Series 1, Volume 5, pp. 1046-48, 1054-56
January 25, 1862.
Commanding Army of the Northwest:
General: The undersigned officers of your command beg leave to present their condition to your consideration as it exists at Romney.
It is unnecessary to detail to you, who participated in it all, the service performed, by the Army of the Northwest during the last eight months. The unwritten (it will never be truly written) history of that remarkable campaign would show, if truly portrayed, a degree of severity, of hardship, of toil, of exposure and suffering that finds no parallel in the prosecution of the present war, if indeed it is equaled in any war. And the alacrity and good-will with which the men of your command bore all this hardship, exposure, and deprivation would have done honor to our sires in the most trying times of the Revolution.
After being worn down with unremitting toil and wasted by death and disease, the remainder were about preparing quarters to shield them from the storms of winter in a rigorous climate. Many had prepared comparatively comfortable quarters, when they were called upon to march to Winchester and join the force under General Jackson. This they did about the 1st of December, with the same alacrity which had characterized their former conduct, making a march of some 150 miles at that inclement season of the year.
After reaching Winchester, as expected, was ordered in the direction of the enemy, when all cheerfully obeyed the order, with the confident expectation that so soon as the object of the expedition was attained they would be marched to some comfortable position, where they could enjoy a short respite and recruit their wasted energies for the spring campaign.
The terrible exposure and suffering on this expedition can never be known to those who did not participate in it. When men pass night after night in the coldest period of a cold climate without tents, blankets, or even an ax to cut wood with, and without food for twenty-four hours, and with some of the men nearly two days at a time, and attended by toilsome marches, it is not to be thought strange that some regiments which left Winchester with nearly 600 men should now, short as the time has been, report less than 200 men for duty.
Instead of finding, as expected, a little repose during midwinter, we are ordered to remain at this place. Our position at and near Romney is one of the most disagreeable and unfavorable that could well be imagined. We can only get an encampment upon the worst of wet, spouty land, much of which when it rains is naught but one sheet of water and a consequent corresponding depth of mud, and this, too, without the advantage of sufficient wood, the men having to drag that indispensable article down from high up on the mountain side.
We are within a few miles of the enemy and of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which imposes upon on men the continued hardship of very heavy picket duty, which will in a short time tell terribly upon their health and strength. We regard Romney as a place difficult to hold, and of no strategical importance after it is held. Besides, the country around it for some distance has already been by the enemy exhausted of its supplies. Your army could be maintained much more comfortably, and at much less expense, and with every military advantage, at almost any other place.
Another consideration we would endeavor to impress upon your mind: All must be profoundly impressed with the paramount importance of raising an army for the next summer’s campaign. When we left Winchester, a very large proportion of your army, with the benefit of a short furlough, would have enlisted for the war, but now, with the present prospect before them, we doubt if one single man would re-enlist. But if they are yet removed to a position where their spirits could be revived, many, we think, will go for the war.
In view of all these considerations and many others that might be presented, we ask that you present the condition of your command to the War Department, and earnestly ask that it may be ordered to some more favorable position.
Wm. B. Taliaferro,
Colonel, Commanding Fourth Brigade Northwestern Army.
Saml. V. Fulkerson,
Colonel Thirty-seventh Virginia Volunteers.
Van H. Manning
Major, Commanding Third Arkansas Volunteers.
J. W. Anderson,
Major, Commanding First Georgia Regiment.
Captain, Commanding Twenty-third Virginia Volunteers.
Jesse S. Burks,
Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade Northwestern Army.
D. A. Langhorne,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding Forty-second Virginia Volunteers.
P. B. Adams,
Major, Forty-second Virginia Volunteers.
J. Y. Jones,
Captain, Commanding First Battalion P. A. C. S.
R. H. Cunningham, Jr.,
Captain, Commanding Twenty-first Virginia Volunteers
John A. Campbell,
Colonel, Commanding Forty-eighth Virginia Volunteers.
Headquarters Army of Northwest,
Romney, Va., January 26, 1862.
As this is a respectful communication, and presents for the consideration of the honorable Secretary of War the true condition of this army, and coming from so high a source, expressing the united feeling of the army, I deem it proper to respectfully forward it for his information. I am most anxious to re-enlist this fine army, equal to any I ever saw, and am satisfied if something is not done to relieve it, it will be found impossible to induce the army to do so, but with some regard for its comfort, a large portion, if not the whole, may be prevailed upon.
At the earliest possible moment I shall write more fully.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. W. Loring,
Brigadier-General, Commanding, &c.
Headquarters Valley District,
Winchester, February 4, 1862.
Respectfully forwarded, but disapproved.
T. J. Jackson,
Romney, Va., January 31, 1862.
Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of War:
Sir: I inclose the report of Colonel Barton, who acted as engineer, by order of General Jackson, in examining the defenses, & c., of Romney, and the copy of a letter inclosing it, which I sent General Jackson. I beg to call your attention to them, particularly the fact of the enemy, in force at their railroad, making it their base of operations, with Cumberland as their center, secured by Patterson’s Creek Depot and the mouth of the South Branch and its bridge on the one side, and New Creek Depot and its bridge on the other, and also the large number of roads leading to our rear from various points on their railroad.
I deem it my duty to report that this command is now forced, in the depth of winter, from the requirements of our position, to a degree of service which is telling with fearful effect upon their health. In the short time since its departure from Winchester a number of our best officers and men have died, the result of exposure; and the medical men of the army tell me that the constant exposure during the recent summer in the mountains, followed by the unremitting duty in the winter, is filling the hospitals with hundreds of our sick.
