Frank Moore, ed. Vol. 3. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1862
Siege of Cotton Hill, Va.,
October 30 to November 7, 1861.
A correspondent at the camp of the Second Kentucky regiment, in Western Virginia, gives the following account of the siege:
Camp Tompkins, Western Virginia, Nov. 8, 1861.
For the past eight days the roar of artillery and musketry has been the only music we have danced to, and even while I write the booming of cannon still falls on my weary ear. The camp of our Second Kentucky regiment and the head-quarters of Generals Rosecrans and Cox are situated on top of Gauley Mount, on the farm of Colonel Tompkins, now in the rebel army, a gentleman of strong Southern proclivities, a graduate of West Point, and formerly in the United States army. This farm is his summer residence, he and his wife being residents of Richmond; she now occupies the house with her family, while he is somewhere in the neighborhood, assisting Floyd in “driving the invaders from the soil.” From our camp the road descends abruptly to the river bank, and runs directly along the bank to Gauley Bridge, a distance of three miles; at this point Gauley and New rivers empty into and form the Kanawha; and across Gauley River is where the bridge was, but by some means or other, after Wise had crossed it, whilst he was retreating before our advance column, the bridge was burned; and now the massive stone piers alone remain, a monument to the disgrace of as vile a miscreant as ever deserved a hempen cord. At this place are all the depots for quartermaster and commissary stores for supplying the entire army of Western Virginia, and the only means of crossing the stream is by a flat-boat pulled by hand; on this cross all the wagons and supplies for our troops above New River. On the opposite side of the river from our camp, and all along, down to the bridge, the mountains extend down to the water’s edge, and tower above to an immense height.
On Wednesday, October 30, the rebels could be seen gathering in large numbers on the mountains, and were apparently working hard, throwing up breastworks, &c. During that night the hills were alive with them; here and there were large fires, and lights were constantly moving around among the trees; the rumbling of wagon and cannon wheels could be distinctly heard, and ever and anon a command spoken too loud was borne to our ears. Our camp was all excitement, and General Rosecrans was at a serious loss to know what Floyd & Co. intended. We finally worried the night through, and daylight relieved our suspense. On the mountain ridges they had planted their cannon during the night, and closer down toward the river their riflemen and sharpshooters filled the woods the entire distance from our camp to Gauley Bridge. The ferry-boat was making its usual trips, running day and night, and the road had become nearly filled with wagons passing to and fro, when, bang, whizz went a cannon, and the ball commenced, the riflemen pouring in their deadly volleys on our wagons and teams, and the artillery shelling the ferry-boat and the camp of the Eleventh Ohio below the bridge. General Rosecrans immediately ordered a battery of mountain howitzers to the top of the hills on our side of the river, and in a brief space of time they engaged the artillery of the rebels on the opposite hills, and then commenced one of the most exciting artillery duels that was ever witnessed. The shells flew fast and thick from one side to the other, shot answered shot, and soon the entire scene was enveloped in a dense curtain of smoke; naught was to be seen of either hand but the fire belching from the enemy’s artillery, and in a second more their shells burst around and about us, scattering dirt, twigs, and bark in every direction. Meanwhile, some two hundred men of the Second Kentucky had worked their way behind trees and rocks along the road below, and were soon busy returning the fire of the rebel sharpshooters; and so general did it soon become that each side of the river seemed one vast sheet of flame. For hours was this exciting scene kept up, each side seeming loth to give up; our men were worked down, but still stuck to their guns; finally, the fire on the rebel side slackened, our gunners stopped a few moments to breathe and wipe the perspiration from their powder-begrimed visages, and then reopened with renewed vigor. Soon the rebel guns ceased entirely, the smoke cleared away, and we discovered that night had drawn her sable curtain round the scene, and gladly did we relinquish the contest. From nine o’clock in the morning until seven at night had the battle raged without intermission, and all who were engaged in it were ready to drop with exhaustion. Supper was unthought of in camp that night; the gunners dropped down alongside of their pieces and were soon unconscious of all around; none but those who commanded, but what sought repose and tried to shut out the events of the day.
