Capture of Spencer
September 18, 1862
Capture of Spencer
The history of the capture of Spencer, the county seat of Roane county, and disgraceful surrender of the Federal Troops, by Col. Rathbone, is simply this, which we regard as true: On Tuesday, the 2d inst., at 4 P.M., Jenkins, with 500 cavalry, arrived within half a mile of the town, on the road from [two illegible words] a flag of truce to Col. Rathbone, demanding the unconditional surrender of the place, to which demand Col. Rathbone yielded, ordering his men to stack their arms, and prepared to be paroled. Some of his officers begged to be permitted to take the command and fight it out with Jenkins. – This request not being granted, a good portion of the men, lead by Captain Pell seized their arms, and fled to the hills. – In a short time Jenkins’ cavalry came in, paroled Rathbone and his men, burnt the stack of guns, consisting of several hundred belonging to the citizens of the county, distributed the small amount of commissary stores to the inhabitants of the town, and after taking several good horses from the citizens in the vicinity, leaving, in some instances, broke down ones in their places, and about 10 A.M. next day left, taking the pike for the Ohio River.
Rathbone had not less than three hundred effective men under his command, and occupying a position that would have enabled him, with ordinary military skill and determination, to have easily repulsed and defeated Jenkins’ force. In the same place, a year ago, less than hundred Home Guards defended themselves against a much larger force of the enemy than Jenkin’s had, for eight days.
- Kanawha Republican.
Series 1, Vol. 12, Part II, pp 756-64
. . .
Report of Brig. Gen. William W. Loring, C. S. Army, commanding Department of Western Virginia.
Headquarters Department of Western Virginia,
Charleston, W. Va., September 20, 1862.
General: I have the honor to inform you that about the 22d ultimo I formed the plan of invading Trans-Alleghany Virginia, and preliminary to my own movement sent General Jenkins with my disposable cavalry, about 550 in number, with directions to sweep around to the northwest, destroying the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in his course, if possible, and to make his appearance about the 8th instant on the rear of the enemy in the Kanawha Valley. This plan, with the exception of the destruction of the railroad, for achieving which the time proposed was too brief, that brilliant and enterprising general executed with such success that in his march of 500 miles, accomplished in the time required and mostly within the lines of the enemy, he captured and paroled near 300 prisoners of war; killed, wounded, and dispersed about 1,000 of the enemy; reclaimed to the Government about 40,000 square miles, then in the possession of the enemy, destroying many garrisons of home guards and the records of the Wheeling and Federal Governments in many counties, and, after arming his command completely with captured arms, destroyed at least 5,000 stand of small-arms, one piece of cannon, and immense stores, which he was unable to bring away. Crossing the Ohio River twice and prosecuting at least 20 miles of his march through the State of Ohio, be exhibited, as he did elsewhere in his march, a policy of such clemency as won us many friends, and tended greatly to mitigate the ferocity which had characterized the war in this section. His timely arrival in the enemy’s rear effectually weakened the obstinacy of his stand and facilitated my march with the main column into the country. The whole of General Jenkins’ march was too full of incident and adventure and of successes, repeated daily, to be made the subject of mere special remark; but his conduct and that of his officers and men has received my unqualified approbation, and deserves the notice and thanks of the Government. *
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. W. Loring,
General S. Cooper,
Adjutant and Inspector General.
Report of Brig. Gen. A. G. Jenkins, C. S. Army, commanding expedition.
Headquarters Cavalry Brigade,
Camp on Kanawha, W. Va., September 19, 1862.
