Saturday, July 13, 1861
Picking up the trail of the fleeing Rebels wasn’t so tough. Along the road to New Interest, western Virginia [modern-day Kerens], lay the discarded personal belongings and camp supplies of General Garnett’s retreating army. The road chosen by the Confederates grew narrow and became more like an abandoned path than a road. Soon, General Morris’s Union troops tramped by overturned wagons, discarded Sibley tents, blankets and more. Garnett’s men barricaded the path by hastily chopping down trees to stymie the Federal advance. The rain, once more, poured down, making the rutted dirt road a thick cauldron of mud.
Garnett’s two-mile long column took most of the morning crossing the Cheat River at Kaler’s Ford. Pausing for a rest after the ordeal, the Union troops, who had gained on them, reached Shavers Fork and spotted the Confederate supply wagons in a meadow across the river.
Alerted that they were soon to be overtaken, Garnett ordered two regiments to act as a rear guard as the wagon train had to recross the Cheat less than a mile away at Corrick’s Ford. As the rest of his 3,500-strong army crossed, the Union troops fired upon the rear guard regiments. The crossing was even more difficult than the last, with rain pelting down and bullets whizzing by their heads, teamsters whipped their terrified horses, swearing at them to cross.
A Virginia regiment with three pieces of artillery commanded the scene, occupying an 80 foot high bluff that overlooked the ford. Below, an Ohio regiment captured the wagons still trying to cross, as the Virginians fired into them screaming out a “Rebel yell.” The Ohio boys ducked behind a nearby fence for cover as an Indiana regiment moved in on their right. For thirty minutes, both sides fired fiercely, but most of the inexperienced soldiers fired high, sending bullets through the trees above.
Finally, the Indiana regiment crossed the Cheat and, after a failed attempt to hit the Confederate left flank, was able to wade in the river, under the Rebel position, to their right flank. Nearly out of ammunition, the Virginians were forced to retreat, leaving a cannon behind.
General Garnett heard the firing and rode back to Corrick’s Ford. Finding both regiments in retreat, he gathered ten sharpshooters to keep off the approaching Federals. Garnett sat on his horse as the remnants of his army passed by him. The Indiana regiment saw the officer from across the river. He was an easy target. The command was given to fire and a second later, General Robert Garnett fell from his horse onto the banks of the Cheat River.
The Rebels retreated and the Union pursuit halted as the word spread that a Confederate General had been killed. The body was not identified until Union Major John Love arrived. It was John Garnett, Love’s former West Point roommate and the first General killed in the Civil War.
Their General dead on the field, Col. J.N. Ramsey of the First Georgia took command of what remained of the Confederate Army of the Northwest. They made a hasty retreat towards Red House, Maryland, thirty miles to the north. The Union troops under Morris camped near the ford for the night.
Meanwhile, at Beverly, thirty miles south of Corrick’s Ford, Union General George McClellan had accepted the surrender of 600 Confederates led by Col. Pegram. They had taken to the woods on Rich Mountain after abandoning their camp. Late the previous night, Pegram offered his surrender. This morning, McClellan accepted. He gave them gracious terms, set them up with tents and rations and put up the officers (all thirty-three of them) in the Beverly Hotel. Col. Pegram had taken sick and so was given a room in the home of the sister of Confederate Col. Thomas Jackson.
News of McClellan’s great victories (though they were actually Rosecrans’s and Morris’s) was wired to Washington on the telegraph that followed the Union army to Beverly. Over the next few days, McClellan would become a national hero.1
Lyon in Missouri Needs More Troops
General Lyon in Missouri had raced his 4,500 men to aide Col. Franz Sigel’s brigade, defeated at the Battle of Carthage, covering fifty miles in thirty hours. When they neared Springfield, Lyon rode ahead to bring the supplies he ordered to his troops. However, the supplies were not there. He stopped his hungry troops short of the city, at Pond Springs, for fear they would loot it.
Most importantly, once he reached Springfield, he telegraphed Washington, telling them that his force would soon be down to 4,000, once the three-months volunteers were discharged from the army. Secessionist Missouri Governor Jackson “will soon have in this vicinity not less than 30,000. I must have at once an additional force of 10,000 men, or abandon my position.”
Lyon would impatiently wait to hear Washington’s reply.2