Patterson Reconsiders Attacking; McClellan & Lyon Push Forward

Tuesday, July 9, 1861

The pressure that Union General Patterson was to keep upon General Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah, now at Winchester, required him to move closer to the Rebels. His Federal army at Martinsburg was twenty-two miles away from Johnston’s. It was feared in Washington that Johnston’s army of 11,000 would join with Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac, 18,000 strong at Manassas.

Patterson had sent out marching orders the previous evening, but by morning, they were recalled. Col. Stone’s men, of the Rockville Expedition, had arrived late from Harpers Ferry. They were worn out and could be of no use in leading either of the two columns advancing south.

It wasn’t just Stone who opposed to the movement. Several other officers under Patterson took issue with the orders. Patterson, therefore, called a council of all division and brigade commanders. Some wished to wait for more wagons to arrive. Transportation of supplies was becoming an issue, and moving farther away from their main depot would make it more so. Others were needlessly worried about Johnston’s Army being in a better position to threaten them than the other way around. Johnston, they feared, could receive reinforcements from Beauregard at Manassas.

The bulk of the officers, however, believed that attacking south, up the Valley Turnpike, as was Patterson’s original orders, was a bad idea. Col. Stone, for example, thought it would be best to attack from the area of Charlestown, seven miles west of Harpers Ferry. Others agreed. Patterson would have to think on this. Meanwhile, it would give him time to procure more wagons, thus satisfying that specific concern.1

In his report to Washington, Patterson gave both reasons for his lack of movement, citing Harpers Ferry as his intended base. From Charlestown, he could cover Winchester, Leesburg and even send troops to Washington, if needed.2

As Patterson was reworking his plan, word of what was thought to be the grand Confederate plan was delivered to General-in-Chief Scott.

Supposedly, Johnston’s Army at Winchester was to draw Patterson away from the Potomac and crush him. That being accomplished, Johnston would join forces with General Wise (in the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia) and defeat McClellan. After western Virginia was cleared of Union troops, Johnston and Wise would join forces with Beauregard at Manassas and take Washington.3

Of course, no such plan was ever concocted, even by Beauregard, but bits of it gave Union leaders some caution. That Johnston might draw Patterson away from the Potomac and defeat him was certainly feared. With Patterson out of the picture, Johnston could easily reinforce Beauregard.

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Probing Attacks at Rich Mountain

These supposed Rebel plans made no mention of Confederate General Garnett’s force huddled among the rocks of Rich Mountain and Laurel Hill in western Virginia. McClellan, opposite Garnett’s 4,500-strong Army of the Northwest, could bring over 10,000 against the Rebels.

Garnett believed the main attack would come at Laurel Hill, 16 miles north of Rich Mountain. Laurel Hill is where he made his headquarters and where most of his troops were camped. Holding Rich Mountain with 1,300 men was Lt. Colonel John Pegram, who had arrived on the scene less than a week before. If the main attack was to be at Laurel Hill, the 1,300 on Rich Mountain should be able to hold their ground.

Garnett, with over 3,000 on Laurel Hill, was even more convinced on this date that the main attack would be on his front as three brigades of Union troops appeared before him, occupying Girard Hill, which the pickets of both sides fought over for the past few days.4

Later in the evening, south, at Rich Mountain, the Union troops made a “reconnaissance in force” driving in the Confederate pickets and outposts, capturing Roaring Run Flats, not two miles from Lt. Col. Pegram’s defenses. Pegram, not fully appreciating the numbers behind McClellan’s main force (or even his advanced one), wrote to Garnett for permission to launch a surprise attack upon their camp. Garnett wouldn’t allow it, choosing to remain on the defensive and await the main attack at Laurel Hill.5

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Picking up the Pieces in Missouri

Since the Battle of Carthage, four days prior, Union troops under Col. Franz Sigel wandered their way back to Springfield as the Missouri State Guard under secessionist Governor Jackson decided not to pursue. Instead, they marched south towards Cowskin Prairie to join the Confederate troops under General Ben McCulloch.

Meeting up, they were a strange assortment of undisciplined Missouri “veterans” (of the Battle of Carthage) dressed in the ragged clothes of farmers mixing with the military gray uniformed Confederate recruits. Nevertheless, the Missouri boys whole-heartedly welcomed the Confederates who would help them save their state from the Union.

With General Price once again in command of the entire Missouri State Guard, the Confederates under McCulloch returned to Arkansas. Missouri was, afterall, still not a Confederate state.

Meanwhile, north of Springfield, Union General Lyon had been waiting near Clinton along the banks the flooded Grand River. With the additional troops from Kansas, Lyon commanded 4,500, all of whom were able to cross the river on the 7th thanks to a couple of boats and a pontoon bridge. That night, two cavalry companies rode to the Osage River, twenty-two miles ahead. There was a ferry boat that the rest of the army could use to cross the river, but unfortunately, it was tethered to the other side. A few horsemen swam the racing river, cut it loose and commandeered it.

As Lyon was crossing the Osage, around noon on this date, he received word of Sigel’s defeat at Carthage. If Jackson and McCulloch were to join forces, feared Lyon, they could defeat any force that could be brought against them. When his troops had crossed the river, he ordered them to get rid of anything they were carrying that wasn’t completely essential. He wanted a quick march to Sigel and Springfield.

With the chorus of “The Happy Land of Canaan” echoing through the column, they marched on through the afternoon, all through the night until dawn. They had marched fifty miles in under thirty hours, with little rest through the Missouri summer. Springfield and Sigel were nearly in sight. Lyon had ordered supplies to be delivered to Springfield and supposed they would be waiting for his troops upon their arrival.6

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  1. A Narrative of the Campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah, in 1861 by Robert Patterson. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p162-163. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p164. []
  4. Rebels at the Gate by Lesser. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p256. []
  6. Bloody Hill by William Riley Brooksher, Brassey’s Press, 1995. Also, Life of General Nathaniel Lyon by Ashbel Woodward, 1862, came in handy, though some of the dates conflict. []
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Patterson Reconsiders Attacking; McClellan & Lyon Push Forward by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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