The Battle Of Alleghany
Indiana's Roll Of Honor
By David Stevenson
(Indianapolis: The Author, 1864)
The Battle Of Alleghany
Gen. Milroy, on being assigned the command of a brigade, established his headquarters on Cheat Summit, and during the months of October and November scouted the hills and valleys with small detachments. The little valley of Greenbrier again became the theater of frequent skirmishes. Some of these were sharp and well contested. The evacuation of Camp Bartow left the Green Bank road open to our reconnoitering parties, and both flanks of the enemy's position were thoroughly examined. The General himself, with a small body of cavalry, advanced to the base of the steep bluff upon which the enemy's works were erected. Col. Edward Johnson, of Georgia, bad been left in command when Gen. Jackson was ordered South. He had a force of twelve hundred Confederate troops, together with seven or eight hundred Virginia militia. Small detachments were also stationed at Monterey, Huntersville, and other points inaccessible to any considerable Union force. Johnson felt secure in his mountain fastness. He disregarded the demonstrations of Milroy against his rock bound fortress, but indulged his troops in occasional skirmishes with the restless detachments of Milroy in the valley. Milroy chafed like a caged lion. Johnson was willing to accommodate him with small affairs, but whenever a battalion moved down the valley, he drew in his pickets, and quietly watched from the heights. On one occasion only, when three or four companies had bivouaced near the deserted Camp Bartow, and built large fires, did he consent to march out. He did it so quietly, that the first intimation the detachment had of the presence of an enemy was a volley upon their flanks from the wooded hillsides. Our brave men unable to approach the concealed enemy, collected their wounded and retired.
In the month of December Gen. Milroy succeeded to the command of the Cheat Mountain division of the army, and established his headquarters at Huttonsville. His force consisted of the Ninth and Thirteenth Indiana, the Twenty-Fifth and Thirty-Second Ohio, the Second Virginia, Bracken's cavalry, and an artillery company without field guns, under Capt. Rigby. The Ninth Indiana was stationed at the Summit, the Twenty-Fifth Ohio and Second Virginia at Huttonsville, with an outpost at Elk Water, the Thirteenth Indiana and the Thirty-Second Ohio at Beverly, Rigby's batttery at the Pass, and the cavalry scattered along the line, wherever there was a stream to cross, a scout to make, or a message to be carried.
With such of this small force as could be spared from the duty of guarding his long line - subject to incursions of guerrillas from Hardy and Tucker counties - Gen. Milroy resolved to attack Johnson in his fortified camp at Alleghany.
The Twenty-Fifth Ohio, under Col. Jones, and a detachment of the Second Virginia, under Major Owens, moved to the Summit on the twelfth, and three hundred of the Thirteenth Indiana, under Major Dobbs, and one company of the Thirty- Second Ohio, under Capt. Hamilton, marched from Beverly for the same destination. The roads in the valley were almost impassible. The deep mud was covered with a light frozen crust, which broke at every step. The provision trains had to be forced by the hands of the men to the foot of the mountain slopes. The mountains were covered with snow. The troops were exhausted when they reached the Summit, but were required, after a short rest, to resume the march. The Ninth Indiana, Col. Moody, descended to the Greenbriar Valley on the morning of the twelfth, and skirmished with the enemy to retain possession of the temporary bridges over the river. By ten o'clock at night the whole force, numbering two thousand men, was concentrated at Camp Bartow, but many of them so exhausted that it was evident the mountain march before them would overtask their energies. The night was intensely cold. Gen. Milroy allowed the men to build fires and make coffee. Soon the mountain sides were red with flames. Some person set fire to the mill - the only building at that time left standing in the Valley - and the flames from the dry timbers ascended toward the clear cold sky. To surprise the enemy was now impossible. From any of the heights overlooking the bivouac he could count our men, and distinguish the arm of service to which they belonged.
