January 3, 1862
CAMP BEALINGTON< VA., Dec. 28, ’61.
Eds. Intelligencer: While the movements of the “Grand Army,” our relations with England, and other great matters, are engrossing the attention of “the million,” it may not be out of place to record one of the most daring exploits and extensive scouts of the season, considering the numbers engaged, the distance traveled, the position of the country, the inclemency of the weather and the nature of the enemy whose country was invaded.
On the morning of the 19th inst., Capt. Latham, Co. B, Second Virginia Regiment, stationed at this place, having obtained information of the position of a rebel “Home Guard,” under command of Capt. Samson Elza, on the Dry Fork of Cheat river, in Randolph county, started thirty-eight men under command of Lieuts. Cather and Wilson, to surprise them if possible – to disperse them at any rate, and punish them for their depradations upon the Union men of that vicinity. The gallant little party travelling by a circuitous route – the better to surprise the enemy – of sixty-five miles, through the most hostile neighborhood at night, from midnight till daybreak, reached and surrounded their place of encampment at daylight on the morning of the 22d inst., but, lo! Upon closing up around the premises the “birds” had flown. Some articles of small importance were found in Capt. Elza’s quarters and brought away as trophies – among them some of the Captain’s “General Orders,” which are curiosities indeed. The “King’s English” suffers most severely. One fife, two fiddles and a dulcimer constituted his musical bureau.
Daylight coming on, the cowardly rebels, or as they call themselves, the “Mountain Tigers,” commenced a brisk fire upon our party from the mountain sides, concealing themselves behind the trees and rocks, and taking very good care to keep either out of sight or out of range of our “off hand cannon (rifled muskets).[“] The balls whistled thick and fast around our party, which, nothing daunted, played the Zouare beautifully, and returned the fire promptly whenever a scalp could be seen behind hind [sic] their lurking places. The “Home Guard,” consisting of some forty odd mountaineers, was finally completely scattered and driven off without the slightest casualty on our part. It was impossible to ascertain the damage done to the enemy, it being impracticable and useless to pass over the rugged mountain sides and laurel and pine thickets, after the skirmish was ended. One man is known to have been severely wounded, so that he could not be brought to camp.
The party went into the edge of Pendleton county, within thirty-five miles of Monterey and within twenty-five of the rebel camp on Alleghany, the scene of the late fight. They disarmed a number of the rebels, took the horses of the most notorious and returned to camp on the 24th inst., as merry as though they had only been preparing for a Christmas frolic. – The weather, during a great portion of the time, was most inclement, the snow falling thick, the wind blowing a perfect hurricane, and so cold that the men’s breath froze in icicles on their beards.
But do not suppose, Messrs. Editors, that our gallant Captain was idle during this time. Feeling deeply the danger to which his men were exposed, he obtained a detachment of thirty-six men, under command of Lieut. Coplin, of Co. F, 3d Virginia Regiment, to go by a nearer route through the county, to join and co-operate with them. This detachment proceeded to within some eight miles of the place designated for meeting, heard that there was an enemy on the road, faced about and returned to their camp; upon hearing which the Captain determined to go to his men if they were still in the mountains. – (He could not accompany them at first, though it was his earnest desire to do so.) Consequently he took twelve men from his company, started in the afternoon of the 22nd instant, and by a forced march of a day and a half came to the neighborhood of the rebel head quarters when the skirmishing had taken place, but the first party had just started for camp, and the Captain and his little party – the smallest body of Union troops ever in that vicinity – could find only a few scattered rebels dodging through the woods, choosing rather to run and hide than fight. They spent one day in the neighborhood, and returned to camp on the 25th, enjoying Christmas along the road.
This bold expedition struck a perfect panic into the rebels of that region, who had considered the mountains all their own. We traveled fifteen miles above where any Union soldiers had ever been before, and there were two hundred in the party that even went within that distance of the scene of our operations. Long will Company B of the 2nd Virginia Regiment be remembered in those hills and mountain fastnesses. Our Captain thinks his company cannot be whipped, and with our Captain at their head his company thinks the same.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: December 1861