On the Eve of Battle in Western Virginia

Monday, September 9, 1861

General Wise’s wing of the Confederate Army of the Kanawha stirred to life in the morning when word arrived from General Floyd. By 8:30am, the dispatch penned by Floyd, seventeen miles away, was in Wise’s hands. The enemy, said Floyd, who actually commanded the army, was twelve miles away from Summersville (which was about fifteen miles away from Floyd at Carnifex Ferry). With only 1,600 men, it was unlikely, thought Floyd, that he could withstand an attack and he requested Wise to send two regiments at once.1

Wise, as was typical, balked, sending only one regiment (which wasn’t technically part of “Wise’s Legion” anyway), but refusing to send more. Never wanting to break up his Legion, Wise had even requested Lee to issue an order stating that it could never be broken up (Lee refused). This time around, Wise reasoned that he had up to 3,000 Federals before him at Gauley Bridge and only 1,050 effectives of his own.

Floyd had suggested that Wise could draw his own reinforcements from the militia just across New River. Wise had been in communication with them and was hoping to plan a joint movement, but for now, he claimed that he couldn’t wrestle a man from them as their commander, General Chapman, was calling upon Wise for reinforcements.

Though Wise could not send any troops from his Legion and though Chapman’s militia was also screaming for reinforcements, Wise had the nerve to ask Floyd permission to take his Legion down the Kanawha Valley, deeper into Union-held territory.

Wise, becoming more and more fed up with his commander asking him for things, wrote General Lee, also in Western Virginia. Mostly, the letter was filled with complaints not too differently worded from the excuses given to Floyd. He also asked Lee to incorporate the regiment he sent to Floyd into his Legion so that he wouldn’t have to send it to Floyd anymore.2

General Wise was also on Lee’s mind, and he took a moment to answer a September 5th letter that was even more timely on this date. Lee expressed his regrets that Floyd continually asked for troops from Wise’s Legion, but reminded him “how necessary it is to act upon reports touching the safety of troops, and that even rumors must not be neglected.”

Though Lee expressed some misgivings about Floyd’s position being “an exposed one, inviting attack,” mostly, he chastised Wise for complaining about Floyd. He also urged Wise to give up the idea of having his Legion as a separate command. “There must be a union of strength to drive back the invaders,” cautioned Lee, “I beg you will act in concert.”

Though it had been rumored that Union troops were marching south towards Carnifex Ferry, their exact location and number were still a mystery. In the evening of this date, one of General Floyd’s best scouts rode into camp exclaiming that the Federals were 4,000 strong and were advancing on “this side of Powell’s Mountain” (close to Summersville). Floyd then ordered Wise to send 1,000 troops from his Legion, nearly all his effective force. Not long later, in a following dispatch, he ordered that Wise not send the 1,000 to him, requesting only the regiment previously asked for (which Wise had already sent) and to keep a regiment from his Legion at Dogwood Gap, ready to reinforce him if needed.3

Three brigades of Union troops under General Rosecrans were closing in on Summersville and closing in on a very under-prepared General Floyd.


Over-Ranked Hunter to Assist Fremont in Missouri

President Lincoln and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott had been working on a way to wrangle General John C. Fremont, commander of the Western Department. Fremont had overstepped his bounds by issuing a proclamation freeing the slaves of disloyal Missourians. Scott had suggested sending Brigadier-General George Stoneman, though he would rather have sent Major-General David Hunter, to act as an advisor to Fremont. According to military etiquette, Hunter was a rank too high for such a post. Stoneman, thought Scott, “may prove to be a God-send.”

Lincoln, however, was little concerned about military etiquette. If Hunter was the right man for the job, Hunter should get the job. On this date, Lincoln wrote to General Hunter, asking him to accept the position.

In the letter, Lincoln quickly expressed Fremont’s faults. “He is losing the confidence of men near him, whose support any man in his position must have to be successful,” explained the President. Worst of all, Fremont’s “cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, & allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with.”

What Fremont needed was “to have, by his side, a man of large experience.” And then Lincoln popped the question: “Will you not, for me, take that place? Your rank is one grade too high to be ordered to it; but will you not serve the country, and oblige me, by taking it voluntarily?”4

Stoneman just might have been a God-send, but Hunter was Lincoln’s man. Though Hunter would be there soon enough, Fremont was still in command and likely to still be a problem.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p160. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p838-840. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p842. []
  4. Letter from Lincoln to General Hunter, September 9, 1861. []
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