Battle of Buffington Island

Rebellion Record


The Battle Of Buffington Island.

National Fleet On Ohio River Below Buffington Island, Monday, July 20.

The uniform peace which sat brooding with dove-like wings over the State of the "Beautiful River" was broken for the first time during the threatened invasion under Bragg; but fate reserved for a rebel of far less military calibre and importance the remarkable event of bringing about and causing the first battle of the war in Ohio, and the first in her history as a State. But the sensation of the State is over and the great Morgan raid is over forever.

The long, tedious, and perplexing pursuit of Morgan has ended at last in a victory such as will not only add lustre to our land and naval forces engaged, but render famous the scene of his defeat, which is, without doubt, the death- blow to the brilliant career of the notorious and wonderfully successful guerrilla chief. The local press of the State has chronicled from time to time the progress of the rebel force toward the point where it was met and defeated, and it only now remains to recount in a necessarily general manner.

Buffington Island lies in the Ohio River close to the Ohio shore, about thirty-five miles above Pomeroy, and was chosen by the rebels as a place of crossing into Virginia on account of the shoals between it and Blennerhasset's Island, twenty miles above. They had doubtless been well advised of the movements of our forces sent from all points, to either head them off or keep them confined to the only route eastward for them until they reached the mountainous region and the eastern frontier. Without following, then, the progress of Morgan's march eastward, we will take a glance at his course previous to the morning of the battle. Yesterday, Sunday, the nineteenth, Morgan's right kept the main or shore-road, from Pomeroy, having sent out skirmishers to feel the strength of that town and Middleport. This was on Friday night, but if he had any intention to attempt to ford at Eight Mile Island, he abandoned it on account of a show of resistance made by a small body of home guards, with a piece of ordnance made of cast-iron, and used only to fire salutes. A skirmish took place, in which the rebels lost two men killed and two or three wounded, and the home guards had one man slightly wounded and lost their gun, which, however, the rebels contemptuously left behind, after they found its utter uselessness. The main body were advancing on the road from Vinton, and uniting with the right, the entire force took the old stage-road to Pomeroy, and pushed for Buffington Island, or rather the shore opposite, which it reached, it is supposed, at two o'clock on Sunday morning.

When General Judah started from Portsmouth on Thursday evening, the sixteenth, it was expected that an engagement would take place; for reliable information had been received at the headquarters of Colonel P. Kinney, commander of the post, during the afternoon, that the rebels were at Miamiville, about eleven miles out. Now it was not the design to either court or bring on an engagement, as it was shown that the rebels were scattered over fifty or sixty miles of country, and the necessary concentration which they must make was rather humored than otherwise, so that the result would culminate in the complete capture or destruction of the entire horde.

General Judah then kept as close as possible to the rebels, but between them and the river, where that was practicable, until Morgan reached Jackson. Judah then pushed for Centreville, thinking that the enemy would take that route for the river; but he avoided it, and took through Winchester and Vinton toward Pomeroy, and thence north of that to the scene of action.

Our gunboats, namely, Moose, (flag-boat,) Reindeer, Springfield, Naumkeag, and Victory, in command of Lieutenant Commander Le Roy Fitch, were patrolling the river from an accessible point below Ripley to Portsmouth ; but as soon as it was definitely ascertained that Morgan was pushing eastward, the Moose, towed by the Imperial, started up-stream, followed at proper distances by the other boats. The Moose made the foot of Buffington Island on Saturday night, and remained until next morning, without changing position, on account of a dense fog.

The rebel force made the shore opposite and above the island, as before stated, at two o'clock, and took position, under cover of artillery, in an extensive corn and wheat-field, skirted by hills and woods on its north and east sides. The position was a good one, and might have been held to advantage for a much longer time than it was, but for the cooperation of the gunboat Moose, the only one of the fleet which arrived in time to participate in the fight.

The rebels had their artillery placed on the highest elevation on the east and completely commanded the Pomeroy road, over which General Judah's force, heretofore enumerated by your correspondent, came filing along unaware of the close proximity of the enemy. It should be noted here that the old stage-road to Pomeroy, over which Morgan came, and the lower road travelled by Judah, meet in an acute angle three quarters of a mile from the battle-field. Our column came along the lower road within range at six o'clock, having marched all night, having started from Pomeroy, and was not as fresh by five or six hours' rest as the enemy.