At midnight, Col. Sedgewick was summoned by General Rosecrans, and ordered to select about three hundred of his best shots, and before daylight, post them along the river road, to engage those of the rebels posted on the opposite side. Long before daylight, that selected band moved stealthily out of camp, and, under the colonel’s directions, were soon well disposed of behind trees, rocks, and logs, from the camp down to Gauley Bridge. Arriving here, he left his horse, and pulled across the river in a skiff, the rebel battery having stopped the ferry, and, after delivering his despatches to Gen. Cox, who was then stationed on the lower side of the river, he returned, and, mounting his horse, started toward camp. By this time it was broad daylight, and he had not gone one hundred yards before he was greeted with a volley of rebel bullets. He was in a trying position. To retreat was impossible—to go forward was almost certain death. The rebel riflemen lined the opposite shore. He was the only person visible on the road, and was mounted on his large gray horse, an easy mark. When he became aware that he was the only person shot at, he paused for a moment, not more than ten yards from the rock where I was posted. I saw him set his lips firmly together, dash his spurs into his horse, and in a second he had dashed past. The next moment a shower of balls splattered against the rocks which he had just passed. Thus he ran the gauntlet for three miles to the camp, and, out of more than a hundred shots fired at him, but one struck him, that on the knee, cutting a furrow through the skin. During the entire day the firing was kept up incessantly from the infantry, but the rebel artillery was all concentrated at a point commanding the ferry. Here the shell and shot from their battery fell thick and fast. The boat was sunk by a shot from their rifled cannon, and the shell from their howitzers compelled the Eleventh Ohio regiment to evacuate their camp. About two o’clock P. M. Capt. Simmons, of our artillery, succeeded in getting one of his rifle guns in position on a hill below the bridge, and was soon exchanging shot for shot with them, but they still kept up a continual firing, our shots seeming to take no effect upon their battery, until night again closed upon the scene. The carpenters then set to work and soon completed another boat; this was kept running all night, crossing wagons with supplies for the army above us, who had well-nigh run dry.
At daylight the next morning hostilities again commenced on the same plan. At twelve o’clock news came to camp that they had killed one of the Second Kentucky and wounded another. An ambulance was immediately sent to the spot to bring them off, but the rebels fired upon it, one ball striking the horse, who ran off, throwing the driver out, and smashing the ambulance to pieces. When this intelligence reached head-quarters, Surgeons Wirts and White, with another ambulance, upon which they hoisted a red hospital flag, proceeded to the place for the two unfortunate men. No sooner had they made their appearance, however, than the rebels opened a heavy fire upon the party. Dr. Wirts waved the red flag, but they disregarded it and kept up the firing. They finally succeeded in bearing off the wounded man, who proved to be a member of Company I, from Ohio; but so hot was the fire that they were compelled to leave the dead one until night. Upon their return, the flag was found to be full of bullet holes. I had heard that the rebels had in other cases fired upon the hospital flag, but could not believe that they were so recreant and degraded; but now I know it, have had the proof positive, and am sorry to know that I am engaged in warfare against a people so completely depraved as to have no respect for the cries of the wounded and dying.
On Wednesday we were all gratified by the arrival of a battery of six “Parrott” rifled cannon, ten-pounders, and that night a company of the First Kentucky regiment, under Lieutenant Dryden, of Jeffersonville, pulled two of them up the steep mountain side to an elevation commanding the hills on the other side. The next morning the rebels opened out early. In a few minutes after their first shot, Capt. Simmons sighted one of the “Parrotts” and let drive at them. The rebel cannon stopped for a moment, as if in surprise at the effect of our shot, then fired again. Simmons let them have it again from both the ten-pounders, when, in the emphatic language of the poet, they “skadad-eld,” or, in other words, left; at least, no more was heard of them, and up to this time none of them have showed themselves on the hills. They had learned to treat our howitzers and six-pounders with indifference, but this Parrott gun carries a ten-pound shot five miles; that was too much for them, and they retired after a siege of seven days, during which we lost three men only, but had any number of narrow escapes. Their loss we do not know, but believe it large, as a number of bodies were seen carried off. The ferry is now making regular trips, and communication is uninterrupted.
