Series 1, Vol. 19, pt. 2, pp. 156-60
No. 1.—Col. J. D. Imboden, First Virginia Partisan Rangers, with congratulatory letter from General Lee.
No. 2.—Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley, U. S. Army, of the capture of Saint George, W. Va.
Report of Col. J. D. Imboden, First Virginia partisan Rangers, with congratulatory letter from General Lee.
On Shenandoah Mountain, November 18, 1862.
General: Having received some overcoats and blankets for my men on the night of the 6th instant, I set out from my camp on South Fork, in Hardy County, at 2 p. m. on the 7th, for Cheat River Bridge, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It was snowing hard at the time. I reached the eastern base of the Alleghany, 6 miles north of the mouth of Seneca, at midnight and halted until daybreak. I then began the ascent of the mountain with 310 well-mounted men, expecting to reach Saint George, 38 miles distant, early in the night of the 8th. Our only road was an obscure and rarely used cattle-path, leading directly across the main Alleghany and along the southern border of the famous wilderness, known as Canaan, and from Red Creek and the Blackwater to the Dry Fork of Cheat. We were compelled to walk and lead our horses entirely across the mountain, the snow-storm continuing in unabated violence all day. So formidable were our difficulties, that night overtook us on the Dry Fork, only about 18 or 20 miles from our starting-place in the morning. I was compelled to halt and await the rising of the moon. Precisely at midnight we remounted our horses, and at the moment of starting met a gentleman of high respectability, a resident of Tucker, who gave me the startling intelligence, afterward fully verified, that a regiment of Yankee infantry, 600 strong, had that day passed up Dry Fork toward Seneca, and were then encamped 8 or 10 miles in my rear, they having gone up Dry Fork as I came down Red Creek, and that Milroy had gone with 4,000 men from Beverly toward Monterey. I hesitated about going forward, knowing that my escape from the country would be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, as soon as it was known to the enemy that I was there; but my horses being too much exhausted to return without being fed, I resolved to press on to Saint George, surprise and capture Captain Hall and his company stationed there, procure supplies, and then determine my future course. The snow and sleet storm still raged furiously and impeded our progress greatly, but I succeeded in reaching Saint George just after day-break on the 9th, dismounted nearly all my men, surrounded the town, and after the exchange of a few shots, with no damage to either side, Capt. William Hall, commanding Company F, Sixth [West] Virginia Regiment, U. S. Army, surrendered unconditionally. He had but 31 effective men, armed with the best Enfield rifles. He was quartered in the court-house, a new brick building, with the doors and windows strongly barricaded with logs, and might have given us a good deal of trouble. Not being able to bring the prisoners away, I paroled them all, and have sent the certificate direct to the adjutant-general. The arms and equipments I brought away safely, and some of my men being badly off for overcoats and blankets, and the weather terribly severe, I took those the prisoners had and supplied my men, and thus far retaliated for the burning done by the enemy at Cacapon Bridge in October.
My horses now began to show great distress, and my captains, with a single exception, opposed going any farther. I, moreover, ascertained beyond a doubt that the Union people above Saint George had dispatched two messengers to Beverly, where Milroy had left about 2,000 men. I had but two routes to escape by. One was to go forward to Rowlesburg, destroy the railroad bridge, and cross over into Pennsylvania, and attempt to get back to Virginia by a road crossing between New Creek and Cumberland, and take the chances of escaping Kelley’s large cavalry force in Hampshire and Hardy. I believed this to be utterly impracticable in the broken-down condition of our horses, and on account of the snow, which enabled the enemy to track us. The other route was to return to the Dry Fork and fall in the rear of Milroy, and follow him until I reached a point where I could pass him in the night. I believed this to be the only possible means of saving my little command, especially as I knew that Kelley would be on the qui vive for me at every pass in his vicinity, as subsequently turned out to be the fact. Another cause of hesitancy about advancing was the fact that the snow-storm had delayed my arrival at Saint George twelve hours beyond what I expected, and would have made me arrive at Rowlesburg late in the evening, where I could do nothing in the darkness of the night, and by morning re-enforcements would be there from New Creek or Clarksburg, to drive me back up Cheat River, to be cut off by the troops from Beverly. I, therefore, at 10 a. m., began to retrace my steps, and by 9 o’clock at night I crossed Dry Fork, below the mouth of Gladte Creek, and halted until midnight, when I resumed the march along a path up Glade Creek, which I had cut through the wilderness in my expedition of last August.
At 4 p. m. I reached a place 10 miles east of Beverly, and there spent the night of the 10th. This was the first night’s rest for men or horses. At this place a man came into camp who had been in Beverly that day, through whom I learned that there was high excitement at Beverly, and that my force was reputed to be large, and to consist of infantry and cavalry. I also learned that Milroy’s baggage-train was probably at Camp Bartow, on Greenbrier River, and resolved to attack it and escape through Pocahontas and Bath by flanking him. With this view, I set out through the unbroken forest on the morning of the 11th, and traveled all day, by the aid of a mountain guide of great skill and a compass, on the course of south 35o east, reaching a settlement about 5 p. m., at a place called the Upper Sinks, on the head-waters of Greenbrier, and 11 miles distant from Camp Bartow.
On the morning of the 12th, 6 of my horses were unable to proceed farther, and were left with a careful man to bring them away in eight or ten days, the riders agreeing to follow on foot. The day was dark and rainy when I set out for Camp Bartow, relying on guide and compass to get through the wilderness. Before noon my guide was bewildered, and we were lost in one of the darkest and most impenetrable pine forests of the Alleghany. After accomplishing but 4 miles, I was compelled to retrace my steps to our old camp at the Sinks.