The rebels met us in solid column, and moved in battalions and at the first fire repulsed our advance which was too far ahead to be assisted by our artillery. This was the best opportunity they had to make a successful fight, but we fell back to bring forward our artillery, and the enemy did not seem to care to follow up the advantage. During this encounter Captain John J. Grafton, of General Judah's staff, became separated from the advance and narrowly escaped capture, by shooting, as he represents, the rebel cavalryman who seized him. He was dismounted, and being left on the ground made his way with considerable difficulty to the river, where he hailed the Moose and got aboard. Meantime the fight progressed, but in a desultory manner, until our artillery got into position and our lines were drawn closely around the enemy, A furious onset was made on our side and the rebels were driven over the field eastward and sought the shelter of the woods beyond.

No more fortunate circumstance could have transpired for the Union force than the escape of Captain Grafton to the gunboat Moose, for he pointed out to Lieutenant Commander Fitch the exact position of the rebels, and enabled that officer to so direct his guns as to throw shell in their very midst. The Moose is armed with twenty- four pounder Dahlgren guns, the most accurate and effective gun in the service for operation against exposed bodies of men, and on this occasion the weapon did not belie its character, A dense fog, however, prevailed, which prevented Lieutenant Fitch doing as great execution in the rebel works as he desired, but his shots from the larboard and forward guns told, and an extensive scattering took place. The Moose opened at seven o'clock, and as the rebels were driven she kept steadily moving up-stream, throwing shell and shrapnel over the heads of our lads into the ranks of the enemy.

It now became evident that the rebels were being pressed in all directions, and that hard fighting would not save them from destruction.

A simultaneous rush was then made for the river, and throwing away arms and even clothing, a large body ran down to the shore, some with horses and some without, and plunged into the stream. The point chosen to effect the crossing was one mile and a half above the head of Buffington Island, and the movement would undoubtedly have been attended with considerable success but for the presence and performance of the gunboat. The crossing was covered by a twenty- pounder Parrott and a twelve-pound howitzer dragged into position by the rebels in their hasty retreat, but before the guns could be loaded and sighted the bow guns of the Moose opened on the rebel guns and drove the gunners away, after which the pieces were captured. Some twenty or thirty men only succeeded in crossing into Virginia at this point. Several were killed in the water, and many returned to the shore. While this was transpiring on the river, the roar of battle was still raging on the shore and back into the country. Basil Duke, under whose generalship the fight was conducted, was evidently getting the worst of it, and his wearied gangs of horse-thieves, cut-throats, and nondescripts began to bethink them only of escape. Many threw down their arms, were taken prisoners and sent to the rear. Others sought the shelter of trees, or ran wildly from one point to another, and thus exposed themselves far more to the deadly chances of the field than if they had displayed courage and stood up to the fight.

A running fight next ensued, as the main force of the enemy retreated up-stream toward a point on the Ohio shore, opposite Belleville, Va. The retreat was made as rapidly as possible, but considerable confusion was apparent. The gunboat kept almost ahead of the retreating column, and, when practicable, threw shell over the river-bank toward it. It is said that the retreat was headed by Morgan, for Basil Duke was taken prisoner in the early part of the fight, but it was as rapidly followed up as possible. The Moose reached Belleville in time to fire upon the first party that attempted to cross the river. The crew report eight or nine killed and several wounded in the water, but twenty rebels or more got safely ashore in Virginia. It should have been stated above that General Scammon, with reenforcements from the Kanawha, arrived at the first scene of action in time to participate, but instead of landing his men on the Ohio side he disembarked them on the Virginia shore. This precaution may have been well enough in the event of the enemy effecting a crossing, but when the Moose moved up General Scammon reembarked his troops, and went up with the gunboat to head off Morgan's retreat.

Foiled at Belleville, the rebels still kept pushing up along the shore, and again attempted to cross at Hawkinsport, fourteen miles above the island, but again their efforts proved abortive on account of the gunboat. Passing Hawkinsport, the Moose came to Lee's Creek, Va„ where she was greeted by a sharp volley of rifles and musketry from an ambuscade on the shore. It was now the turn of the starboard gunners to try the temper of their metal, and a smashing broadside was poured into the sneaking rascals on the "sacred soil." It was sufficient, for not another shot was fired, and Lieutenant Fitch learned afterward that nine of the bushwhackers were killed and several wounded.

