Series 1, Volume 5, pp. 122-124
SEPTEMBER 2, 1861 - Skirmish near the Hawk’s Nest, W. Va.
Reports of Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise, C. S. Army.
AT TYREES, KANAWHA TURNPIKE, VIRGINIA,
September 4, 1861.
From Carnifix Ferry I returned to Dogwood Gap, and finding my men very weary with their march to and from the ferry, I rested them for the night, and gave orders for them to move early in the morning upon the Hawks Nest. Stripping each regiment of infantry down to six companies, or 300 men, with three pieces of artillery, and about 250 cavalry (making in all about 1,250), I marched the day before yesterday morning down to Hamilton’s, within half a mile of the Hawk’s Nest. Feeling our way cautiously, late in the evening I advanced upon Turkey Creek, leading the advance guard myself in person. About dusk we arrived at McGraw’s bridge, over Turkey Creek, and were then fired upon (a very short time hotly) by the enemy, concealed in the corn fields and brush-wood on both sides, and just as we were crossing the bridge. I am proud to say that the guard (Captain Summers’ company) stood their ground and behaved handsomely, returning the fire promptly, and I led them across the bridge, the enemy disappearing before us on the quick advance of our column. Night coming on, I thought it prudent to rest on our arms for the time, and it is well we did, for the next day (yesterday) I found him in ambuscade and intrenched very strongly at Big Creek. At McGraw’s I ascertained his position. The turnpike downwards towards McGraws turns to the right, descending a long hill on the margin of Big Creek. Crossing the creek over a narrow bridge, it passes up the right bank of the creek some 400 yards, and then turns through a gap, directly back, towards New River, around a high and isolated spur of mountain, and just at the turn a mountain road comes in to the turnpike from Rich Creek, on the Gauley. There, on the hills in front, at the junction of the roads, and around the sharp angle of the turnpike, back of the mountain, I found the enemy in considerable force, impossible to be told, from their being perfectly concealed. Seeing no other alternative to drive them out, I determined to drop a battalion across the creek, and charge them in the front, on the mountain side, which was bravely done by parts of three companies, Summers’, Ryan’s, and Janes’ (about 120 men). They crossed silently until they rose the hill, and then, with a shout, drove the enemy to the top, they flying most cowardly, dropping guns, hats, canteens, & c., until my men reached the top and got above them. I then brought up a howitzer, and with shot and shell soon cleared the front and sides of the mountain next to us, but soon found that the enemy were thick in the gorges of the creek running up towards Rich Creek Gap. There was danger then of their turning my right flank, and I found it hazardous to pass the gap in face of their rifled cannon, which they had played over our heads for some time.
Having sent the companies of the Second Regiment up Turkey Creek, to come around the head of Big Creek, in their rear or left flank, I paused to wait for Colonel Anderson to come upon them and to feel their position and numbers still farther. In this time they were re- enforced with six companies and several pieces of artillery from Gauley. They had 1,250 in position, and their re-enforcements increased their numbers to 1,800 men of all arms, cavalry as well as infantry and artillery. They had about 75 horses.
Having attained my object, to secure Millers Ferry and Likens Mill (both essential to our uses), I fell back to Hamilton’s, and am encamped there and at Westlake’s Creek, guarding the ferry, the boat of which I have raised and am now repairing. But, sir, this point is liable to attack at all times from the rear by paths which converge from Gauley and Rich Creek at Sugar Gal), and come down to the turnpike at this place and at Shade Creek. I have left but six companies at Dogwood Gap, with two pieces of artillery, and have but three here to guard the three essential points. As your forces are now near 3 000 men I beg that you will return to my Legion the corps of artillery, with their guns belonging to it, which you have, the measles having so thinned my ranks that I need all the men belonging to my command and double as many more. I have ordered Caskie, with General Beckley’s militia, down the Loop, and by this time they are there. The day before yesterday they fought the enemy at Cotton Hill, and drove them within 2 miles of Montgomery’s Ferry. General Chapman has arrived there now with about 1,600 men, and our communication with him will be opened to-day or to-morrow. Some days ago you asked for Colonel Croghan. I now send him to you, to be transferred to your brigade if you desire it. If you will advance upon Gauley, I will amuse the enemy in front upon this road.
HENRY A. WISE, Brigadier- General.
Brigadier-General FLOYD, Commanding, & e.
