Floyd Hopes to Ditch Wise; Benjamin Butler Doesn’t Plan an Attack

Friday, August 23, 1861

In what was looking like a move to permanently end the squabbling of two Confederate Generals in Western Virginia, General Floyd wrote to Secretary of War LeRoy Walker in Richmond. General Wise, Floyd’s rival in the small Army of the Kanawha, was busy marching his Legion the seventeen miles back to its camp at Dogwood Gap. The day previous, Floyd had ordered Wise to Carnifex Ferry, but after Wise departed, Floyd decided to march his own command to the same spot and send Wise’s back.

Floyd wrote to Secretary Walker that his troops had taken Carnifex Ferry and cut off communication between Union Generals Cox and Rosecrans. This would enable him, “when sufficiently strong, either to attack General Cox in his flank or rear, on the Kanawha River, or to advance against the flank of General Rosecrans, should General Lee so direct.”

What would make Floyd “sufficiently strong” would be “three good regiments… to replace the Legion of General Wise, which can be used to better advantage by General Lee.”

Wise’s Legion, which had been with Floyd but a day ago, consisted of three regiments. Floyd, of course, knew he would need more men to attack either General Cox or General Rosecrans. In fact, the number of men that he believed he would need was the exact number of men he just sent away.

General Lee, to whom he wished Wise to be sent, had never requested Wise’s Legion. Quite the opposite, he had done everything but directly order both Generals Floyd and Wise to co-operate on friendly terms. Floyd, it seems, was perfectly fine with the prospect of waiting, perhaps weeks, for reinforcements from Richmond rather than using the troops actually under his own command (Wise’s Legion).

Such short-sightedness would have its consequences.1


The Secret Life of Benjamin Butler

It wasn’t just Confederate Generals that were at odds with each other. Nearly one week prior, General Benjamin Butler had been removed from command of the Department of Virginia, headquartered at Fortress Monroe. His replacement was General John Ellis Wool, a 77 year old Mexican War hero in ill health. Butler was given command of what amounted to a brigade of volunteers stationed at the fort.

On this date, Wool wrote to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, complaining about the state of the troops at the fort. The seven companies of artillery had only six officers until Wool took one of them as his assistant, leaving only five. There had been other artillery officers, but they had been made quartermasters and commissaries. Wool found not one “volunteer officer fit for duty.” As his aide-de-camp, Wool took an officer from the topographical engineers, who would need to be replaced. He’d also need two more assistants (bringing the total to four).

Wool wanted more men, asking Scott for 20,000 – 25,000 to operate against Virginia, North and South Carolina. Along with this, he wanted complete control of his command as he did “not think it could be done efficiently at Washington.” Adding, “we know better than anyone at Washington … what we require for such expeditions.”

Butler, who probably knew of Wool’s complaints and requests, claims to have had an expedition of his own in mind, which he would soon reveal to General Wool. For weeks, wrote Butler after the War, he had kept his eye upon Forts Hatteras and Clark, two log and sand forts on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. He would need troops, of course, but supposedly figured that “it would be of no more use for me to ask Scott for any troops with which to do it than it would be to attempt to fly.”2

The day prior, Butler wrote to his wife back in Massachusetts, “I shall be home in ten days or a fortnight,” so how closely he was watching and planning is up to debate.3 On the same day that Butler wrote his wife, Naval Flag-Officer Silas Stringham met with General Wool to discuss a joint operation against the forts at Hatteras. They had decided to attempt a landing and Stringham was to prepare his vessels while Wool readied his men.4

Also on that day, General Wool was informed that he was to have no part in planning the operation. “The operation originated in the Navy Department,” stated orders from Washington, “and is under its control.”5 On this date, Flag-Officer Stringham met again with General Wool who showed him the order. Stringham was surprised. He quickly shot off a letter to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. “I have always understood that I was to cooperate with the Army,” wrote the naval officer. Though it seemed to be against his better judgement, he vowed that he “shall not shrink from … perfecting arrangements.”6

If Wool and Stringham had been meeting and discussing the action against Hatteras while Butler was making plans to take a leave of absence to visit his wife, how much, if any, of this plan could have originated with Butler? Certainly he was there when the two senior officers were discussing the operation. He may even have been selected to head it up (though orders to that effect wouldn’t be given for a couple more days). Butler’s 1892 autobiography is not quite a work of fiction, but seems to be rife with self-serving wishful thinking.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p802. []
  2. Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences by Benj. F. Butler, A. M. Thayer, 1892. []
  3. Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler edited by Jessie Ames Marshall, The Plimpton Press, 1917. []
  4. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p 102. []
  5. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p 106. []
  6. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p 109. []
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One thought on “Floyd Hopes to Ditch Wise; Benjamin Butler Doesn’t Plan an Attack

  1. Maybe Butler should have attempted to fly. North Carolina’s outer banks were exactly the location where couple of brothers 42 years later actually did attempt to fly and succeeded.

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