The transports containing General Scammon's forces were then run up to a point between Hawkinsport, Ohio, and Lee's Creek, Va., and landed on the Ohio shore, to intercept the rebel retreat. This is the last information we had on the river of that expedition, although it was reported in the evening that Scammon had captured the force or compelled it to surrender.

While the Moose was winning her laurels the other boats of the fleet were not failing to enact their regularly assigned part of the programme, which was to guard the fords below the island, and prevent any skulking squads of the rebels crossing to the much wished for Virginia shore. It is said that some of Morgan's men sang, "Oh! carry me back to ole Virginny," with a pathos and sincerity of tone quite suggestive, not to say touching, and it certainly cannot be denied that Captain Fitch "went for them" with a degree of alacrity which proved his entire willingness to assist them as far as he could. The only regret which now in any way disturbs the repose of this officer is, that the rebels did not make a larger draft on the Moose, which might have been used as a ferry-boat to carry them even farther on their direct road than they bargained for. As it was, she did all she could under the circumstances, and as the river was falling very fast, she, together with the others comprising the fleet, was compelled to return downstream. The Alleghany Belle, a light draught boat was fitted up temporarily for the occasion and armed with a rifled gun protected with bales of cotton, to guard the fords between Belleville and Buffington Island.

The scene of the battle was one of the most composite, perhaps, in the panorama of the war, The rebels were dressed in every possible manner peculiar to civilized man, but, generally speaking, their attire was very good. They wore in many instances large slouch hats peculiar to the slave States, and had their pantaloons stuck in their boots. A dirty, gray-colored coat was the most prevalent, although white "dusters" were to be seen.

They were armed with carbines, Enfield rifles, sabres, and revolvers, were well mounted, and looked in good health although jaded and tired. The battle-field and the roads surrounding it were strewn with a thousand articles never seen perhaps on a battle-field before. One is accustomed to see broken swords, muskets, and bayonets, haversacks, cartridge-boxes, belts, pistols, gun-carriages, caissons, cannon, wagons upset, wounded, dead, and dying on the battle-field, hut besides all these on the battle-field of Buffington Island, one could pick up almost any article in the dry goods, hardware, house-furnishing, or ladies' or gentlemen's furnishing line. Hats, boots, gloves, knives, forks, spoons, calico, ribbons, drinking-cups, buggies, carriages, market-wagons, circus-wagons, and an almost endless variety of articles useful and all more or less valuable. An inventory of Morgan's plunder would tax the patience of an auctioneer's clerk, and I question if one man's life would be long enough to minutely catalogue the articles picked up during his raid.

The carnage of the field was not remarkable, although little groups of rebels were found slain by the deadly fragments of shell.

The result, as far as heard from at this time is all that could be wished for by the country. The entire rebel force was met, engaged, defeated, routed, and partially captured. All the enemy's arms, guns, accoutrements, most of his horses and all his plunder, were taken or fell into our hands, but the "full particulars" of his defeat and capture must be made the subject of another communication.

Nearly one thousand seven hundred prisoners are now in our hands, under guard of the Eighth Michigan cavalry, and others are constantly arriving by our scouts and pursuing parties.

Prisoners admit a loss of two hundred killed and wounded on the field, while our loss will not exceed a fourth of that number. The rebel raid into the North is over. It has been destroyed, and the prestige of its notorious leader is gone.

The saddest incident of the fight is the wounding of Major McCook, father of the lamented Colonel McCook, murdered last summer by guerrillas in Kentucky. The old gentleman received a shot in the breast, which is represented as very serious, but it is to be hoped that it may not prove so. Major McCook is a patriotic, loyal, sturdy old gentleman, who clung to the service for his country's sake, and especially because he desired above all things to assist in ridding it of an armed tyranny and despotism under which such a mode of warfare prospers as left him to lament the untimely death of a brave and loyal son.

From papers found in the chests of the enemy's artillery, it would appear that Byrne's battery, Captain John McMurray, First Kentucky brigade, was the one used by Morgan, besides two twenty- pounder Parrotts, which, after all, he had the energy and foresight to drag over the country in his remarkable march. One of these Parrotts and a brass piece were captured by Lieutenant Commander Fitch; all the other guns, five or six in number, were captured by the army.

