Wednesday, June 19, 1861
Through the pre-dawn haze, two companies of Rebel troops from Tennessee peered out from the hills surrounding the small Piedmont town of New Creek [now called Keyser], along a bend in the Potomac River, 20 miles west of Cumberland. A small B&O Railroad depot was guarded by a 200 – 300 Yankees with a couple of cannons. When all was ready, the Rebels charged the unsuspecting Union troops who were able to fire a few shots as they scattered into the streets.
In their hasty retreat, they left behind the two cannons and their colors. The Tennessee boys moved on Bridge Twenty-One, a mile or so downriver from New Creek, and set it ablaze. In a few minutes, only the stone foundation remained.
The Rebels rejoined the rest of their brigade,under the command of Col. A.P. Hill, 20 miles east, in Romney. 1
McClellan’s Overreaction Bears Little Fruit
Union General George B. McClellan began his day with another telegram warning of more threats to Col. Lew Wallace near Cumberland, Maryland. Over the past few days, he had sent warnings and pleas for assistance to General Patterson at Hagerstown and to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Though Wallace himself no longer felt threatened and Patterson believed the whole thing to be a ruse, McClellan continued to believe it as he tapped out a quick “good morning” to Scott.
He wished for Scott to order Patterson to send reinforcements to Wallace, as there was a large body of Rebels in Romney that were supposedly about to pounce on Cumberland. If Patterson moved south into Romney and he (McClellan) moved from Grafton to Beverly, they’d cut off the entire Confederate force. To get this little project started, McClellan was leaving Cincinnati for Grafton via Parkersburg.
Scott’s reply was filled with annoyance: “I do not credit the existence of any formidable Rebel force in the mountains to disturb Wallace, and have so said to Patterson.”2
What he actually said to Patterson was “McClellan is again alarmed for the safety of Wallace. I do not believe there is any formidable force in the mountains to assail Wallace, and sooner than be annoyed with these daily rumors it would perhaps be better to call him to you and absorb him [Wallace].”3
Of course, there was indeed a formidable Confederate force in the mountains under A.P. Hill, part of the Army of the Shenandoah, under Johnston.
Jackson on the March
The rest of Johnston’s army was dotted between Martinsburg and Winchester, with the bulk of it at Bunker Hill. Martinsburg was a B&O town with not only a depot, but a rail yard and shops for repairing and constructing locomotives. The First Brigade, under Col. Thomas Jackson, was ordered to march on the town, now occupied by 330 troopers of Confederate Col. Jeb Stuart’s cavalry.
Martinsburg was also thought to be the target of Union General Patterson’s advance. Though the Rebels could not hold it, they didn’t want the works to fall into Union hands. Jackson’s Brigade was moving by 5pm and marched half the night before being allowed to bivouac until dawn.4
Union Men in the Rebel Army
In Poolesville, north of Washington, Union Col. Stone reported a strange occurrence. Defectors from the Rebels lines were not an entirely rare thing, but in the morning, a “gentleman” from Martinsburg appeared in his camp. He had fled the town on the 9th when three companies of Rebel militia entered the town and attempted to impress the local Martinsburg militia into the Confederate army.
This gentleman, along with 200 other Martinsburg militiamen, escaped across the mountains and somehow ended up in Poolesville. He also reported that two regiments of Martinsburg men were formed, but that these were mostly made up of “strong Union men, who are determined to shoot their officers and go over to the Government troops the first opportunity.”
Stone also sent a scout to check out Harpers Ferry from the Maryland side of the Potomac. Looking across the river, he saw that the town was destroyed and deserted, except for a few poor families. Obviously, the Confederate soldiers were gone, but he also saw no Union soldiers anywhere around. Patterson had not yet occupied Harpers Ferry.5
As for Patterson, he had wanted to hold Maryland Heights opposite Harpers Ferry, but wished to first repair the B&O Bridge that had been blown up by the retreating Confederates. However, his workers refused to cooperate unless the entire B&O line from Williamsport to the Ferry was under military protection. This wasn’t however a cowardly request. Patterson himself noted that Rebel scouts (probably Jeb Stuart’s cavalry) had been seen around the Potomac across from Williamsport. So once again, Patterson did not move.6
Western Virginia now West Virginia? Now Quite Yet.
In Wheeling, western Virginia, the Convention that would eventually make West Virginia its own state had proposed and debated the ordinance reorganizing the government of Virginia for the past week. On this date, the Ordinance for the Reorganization of the State Government of Virginia was overwhelmingly approved by the Convention.
Irreconcilable differences between eastern and western Virginia had been obvious for years and now, though a separate state wasn’t officially part of this Declaration, it was clear that that was what the western counties had in mind.
In the Convention’s afternoon session, they drove the point of a separate state home by recommending “the immediate organization of volunteer companies in every county represented in the Convention, to support the State government as organized by this Convention.”
Western Virginia was, according to the counties within its hoped-for borders, now growing ever-closer to becoming West Virginia.7
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p131-132. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p706. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p708. [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by Robertson. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p112-113. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p707. [↩]
- Proceedings of the Second Wheeling Convention, June 19, 1861. [↩]