General Lee to Western Virginia; Missouri Looking Bleak

Sunday, July 28, 1861

General Robert E. Lee had been organizing the Confederate military and acting as an advisor to President Davis. With superiority shown on the fields of Manassas and the situation in Missouri seeming both contained and distant, Lee left Richmond for western Virginia.

Two small Confederate armies operated in the area. The Army of the Northwest, formerly under the late General Garnett, had been defeated at Rich Mountain and was slowly rebuilding itself in the mountain passes around Monterey. Under both Generals Wise and Floyd, the Army of the Kanawha was divided with Wise’s division falling back from Charleston, pursued by a Union brigade under General Jacob Cox.

Lee entered western Virginia with no more orders from President Davis than to coordinate the efforts of all the troops in that portion of the state. Traveling with him were two aids, Colonel John A. Washington, nephew of the first President, and Captain Walter Taylor, who would be with Lee through the rest of the war. They also traveled with two of Lee’s slaves, Meredith, who did the cooking, and Perry, a former waiter at Arlington.

A little more than a week before, Lee had petitioned President Davis to allow him oversee the situation in western Virginia. Instead, Davis sent Brigadier-General William Wing Loring, feeling Lee was too valuable to him to part company. Loring had arrived at Monterey and got a feel for its defenses. The Union forces held Cheat Mountain and were strongly entrenched, so an attack was out of the question. Loring left Monterey for Huntersville, across the Allegheny Mountains, to establish his headquarters and oversee the troops in the area.

On the evening of this date, Lee reached Staunton by rail and planned to go by horseback to Monterey. He carried no orders from Davis and had no actual authority over Loring, Wise or Floyd. His mission was to inspect and help with the planning of the campaign and report back to Davis. The most important task, however, was to somehow get all three Generals to work together. Floyd and Wise had already started up a lively competition and Loring was new to command. None of them knew that Lee was on his way.

Meanwhile, in the Kanawha Valley, General Wise was being pursued east out of Charleston by the Union brigade of General Jacob Cox, who was hot on his trail. Each day of the retreat was peppered with sporadic skirmishing from Wise’s rear guard and Cox’s advance guard, as the latter pushed the former farther up the Kanawha River.

Thirty miles from Charleston, Wise decided to burn Gauley Bridge, a large span along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike. This would buy him the time he needed to join up with Floyd at White Sulphur Springs, seventy-five miles away. Cox was about ten miles from Gauley Bridge on this date – probably around Hansford. Wise had already taken flight.

Basically, the Union army’s two-pronged attack had pushed the Confederates deep into western Virginia. Lee was there to push back.1


Bad News A-Plenty in Missouri

In Springfield, Missouri, things were not looking up for Union General Nathaniel Lyon. His force had dwindled to about 5,000 poorly armed and ill-supplied men (2,000 were recently ordered to St. Louis). His repeated calls for more troops and more supplies seemed to fall upon deaf ears. The addition of General John Fremont, headquartered in St. Louis, as the Western Department commander made little difference. Fremont was attempting to secure arms from Washington, but also stated that he had “plenty of men” in his command.

To make matters worse, the Confederates were on the move. On this date, Lyon received a dispatch from a scout that reported Rebels at Carthage and Sarcoxie. Others, under General Ben McCullough, were heading towards Cassville, the Confederate rendezvous point. The plan, it seemed was to attack Springfield from the south and west. All told, there were 10,000 Rebels moving towards him.

The bad news hardly ended there. From the Union garrison at Cairo, Illinois, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Fremont received news of Confederates from Tennessee converging on New Madrid, Missouri. Cairo was an incredibly important Union depot and if lost, could cut off troops and supplies from the east. It was held with less than 7,000 troops. The commanding General at the garrison believed that 12,000 Rebels were operating within fifty miles of Cairo.2

The Rebels at New Madrid lopped off whatever hope Lyon had of receiving supplies and reinforcements, both of which he would need to defend against the Rebels moving against him from the west.


Albert Sidney Johnston Comes East to New Mexico

The Confederates in New Mexico received a special guest on this date. Former United States army colonel, Albert Sidney Johnston had resigned from the army and had been traveling across the continent from California to offer his services to the Confederacy.

Johnston had been the US commander of the Department of the Pacific when his home state of Texas seceded from the Union. He, along with thirty-five others, including Lewis Armistead, followed the Butterfield Stage route towards Texas. Due to the high profile of Johnston, they were highly sought after and had to evade the United States Army.

On this date, Johnston and party were welcomed into the newly-captured Fort Fillmore by Lt. Col. John Baylor. He offered Johnston command of his small army, but Johnston, anxious to keep moving on to Richmond, only symbolically commanded it for the day. This break, however, allowed Baylor to begin planning the government of the Confederate Territory of Arizona.3

  1. Lee Vs. McClellan by Newell. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p408-412. []
  3. Bloody & Treasure by Donald S. Frazier. []
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General Lee to Western Virginia; Missouri Looking Bleak by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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