Tuesday, June 25, 1861
The coming Union attack on Col. Thomas Jackson’s front at Martinsburg, reported by Jeb Stuart three days prior, had never materialized. Jackson sent a regiment and a battery of artillery to greet them, but the rumors turned out to be untrue. Before knowing any of this, Jackson wired his superior, General Joe Johnston for reinforcements. Johnston balked. He was hardly ready for such an attack and told Jackson to not engage the enemy. If attacked, he was to fall back on the main body at Bunker Hill, ten miles south of Martinsburg.
Frustrated, Jackson pulled the regiment back to Martinsburg. Meanwhile, he and his men has virtually destroyed the B&O Railroad works in the town. Originally, fifty-six locomotives, more than 300 coal cars, along with depots, shops and a roundhouse served the B&O at Martinsburg. By this date, however, most of the buildings, including the roundhouse, were piles of rubble. The coal in the coal cars was set ablaze, destroying cars and track alike. Forty-two locomotives were lined up and burned, while others were pushed into the river. Bridges with cars upon them were burned, weakened and broken.
This destruction, though militarily sound, was viewed by many in Maryland as vandalism. It did the South no favors in winning the love of the border state. Jackson also saw this as needless vandalism, but for other reasons. While it was true that if the Union had attacked immediately, they would have ceased the railroad, it was also true that they made no moves to attack.
Jackson could have saved most of the locomotives for the Southern military. Having second thoughts on the whole operation, he called for two railroad engineers from Richmond to see if any of the destroyed engines could be saved. Upon their arrival, they found thirteen that somehow escaped complete destruction.
The engines were dismantled, placed on wagons with forty-horse teams and hauled thirty-eight miles to Strasburg. Eventually, they made their way to Richmond where they were reassembled to be used by the Confederacy in a strange display of “reduce, reuse, recycle.”1
McClellan, Garnett and the Situation in Western Virginia
Two days after issuing his proclamation to the people of Western Virginia, Union General McClellan addressed his troops in the “Army of the West”.2 He called for the strictest of discipline and to remember “that you are in the country of friends, not of enemies; you are to protect, not to destroy.”
Then, in what history would remember as “classic McClellan,” he won their hearts: “Soldiers! I have heard that there was danger here. I have come to place myself at your head and to share it with you.”3
McClellan then did some reorganizing. He had roughly 20,000 troops which he divided into three columns. The first, at Philippi was under General Thomas A. Morris. At Grafton, General Charles W. Hill commanded five Ohio regiments and was also in charge of the defenses at the Cheat River Bridge (near Rowlesburg). Lastly, the column under McClellan’s own command in Clarksburg was composed of two brigades, the first under General William Rosencrans, the second under General Newton Schleich.4
Confederate General Robert Garnett and his force of 3,000 men still clung to his two mountain passes above Beverly and Leedsville, 20 miles south of Philippi. Though he was well entrenched, he had his eyes on the Cheat River Bridge and even at threatening Grafton. If the Union army was divided, especially as far out as the Cheat Bridge, he could fall on it and destroy much of it in detail. However, he would need more men.
Though Garnett doubted his own figures, he gathered that the Union had about 16,000 men arrayed before him. Though the real number was around 4,000 more, he had a good idea of what he was up against.
Intelligence gathering was nearly impossible for him due to the sentiments of the locals.
I have been, so far, wholly unable to get anything like accurate or reliable information as to the numbers, movements, or intentions of the enemy, and begin to believe it almost an impossible thing. The Union men are greatly in the ascendency here, and are much more zealous and active in their cause than the secessionists. The enemy are kept fully advised of our movements, even to the strength of our scouts and pickets, by the country people, while we are compelled to grope in the dark as much as if we were invading a foreign and hostile country.
More than anything, however, he needed more men.5
- Stonewall Jackson by Robertson. Also, The Baltimore And Ohio in the Civil War by Summers. [↩]
- Actually, it was never officially called this. McClellan was commander of the Department of the Ohio, but his army, like all Union armies at this point in the war, was unnamed. A similar thing happened with McDowell’s Army of Northeastern Virginia, though that occurred after it was disbanded. The Army of the West, as we’ll see, was the name given to General Lyon’s army at Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p197. [↩]
- Campaign in Western Virginia by George B. McClellan. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p237-238. [↩]