January 3, 1862 (Friday)
After a brief few days of warm, even balmy, winter weather, it was gone, replaced by bitterly chilling wind, snow and a thermometer that plunged into the single digits as Stonewall Jackson’s 11,000 men shivered their way from Winchester to Romney.
They stepped off at 6am on the first day of the new year, nobody but General Jackson, and perhaps General Loring, his second in command, knowing the plan. By afternoon, when they turned towards the west, most speculated that they were headed for Romney, roughly forty miles from Winchester. This was, more or less, true, but Jackson had one stop to make before falling upon Union General Kelley’s force gathered in and around the town.
On the second day of the march, after a night spent dealing with brush fires created by wind-carried sparks, Jackson’s troops trudged through the snow over frozen roads [basically modern US 522], nearing Unger’s Store [modern Unger, WV] by nightfall. Unger’s Store was well north of Romney, and sixteen miles south of Bath [modern Berkeley Springs, WV] and the Potomac River.
Throughout the evening, Jackson formulated a plan to take Bath. Doing so would cut communication between the Union strong-points of Romney and Martinsburg. He knew little of the area and relied upon his soldiers, some of whom grew up in the area, to give him the lay of the land.
Jackson’s plan called for the militia to advance on the western side of the mountain just south of Bath, while Loring’s men were to attack up the main road. The Stonewall Brigade would bring up the rear and the cavalry would provide the screen to keep the enemy guessing. This fairly simple plan was kept to himself. Not even Loring was told of it.
On the morning of this date, Jackson gave the marching orders. The militia were off first and were given time to cross the mountain before Loring’s men started. Having no idea why his men were delayed, Loring was outraged. General Richard “Dick” Garnett, commanding the Stonewall Brigade, incurred Jackson’s wrath when he let the men, who had eaten little in the past couple of days, cook their rations. Jackson ordered his old brigade to stop cooking and start marching.
Despite Jackson’s angry prodding, none of his men marched more than ten miles. Every half hour or so, many would stop to build fires in the hopes of keeping warm. Jackson was certain that the Union troops at Bath could only be taken by surprise. This was incorrect on two counts.
First, Union Major O.L. Mann, commanding at Bath, was told of Jackson’s clumsy advance in the morning. A runaway slave had ran ten miles to tell him to leave town as Jackson’s army was closing in. Second, Jackson’s 11,000 would have little fighting to do against a Union force comprised of three companies of Illinois soldiers and two pieces of artillery.
Mann wasn’t sure what to make of the runaway’s story, so, around 3pm, he led Company K south to see for himself. Two hours later, he stumbled upon the vanguard of Loring’s column, taking them by surprise with a volley. The firing was harmless, but sent the Rebels scrambling back toward the main body, the fire regiment of which was just rounding a bend. Mann’s Federals took up a defensive position behind a fence near the woods.
One company of Rebels formed for battle and advanced upon Mann, who was greatly outnumbered. In the snowy dusk, however, the Confederates were overly cautious, believing the company of Union troops to be many times larger than they were. The crackling of musket fire peppered the coming darkness as two Rebels fell. As night came on fully, Mann retired back to Bath.
With the skirmish won and night fallen, the Rebels prepared to camp for the night. Jackson, however, wished to press the advance. He had the Yankees on the run and wanted to finish them. General Loring countermanded the order. Jackson again ordered Loring’s troops to march. Loring again refused. Finally, after a fierce battle of words, Jackson gave in, allowing his men to rest until dawn.1
Buell and Mac Gang Up On Halleck
While Jackson was trying as he might to get his officers to cooperate with his mysterious plan, Washington was trying to get Generals Buell and Halleck, in Kentucky and Missouri, to cooperate with a plan that everyone, even the Rebels, knew about.
Over the past few weeks, the reason that Buell could not advance into Eastern Tennessee began to fall upon General Halleck. It was Halleck who was to keep the Rebels in Western Tennesse from moving east. Halleck claimed that he could help but little, since his forces in Missouri were busy with problems of their own.
With General McClellan seriously ill, President Lincoln stepped in to solve the problem. Both Buell and Halleck, however, only humored him and wished to wait until McClellan recovered. The previous day, Lincoln had informed both that McClellan was getting better, and on this day, the General was well enough to set General Halleck straight.
McClellan reiterated that keeping the Rebels in Western Tennessee from reinforcing the Rebels in the eastern part of the state was of the “greatest importance.” He ordered that a force of gunboats and one or two divisions of infantry should be sent up the Cumberland River. He also thought it would be wise to make demonstrations against Columbus and the Tennessee River to keep the Rebels spread out.2
At the same time, General Buell wrote to General Halleck, basically filling in the details of McClellan’s plan. “I do not underrate the difficulties in Missouri,” wrote Buell, “but I think it not extravagant to say that the great power of the rebellion in the West is arrayed on a front, the flanks of which are Columbus and Bowling Green and the center about where the railroad between those points crosses the Tennessee and Cumberland Eivers, including Nashville and the fortified points below.”3
Buell was insisting that, though Halleck had troubles of his own, the Rebels in Tennessee were more important. And though Halleck wasn’t wrong in believing that he needed all the men he could get to battle the guerrillas and the Missouri State Guard, neither were Buell, McClellan and Lincoln wrong in their assessment of things in Kentucky and Tennessee.
This would not be the end of debate. Halleck had borne the brunt of the storm on this date, but Buell would be next.