Gen. Milroy called the commanders of detachments to his camp fire, unfolded his plan and gave his instructions. Col. Moody, with the Ninth Indiana and the detachment of the Second Virginia, was to march six miles by the Green Bank road, then turning to his right ascend the mountain and attack the left flank of the enemy. Their batteries were placed at the edge of the bluff commanding the Staunton pike. These Col. Moody was to charge and capture. The guide asserted that the road was clear, and the guns were unprotected by either abattis or earthworks. Capt. Rigby, with sixty unarmed cannoneers, was to accompany Col. Moody, and turn the guns upon the enemy when they were taken by the infantry. The brow of the hill was to be reached quietly, and the attack made at four o'clock precisely. Col. Jones, with the Twenty-Fifth Ohio and the detachments of the Thirteenth Indiana and Thirty-Second Ohio, was to move up the mountain by the pike to the foot of Buffalo ridge, turn to his left, scale the heights, and charge the right and. rear of the works simultaneously with Col. Moody's attack on the left. The reserve under Major Dobbs, consisting of sixty-seven men of the Thirteenth Indiana, under Captains Clinton and Johnston, and forty cavalrymen under Captain Bracken, was to accompany Col. Jones' column to the foot of the bluff and turn to the right on the road, which was cut into the face of the hill at an angle of forty-five degrees, striking the summit and turning square to the left upon the plateau, at the point where the batteries were massed. The reserve was to wait on this road, where it was supposed they would he out of range of the batteries, which were so placed as to sweep the road beyond. Col. Moody took up his line of march about eleven o'clock, and at twelve the column of Col. Jones and the reserve moved up the mountain. It was a clear starlight night. At every step upward the cold increased in intensity. Silently and cautiously the command advanced. The measured tread of the men on the hard frozen ground was the only sound. The hill side gave no indications of a concealed foe. An ambush was expected by the men, and. there were a hundred places before they arrived at the foot of the fortified ridge, which they proposed to storm, where their ranks might have been decimated by a single volley. The first picket post was met about one mile from Buffalo ridge. The Twenty-Fifth Ohio, being in advance, received their fire and had one man killed. The pickets fled over the hills, and reached their camp. From this time until the battle opened on the right an ominous silence rested over the hill soon destined to witness the hardest battle, for the number engaged, that had yet been fought in Western Virginia.
Col. Jones left the pike while the stars were brilliantly twinkling in the clear cold sky, and advanced up the steep and rocky face of the ridge. The distance to the summit, fay the route traveled was about one mile. As the command approached the brow of the hill the enemy's pickets were discovered, but they retired without exchanging shots with our men. A company of the Thirteenth Indiana, led by Lieut. McDonald, of Gen. Reynolds' staff, was in advance. They were ordered to follow the pickets at double quick. They soon reached the edge of the woods and were in full view of the camp. The enemy was formed and advancing. Lient. McDonald deployed into line. Col. Jones formed the remainder of the command on his left, and the whole line opened fire. After a few rounds the enemy retreated in confusion. They were rallied, and again advanced, firing with great vigor. Then it was, that some of our men, startled at the bold front and rapid advance of the enemy, fell to the rear. Capts. Charlesworth and Crow, of the Twenty-Fifth Ohio, Capt. Hamilton of the Thirty-Second, Lieut. McDonald and Capts. Myers and Newland of the Thirteenth Indiana, rallied them, and the enemy, unable to face the storm of lead, again fell back. Their next effort was to turn the right flank of our line. In this they failed, but our men, in changing ground to meet the attack, fell into confusion, and it required extraordinary exertion on the part of the officers to again present an unbroken line. Three other attempts to drive our force from the woods were met and repulsed. The enemy then attempted a flank movement on the left. Col. Jones ordered a portion of the command to advance and attack the flanking party, which was done with a yell. They broke and our men pursued to the cabins within the camp enclosure, when they in turn were driven back. The firing until this time had been very heavy. Col. Moody's command had not appeared. Many of the men having expended their ammunition and become discouraged, left the field. The efforts of the officers longer to control them were unavailing. A little band of choice spirits however, presented a bold front to the advancing column. The artillery at this time finding their efforts on the reserve unavailing, turned upon the devoted band of heroes who still contested the field on their right. Their situation was desperate, and they fought like demons, driving the heavy column of the enemy towards their cabins. Col. Jones then gathered his little band and descended the hill. The enemy did not pursue, for Col. Moody's column about this time appeared on their left.