On the morning of the 13th, the sun shone out bright and cloudless, but I knew it was then too late to go to Camp Bartow, so I set out to cross the Alleghany by a path that strikes the head of the North Fork about the Pendleton and Highland line. At 3 p. m. I emerged from the wilderness, sending 2 men in advance to gain intelligence of the enemy. From a citizen and a prisoner, a few hours before discharged by Milroy at Hightown, in Highland, I ascertained that he had that morning fallen back toward Camp Bartow in great haste, to intercept me, sending his cavalry down toward Huntersville to head me off if I should have passed, and that Colonel Latham, with 500 infantry and two field guns and about 30 cavalry, was at Circleville, 6 miles below, on the lookout for me in that direction, and that his scouts had just gone down the road from Crab Bottom. I also learned that about 1,300 men had moved a few hours before from the forks of waters down the South Branch toward Franklin. All these statements were afterward found to be true. I halted an hour at the first house, and gave my weary horses the first grain they had tasted since the 9th, and about sunset struck into a path leading across a high mountain in rear of Latham, and about 10 p. m. I came upon a camp of the 1,300 men who had gone down South Branch. The fires were still burning, but the men had left a few hours before. I followed them toward Franklin until I reached a gap, which enabled me to cross over to the South Fork, where I halted at 3 o’clock in the morning, and then learned the facts iii regard to the fight my infantry under Lieutenant-Colonel [R. L.] Doyle had had with Kelley’s forces on the morning of the 9th, of which he has sent you a report.
On the 14th I reached Augusta Springs, through North River Gap.
I know that I have trespassed greatly on your time, and feel conscious that in results this expedition is comparatively insignificant; but the original object of the undertaking was so important that a failure to accomplish it, when seemingly within my reach, requires, to justify it, a full statement of all the facts. These I have given you, as briefly as possible. Had I been informed of Milroy’s movements before I left Hardy, I should never have crossed, the Alleghany. As it was, I think I should have succeeded but for the snow-storm, which lasted three days, and caused much suffering to men and horses. Our escape, under all the circumstances, without the loss of a man, is felt and acknowledged by all to be truly providential. Except the identical route we came there is no other pass in which I would not have encountered largely superior forces, and almost certainly have lost all my horses, even if my men had escaped on foot. I am now informed that every avenue of escape from Circleville to New Creek was strongly guarded by the joint forces of Milroy and Kelley, and that the former fell back from Highland to insure our capture and protect his train. If you are familiar with that country you will not be surprised to learn that it will be several weeks before my horses regain their strength and vigor.
I have no doubt now that Milroy’s original purpose was to move secretly and rapidly to this point, seize Shenandoah Mountain, and, if he found the way open, make a dash upon Staunton and destroy the railroad and stores at that post. For ten days before he left Beverly, he had stopped all communication across Cheat Mountain in this direction. His movements as far as Highland were very rapid when he heard of our being in his rear. He then fell back precipitately. He arrested everybody as he came east, but discharged many citizens the day he fell back. He surprised and captured Captain [W. H.] Harness and 8 of his cavalry on Jackson’s River. These, together with 12 or 15 citizens, are all the prisoners he took away. He burned some houses in Highland and plundered the people of all the horses and cattle he could find. In a day or two I will give you further intelligence in regard to him.
Apologizing again for the great length of this report and letter, I am, general, most sincerely and respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. D. Imboden,
Colonel, Commanding First Virginia Partisan Ranger.
Lieut. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson.
Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,
November 26, 1862.
Lieutenant-General Thomas J. Jackson,
General: I have received and read with much interest the report of Col. J. D. Imboden of his operations during the late expedition to Cheat River Bridge. I appreciate the extraordinary difficulties encountered by Colonel Imboden and commend the energy and skill displayed by him in the management of his command. Although the principal object in view could not be accomplished, the undertaking was attended with valuable results. You will please communicate what I have said to Colonel Imboden, and inform him that it is my desire that he will not lose sight of this important enterprise, and that I hope on some future occasion his efforts will meet with the success they deserve.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. Lee,
Report of Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley, U. S. Army, of the capture of Saint George, W. Va.
November __, 1862.
Major: I have the honor to report to the general commanding the district, that, on the 9th instant, the rebel Colonel Imboden, with a force of about 300 infantry, made his appearance at Saint George, Tucker County., Va, garrisoned by a small detachment of my troops, consisting of Capt. William Hall, Company F, Sixth Virginia Infantry, and 33 enlisted men.
The enemy appeared about 7 o’clock in the morning; sent in a flag of truce to Captain Hall, demanding an unconditional surrender of his command. Captain Hall requested ten minutes for consideration, and was allowed five. Finding every avenue for retreating in the possession of the enemy’s pickets, and surrounded by a much superior force he deemed it advisable to comply with Colonel Imboden’s summons, and accordingly surrendered, as follows: Of the whole number composing the detachment, Captain Hall and 28 of his men took a parole not to take up arms until regularly exchanged.
Imboden also took possession of all the arms, oil-cloth blankets, overcoats, cooking utensils, 1 horse and bridle, and about 530 rations.
Captain Hall represents the force of Colonel Imboden as being well armed and clothed. The arms in their possession were principally Sharps’ breech-loading rifles.
Inclosed please find a list of the names of those taken prisoner and paroled. Three of the men were overlooked and did not sign the parole. Those paroled are ordered to report at Camp Chase, Ohio.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
B. F. Kelley,
Maj. G. M. Bascom, Asst. Adjt. Gen., Charleston, Va.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: November 1862