Series 1, Volume 21, pp. 1104-1107
Richmond, Va., January 21, 1863.
Col. J. T. Anderson,
Chairman of Military Committee:
Sir: In compliance with your request this morning in committee, I now state such facts and views connected with the troops under my command and the defense of the country lying west of the Alleghany Mountains as are likely to prove beneficial in considering the subject of the State Line and the local defenses of the west. I undertook the task of raising the force authorized by the act of the 17th of May last because I did not feel at liberty, under all the circumstances, to decline it, although I fully understood the almost insurmountable difficulties that stood in the way of its accomplishment. By dint of constant labor and unremitted exertion, both of myself and those assisting me, a force numbering nearly 4,000 men has been enrolled in the State service. As soon as I raised a sufficient number of men to penetrate the country occupied by the enemy, I did so; and although active means were resorted to to discourage and, indeed, to prevent my recruiting, the force increased rapidly. We were enabled by October to advance far into the country overrun by the enemy, and to hold it. We found as we approached toward the Ohio very formidable and numerous organizations of men, under authority of the United States, holding the country. These Home Guards, as they were styled, were officered by Peirpoint, armed and equipped in an admirable manner by the United States, and constituted a local force amply sufficient to hold the country in complete subjection to the usurped authority extended over so great a portion of Western Virginia. These organizations were completely broken up and dispersed in the counties of McDowell, Wyoming, Logan, Boone, Cabell, and Wayne, in Virginia, and in all the Kentucky border from the county of Lawrence to the summit of Cumberland Mountain. At Piketon, in Kentucky, a formidable force had been collected and a military post established, then under an active, enterprising leader. We learned from a letter written by him to the quartermaster at Catlettsburg, that this force collected at this point was intended for a sudden descent upon the salt-works in Washington County. The writer spoke with great confidence of his ability to destroy the works. The loss of all his supplies and the dispersion of his entire command, and the breaking up of the post by our troops under command of Colonel Clarkson, put an end to the enterprise against the salt-works for some time to come at least.
These transactions of our small force, thus hurriedly glanced at, go to show the sort of service which it was capable of rendering, as well as the manner of its performance. It has constituted a local force for local defense, and has been able to hold completely, after driving the enemy out, all the country embraced between Coal River and the Kentucky line, and extending from within 50 miles of the Ohio to the valley of Clinch River. The area covered by this force would have been much greater, and the services rendered more important, but for our destitution of quartermasters’ supplies. I attempted in vain to procure a train of only 100 pack-mules, and we were almost entirely without axes and picks. We were also without tents, except a few, and without one-third of the necessary cooking utensils for the men. For want of necessary clothing, which neither order nor entreaty could procure, many of the men were frost-bitten during the severe cold weather which prevailed up to the 1st of January, when we went into camp near the salt-works, but the men bore every hardship without complaint. The defense of Western Virginia claims, and no doubt will receive, the earnest attention of the Legislature. A vast deal devolves upon them to do for the maintenance of our authority and the establishment of our laws and control, which is by no means involved in the general plan and conduct of the war by the Confederate authorities. It is theirs, no doubt, to meet the advance of large and powerful forces threatening to attack at such points as are likely to affect the general plan or conduct of the war; but no such movement as this, requiring the presence of a large Confederate army, may take place, and yet the local organizations of Home Guards, and the occasional advance of the enemy in small bodies to strengthen and assure them, will be amply sufficient to set up in fact the usurped authority of the Abolitionists, and to expel from the country the loyal citizens. The country now held by the enemy in force, and that capable of being reached by them without much opposition, constitutes fully two-thirds of the entire west or Trans-Alleghany country, as will appear by the bare inspection of the map. It would be a national calamity to the Commonwealth for these people to become habituated to the usurped authority now extended over them, while the possession of the country by the enemy seriously endangers all that lying contiguous to it, embracing the salt-works in Smyth and Washington Counties, the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, and the lead mines in Wythe. The great chain of mountains passing from northeast to southwest entirely across the State offers many points admirably calculated for defense, where comparatively small numbers can stop and hold in check very superior forces. These passes, not very numerous, should, in my opinion, be occupied and intrenched. With three of these points intrenched, all the country extending from the northern boundary of Raleigh westward to the county of Wise, and from this line eastward to the railroad, would be entirely secure from attack, unless from a very large and thoroughly appointed army. The line thus defended would be 120 miles in extent, and would not require more than 6,000 men to hold it.