Colonel: This command, consisting at that time of seven companies of the Eighth Virginia Cavalry, under Colonel [J. M.] Corns, and five other mounted companies under Captain [W. R.] Preston, left the Salt Sulphur Springs, in Monroe County, Virginia, on the 22d ultimo, for an expedition into the northwestern part of the State, and thence to fall in rear of the enemy, who held the mouth of Gauley and Fayetteville, by striking the Kanawha Valley. Learning on the first day’s march of a condition of things which made it desirable to send a small force by the opposite route to come in on the south side of the Kanawha River, I sent Captain [W. E.] Herndon with his company for that purpose. I was also compelled to leave Captain [E. E.] Bouldin and his company for want of proper ammunition for his arms. My whole force amounted at this time to something over 500 men. In the course of the next few days we passed by easy marches through the Great Sewell settlement of Greenbrier County, the Little Sewell settlement of Pocahontas County, thence by the Big Spring, and over the Valley Mountain down the headwaters of Tygart’s Valley River. I was at this time under the impression that the enemy had but 450 men at Beverly and intended to attack him at that point, but hearing a rumor on the evening before the day I expected to make the attack that General Kelley had reached there with 1,500 men, I determined, if possible, to ascertain its correctness. For this purpose we used every effort to capture some of the enemy’s scouts as we approached Huttonsville, and when within 5 or 6 miles of the latter place we succeeded in doing so. I regret to say that in the capture of these scouts Mr. Charles Tompkins, acting as aide, received a wound in the arm. He is, however, rapidly recovering from its effects. Of the enemy’s scouting party of 6 we captured 2 and killed 1, the latter being one of the two brothers named Gibson, and notorious through all that section for the persecution of their loyal neighbors, guiding the Yankees through the country and inciting them to deeds of violence. We endeavored to take him alive, but he refused to surrender and resisted to the last. From the two prisoners (whom I examined apart) I learned that General Kelley was certainly at Beverly, and with some 1,500 men. Another prisoner whom we took during the day confirmed their statements, and other evidence also reached me which placed the matter beyond doubt.
In the mean time I had been communicating with Colonel Imboden, who was at Cheat Mountain with a small force, and with whom I had contemplated a co-operation; but the enemy’s force being nearly twice as large as both our own combined, and occupying a strongly fortified position, made even a combined attack impracticable. I now determined, if possible, to throw my command in General Kelley’s rear, and learning that an immense amount of supplies and several thousand stand of arms had been collected at Buckhannon, the county seat of Upshur, I concluded to strike at that point. To effect this we had to cross the Rich Mountain by a mere bridle-path, or rather trail, which was often undiscoverable, and which for 30 miles passes through the most perfect wilderness I ever beheld. It was indeed an arduous task for men and horses. Some of the latter were completely broken down and left behind and a few of the men were also physically unable to make the march, and returned to the main road to make their way back to General Loring’s camp. At length, however, after twenty-four hours continuous marching, with the exception of short intervals for rest, the last of the command was extricated from the wilderness, and we suddenly entered upon the fertile country watered by the tributaries of Buckhannon River. Here we halted, and after a few hours for rest and food we proceeded down French Creek toward the town of Buckhannon. The population along this creek is among the most disloyal in all Western Virginia. We had emerged so suddenly from the mountains and by a route hardly known to exist at all, and if known deemed utterly impassable for any considerable number of men, that the inhabitants could scarcely comprehend that we were Southern troops; but when once known the alarm spread rapidly, and the Lincolnite bushwhackers, or Home Guards, as they style themselves, kept up a scattering fire upon us all day. It was often necessary to dismount a portion of my command to clear the enemy from the woods or houses. I am pained to say that in one of these skirmishes Captain [J. M.] Ferguson was wounded in the knee by a musket-ball. The missile passed entirely through the knee joint and the wound is a serious one. Under the advice of the surgeon we left him, after taking him with us a few hours. We killed and wounded several and captured a great many of the so-called Home Guards. The latter I released upon their taking an oath not to bear arms against the State or the Confederate Government.
At 3 o’clock [August 30] we approached Buckhannon. So rapidly had we traveled that the news of our coming hardly preceded us an hour. I could observe no signs of the enemy, but knowing he had troops at that point I suspected they were placed in ambuscade, an opinion which was soon confirmed. My own disposition of troops was soon made. Dismounting all but two companies, I placed four companies of the dismounted men under Captain [G. W.] Spotts, with orders to proceed through a skirt of woods on our left, where I suspected an ambuscade, and after driving him from that position to flank the town on the left. I ordered two other companies of dismounted men to deploy through a corn field on our right, while I moved on with the other dismounted men, under Colonel Corns, along the main turnpike leading to the town, leaving Captain Preston in command of the two mounted companies to await further orders. The forces on my left soon felt the enemy and drove him in confusion before them. Our main body received a fire from the enemy, who was partially screened by some haystacks and fences. This fire was returned so briskly that the enemy was soon routed. He made no further stand, but fled in every direction. As soon as the obstructions could be removed which had been placed in the road I ordered Captain Preston to charge, which he did, capturing several fugitives beyond the town. I regret to have to state that in the brief engagement Lieutenant-Colonel [A. F.] Cook of the Eighth Virginia Cavalry, was seriously, though not mortally, wounded, the ball passing through the inside of the thigh, but not touching the bone. We lost none killed and only 3 others wounded. The enemy’s loss was 12 or 15 killed and wounded and about 20 prisoners, including Captain Marsh, the commanding officer. I could not ascertain precisely his whole force engaged, but it was stated by Captain Marsh to have been 200. The citizens of the place, however, estimated at a much higher figure.
