Kanawha Valley Cleared of Rebels!; Greely’s Words to Lincoln

Monday, July 29. 1861

Gauley Bridge, in western Virginia, was a small town, consisting of two or three houses, a general store, a tavern and a church. The bridge, from which the town took its name, was an 1850 wooden covered bridge along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike. The town sat at the confluence of the New and Gauley Rivers, which joined to form the Kanawha River. This bridge effectively marked the terminus of the Kanawha Valley.

As Confederate General Wise retreated out of the Kanawha Valley towards White Sulpher Springs, he burned the Gauley Bridge. On the morning of this date, Union troops under General Cox arrived in the town and captured Confederate munitions and 1,500 stand of rifles, which were left behind for easier travels (though it’s not clear why they weren’t burned with the bridge).

Cox’s original orders required him to go no farther into western Virginia than Gauley Bridge. That worked out fairly well since the destroyed bridge would hold him up indefinitely. Regardless, while the main body of Cox’s brigade set up camp at Gauley, a detachment was sent forward to keep pace with the Rebels.

The “Kanawha Brigade” under Cox would make its home at Gauley Bridge for nearly a month, having no action, save for skirmishing with a few bands of guerrillas. While the Kanawha Valley was largely loyal to the Union, the Gauley Valley was replete with secessionists.

The officers and soldiers in Cox’s brigade could rest well knowing that the danger they faced moving up the Kanawha River had paid off. The Kanawha was finally free of Confederates.1


Every Drop of Blood Henceforth Shed in this Quarrel will be Wantonly, Wickedly Shed

For the Union, western Virgina was really the only bright spot. The situation around Washington after the Battle of Bull Run was disgraceful. General George McClellan had examined both the forces in the capital and around Arlington. Very few were in any condition to fight. Only a small handful of forts were completed and few entrenchments were dug. If the Confederates attacked Washington, how could it be held? The army, thought McClellan, was a disorganized, undisciplined and very dreary mob.

This was hardly a state secret. The demoralization of the army after such a defeat made sense. But what could be done? McClellan’s job was to rebuild the army. Since the army was basically no more, McClellan had to start from the ground up.2

Prior to the Battle of Bull Run, most had been quick to urge the Union “On To Richmond!” At the forefront of these cries was New York Tribune editor, Horace Greeley. For nearly a month straight, the words “On To Richmond!” blazed across his paper. Now, however, little more than a week after the sad defeat, his world had changed.

On this date, Greeley gathered his thoughts, put pen to paper and wrote to President Lincoln. “This is my seventh sleepless night – yours, too, doubtless,” began the editor. “You are not considered a great man, and I am a hopelessly broken one.”

Greeley then pondered what everyone in the nation was pondering: “Can the rebels be beaten after all that has occurred, and in view of the actual state of feeling caused by our late awful disaster?” If they could not be beaten, Greeley told the President, “do not fear to sacrifice yourself to your country.” If the war was not winnable, “then every drop of blood henceforth shed in this quarrel will be wantonly, wickedly shed, and the guilt will rest heavily on the soul of every promoter of the crime.”

If the Union was truly severed, he suggested that a year-long armistice be “proposed with a view to a peaceful adjustment.”

In New York City, “the gloom … is funereal – for our dead at Bull Run were many, and they lie unburied yet. On every brow sits sullen, scorching, black despair.”

Though the letter pained Lincoln upon reading it, he did not reply. Two decades after the war, Greeley’s associates commented that the editor “had been and was still severely ill with brain fever … the entire letter revealed that he was on the verge of insanity when he wrote it.”3


Pope Takes Command of North Missouri

General John Pope had accompanied President-elect Abraham Lincoln from Springfield to Washington. After offering his services as an aide, he was made Brigadier-General of Illinois volunteer troops. On this date, he was given command of the District of North Missouri. The district was part of the Western Division under General. John C. Fremont. Though most of the action was in south Missouri, Pope had command of all troops north of St. Louis.

From his headquarters in Mexico, Missouri, 110 miles northeast northwest of St. Louis, Pope issued his first General Orders, assigning commands to subordinates and stating how he would oversee his district.

Pope had three field officers under him: General Stephen A. Hurlbut in Macon City, Col. Ulysses S. Grant in Mexico and Col. Leonard Fulton Ross in Warrenton.

Further, Pope resolved that “no arrests will be made for opinions sake, unless the parties are engaged in open acts of hostility, or are stimulating others to such acts by inflammatory words or publications.” It was the mission of his command “to restore peace and safety to a region distracted with civil commotion, and to bring to punishment the infamous assassins and incendiaries who have been infesting this country.”4

  1. Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox. []
  2. Army of the Potomac; Birth of Command by Beatie. []
  3. Horace Greeley, Founder and Editor of the New York Tribune by William Alexander Linn, D. Appleton and Company, 1903. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p415-416. []
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2 thoughts on “Kanawha Valley Cleared of Rebels!; Greely’s Words to Lincoln

  1. Mexico, Missouri, is northwest of St. Louis, not northeast. Just a typo but important to note.
    Keep up the good work on the blog. I read it every day. Thanks for covering the understudied Trans-Miss!

    1. Thanks! You’re right, it was just a typo, but a big one. I often get east and west switched around in my head. I’m loads of fun on roadtrips. “Then head east on Route 2… no wait, I mean west!” Loads of fun. 🙂

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