Thursday, June 13, 1861
Hearing that several hundred Rebel troops were drilling and “oppressing loyal citizens” in Romney, Virginia [now West Virginia], Union Colonel Lew Wallace and his 11th Indiana Zouaves, about 500 strong, took a train from Cumberland, Maryland to New Creek Station, 21 miles south. They began the 23 mile march east over the mountains to Romney at four in the morning.
Through narrow passes and along harrowing bluffs, his Zouaves marched towards Romney and the Rebels [along modern US 50]. About a mile and a half west of the town, Wallace’s advance guard was fired upon by a Confederate scout, who quickly rode into town to alert the rest of his comrades.
Wallace saw the Rebels on a hill just west of town, but to get to them, he would have to cross a bridge over the South Fork of the Potomac. Two Rebel artillery pieces could sweep the road to his front. He ordered a company to take the bridge, but as they crossed it, small arms fire rattled from a nearby house. Wallace then led a second company across the bridge and took up a position to fire upon the structure. The Rebels inside scurried off for safer ground.
Attention was then turned to the Rebel battery. Rather than charge it directly, Wallace chose to move five companies to the right, flanking it on its left. The battery, however, soon limbered up and was moved safely away.
The 11th crossed a deep gorge and entered the town where they saw the Rebels fleeing with the “loyal” townspeople. Wallace’s men, fatigued from the grueling march, could hardly give chase. They found the town mostly empty.
The Rebels suffered (possibly) two dead and a few wounded. Wallace captured a Confederate Major known for “inciting rebellion” and organizing troops. Guns, tents and surgical supplies were seized and carried with the regiment back to Cumberland.
In his report, Wallace rightful boasted that his men had traveled “eighty-seven miles in all, forty-six of which was on foot, over a continuous succession of mountains, made in twenty-four hours, without rest, and varied by a brisk engagement made, too, without leaving a man behind, and, what’s more, my men are ready to repeat it to-morrow.”1
The Declaration of the Wheeling Convention
Farther west in Virginia, the Wheeling Convention met in the Custom House to hear the reading of the “Declaration of the People of Virginia Represented in Convention in Wheeling.” Virginia’s secession convention, held last month in Richmond, “abused the powers nominally entrusted to it,” and “has usurped and exercised other powers, to the manifest injury of the people, which, if permitted, will inevitably subject them to a military despotism.”
At this point, the Wheeling Convention wasn’t officially calling for the western counties to break off and form their own state, but rather a “reorganization of the government of the Commonwealth.” It declared that the separation from the United States and the carrying on of war against them “are without authority and void.” Finally, it boldly staked that “the offices of all who adhere to the said Convention and Executive, whether legislative, executive or judicial, are vacated.”
The Wheeling Convention basically fired the entire Virginia state government. Of course, it had no authority to do such a thing, but here, it was the sentiment that counted.2
Johnston Allowed to Vacate Harpers Ferry
Confederate General Joe Johnston in Harpers Ferry was still uneasy about fending off the gathering Union forces. The Ferry was surrounded by hills and cliffs, rendering it practically indefensible. He feared that if attacked, his force would be completely cut off and captured.
While General Lee urged him to maintain his position, Johnston was given the final say over his own men. Richmond suggested, if he thought it wise, to retire towards Winchester or the road to Manassas, making a stand at one of the passes.
However, Johnston was warned that if he fell back to General Beauregard’s position at Manassas, the Union forces would take the Shenandoah Valley. If Johnston could hold the Valley, there was a chance that Beauregard could advance upon Alexandria.3
Missouri Troops on the Run
In Missouri, the talk of troop movements was over. Union General Lyon loaded 1,500 troops on board two steamers and set course for Jefferson City, the capital and home of Governor Jackson. Lyon was about to live up to his proclamation of “This means war!”
Upon hearing of Lyon’s approach, Jackson ordered the rail bridges over the Osage and Gasconade to be burned (he expected Lyon to come by rail). The government archives, as well as the armory, were picked up and moved to Boonville, 50 miles northwest of the capital. The Missouri State Guard, commanded by General Sterling Price, accompanied the Governor.
Here, they hoped to gather the support needed to defend the state. 4