On taking possession of the town I found an immense supply of commissary and other stores, besides 5,000 stand of arms, and vast supplies of ordnance stores, clothing, & c. Many of my command were poorly armed, and all were at once supplied with Enfield and Harper’s Ferry rifles, except a single company, which I permitted to keep its shot-guns for the purpose of heading a charge. We then commenced the work of destruction, at which the whole command labored assiduously until midnight, when, having destroyed everything of value, we took up our line of march for Weston, the county seat of Lewis County. I forgot to say that before leaving we disabled a beautiful brass 6-pounder, which we had captured and could not conveniently take with us.
We reached Weston at daylight the next morning [August 31] and surrounded the place, but a dense fog suddenly arising, the enemy, of whom there were six companies, mostly escaped. We captured about a dozen prisoners, and remained there during the rest of the day resting the men and horses.
In the evening, after destroying all United States property, telegraph office, &c., we took up our line of march for Glenville, in Gilmer County. We encamped about midnight, and resuming our march early next morning, approached within sight of Glenville about 11 o’clock next day. Here the enemy, consisting of two companies, fled after a single fire. Resting for the remainder of the day at Glenville, we started at sunset for Spencer, the county seat of Roane. After encamping and resting for a few hours after midnight we again resumed our march, and about 4 p. m. [September 2] reached Spencer, surprising and capturing Colonel Rathbone and his entire command, consisting of five companies of infantry [Eleventh West Virginia]. Here, also, we got some fine arms, which we were compelled to destroy.
We remained at this point until the next morning, when, having paroled all of our prisoners, as we had previously done, we moved on to Ripley, in Jackson County, a point only 12 miles from the Ohio River. We reached Ripley that evening, but found no enemy save a solitary paymaster, whom we relieved of United States funds to the amount of $5,525.
Next morning we moved to Ravenswood, on the Ohio River. The enemy, comprising near 200, fled across the Ohio on our approach. We rested most of the day at Ravenswood, and about an hour before sunset I crossed the Ohio with the larger portion into the State of Ohio, losing one man by being drowned. The ford was deep and the bar upon which we were compelled to cross narrow, and a number of the horses got into swimming water, but no other loss occurred except the one referred to. Mr. Burdett, of Ravenswood, and formerly a steamboat pilot, who joined my command that day, was very serviceable in aiding us to find the shoal water on the bar. Indeed, without him I should perhaps have had to abandon the enterprise. The excitement of the command as we approached the Ohio shore was intense, and in the anxiety to be the first of their respective companies to reach the soil of those who had invaded us all order was lost and it became almost a universal race as we came into shoal water. In a short time all were over, and in a few minutes the command was formed on the crest of a gentle eminence and the banners of the Southern Confederacy floated proudly over the soil of our invaders. As our flag was unfurled in the splendors of an evening sun cheers upon cheers arose from the men and their enthusiasm was excited to the highest pitch.
After dismounting a small body of men, and putting to flight some of the refugee Yankee soldiers from Ravenswood who, as said before, fled to the Ohio side for safety, I proceeded with my command into the State of Ohio, having already given the necessary directions to the part of the command left on the Virginia side to effect a junction near Point Pleasant. It was a subject of the very greatest interest with me to observe the state of feeling in Ohio and the impression our presence would produce. I may say in brief that the latter was characterized by the wildest terror—so much so that but for the pity for the subjects of it one could only view it as an absurdity. Women inquired for officers wherever our troops appeared, and, having found them, begged them not to permit them to murder them. Others came out of their dwellings and urged as a reason for our not burning them that they contained invalids too much afflicted to be removed. To these requests we replied that, though that mode of warfare had been practiced on ourselves, though many of the soldiers of our command were homeless and their families exiles on account of the ruthless warfare that had been waged against us, we were not barbarians, but a civilized people struggling for their liberties, and that we would afford them that exemption from the horrors of a savage warfare which had not been extended to us. It was manifest that they had not expected such immunity, and could scarcely credit their senses when they saw that we did not light our pathway with the torch. On more than one occasion, however, our presence produced a different effect, and the waving of handkerchiefs showed that the love of liberty and the right of self-government had still some advocates in a land of despotism. It was a curious and unexpected thing to hear upon the soil of Ohio shouts go up for Jeff. Davis and the Southern Confederacy. This was usually, however, in isolated spots, where there were no near neighbors to play the spy and informant.