While the fight on the right was progressing, and up till the moment that the last desperate charge was made upon the thinned ranks of Col. Jones, the batteries on the hill had been vainly striving to get range on. the reserve. They could sweep the road up to the point where it turned, to the right to ascend the ridge, but there from the configuration of the ground, they could not land a shot or shell. The persistent effort however, was annoying, and Gen. Milroy resolved to take it by a charge from the road. He had sent off all but sixteen men of his cavalry, to rally the fugitives from the right, and to form them if possible, a short distance in the rear, under the protection of a spur. Ordering Capts. Clinton and Johnson, of the Thirteenth Indiana, with their small command of sixty men, to deploy on the hill side and under cover of the timber get a position on the left hand side of the road facing the battery, Gen. Milroy put himself at the head of those sixteen horsemen, and dashed up the pike to capture the guns. By this time the Ninth Indiana, on the enemy's left, had opened fire. Milroy got right under the enemy's guns, which were placed on a perpendicular bank fifteen feet above the road bed, and protected by heavy timbers. The grape shot flew over the heads of the horsemen. The cannoneers, enraged that they could not depress their pieces, threw shot by hand, and hurled stones over the bank. In the meantime Capts. Clinton and Johnson had ascended the hill where they were met by the enemy's troops returning from the fight with Col. Jones on the right. By a rapid movement one battalion of this force was thrown in the rear of the little handful of the Thirteenth. Their capture seemed inevitable. Clinton and Johnson drew their men together, and charging with a shout upon the center of the enemy's line, broke through, and drove thirteen prisoners before them to the foot of the bluff. Milroy and his cavalrymen were left in the gorge. From the position he occupied no Union infantry could be seen. He was powerless there. The shots from the carbines of his men were wasted on the heavy timbers. The broken battalion through which Clinton and Johnson had charged was approaching. Gen. Milroy gave the order to gallop to the turn in the road at the foot of the bluff. He was followed by a storm of grape and canister from the batteries, and by a volley from the infantry on the brow of the hill; but the iron and leaden hail sung its song of battle far above his head.
The fight was over in this part of the field, and nothing remained but to collect the wounded, and carry them to the hospital established by Dr. Gall, of the Thirteenth Indiana, under the protection of a spur of a hill. The Doctor climbed the hill with Col. Jones' column, and remained under the leaden storm until the men of the Thirteenth begged him, for their sakes, to retire. At great personal risk, he sought the wounded, and had them conveyed to a cabin, where he assiduously labored in relieving their sufferings. The wounded had to pass for a quarter of a mile over a ridge, swept by the enemy's batteries. Four of his guns constantly played on this sole avenue of escape; but Providence threw a protecting mantle over our wounded in passing over that ridge. Not one of them was hit. Several shells burst in the midst of men as they slowly toiled along with their precious freight of wounded men; but the shells were harmless. The cavalry were carrying the last of our wounded on their horses, when halfway over the ridge, four shells fell in their midst. The only effect was to startle the horses, at which a loud laugh rung out from the enemy's camps.
