Confederates on the Move in Western Virginia and Missouri!

Friday, August 16, 1861

General John Floyd, commanding the Confederate Army of the Kanawha, grew weary of waiting for General Wise to get his act together. For the past several days, he had pushed, prodded and ordered Wise to march his Legion of troops to join his west of Lewisburg, western Virginia. A blizzard of excuses and complaining letters to General Lee followed. Lee, as always, urged co-operation.

Just as Floyd was reaching his limit, Wise began to move west. Floyd himself had started west and covered twenty or so miles, winding up forty miles from Lewisburg on the road towards Summersville and Carnifex Ferry. Wise was about twenty miles behind him with two of his regiments. A third was still at White Sulphur Springs.

Upon retreating out of the Kanawha Valley, Wise had stationed his cavalry west of Lewisburg. They were now much closer to Floyd than to Wise. A few days previous, Wise had issued orders to his Legion that any commands coming from General Floyd for Wise’s men had to first come through Wise before being obeyed. This was a silly technicality that, because of the proximity of Wise’s cavalry, was rendered impractical, if not impossible.

On this date, Floyd wrote to Wise, calling him out and requesting him to revoke the order. Not trusting that Wise would do it, Floyd revoked it himself when he ordered Wise’s cavalry to ride with him [Floyd]. To make matters clear, Floyd ended the order: “Any orders whatever in any way conflicting with this I hereby revoke.”1

It was unlikely that Floyd thought that matter resolved, so went over the head of General Lee and wrote to President Jefferson Davis. Floyd told the President that Wise’s “unwillingness to co-operate… is so great that it amounts practically almost to open opposition.”2

On the Union side of things, General McClellan in Washington ordered General Rosecrans, commanding all of the Union troops in western Virginia, to hold Gauley Bridge, taken by General Cox when Wise retreated out of the Kanawha Valley. He also urged Rosecrans to concentrate on holding the positions he already held, adding that he should not expect reinforcements as they were needed for the Army of the Potomac.

Rosecrans would fortify Cheat Mountain, opposite General Lee’s troops, and would go on the defensive around the Gauley River.3

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Orders to Occupy Island No. 10; Grant Advances

Confederate General Leonidas Polk, commanding troops between the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers, realized that to secure the Mississippi, he would need to hold Island No. 10, a small, but strategic island near the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, across from New Madrid, Missouri.

Polk wished to hold New Madrid and establish earthworks on the island and on the Tennessee side of the river. Three batteries could also be built to stop any and all unwanted river traffic.4

General Pillow had nearly 12,000 Rebel soldiers in and around New Madrid, so it made the most sense for him to take it. A brigade was ordered by Polk to do so.5

At Ironton, the thousand or so Rebels forty miles south of Union General Ulysses S. Grant were still a threat. Wishing to contain them, he decided to advance two regiments towards them. From his headquarters, he ordered his men south towards Marble Creek, figuring that Confederate General Hardee had an advanced picket far north of the main body at Greenville.

To Grant’s left was a nearly independent band of Rebel cavalry, suspected to be 1,200 – 1,500 strong at Fredericktown. He expected a raid shortly and had dispatched a regiment to the town, twenty miles away.6

That band was part of General Jeff Thompson’s Missouri State Guards. Though his main body was at Sikestown, he had sent marauders not only to Fredericktown, but to Benton, Charleston and Jackson. Along the way, they destroyed railroad bridges and generally caused an uproar. So much chaos was created that even Grant thought they numbered over 7,000.

Thompson’s main goal was to take Bird Point, thought abandoned by Union troops. A few days ago, he suspected that he would be attacked by them, but the previous night, they had been moved farther north, perhaps to Cape Girardeau.7

As for General Pillow at New Madrid, he had received the order to occupy Island No. 10, but in light of the Union forces moving north up the river, he no longer saw the point of it and suspended the order. His own plan taking center stage, Pillow wrote to Polk telling him that instead of taking the island, Polk should send him reinforcements so that he could unite with Hardee at Greenville and then attack St. Louis. Pillow took a curt tone with his commanding officer, scolding him, “for Gods sake dont hold me back or cripple me for a want which will wait on you until the work of emancipating Missouri is completed.”8

Polk, like Lee in Western Virginia, was fast realizing that commanding independent Generals was an increasingly difficult task.

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In New York, a Grand Jury headed by Charles Gould was convened to determine what could legally be done about newspapers that spoke out against the war and against the Lincoln administration. Papers like the New York Daily News, the Freeman’s Journal and the weekly Eagle were “encouraging the rebels now in arms against the Federal Government by expressing sympathy and agreement with them, the duty of acceding to their demands, and dissatisfaction with the employment of force to overcome them.”

While they conceded that “free governments allow liberty of speech and of the press to their utmost limit,” they were mostly looking for that limit. The papers, they believed, were publishing encouragement to the Rebels and telling them that they were right. “If the utterance of such language in the streets or through the press is not a crime,” resolved the Grand Jury, “then there is a great defect in our laws, or they were not made for such an emergency.”

In closing, the Grand Jury noted that “the conduct of these disloyal presses is, of course, condemned and abhorred by all loyal men,” but what they most wanted was “to learn from the Court that it is also subject to indictment and condign punishment.”9



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p792-793. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51, Part 2, p236-237. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p563-564. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p651-652. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p657. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p444-445. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p655-656. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p654-655. []
  9. Appletons ̕annual Cyclopædia and Register of Important Events, Volume 1, 1867. []
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2 thoughts on “Confederates on the Move in Western Virginia and Missouri!

  1. Interesting look at the concept of “limits on free speech” there at the end. Like today, when there is discussion about how leaks can put troops at risk, there were questions of how much freedom was appropriate during times of “emergency”. Generally I support the greatest freedom of the individual. Yet it is obviously foolish to ask our soldiers to go out on the front lines and fight for us if we are going to provide a voice of criticism for them from the safety of the home front… a real problem, isn’t it? Especially if it not only damages our morale and supports the enemy’s morale, but may also provide usable intel for the opposition (as today’s instant communication makes possible)…

    1. Such things will be a problem throughout the war. You’d think that it would have made a huge difference, but I can’t recall a time when it did (I could be wrong). Though news traveled quickly via telegraph, rumors were way more rampant than factual news, so nobody knew what to believe.

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