The troops in Western Virginia are now situated as follows: the First and Second Kentucky and Eleventh Ohio regiments constitute General Cox’s brigade, the First Kentucky under Lieut.-Col. Enyart and the Eleventh Ohio under Col. De Villiers, (who was captured with Col. Woodruff and has since made his escape,) occupy the ground around Gauley Bridge; the Second Kentucky, under Col. Sedgewick, with a cavalry company and one piece of artillery attached, are the body guard of General Rosecrans, and are encamped with him at Tompkins Farm. General Schenck’s brigade is eight miles above; Col. McCook’s, consisting of three German regiments, is five miles above; General Benham’s brigade is at Cannelton, seven miles below Gauley Bridge, and Col. Tyler, with the Seventh Ohio and Second Virginia regiments, has possession of Charleston, thirty-eight miles below, the whole under Gen. Rosecrans.
The paymaster paid off our regiment yesterday, and everybody seems to be happy, and everybody wants leave to go home. Furloughs and leaves of absence are in demand; our little colonel is obliging as many as possible, and ere many days Louisville will be full of blue-coated Second Kentuckians, with pockets full of money and mouths full of daring deeds and miraculous escapes. They deserve a hearty welcome at your hands, for no troops ever upheld the honor of a State more nobly, under as many difficulties, as the “bloody Second” has that of our own gallant State. Adjutant Welhedel has just left for home, and ere many days, unless we have a big fight, you may see,
Yours truly, KENTUCKIAN.
Head-quarters Second KY. Regiment, U. S. A.,
Camp at Tompkins Farm, Western Va.,
Nov. 4, 1861.
The health of the regiment is very excellent, and we now number more men for duty than any regiment in Virginia, (eight hundred and eighty-four men,) although we have followed and fought the rebels since July last, from Guyandotte to Big Sewell Mountain, and back to this place.
The rebels have been gathering for some time past on the opposite side of the river, and during the last three days a constant and terrific fire of artillery and musketry has been kept up on both sides. On yesterday they succeeded in killing a private of the Thirteenth Ohio Volunteer regiment, and private Hyer of Company D (Woodward Guards) of our regiment. The two men lay where they fell for some time—the fire from the rebel side being so hot that it was almost impossible to bring them off. During the day, Doctors Wirts and White, with an ambulance, upon which they hoisted a red hospital flag, proceeded to the spot to bring them off. They no sooner showed themselves than they were greeted with a shower of bullets. They waved the flag, but still the fire was kept up. They finally succeeded in bringing off private Hyer, but were compelled to leave the body of the dead soldier until after dark, when a party of my men brought him from the spot.
I have heard of the enemy firing on our hospitals and upon red flags, but not believe they were so depraved. I have now witnessed it—can testify to it—and consequently know what kind of enemies we have to deal with, and shall govern myself and command accordingly.
With many thanks for your kindness, I am, with much respect, yours, &c.,
Commanding Second Kentucky Regiment, U. S. A.
Camp at Tompkins Farm, Va.,
Second Kentucky Regiment, Saturday,
Nov. 2, 1861.
Since I last wrote to you, every thing has passed off quietly here until yesterday, although the secesh have been in sight of us for the last four or five days, on the opposite side of the river. They have now a force, as near as we can ascertain, of from fourteen to fifteen thousand, and six or eight four and six-pounders.