The home guard and militia companies in the immediate neighborhood of the battle-field, and, indeed, along the lines of march, contributed very largely to the result, and were mainly instrumental in preventing the rebels from striking at points where a great destruction of property would necessarily have followed.

At Middleport the militia captured several prisoners; at Syracuse, eighty-five were brought in; at Racine, seventy-eight. Skirmishes frequently occurred between the rebel scouts and small parties of armed citizens, and many a household will have reason to remember the Morgan raid. But more than a score of rebels "bit the dust" during the last two or three days of the raid, and were laid low by the unerring aim of the sturdy farmer of South-western Ohio, so suddenly called to the defence of his home and happy fireside.

The loyal women of Portsmouth, Pomeroy, and other towns and villages, were not wanting in thoughtfulness for our brave boys on their perplexing and hurried marches. 'They prepared food and had it ready at all times, day and night, and with ready hands and smiling faces supplied the wants of the "brave defenders of our country." Nothing so gladdens the heart of the soldier as the kindly attention of patriotic women, for with the memory of their goodness and sweetness in his heart he goes forth encouraged to continued deeds of valor, which shall make their common future more peaceful and secure.

One of the features of the pursuit and defeat of the rebels was the wonderful stories of John Morgan and his conduct through Ohio. Some had it that he was "a perfect gentleman" - that most vulgar of phrases to express one of the greatest rarities on the face of the earth; while others were ready to swear that he had committed all the crimes known to the code, prominent among which were murder, rape, arson, and highway robbery. It would prove a bootless task to sift these stories, and a mere imposition upon the credulity and time of the reader to recount them. They are in no way revelant to the purpose of the present writing, and, if for no other reason, are left untold.

The rebels took one of our guns at the first charge, and captured over twenty prisoners, but these they immediately paroled, and the gun they never used, for it was soon recovered, with the capture of all their own.

In closing this general account of the last moments of the Morgan raid, which culminated in the battle of Buffington Island, a name I have given it because no other place of note lay near the scene, I have to express my regret at not being able to speak intelligently of the operation of General Hobson, and in fact of all the forces engaged, besides those of General Judah, General Scammon, and the gunboat Moose. Time was pressing and opportunities limited, but the best use was made of them.

Tlic gratitude of the country is due our soldiers and sailors to whose efforts the successful result of the brief but perplexing campaign against Morgan is due, and I know I hazard nothing in bespeaking for them the lasting gratitude of the patriotic and loyal people of Ohio. E. B.

Another Account.

Cincinnati, July 23, 1863.

MR. EDITOR: Upon the invitation of General Judah I applied to General Cox for permission to accompany him on his late expedition after John Morgan and Co., as Vol. A. D. C., which was kindly granted. We left this city Wednesday, the fifteenth, with about one thousand two hundred cavalry and artillery, arriving at Portsmouth the following afternoon, immediately disembarking, and at nine o'clock in the evening started in pursuit toward Oak Hill or Portland. During the night the guide lost his way, which caused us to march several miles more than we liked. At early day we arrived at Webster and halted an hour, after which we started for Oak Hill, at which place we learned that the rapid wild rangers were at Jackson destroying property and were about going eastward. General Judah immediately started for Centreville, a point on the main road to Gallipolis, some six miles distant, to intercept the villains. General Manson was sent for from Portsmouth, who was awaiting orders with a good infantry force to cooperate when he might with advantage, Judah arrived, after a hasty march of less than two hours, and took possession of the town for the night, making such disposition of his forces that all were anxious to have Morgan come that way to the river and try his disposition for a fight, but he took the old road from Jackson to Pomeroy, through Vinton, while we started early next morning for the same place through Potter. We arrived at Pomeroy about four o'clock, a few hours after Morgan had been scared away by a slight fight with the home guards and the close proximity of the United States forces under General Scammon. The roads to Pomeroy had been by the people barricaded very effectually to prevent the murderers from entering without trouble their active and thriving little city.

