November 10, 1861 (Sunday)
The town of Guyandotte in western Virginia was situated along the banks of the Ohio, at the mouth of the river which gave the town its name. Kellian Whaley, a former Virginia and current Western Virginia congressman, was commissioned by Governor Pierpoint to raise a company of Union troops in Guyandotte.
By this date, he had raised roughly 150 men who would eventually become part of the 9th Virginia (US) Infantry. They were encamped and drilled in the town, which was, by all reports, largely pro-secessionist. Some townspeople, disgruntled that Union soldiers were drilling upon their sacred soil, contacted Confederate Col. Albert Jenkins, a former Virginia representative who had raised a band of partisan cavalrymen who were raising hell through much of southern Western Virginia.
Jenkins was told that the Union recruits and their political commander kept a scant guard and could be easily captured by his 1,200 horse soldiers. The Rebel Colonel wasted little time.
After dark, at 7pm, Jenkins and his men swooped down upon the Union camp. The attack was so unexpected and sudden that only forty recruits could form into line to resist the Rebels. Seeing that they were soon to be surrounded, nearly fifty fled without a shot.
According to a Cincinnati newspaper, the townsfolk invited many of the Union recruits into their homes for dinner or fellowship on this Sunday evening. Those who were off duty accepted, thus scattering the regiment. Apparently, the secessionist entertainers placed signals in front of the houses containing the unsuspecting Union troops, ready for easy capture. The paper asserts that capture wasn’t the only thing on the minds of the Guyandotte citizens, however.
Into the houses, “the rebels rushed, murdering the unarmed soldiers in cold blood.” The paper went on to claim that the “rebel citizens, men and women, rushed to arms and aided the cavalry in the slaughter.”1
This was, of course, wildly exaggerated. The remaining troops were rounded up, along with thirty horses, 200 muskets and various other supplies. The Rebels also arrested at least eight Unionists, whose only crime was being Unionists. Keeping the prisoners under guard, the Confederates bedded down for the night.2
Of those captured was Major Kellian Whaley. According to the Ironton, Ohio Clipper, Whaley, who had fired his gun, was surrounded by Confederates who yelled, “kill the damned abolitionist!” Two Rebels restrained him by the arms as another aimed a pistol at his heart. Whaley was asked where the rest of his men were (which discredits the Cincinnati newpaper’s story) and that he would be shot if he didn’t tell them. Whaley refused to tell and was about to be shot when an officer under Jenkins recognized him and saved his life.3
While it’s now obvious that the Cincinnati paper was writing a piece of pulp fiction, at the time, it wasn’t so clear.
Rebels at Cotton Hill Pushed Back
The skirmishing near Gauley Bridge in Western Virginia had sputtered on and off since the 1st of the month. General John Floyd and his Confederate Brigade had established themselves upon Cotton Hill, which overlooked the Union camp across the Kanawha River. Union General Jacob Cox had been directing most of the Union troops, the previous day sending scouts across the river to find a weakness in the Rebel line.
Cox believed that he could dislodge the Rebel battery that had been causing so much commotion over the past week and a half. He ordered about 400 Ohio and Kentucky troops to cross the river at two different locations. The Ohio troops advanced unseen and out of range of the Confederate guns, and were able to spring upon the battery with little warning. After a sharp fight, the battery withdrew and the Ohio troops were joined by the Kentuckians, who had also tangled with the Rebels.
They carried Cotton Hill, but the bulk of the Rebels,were still out there. General Cox reported the success to General Rosecrans, overall commander of the Union forces in Western Virginia, who told him to throw the rest of the brigade over the river and attack the Rebels.
Cox and his men crossed and then scrambled up over the bluff of Cotton Hill. As he reached the top, joining the Ohio and Kentucky troops, they drove the enemy back towards their camp as they went. In the distance was the Confederate baggage train, heading towards Fayette.
The main body of the Rebels was close by, but Cox had to wait for the brigades of Generals Benham and Schenck to come up as reinforcements before advancing. Rosecrans, however, had detained both reinforcing brigades. He and Benham had spent the day discussing topography, while Schenck wasn’t allowed to cross the river as the Confederates held the ferry crossing they were going to use. After the sun set, Cox figured that they would not be coming and encamped for the night, hoping that dawn would bring better news.4
- Quoted in a speech given by M.S. Wilkinson of Minnesota on the “Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia,” given before the US Senate on March 26, 1862. Wilkinson does not give the name of the paper. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p411-412. [↩]
- Ironton Clipper, as quoted in The Rending of Virginia: A History by Granville Davisson Hall, Mayer & Miller, 1901. [↩]
- Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox. [↩]