September 17, 1861
On the 2nd inst, Gen. Wise's force took up their line of march from Dogwood Gap towards Gauley Bridge. Near night, on making a short turn in the road at Magraw's Creek, they were fired upon by the enemy's pickets, who lined the road on both sides. Three of our men were wounded at this place. The pickets of the enemy retreated and as it was near dark, and our men were within four hundred yards of the enemy's stronghold, they determined to remain there till next morning. A correspondent, writing of this skirmish says:
At daybreak on the third, all were on the qui vive. The second Regiment, Col. Anderson, was detached via Turkey Creek, to fall on the enemy's flank, the third to attack the front, to be supported by the first, under Lieut. Col. J. H. Richardson. Col. Henningsen directing the entire movement under the supervision of General Wise. At 7 A. M. the Third moved forward about 100 yards, which brought them to Big Creek.---When in a fine position for defense we saw the enemy drawn up, evidently intending to dispute any further advance of our forces. One howitzer was brought forward; three company of the Third were deployed in the ravine as skirmishers, while the balance of the regiment, with the First, were in the road. The skirmishers had scarcely moved, when they opened fire on the enemy, and drove them up the hill at the point of the bayonet. Large masses of troops were seen on their right, when our howitzers opened on them; and to see them run was fun enough. Now came the time for the development of their plans; but thanks to the prudence of our general, they did not catch us. They had a rifle cannon in position commanding the road, and scarcely had the echo of our pieces died away, when whiz came their ball right over our heads, at least 30 yards above us. Our piece replied on theirs, and finding they had gained our range, was directed at the place whence the smoke of theirs was seen. They fired but four times, so accurate was our fire, when they took out to their entrenched position in double quick time. We now began to feel anxious about the Second Regiment, who had not opened fire on them as agreed upon. Hour after hour passed away, but no news from them, till at last the enemy got up reinforcements in large numbers, but did not dare to show themselves to drive us back.---We threw out one company of the Third, as an advance picket, and three companies held the hill opposite their stronghold. They advanced their skirmishers to the edge of a wood within 50 yards of our picket, across the ravine of Big Creek, and kept up a regular fire upon it. After standing their fire for one hour, the picket was withdrawn; no one hurt on our side. During the engagement, which lasted among the skirmishers for six hours, we only had one wounded and none killed. Many of the enemy were killed and wounded, and we got many of their caps, knapsacks, guns, &c., which they left in their up the hill. We now received orders to fall back on our position at the Hawk's Nest, where the entire force arrived about 6 P. M., Col. Anderson's Regiment, the Second, having been unable to get to the enemy by the route they took.
September 14, 1861
We have the pleasure of publishing another and most authentic account of the engagement, to which we devoted a column a few days since, between a part of Gen. Wise’s command, and a superior number of Gen. Cox’s. It will be seen from the following, received from the highest source, that we may anticipate a speedy and successful attack upon the enemy’s main position:
“On the second of September we left Dogwood Gap Camp, and moved upon the enemy, in order to gain two essential advantages—a ferry, (Miller’s), and a mill, (Lipen’s.) The enemy’s outpost was at the Hawk’s Nest, a quarter of a mile this side. They retired before us, and in the evening, about dusk, we advanced beyond the Hawk’s Nest—Gen. Wise leading the advanced guard in person.—When we arrived at McGraw’s bridge, over a little creek called Honey’s creek between Turkey and Big creek, the enemy’s advance guard, to ambush, opened so hot and so close a fire upon us that it is a wonder we were not riddled. Being on the left of the Guard, and the Guard’s front on the bridge, Gen. Wise, who was mounted, was, of course, most exposed. Not a ball, however, touched him, though between two fires, and most in danger from the muskets of his own men. Indeed, but two of our men were wounded, and those slightly. The Guard wavered for a single moment, but a word from the General made them firm. They rallied immediately, when General Wise called aloud for the artillery to advance, in order to frighten the enemy at the idea of grape shot, led the Guard across in handsome style, and the enemy scampered.—There we paused and reconnoitered, and found out the position of the foe. They were strongly entrenched at a gap and gorge over Big Creek, where the road turns a sharp angle. We attacked them, drove them over the mountain, took their heights, and shot and shelled them for several hours, killing and wounding an unknown number. They were too strong, (nearly two to one over us,)for us to storm them, we having but 600 infantry and 800 cavalry, (the latter not effective there,) against 1,200 reinforced by six companies from Gauley. Our flanking party having lost its way, and failing to attack the enemy, after their reinforcement we fell back, having secured one ferry and mill without the loss of a man—and here we are, front to front with the enemy. So you may hear soon, perhaps, of another fight. If they attack us we will repulse them. We are not strong enough to attack them. They played their artillery (rifled cannon) over us beautifully the other day, and we bellowed back with a howitzer, making at least five shots tell destructively. Col. Patton and Dr. Coles, just returned from their camp, report their admission of some killed and wounded.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: September 1861