Rosecrans Retreats in Western Virginia; The Chicamacomico Races

Saturday, October 5, 1861

When last we left the armies of Lee and Rosecrans, drying out on opposing spurs of Big Sewell Mountain in Western Virginia, each side was well entrenched and practically daring the other to attack. In the several days since, little to no movement was made by either. The rains had stopped and the roads were slowly drying out.

Confederate General Lee realized that any attack upon the Federals was nearly suicidal. General Rosecrans must have felt the same way. The Kanawha River, to his rear, had crested over its fifty-foot-high banks and ran five feet deep through the towns along its shore. As the rains had stopped and the roads dried out, the river receded. By this date, it was low enough for the Union army to risk a crossing.

Throughout the day, Rosecrans began sending his ambulances and wagons west along the James River & Kanawha Turnpike towards Gauley Bridge, their base of operations. By 10pm, the main body struck its tents and began its withdraw. Deployed as a rear guard, General Cox’s Brigade remained in their positions, in case the Rebels might try to advance against the retiring Union Army.

After 1:30am, the bulk of Cox’s Brigade pulled out, leaving a scant skirmish line behind.

Though the Rebels were unaware of the Union movement, the march was not an easy one. Wagons, cannons and pretty much anything with wheels, became mired in the mud. General Rosecrans, not wanting to waste any time, continually rode up and down the column ordering stuck wagons to be burned and excess baggage to be tossed aside.

It was start-and-stop all night. By the first slivers of dawn, the Army had moved but three or four miles.1

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The Chicamacomico Races – Back Up the Island

At Cape Hatteras on the North Carolina coast, an Indiana regiment had also retreated and was encamped at the Hatteras lighthouse after an exhausting and nearly deadly day-long waterless march down the island. They were followed closely by Rebel troops from Georgia, who encamped several miles to the north.

The Confederates, who were expecting North Carolina troops to be landed below the Union troops, cutting them off, were ready to begin their anticipated pincer movement. However, towards the end of the previous day, the ships carrying the North Carolina troops ran aground and the reinforcements could not be sent. When word reached Confederate Col. Wright, he ordered his Georgia regiment to march the thirty or so miles back to where they had landed.

The news of the Union retreat had reached Fort Hatteras, which dispatched a New York regiment to prevent the Indiana boys from being captured and the Federal Forts assailed. Though they were a few miles behind the now-retreating Rebels, they made good time and closed in quickly. To make matters hotter, the USS Monticello, a screw-steamer mounted with three large guns, pulled along side the Georgians and opened fire on the hasty column.

Through most of their march along the sound-side of the island, the Rebels trudged through mire and inlets under the constant fire of shot, shell and grape. To lighten their step, most removed their shoes, socks and pants. Amazingly, only two Rebels were wounded.

They made it back to their waiting ships and finally back to their base at Roanoke Island. The Union troops returned to Fort Hatteras and The Chicamacomico Races were over.

Due to this mishap, Union General Wool, commanding from Fortress Monroe, placed General Joseph K. F. Mansfield in command of the Union forces at Hatteras, removing Colonel Rush Hawkins.2



  1. Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox. []
  2. The Civil War in North Carolina by John Gilchrist Barrett. []
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Rosecrans Retreats in Western Virginia; The Chicamacomico Races by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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