The column of Col. Moody was still engaged. Every shot and shout could be heard where Gen. Milroy stood. He was within half a mile of the position they occupied. A deep ravine, and an inaccessible bluff, interposed. It was evident Col. Moody had failed in taking the batteries; for now that the reserve was out of sight, and the exposed ridge no longer traversed by the wounded and those who were caring for them, the guns were all turned in the direction of Col. Moody's command. Gen. Milroy became uneasy for the safety of his men. His favorite Ninth, every man of whom he loved, might be in peril. To reach them by any road known to the guides or scouts, he must return to Camp Bartow and follow the route they had taken. This he resolved to do. Leaving Dr. Gall with the wounded, he started down the mountain with the cavalry. The distance he had to go was sixteen miles. He rode at the utmost speed down the steep hills, and up the rugged slopes. As he passed through Camp Bartow, where Col. Jones' column had re-formed, and was gathering up the stragglers, he gave orders, without drawing rein, for a train to be sent to Doctor Gall for the wounded, and for other wagons to follow him. One by one the escort fell off. Their horses gave out. Some fell on the rocky slopes, and. injured their riders. Two miles on the Green Bank road, stragglers from Moody's column were met. Some were in charge of wounded comrades, who had been brought from the field; but the great majority had never been in the light after the first charge was made on. the battery. They reported that the Ninth was still skirmishing in the woods on the bluff, but were in a position to retire at any moment. The roar of the enemy's artillery still reverberated through the hills, and the blue puffs of smoke could be seen on the left curling up over the summit. Gen. Milroy dashed. on. When he reached the point where Col. Moody had left the road to climb the ridge, he suddenly checked his panting steed, and pointing up, exclaimed, "My glorious Ninth!" On the face of the hill, troops were seen slowly descending. The spaces between the companies, even at that distance, could be distinguished. The Ninth was retiring in perfect order, bearing with them their dead and wounded. It was not many minutes until the General was in their midst, and. welcomed with lively demonstrations of regard.
Col. Moody, after leaving the Green Bank road, had found. the track he was to pursue exceedingly difficult on a night march. The ascent up the rugged bluff' was far more precipitous than he expected to find it. The hour for the attack had passed when he reached its base. They heard the firing and hastened on. But with all their efforts, it was eight o'clock before they reached the brow of the bill. A sharp picket fight took place there. Col. Moody formed his line on a slight depression in the ground. Contrary to the representation of scouts, a thick abattis of timber extended three or four hundred yards in front of the intrenchments. Col. Moody ordered a charge. Gallantly his men rushed forward; and while struggling in the fallen timber, a murderous fire was poured upon them. Volley after volley followed. So thick were the obstructions, that Col. Moody at once saw that to continue the attempt to reach the works over the tangled heaps of logs and brush would insure the destruction of his command. The men lay down behind the logs, and kept up the fight for four hours. Major Milroy now asked to lead a storming party. He walked back and forth along the line, encouraging the men to continue the fight. At one time he got close up to the works, and an entire company rose and fired at him. The shots passed over his head. Turning indignantly, he taunted the rebels with their bad shooting, and told them to fire low. A laugh from the rifle pits, and a promise to hit him next time, was the reply. Many of our men crawled close up to the works, and conversed with the rebels, daring them to take a shot singly or in platoons. The instances of individual daring were numerous. Joseph Gordon, of the Ninth Indiana, was killed while standing on a log calling for an officer to lead a storming party he had improvised. But a second attempt to storm the works, with thinned ranks, and with the whole force of the enemy centered at that point, would have been murder. Col. Moody would not permit it. Judging that our left wing had been repulsed, he held the enemy from pursuit, and retired in time to reach the main road before nightfall. He drew off his men leisurely, and in splendid order. The enemy did not dare to pursue.
For the numbers actually engaged, this was the bloodiest fight which had yet occurred in Western Virginia. Our loss, by the reports on file, was twenty killed, one hundred and seven wounded, and ten missing. The enemy report about the same. The losses on both sides were doubtless heavier.
The reports of the battle, published at the time, in the papers North and South, were incorrect. The dispatches North claimed that the enemy was completely defeated, and that they burned their camp and retired to Staunton. The dispatches South boldly asserted that our troops were driven off in confusion, and pursued down the mountain with great slaughter. The truth is, the enemy defended their position with great valor, and at no period of the engagement did they show symptoms of deserting their post. Our attack was repulsed on both flanks, from the failure of the columns to begin the fight simultaneously, thus enabling the enemy to beat us in detail. The rebels did not pursue. Not a man showed his face outside the intrenchments, as our forces moved off. Dr. Gall, who remained on the pike, within a mile of the works until late in the night, was uninterrupted, and the wagons sent for the wounded returned without having been hailed, much less attacked.