It is a fine army, and should be, if possible, re-enlisted for the war. I am satisfied that unless it is given relief it will be found impossible to effect it. With some attention to their comfort most, if not all, may be induced to enter again.
It is proper for me to say that we came cheerfully to co-operate with the forces of General Jackson in the campaign, the reports of which have been sent you. All movements have some time since ceased, and General Jackson has gone to Winchester with his brigade. I now most respectfully ask, in justice to this command and myself, that it be ordered to the line to which I had the honor to be assigned. Numerous places may be selected where it can be reorganized; or, if this should not be deemed advisable, to some point where it can have the stimulant of active service.
I have the honor to be, respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. W. Loring,
Headquarters Army of the Northwest,
Romney, January 28, 1862.
Maj. Gen. T. J. Jackson, Commanding, &c.:
General: I send a report of Colonel Barton of the means of defense and of the approaches to Romney, the position this force is ordered to hold. After a careful and thorough examination of the mountain passes, I am of the opinion that he has given a correct estimate of their strength. With the aid of the best guides of this country I have made observation of its roads and fully concur with him in the facility with which an enemy with a large command can flank and turn our positions. He has also given a correct statement of the numerous approaches of the enemy from the railroad to our rear.
So far as our best information enables us to judge, they have at this time, near the mouth of Patterson’s Creek—railroad depot 18 miles distant—about 6,000 men; at Green Springs Depot, 19 miles, about 1,500; New Creek Depot, 18 miles, 3,000 men; Cumberland, reported to be between 2,000 and 3,000 men. Within a few hours they can concentrate their entire force at any one of these stations or place along the line scouting and foraging parties. The total of their strength is about 12,000 men.
To oppose this army we have about 4,500 effective men and a few militia.
It will be seen that the picketing and scouting necessary to keep ourselves advised must be excessive, and when the inclement season is considered, the exposure makes the duty one of great hardship, attended with loss of life.
You are also aware that the country here and in its vicinity, occupied so long by the enemy, has been exhausted of its resources, and our supplies must be brought mostly from Winchester and Strasburg, 42 and 60 miles distant; grain from the South Branch Valley, some of it 35 miles, part of the way exposed to the enemy, necessitating large escorts.
In brief, the advantages of the enemy are in having the base of their operations at the railroad with nearly three times our force, while the position of this command is indefensible, and over 40 miles from its source of supply, with none of the roads macadamized, and which must necessarily become impassable in a short time with ordinary freight.
The recent demonstration upon the enemy in considerable numbers, having aroused their apprehension for the security of their railroad communications and its facilities, has induced them to concentrate their scattered forces from adjacent points, including Fort Pendleton.
If it is the intention to keep this command here, I am compelled to say that the force is not equal to the requirements, and I therefore respectfully but earnestly request a re-enforcement of 3,000 men to meet the immediate concentration of the enemy as well as to relieve the command of the unparalleled exposure to which they have been and are now subjected.
I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. W. Loring, Brigadier-General, Commanding, & c.
Notes on the location and approaches to Romney.
This village is situated on the Northwest turnpike, within a mile of its intersection with the South Branch of the Potomac. From its location in a valley surrounded by mountains and hills not difficult of access it is of course indefensible. The approaches are (by roads) by the Northwest turnpike east and west, the Springfield turnpike, and two roads up the South Branch to Moorefield All of these roads connect with farm roads, which, with the nature of the surrounding country, render travel in every direction without baggage easy.
Defenses.—On the left front, a pass, through which Mill Creek runs. This is a narrow and tortuous part of the road, half a mile long, and ending at Mechanicsburg, 3 1/2 miles from Romney. The pass is difficult to defend, the approach from the west offering no obstruction to the enemy, but affording them cover; it can also be turned on the south by a road practicable for artillery. It would be dangerous, therefore, to use artillery in or beyond this pass. The road mentioned above leads into the Moorefield grade, which passes through Romney and the pass. At Mechanicsburg, besides the Northwest turnpike, a road leads up Mill Creek, one to New Creek 18 miles, via Sheet’s Mill, and another 5 miles to Fox’s Ford, of South Branch, at mouth of Hanging Rock, on Springfield grade, 4 miles. The road through this pass is at the base of a precipice on the right and on the bank of a deep stream on the left, straight 800 yards in length, and enfiladed by our guns; the mountain in our possession commands all neighboring heights. This pass can also be turned; 1st, by a ford 1 mile downstream; 2d, by another ford three-quarters of a mile farther down—these by foot troops only; 3d, by the Chain Bridge 2 1/2 miles on Springfield grade; and 4th, by farm roads at the base of Jersey Mountain. There is also a road on the ridge of this mountain chain which falls into the Northwest turnpike 2 1/2 miles in rear of Romney. Seven or eight roads lead from the railroad to the Winchester road in our rear. To secure our flanks and rear a large number of scouting parties and pickets are required.
For a small force this point is indefensible. For a large one (say 20,000), it could be made a strong position.
S. M. Barton,
Headquarters Valley District,
February 1, 1862.
Maj. Thomas G. Rhett,
Assistant Adjutant-General, headquarters D. N. V.:
Major: The Secretary of War stated, in the order requiring General Loring’s command to fall back to this place immediately, that he had been informed that the command was in danger of being cut off. Such danger I am well satisfied does not exist, nor did it, in my opinion, exist at the time the order was given; and I therefore respectfully recommend that the order be countermanded, and that General L. be required to return with his command to the vicinity of Romney.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. J. Jackson,
Major- General, P. A. C. S., Commanding.
Headquarters, Centreville, February 6, 1862.
Respectfully referred to the Secretary of War, whose orders I cannot countermand.
J. E. Johnston,
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: January 1862