After a few hours' rest the order was sounded at ten o'clock at night to advance, which was obeyed with eager desire to go ahead, for all felt that General Judah knew his business, although he was suffering from severe illness known only by his surgeons, Dr. Kimberly of his staff, and Hunt of Covington, a personal friend. Some wiseacres at Pomeroy attempted to induce the General to follow Morgan via Chester, which would have increased our distance to Buffington some ten miles, but he, Napoleon-like, heard all reasonable suggestions and then decided promptly to go through Racine, which was his own judgment, and not thought well of by some who assumed to "know it all." After a tiresome night-march, day dawned, and within a few miles of the river rumors reached us that the enemy had crossed during the night. We pressed on. A scouting party returned from the river saying all was clear on our road. A paroled home guard and an escaped negro corroborated each other in saying that Morgan was now over the river, as they had been with him a few hours before, and it was his intention then to "push right on." We were then only a mile from the bar, and the General urging up the rear with the artillery, pushed forward with the Michigan cavalry in advance, himself, staff, and escort following close behind. A dense fog covered all the bottom-lands so that we moved slowly forward. About half a mile from the river Captain W. H. Day and Dr. J. F. Kimberly saw upon the left the enemy in line of battle, not seventy yards from us. It was doubted at first, but in a moment the whistling minie, carbine and pistol-balls were sending loud and quick calls for us to halt. Our road being narrow, and we confined by strong fences, with ditches on either side of us, all that was left for us was to retreat as best we could a few rods. Here it was that the noble and brave old hero, Major Daniel McCook, received his two mortal wounds, of which he died on Tuesday, twenty-first, on the boat from Portland to Pomeroy. Upon our retreat Captains R. C. Kise, A. A. G., ___ Grafton, Vol. A. D. C., and Henshaw, of said battery, were, with a number of others, taken prisoners, and one piece of artillery captured. Lieutenant F. G. Price, a gallant young officer of the staff, was also seriously wounded in the head, which disabled him for the rest of the day.

For a time our prospects were quite dark, the fog was over us, the enemy near, and we entire strangers as to their localities, but Providence was with those who were for the Republic. The fog suddenly lifted, and the General, with Captains Day and J. E. McGowan, and Lieutenant H. T. Bissell, were all gallantly and coolly giving orders and making ready for a good fight with the enemy, who now appeared from three to four thousand strong, immediately before us on the plains. Lieutenant O'Neil, of the Fifth Indiana cavalry, now appeared by another road with but fifty men, and charged two different regiments so desperately that they broke and left our captured gun, officers and men in our possession. The tide had turned. Our guns were soon in position, and in two hours the enemy had left the field in confusion, and were hastened in their movements by a gun of a Michigan battery on board the steamer Alleghany Belle, commanded by Captain Sebastian, and the gunboat Moose, commanded by Captain Fitch, U. S. N. Morgan's forces in their retreat soon fell into the hands of the noble Hobson, who had so persistently chased him for over four weeks, and then the rivalry among our forces as to whom should gobble the most of the renegades commenced. General Shackleford and Colonel Woolford, with the Forty-fifth Ohio, all did good servvice [sic], and helped to secure the prize, which could not have been done by either command alone. Immediately after a few hours' rest all the forces were sent in different directions by Generals Judah and Hobson to intercept the enemy. All the artillery Morgan had on the field, some five pieces, were taken by us. The spoils with which the trails of the runaways were littered would make an honest warrior blush to name, such as books, stationery, cutlery, dry goods of all descriptions, crockery, boots and shoes, hats and caps, women's wearing apparel of all names - some articles not to be mentioned - even old women's bonnets, to say nothing of carriages, harness, small arms of all kinds, and worn and jaded horses and mules by the hundred that are worth only the price of dead animals for the use of tallow-chandlers.

On the persons of most of the rebels could be found greenbacks in abundance. Their own trash, which Brownlow says " is not worth ten cents a bushel," was also profuse among them. Watches and all kinds of jewelry, to a great extent, were in their pockets, which were not with them when they entered the .North. The inference is, that they are a band of robbers under the guise of an army.

General Judah, for a few days, will make Pomeroy his headquarters, as he is the ranking officer in that part of the country. It is thought that some of Hobson's and Judah's forces will yet trap John and his few retainers before they can reach Dixie.

A disgraceful coward, called Sontag, from Portsmouth, with nearly four hundred men, well armed, surrendered to Morgan on Tuesday last without firing a gun. Morgan was in his grasp, if he had fought. Shame on such mountebanks! May he live long enough for his name to be a stench to himself, as it is to all who know him now.

