Wise’s Second Pointless March to Carnifex Ferry

Sunday, September 1, 1861

About a week and a half before, Confederate General Wise marched his men seventeen miles to Carnifex Ferry in Western Virginia and back again under orders bipolar of General Floyd. As soon as Wise returned to his original camp at Dogwood Gap, Floyd asked him for a regiment. Only the day before, Floyd, fearing that his small victory over one Union regiment didn’t send the entire command skedaddling back to the Ohio River, asked Wise again for reinforcements just in case the Union troops at Gauley Bridge were about to attack him at Carnifex.

Though Wise gave his typical plethora of excuses as to why he couldn’t help Floyd, on the morning of this date, he moved out with the bulk of his troops (probably around 1,000), slogging the seventeen miles back to Carnifex Ferry. Though the march was probably much easier than the first time he tried it, the results were basically the same.

His command marched to the cliffs along the Gauley River, opposite the ferry, descending them in order to cross. Just as Wise was making his way down them, a messenger bearing an order from General Floyd appeared before him.1

From more recent information I think it doubtful whether the movements of the enemy require at this time the union of your force with mine, as embraced in my last order to you late in the evening. You will therefore retain your forces in camp until further orders.2

Wise was understandably furious. This was the second time he marched his command to Carnifex Ferry only to be turned back by General Floyd. The “recent information” Floyd alluded to was probably Wise’s own dispatch from the day before, informing Floyd that there was no body of troops marching on him from Gauley Bridge.

Wise’s anger turned useful, however. In a letter to the Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin, Wise explained, “I was so disgusted by these vacillating and harassing orders, that I determined at once with promptitude and dispatch to drive the enemy as far as possible back upon the turupike towards their camp at Gauley Bridge.”

By the evening, he had returned to Dogwood Gap, determined to attack General Cox’s Union forces east of Gauley Bridge.3

Union General Jacob Cox was aware of Wise, only fifteen or so miles east, but probably not aware of his movements to and from Carnifex. Occupying Cox’s mind was the newly-recruited Rebel militia gathering around him. There was a small detachment in Boone County, southwest of Gauley, that threatened Cox’s communication with Ohio. A much larger force (Cox supposed them to number around 2,500, though there were probably only 1,400), under Generals Alfred Beckley and A. A. Chapman was based in Fayette Court House [now Fayetteville, WV] and up Loop Creek, fifteen miles southeast of Gauley. For the past several days, advance Union pickets had exchanged fire with them on Cotton Hill.

Cox decided to turn his attention first to the Boone County militia. For this, he dispatched half of the 1st Kentucky Regiment under Lt. Col. Enyart to disrupt their operations. They would leave the next day.4

Wise, in the meantime, thought he might be able to join forces with Generals Beckley and Chapman at Fayette. To do this, he would need to occupy the Hawks Nest, now held by Union troops, eight miles east of Gauley, and Miller’s Ferry, just south of that. If both were taken, he could have an open line of communication with the militia and attack in some sort of concerted effort.5

Neither General Wise nor Floyd had communicated much about the militia and their ideas for using it to help their cause. While Wise was determined to use them to drive back the Federals, Floyd ordered Beckley and Chapman to head west towards Charleston, leaving the entire command of General Cox in the hands of Wise.6

__________________

“Let Us As Brothers Operate Against a Common Enemy”

After the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, General Ben McCulloch saw the terms of enlistment for his Arkansas troops, making up the bulk of his army, expire, leaving him hardly a command at all. With General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard force not under his authority, McCulloch retired to Fayetteville, Arkansas in hopes of rebuilding his army.

On this date, he took the opportunity to write two Cherokee leaders, John Ross and Col. John Drew. Ross, the Chief of the Cherokee Nation, had been reluctant, at first, to side with the Confederacy, but being nearly surrounded by seceded states and cut off from the Union, there was little choice.

On August 24, Ross had finally urged his Nation to ally themselves with the Confederacy. To both Ross and Drew, McCulloch expressed the same sentiment, congratulating them on the decision.

“The people of the Confederate States and those of the Cherokee Nation must share a common destiny,” wrote McCulloch to Ross. “Their interest and institutions [slavery being the principle one] are the same. Then let us as brothers cooperate against a common enemy to us and those institutions, and drive them from our borders whenever they dare approach them.”

The August 24 meeting also authorized the Nation to raise a regiment to offer the Confederacy. McCulloch would be happy to accept it as soon as a treaty was signed between the Cherokee Nation and the CSA. Until then, Indian Territory [the modern state of Oklahoma] was to be seen as a neutral.

General Stand Watie, a long-time rival of John Ross in the Nation, had already raised a force and was patrolling outside of the border of Indian Territory, respecting the neutrality.7



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p159. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p826. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p159. []
  4. Military reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p125. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51 (part 2), p265. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p690-691. []
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3 thoughts on “Wise’s Second Pointless March to Carnifex Ferry

  1. Your statement that the Cherokee Nation was surrounded and cutoff and had no choice to do anything but join the CSA is a statement completely devoid of actual Cherokee history. The Cherokee Nation willingly joined the CSA to fight the same Federal government that had ripped it off for so many years … and that continued to do so even worse after the war.

    1. Yeah yeah yeah, I know.

      I’m just going to assume that you decided not to read any of the actual primary sources and are just going to stick to your weird little neo-Confederate dogma.

      Have a fun day.

  2. the same federal govt that had ripped them off for years had the blessings of southern whites who eyed thier lands.so blame is on both sides

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