanes, two miles from Rebel lines, by 1pm.

He sent forward a small reconnoitering party to suss out the Confederate defenses. As they poked their way through the thick vegetation, they found no sign of the enemy. At 2:30, Rosecrans pushed forward.

Floyd had not disappeared, his entrenchments were just hard to see through the dense foliage. His troops occupied a bend in the river, with its right flank secure to the water’s edge. The center, which the road to the ferry ran through, was held by artillery, while the left flank dangled in the open, not quite reaching the other side of the river’s bend.

To the Confederate rear were cliffs and an unfordable river. Floyd may have been convinced that his position was impregnable, but one of his regimental commanders, Col. Henry Heth, knew better and constructed a rope bridge across the river, just in case.

Rosecrans ordered his lead brigade forward. They formed into a line of battle in a field and advanced into the woods and towards the waiting, but unseen, Confederates. As they marched forward, muskets at the ready, the brigade commander neglected to deploy skirmishers to feel out the enemy position. They moved deeper into the woods where the field of vision was dramatically diminished. The brigade stumbled on and nearly into the Confederate lines.

The first indication that they were upon the enemy was a Rebel volley of musketry and artillery that roared into the Union line, stopping one regiment cold. The Union brigade commander sent his other two regiments forward and sent back to Rosecrans for reinforcements.

Finally, the Union troops returned fire, the opening volley sending a ball into the right arm of General Floyd, who fell and was taken to the surgeon who quickly bandaged him up. Before too long, he was back on the field commanding his troops.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans held nothing back. After the call for reinforcements, he formed the two remaining brigades and went to the front to see for himself what needed to be done. After looking over the Rebel works, he concluded that they only way to take them was by a frontal assault. It wasn’t until just before dusk that his plan came to fruition.

A brigade held the Union left, along the river, and pushed towards the Confederate right. The force of the assault dislodged the Rebel flank from the river and pushed it towards the center of their line. By this time, however, it was nearly dark. The flank wavered, but did not break. Darkness cloaked the battlefield and fatigue put an end to the attack.

In the early night, Rosecrans withdrew to the open fields from where he launched the battle and made plans to try again the next day.

Floyd, still not realizing that his impregnable position was anything but, debated with Col. Heth about what to do. Heth allowed that the right flank was indeed secure, but the left still hung in the open and it was there that the Union attack would come. Deciding to try Wise one last time, Floyd ordered most of Wise’s Legion to Carnifex. Two hours after he sent for Wise, Floyd decided to retreat. His entire force made use of Heth’s rope bridge and the ferry boats (which they destroyed after using). Once on the other side of the river, Floyd’s entire command marched south on Sunday Road towards the Turnpike and General Wise, who was not informed that Floyd was no longer at Carnifex Ferry.

The Union suffered 17 killed and 141 wounded, while the Confederates lost no more than a few (they claimed to have lost not a man).1


Mrs. Fremont Calls Upon Lincoln

The letter General John C. Fremont wrote to Lincoln, defending his plan to emancipate the slaves of disloyal Missourians, was so important that it was sent to Washington in the hands of a very conspicuous messenger: Mrs. Jessie Fremont, the General’s wife.

She had traveled three hot and tiring days aboard a cramped train from St. Louis and immediately sent Lincoln a request asking when she could see him. Shortly, she received his response: “A. Linocoln. Now.”

Jessie Fremont met with the President and handed him her husband’s September 8th letter, which Lincoln immediately read without even sitting down.

Fremont refused Lincoln’s request to resend rescind his emancipation proclamation as “it would imply that I myself thought it wrong.” Though it was a request and not an order, the General knew what Lincoln wished and instead did the exact opposite.

Mrs. Fremont countered, telling the President that he (Lincoln) neither understood the complex situation in Missouri nor that the war had to become one of emancipation to prevent European powers from siding with the Confederacy.

It was all that Lincoln could do to keep himself from debating Jessie Fremont. Instead, he told her that he would formulate his reply and call for her when it was ready.

For the night, Lincoln would sleep on it.2

  1. As I do for most of the battles, this piece is drawn from several sources. Lee Vs. McClellan by Newell was used, as well as the reports from the Official Records. []
  2. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. []
Creative Commons License
Confederate Retreat at Carnifex Ferry; Lincoln’s Visit from Mrs. Fremont by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by

2 thoughts on “Confederate Retreat at Carnifex Ferry; Lincoln’s Visit from Mrs. Fremont

Comments are closed.