In the course of our march in Ohio we captured several Federal soldiers who had escaped from Ravenswood, and upon returning to the Ohio River and taking possession of Racine we put to flight some Home Guards who had assembled for its defense. Here I proposed to recross the Ohio River, but a citizen familiar with the ford declared it impossible. Entertaining a different opinion, based upon Mr. Burdett’s knowledge of the channel, I insisted upon the citizen mounting a horse and leading the column over, promising him a proper remuneration. After getting more than two-thirds of the distance across I saw that if we followed him the whole command would have to swim their horses, a dangerous experiment for those who could not swim a stroke if accidentally displaced from their horses. Observing this, I halted the column, and with Mr. Burdett, of whom I have spoken as having been formerly a steamboat pilot, sought and soon found the course of the sand bar, and keeping upon its crest passed over, followed by the whole command, in safety. I entertained at the time, as I do now, the suspicion that it was the deliberate intention of the Yankee citizen to drown as many of the command as possible. Proceeding a few miles we encamped for the night, and on the afternoon of the next day made a junction with the rest of our forces 6 miles from Point Pleasant. The enemy was in force superior to my own, but his troops were green, and I felt confident I could drive him from the field; but I knew that seeking shelter, as he would, in the large court-house and other solid edifices in which the country abounds, I could not dislodge him from these without artillery. Unfortunately I had none, having found the brass 6-pounder too heavy for transportation over the roads and having sent back the small mountain piece with which I started from the point where I started across Rich Mountain. I made a demonstration upon Point Pleasant by sending a small body to drive in his pickets, and then proceeded with my main body toward Buffalo, a small town situated on the Kanawha 20 miles above its mouth. On arriving near it we encamped for the night and occupied it next morning, and remaining there until 1 o’clock that night crossed the Kanawha River by fording, and the next day struck the Ohio River 25 miles below Point Pleasant. Here we remained a day and night resting the men and horses. On the succeeding day we returned inland to Barboursville, in Cabell County, and remained in the vicinity two days, always being within one day’s march of the Kanawha River, intending, if I should hear of General Loring’s advent into the upper end of the Kanawha Valley, to fall again immediately in the enemy’s rear; but it not having been entirely certain when we left General Loring’s camp in Monroe County that he would advance to the Kanawha Valley, and being able at this time to hear of no forward movement on his part, and having some 300 unarmed recruits whom it was exceedingly desirable to convey within our lines, I determined to proceed to Logan Court-House for that purpose. On arriving there and still hearing nothing of General Loring’s advance I moved the command to Wyoming Court-House. On arriving there in the evening and hearing a rumor that General Loring had crossed Packs Ferry for an advance upon the Kanawha, I left my command and pressed on the same evening with an escort to Raleigh Court-House, a distance of 35 miles, where I learned that General Loring had certainly passed and attacked the enemy at Fayetteville, a point distant 8 miles from the mouth of Gauley. After resting briefly I returned and met my command at the marshes of Coal River, and then proceeded by forced marches down Coal River intending to fall into the rear of the enemy about the mouth of Coal River; but the rigor with which he was pressed by General Loring so accelerated the enemy’s flight that it was impracticable, and on learning that the enemy had turned off at a point 2 miles below Charleston and taken the road to Ravenswood I abandoned the attempt to get in his rear, and proceeded by the Lee’s Creek road to the point where this report is written.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, yours, &c.,
Brigadier-General of Cavalry.
Lieut. Col. H. H. Fitzhugh.
Report of Brig. Gen. Jacob D. Cox, U. S. Army, commanding District of West Virginia, of surrender at Spencer Court-House.
Headquarters District of West Virginia,
Charleston, December 5, 1862.
Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith proceedings of a court of inquiry called by Brigadier-General Kelley, commanding division, to inquire into the surrender of the United States forces at Spencer, in Roane County, Virginia, on 2d of September last, to a cavalry force under Brig. Gen. A. G. Jenkins, of the rebel army.
The court has simply reported the testimony, apparently thinking nothing more was required of them. In my judgment they should have reported the facts they found to be true upon the testimony given, without, however, passing upon the question of the guilt or innocence of individuals.