Yesterday morning they opened the fire on our trains from the opposite side, and kept up a constant fire from rifles and musketry. I was the first one they opened out on in the morning. Whilst I was going down the road to visit the pickets, I run the gauntlet for over a mile down to the bridge, and they came pretty close to me several times. When I returned they opened out again worse than ever, and I escaped them all. I have a good horse, who soon landed me safe out of their reach, and I took the news to camp, which soon stopped all wagon trains passing down, although some had started down the hill and had to go at full run, some escaping very narrowly—the bullets going through the wagons. No other damage done.
The rebels succeeded in planting a four-pounder on the point of the hill commanding the ferry, when they opened out with shell and round shot; several of their shots falling shot and into the river, doing no damage, only keeping our wagons from crossing. They kept up the fire until Camp. Simmons opened out with one of his six-pound rifle cannon, which soon made them quiet, and our boys, with rifles and muskets, kept up a constant firing until dark, when every thing quieted down on account of the darkness and rain. During the afternoon, Capt. McMullin got three of his mountain howitzers to work, which did some fine work. At the First Kentucky camp they had considerable firing, and, as far as I could learn, no one was hurt there. They are located on the Kanawha at the falls. Three companies of the First crossed the river below the falls, and got on top of the hill, but returned by dinner time, as they were unable to do any good from their position; but whenever any of the rebels showed themselves, they would make them hunt the bushes.
Saturday, Nov. 2.
The morning opened with a dense fog, so that we could not see any distance—but taking due advantage, we got our men well posted on the road and mountain side, and passed over several of our wagons without trouble. As soon as all was clear, we found our friends on the other side had been as industrious as ourselves, for they had cut a road and placed a six-pounder on the point, and had the hills full of their riflemen, and so opened the ball. They opened out with their cannon on Gauley Bridge and the commissary and store-houses, but did not reach or hit them. One shot struck the ferry-boat, doing but little damage, but they found a formidable enemy to oppose them, in the shape of Capt. Simmons’ battery, who soon made them play out. He silenced them by two o’clock, from the other side of Gauley. In the mean time about one hundred of our boys were giving them a hot time from this side, with rifles and muskets, which was kept up until about three P. M., when the rebels, finding it too hot, commenced leaving their hiding places, and it was much sport for our boys to see them running. Whenever they had a clear place to pass, the boys would help them along faster by sending despatches to them. For a long time some of our men were close enough to talk across the river to them, and many amusing remarks were exchanged. When our boys wanted to find out where they were secreted, they would ask them if they did not want salt or a drink of good old Bourbon, &c., &c., which would be responded to by “Oh, you d___d Yankees,” &c., when the response would be by half-a-dozen bullets whistling among them, which our boys call telegraph despatches. This kind of warfare don’t suit our boys. They want them to come out and show themselves, and many a challenge was sent to them to come out and give us a fair fight, and not be so cowardly. Toward evening we noticed their forces retreating back along the top of the mountain. We could plainly see their wagons and cavalry moving off on the double-quick, with several regiments of infantry, withdrawing toward Lewisburgh. What their intentions are we know not, but I rather think they don’t like the style of the Second Kentucky’s shooting. They have found out that we are as good at the bush whack as they are, and can shoot as well. This evening and afternoon all is quiet, and trains are passing without any trouble. Gen. Rosecrans thinks the Second Kentucky are some in a fight, and says he would like to see them in a clear open fight, for they would go in one side, and cut themselves through and come out the other side.
The number of their killed or wounded we do not know, but from one point on New River is a log-house, where they were seen to carry off four bodies; and from where our battery was playing on them, several were seen to fall, and were carried off. Our little Col. Sedgewick was down the road when they opened out on him. He jumped from his horse, and took a rifle from one of the men, and made one of the five rebels bite the dust. The rebel fell dead, and was carried off by his comrades, when they had a hot time getting out of sight and back to their holes. Col. S. escaped with a slight flesh wound in the leg, just below the knee. He mounted his noble charger, (by the way, one presented to him at Camp Dennison,) and the finest horse in this division.