I must not forget to testify to the intense loyal feeling manifested all along the route our army took. Many said Vallandigham's admirers were not as numerous as in days past. The raid may do good toward opening the eyes of the careless. May we not hope so?

It is again seen that the enemy attacked us on Sunday, and we whipped them. I only notice the fact. Major McCook was wounded within a short time after the first repulse, recovered by Captain Day, and by him sent to the nearest house, where Dr. Kimberly gave him all the attention possible; but from the first, all hope of recovery was dispelled by the Major and the Doctor. His wounds were necessarily mortal. The enemy, while he was yet in their lines, robbed him of money, watch, and all loose articles in his person. The silvery locks of the patriot-hero were no protection against the "Kentucky gentlemen" of John Morgan's and Basil Duke's command. Captain Kise, and all of our men whom they held for a few minutes, were robbed of money and personal property. A pistol was placed at Captain Kise's head and his boots demanded, but an officer interfered, and the contemplated outrage was prevented. Pretty return for Grant's kindness, was it not!

Our loss is very light. All told, it will not exceed thirty killed and wounded - some five killed - at the outside. The enemy have thus far lost full two hundred killed and wounded, and not less than two thousand two hundred prisoners - among them about a hundred officers, including Colonels Basil Duke, Dick Morgan, Ward, Hoffman, and Smith. Considering how slight our loss was, it is the greatest victory of the war, and makes Judah and Hobson rightly entitled to two stars. Judah received his military education at West-Point, and is a soldier in every respect. While he is not an abolitionist, there is no one who hates rebels more than he, or who is more willing to use all means (including the negro) to crush the rebellion - yea, even to the extermination of every rebel in the South, so that the desired end be accomplished. Hobson is a lawyer and a good soldier, having entered the service because he hated rebels and loved the old flag. The people will ever sing praise to Judah and Hobson.

Cincinnati was well represented in the chase by the gallant Guthrie Grays, commanded by Captain Disney, who ascended the river on the steamer Magnolia, and at the battle of Buffington Bar, were on the steamer Alleghany Belle, panting for a chance to return the fire on shore, while they were compelled to receive it from the enemy. They did good and valuable service as guard to the prisoners brought from Pomeroy on the steamer Ingomar, Of this company the Queen City may feel proud. May all the new Seventh prove as ready and effective as this tenth part have already. Success to the Seventh!

Nat. Pepper, son of Captain Pepper, of the late steamer Alice Dean, was a volunteer private at the gun on the steamer Alleghany Belle, which the rebels say did the most execution of any of our artillery. He is an only son, about eighteen years of age, and is anxious to remain in the service. Would that many who are older had the same willingness to risk their lives for the Republic.

Captain Wood, of the Eighteenth regulars, while stationed at Marietta, as mustering officer, was induced to take command of two companies of volunteers and proceeded to Buffington Bar on Saturday. He found the steamer Starlight aground, with only two men aboard, and loaded with three thousand barrels of flour. He immediately unloaded the vessel, raised steam and manned the boat, from the captain to the deck-hand, with his men, and run her out of the range of Morgan's guns, which, before he could get away, had arrived on the bank. Before leaving with his little band of true gallants, he rolled his two heavy pieces of artillery over into a ravine, so that the enemy could neither take nor use them. After the fight Captain Wood reported to General Judah for duty, with the boat, and was highly complimented by the General, and placed in charge of several hundred of the prisoners to bring to Cincinnati. Had the boat not been seized by Captain Wood when it was, Morgan would have had it, and crossed the river with it; for the gunboats did not arrive till Sunday morning, while Morgan was there the night before; so let Marietta be proud of her gentlemen soldiers, who were not too proud to carry coal or do any work which would hinder the enemies of the Union and help her defenders.

The South boasts that all of her people arc in the fight - rich and poor, old and young - and that they can yet whip us. When all our rich and poor and old and young, who are at heart right, are engaged, we can whip the South, even if France and England do help them. Our people have not yet awakened out of sleep. Only a little more of this kind of work from Wood and Vallandigham's friends, and the honest people, who are for the Union without an if or but, will arise and overthrow all who oppose them, to the eternal shame of all traitors. G. P. B.


Civil War

West Virginia Archives and History