Doing this part of the work of the court and making a summary of the evidence results substantially as follows:
On 2d September last Col. J. C. Rathbone, of the Eleventh Virginia Volunteers, was in command at Spencer, having a force of nearly 300 men, chiefly of his own regiment, of which, perhaps, 100 are said to have been unarmed or not armed properly. At about 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning of that day information was received from apparently reliable sources that Jenkins, with a considerable cavalry force, had entered Western Virginia and was advancing upon that post. No precautions were taken; the pickets were not strengthened nor advanced, nor was any step taken by throwing forward a detachment or other- wise to learn the truth or falsity of the report. At 4 or 5 o’clock p. m. a flag of truce was brought within the post to the headquarters of Colonel Rathbone at the court-house, the party consisting of a Major Sweeney, of the rebel army, and two other officers. From the testimony it would seem to have been regarded as a matter of course that the flag party should thus pass within the pickets and be admitted at once to the center of the encampment. The enemy’s force was then just beyond the picket, which was half a mile out of the village. The men, who had been on drill at the arrival of the flag, were dismissed to their quarters and the officers of all grades called to the colonel’s quarters for a council of war. The men, being left without commissioned officers, ran in every direction, as is testified. After consultation, in which it appears that all or nearly all the officers advised the colonel to fight, he determined to send one of his officers, Major Trimble, who, as he himself testifies, was born and raised with the rebel Major Sweeney, back with the flag of truce to inspect the enemy’s force, which it seems was accommodatingly permitted. During the absence of these officers the surgeon in charge of the hospital asked the colonel if he should display his hospital flag, and was told there would probably be no occasion for it. Up to this time the colonel had not put on his side-arms, ordered his horse to be saddled, or made, so far as appears, any movement, personal or official, which would indicate that he expected to fight the enemy or attempt an orderly retreat. About two-thirds of the men, apprehending that they were to be surrendered, left the place by the rear, scattered, and got safely off.
Just before the return of Major Trimble the men who remained were drawn up in line. A company, which seems to have taken the best defensible position, on an eminence near the town, was ordered down from it, and the colonel received the major’s report, which was that escape was impossible; that they were surrounded by about 1,100 of the enemy, and that he advised that no attempt should be made to fight. The major appears to have been very urgent that the surrender should be made, and threatened to arrest a subaltern who still remonstrated. The men were then ordered to stack arms, and the surrender was made without firing a shot.
A little before the surrender, and while the enemy’s flag was in the town, a courier was dispatched to a detachment of about 100 men at Ravenswood, on the Ohio, 35 or 40 miles distant, ordering them up as a re-enforcement. This courier passed through safely. The detachment started at a little after midnight, and upon getting within 13 miles of Spencer learned of the surrender, and that the prisoners were taken off on another road. There is no sufficient evidence that the roads to Parkersburg or Ravenswood were occupied by the enemy; on the contrary, it is testified that the country in some directions was entirely impracticable for his cavalry, and his numbers are estimated by witnesses as not over 600.
Such are the facts which the testimony discloses, and I deem it proper and for the advantage of the service to recommend that the proceedings be forwarded to the Secretary of War, with a request that Col. J. C. Rathbone and Maj. George C. Trimble, of the Eleventh Virginia Volunteer Infantry, be dismissed the service.
The whole affair was a burlesque upon military operations, without one redeeming feature. From the receipt of the news of Jenkins’ approach in the morning to the receipt of the grossly exaggerated panic-making report of the major in the evening, the reverse of soldierly conduct is proven to have prevailed.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. D. Cox,
Maj. N. H. McLean,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Department of the Ohio.
Special Orders, No. 6
War Department, Adjt. Gen.’s Office,
Washington, January 6, 1863.
VI. Col. J. C. Rathbone and Maj. George C. Trimble, Eleventh Virginia Volunteers, are, by the direction of the President, dismissed the service of the United States for cowardly conduct in surrendering their command at Spencer Court-House, Va., on the 2d September, 1862.
By order of the Secretary of War:
E. D. Townsend,
Report of Col. J. A. J. Lightburn, Fourth West Virginia Infantry, commanding District of the Kanawha.
Gauley Bridge, Va.,
September 4, 1862—3 p.m.
Rebels now in Ripley, Jackson County, with cannon and baggage. Came through Buckhannon and Weston. Colonel Rathbone, at Spencer, Roane County, surrendered without firing a gun. Heavy force reported at Union, destined for this valley. I am making defensive preparations, and will fight them as long as I have a man. Should have more troops here.
J. A. J. Lightburn,
Colonel, Commanding District.
Col. George D. Ruggles,
Chief of Staff.
Dismissed From the Service.
January 22, 1863
Dismissed From the Service.
A special order from the War Department reads as follows:
Colonel R. C. Rathbone and Major George C. Trimble of the 11th Virginia Volunteers, by the direction of the President, were dismissed from the service of the United States for cowardly conduct in surrendering their commands at Spencer Court House, September 2d, 1862.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: September 1862