I might wind up by saying that our men are in fine health, and look well in their winter suits, and the best of all is, the paymaster is on hand, and will pay them to-morrow. We would have been paid yesterday, but the excitement, and the road being impassable, he could not get up from Gauley, where he makes his head-quarters. I imagine he thought it rather a hot place this morning. He will be welcomed in the morning. You shall hear from me again soon.
Sunday Evening, Nov. 3, 9 P. M.
P. S.—Early this morning the rebels again opened a heavy fire on our trains, and killed a private belonging to the thirteenth Ohio, whose name we could not learn, and wounded a private belonging to Company D, of Second Kentucky, by the name of Hyer; the ball struck his leg and broke it. No other damage done; but the rebels are working hard on the Kanawha, and we now anticipate a hard fight before they are whipped out.
The Thirteenth, Twelfth, and Tenth Ohio have crossed over the Gauley, and gone down to Cannelton. Our movements are now uncertain for the present. Should we have any thing of a fight, you may depend on the lively Second Kentucky doing their duty. Every preparation on our part is in course of erection. Gen. Cox is down at Gauley, and Gen. Rosecrans is at his head-quarters with us. So look out for lively times this way.
November 12, 1861
The following letter is from a reliable officer in the Floyd Brigade:
CAMP DICKERSON, Fayette Co.,
November 2, 1861.
DEAR--------: According to prediction in my last, we were all ordered the next morning (1st November) to the place selected for the commencement of the fight with the enemy, and in a short time the firing commenced and the bombardment became general. The enemy could do us no damage, while their wagons suffered greatly from our fire. Their men and horses fell on all sides, while we lost not a man all day. While this was going on orders were sent to me to form a certain number of our companies in conjunction with a portion of Phillips' Legion, to attack about 500 Yankees who had crossed over on this side of the river and had advanced to within 500 yards of our forces. One of the Yankees was taken prisoner, and from him we learned that the 500 had lost their way and did not know how to get away. This spread great joy among us, and off we started at a double-quick, (I forgetting my lameness.) It was in torrents, and night overtook us without our being so lucky as to find the scoundrels, so we returned, and the fighting across the river lasted all that day.
The Yankees' communication is now completely cutoff, and I hope soon to send the good news that we have driven them back across Gauley.
Nov. 3.---Yesterday proved a most disagreeable day for our forces--raining in torrents, and very cold and gloomy--well calculated to effect us, but for the glorious consolation that the Yankees are having a rough time of it, for we are pestering them incessantly with our artillery and sharp shooters. We are so near them we can hear them talking--only a small stream being between us.
Our soldiers have become so accustomed to being near them and exposed to their fire, that they will fight like tigers if given a chance, for they seem to feel it a duty to clear the land of such vandals!
Although the firing was kept up all day on the 2nd, they havn't [sic] hurt any of our men. A cannon ball struck the musket of one of our men, and shivered it, but that was all.
We have seen numbers of their men fall, and we are still picking them off.
There is a camp rumor here that we are to be ordered off, but we place no reliance on such rumors; indeed, we are so "in for the fun" here now that we would scarcely relish the idea of giving up the job of ridding Western Virginia of these maurauders [sic] to any but our General.
Reports from Gen. Floyd's command.
November 7, 1861
Reports from Gen. Floyd's command.
We received last night later advices from Gen. Floyd's command, at Cotton Hill, through which we learn that he opened fire upon the enemy on Friday last, killing 29 men and a number of horses, and disabled two wagons. Gen. Floyd, we understand, has complete control of the road over which the Federals transported their supplies, and has put an effectual barrier to this avenue of communication.
We have also a rumor, for the correctness of which we do not vouch, that on the same day 1,200 of the enemy crossed the Kanawha river at Loup Creek, to cut off Col. Jenkins's cavalry; that this officer sent to Gen. Floyd for reinforcements of infantry, attacked the enemy, and killed and captured a large number.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: November 1861