These points I have already indicated to the committee, and for this and for other reasons, readily understood, I forbear to mention them. The enemy are far more numerous than we, and, therefore, we must equalize our forces whenever it is practicable, by proper fortifications, at points not liable to be turned. Such are the points I speak of. These intrenchments would have another important result. Behind them could be collected all the population capable of using fire-arms, and within reach of the works whenever the advance of the enemy threatened collision. The dexterity with which all our people use fire-arms is so great that, behind intrenchments, the rawest troops are equal to army veterans in repelling an assault. The committee will understand that these opinions and suggestions rest upon the supposition that an adequate force to retake the Kanawha Valley and Northwestern Virginia is not for the present to be put into the field, but that the whole effect will be to prevent any further advance of the invading force. Between the plan of holding the enemy at bay by fortifying these passes, and that of moving upon them with sufficient force to drive them from the State, there can be no comparison. If we held all our territory to the Ohio River, with even slight additions to the local force of the country, it would be next to impossible for the enemy to penetrate very far into our territories with an invading army. Such is the peculiar topography of that region that, in advancing to the interior by any one of the numerous valleys leading from the Ohio to the Cumberland range of mountains, the enemy would necessarily be exposed to incessant attacks upon his flank, and be liable at any time to lose his supply trains. Nothing could be more difficult than to concentrate sufficient strength to defend them along the extended and rugged defiles through which they would be compelled to move. At the same time the long extent of river line held by us would render it easy to send across formidable detachments into Ohio to ravage and desolate the country, as they have done ours, and to make them feel at their own hearth-stones the calamities of war.
An inspection of the map will exhibit at once the great advantages which, geographically, we possess from our position, while the smooth surface on the Ohio side, making it easy to travel into the country in every direction; the rugged nature of our interior rendering pursuit next to impossible, constitute Western Virginia invaluable to us, both for means of defense and attack. I regard the immediate occupation of all Western Virginia by a perfectly adequate and well-appointed force of vital importance to the whole Confederacy. With such a force there, the enemy would be compelled to concentrate upon their own soil one of their powerful armies now beleaguering the coast of the Atlantic and the Mississippi, for otherwise their communications between the Northwest and the Atlantic would be seriously endangered. It would not be difficult, with an enterprising leader, to endanger all the railroad connections between the Atlantic and Ohio if we had a commanding force as a base of operations on our side of the Ohio River. The country is comparatively narrow between the Ohio River and the lakes, and all lines of communication east and west pass over it. With a proper force there, we could compel the enemy to give us battle upon ground of our own selection, and this, I think, would be decisive of the issue.
I presume there is not a man in Virginia who would ever consent to any terms of peace without a restitution of every inch of our soil to its rightful jurisdiction and possession. But, in addition to this sentiment of patriotism, the position of the territory and the immeasurable mineral riches of the country render it absolutely indispensable to the national greatness of Virginia. There are greater deposits of coal lying in that part of Virginia now held by the enemy than are to be found in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The timber and the water-power of the same section are of inestimable value. All the elements of true national power are abundantly met with throughout that whole region. I do not think too much attention, or too much money, or too much blood can be expended to preserve to Virginia this noble heritage. The people of that part of the west now overrun by the enemy, it must be borne in mind, are generally loyal and true to the Commonwealth, and, no doubt, would have shown becoming zeal in her defense, if the country had not been continuously occupied by the enemy from a very early period of the war. They would, in my opinion, return with great alacrity to our standard if an opportunity to do so was offered to them. The report of the expenditures for our troops is laid before the Legislature in a document submitted by the adjutant-general of the Commonwealth.
About the correctness of this statement I can say nothing, for, under an order of the Governor, the quartermasters, through whose hands these expenditures were chiefly made, were taken from under my command, and were consequently neither subject to my orders nor supervision. This document, however, shows that the entire sum of money drawn by the quartermasters under my command, and actually in the field, amounts to only $83,500. The balance of the money drawn from the treasury must be represented by supplies still on hand in possession of the quartermasters, set apart by the Governor for his exclusive command. If this be so, then there are on hand, purchased and paid for, sufficient supplies to furnish the present force for a year to come. The supplies issued to the men up to the day I left camp were extremely small. The men were still in bitter want of tents, clothes, blankets, cooking utensils, and even axes. Nor were there picks and spades enough for the most common and necessary purposes. This state of things, so disorganizing and hurtful to the service must remain and become worse unless the quartermasters are subject to the orders of the commanding general. I have, as stated to the committee, prepared such amendments to the law as are essential to give it efficiency, and which are very necessary, whether the force is maintained by the Commonwealth or shall be transferred to the Confederacy. The organization is at present, under the act, unlike any other whatever in any service, and is, indeed, impossible of execution according to the strict letter of the statute. The amendments are few and simple, but essential to give efficiency to the command.
With a hope that I have in some sort met the request of the committee in furnishing these views, although from the necessary hurry in which it has been done I know they are imperfect, I remain, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
John B. Floyd,
Major-General, Commanding Virginia State Line.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: January 1863