Battle of Lewisburg

Official Records
Volume XII, Number 1
pp. 804-13

MAY 23. 1862.-Action at Lewisburg, W. Va. REPORTS, ETC.

Numbers 1.-Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox, U. S. Army, with congratulations.

Numbers 2.-Colonel George Crook, Thirty-sixth Ohio Infantry.

Numbers 3.-Lieutenant Colonel Melvin Clarke, Thirty-sixth Ohio Infantry.

Numbers 4.-Colonel Samuel A. Gilbert, Forty-fourth Ohio Infantry.

Numbers 5.-Major General William W. Loring, C. S. Army.

Numbers 6.-Brigadier General Henry Heth, C. S. Army.

Numbers 1. Reports of Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox, U. S. Army.

FLAT TOP, May 24, 1862.

My Third Brigade, Colonel Crook commanding, was attacked yesterday morning at Lewisburg by General Heth, with 3,000 men, and after a lively engagement he routed them and they fled in confusion. Four of the enemy's cannon, 200 stand of arms, and 100 prisoners taken. Our loss, 10 killed and about 40 wounded.

J. D. COX,
Brigadier-General, Commanding District.

Assistant Adjutant-General.

FLAT TOP, May 24, 1862.

COLONEL: The rebels in their retreat burned Greenbrier Bridge. Crook cannot advance far beyond Lewisburg till the new trains are ready to help him with supplies. The same cause operates here. Steady rain for the past twenty-four hours puts our supplies behind, and my hope that we might get some ahead is disappointed for the present. The news from the front is not very consistent or definite. Loring is now reported chief in command, having arrived two days ago. Numbers are reported as before: Heth's 4,000, the rest 9,000 or 10,000. I allow for exaggeration, but no doubt it is a very much larger force than ours. Does the general commanding get any encouragement as to re-enforcements for us?

J. D. COX,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Assistant Adjutant-General.

FLAT TOP, May 24, 1862.
Commanding Third Brigade, Lewisburg:

Your report of your victory over Heth is received. I congratulate and thank you and your command for your brilliant conduct, and shall immediately transmit the intelligence to department headquarters. I shall urge forward transportation to enable you to move in co-operation with this line. Keep me fully informed of all passing near you. Your retaliation upon the citizens who fired on your wounded will be approved.

J. D. COX,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Franklin, May 24, 1862.

The general commanding congratulates the army on a new victory in the department, won by the skill and bravery of our soldiers against the superior number of the enemy.

The Third Brigade of General Cox's division, commanded by Colonel Crook, was attacked yesterday morning at Lewisburg by General Heth with 3,000 men, and after a lively engagement the enemy were routed and fled in confusion.

Colonel Crook captured cannon, 200 stand of arms, and 100 prisoners. Our loss was 10 killed and 40 wounded.

The results of this victory will be important. The general commanding is confident that the forces now under his immediate command but lack the opportunity to emulate the gallantry and share the glory of their comrades of the Army of the Kanawha.

This circular will be read at the head of every regiment or separate corps in this command.

By order of Major-General Fremont:

Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General.

Numbers 2. Reports of Colonel George Crook, Thirty-sixth Ohio Infantry.

Lewisburg, May 23, 1862.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to inform you that I was attacked this morning about 5 a. m. by General Heth with 3,000 men, some six or eight pieces of artillery, and a small force of cavalry. They came from the direction of Union, crossed the Greenbrier River at the bridge, driving in our pickets. They formed a line of battle on the hill east of town, our camp being on the hill west of town, and shelled the town and our camp. I at once formed my line of battle and marched on them. My men encountered them on the outskirts of the east side of town. We drove them back, they disputing every inch of ground utterly demoralized, throwing away their blankets, hats, coats, accouterments, and some guns. Having only 1,200 or 1,300 men, I was afraid to follow them for fear they had another column to attack us in our rear, which was entirely unprotected, or else I might have followed them and prevented the burning the bridge. We lost some 10 killed, 40 wounded, and 8 missing. The enemy's loss is much greater; have no correct list yet. We captured four cannon, two rifled and two smooth, and some 200 stand of arms, and about 100 prisoners, among them one lieutenant-colonel, one major, and several captains and lieutenants.

I regret to have to report that our wounded men passing to the rear were fired on from the houses and some killed. I have instituted a search, and shall burn all the houses from which was firing from and shall order a commission on those who are charged with firing, and if found guilty will execute them at once in the main street of this town as examples. I will send detailed report by mail.

I am, sir, very respectfully,

Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Captain BASCOM,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

Lewisburg, May 24, 1862.

CAPTAIN: Nothing new to-day. Enemy retreated in direction of Union, greatly demoralized; stragglers are still coming in. The rebels left 38 dead on the field, and 66 wounded that we have found, besides carrying a good many of their wounded with them. Besides the four pieces of artillery we have collected some 300 stand of small-arms; have no doubt many are still lying in the brush. We took 100 prisoners. Our loss was 13 killed, 53 wounded, and 7 missing. I send prisoners and some of our wounded and small-arms to Gauley to-day. Various rumors say that Jackson is going to make a descent on us, but we are prepared for him. Greenbrier River is too much swollen to be crossed now. My transportation is so limited that I can scarcely supply myself here, let alone making any advance on the enemy.

Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Captain BASCOM,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

Lewisburg, Va., May 24, 1862.

CAPTAIN: At 5 o'clock on the morning of the 23rd our pickets were driven in by a force under General Heth, and shortly afterward their advance was seen on the crest of a hill beyond Lewisburg. Two companies of infantry from each regiment were ordered forward to ascertain the force of the enemy and to hold them in check until we could form and advance to their relief. The advance companies were met by a very severe fire, and, deploying as skirmishers,l fell slowly back, contesting the ground inch by inch. The Forty-fourth Regiment, under Colonel Gilbert, was ordered forward on the right flank; the Thirty-sixth Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Clarke, on the left flank, with instructions to push on rapidly before the enemy had time to form. General Heth had pushed forward six pieces of artillery, and was throwing round shot and shell into our camp and into the ranks of our troops as they passed through the streets of the town, many of the shells striking the dwellings.

While Lieutenant-Colonel Clarke pushed steadily up the slope of the hill in the face of a severe fire Colonel Gilbert was also advancing on the right flank and by a vigorous movement succeeded in capturing four pieces of artillery, one of which was loaded with canister at the time of the capture. The locality of the battery after the battle shoes by the number of the dead and wounded the fierceness of the fight at that point.

Giving the more open ground on the slope below the enemy a steady, rapid advance was made by our entire line, loading and firing as they advanced, and upon gaining the crest of the hill the enemy fell back in confusion.

Colonel Bolles, of the Second Virginia Cavalry, who had been held in reserve, was ordered forward in pursuit, but their retreat was so rapid and the ground so unfavorable for pursuit, the road passing through narrow and rocky defiles, that they crossed Greenbrier Bridge, burning it behind them, before they could be overtaken, and from the best information in my possession has continued his retreat down the Union road; and as a number of his troops are men who have been pressed into the service under the State conscription, and this is their first engagement, there is every reason to believe that the defeat will be to them very demoralizing. The force actually engaged with us was about 2,500 men, including about 125 cavalry and six pieces of artillery. We have in our possession as prisoners Lieutenant-Colonel Finney, Major Edgar, and a number of minor officers and 93 privates; also 66 wounded prisoners and 38 dead; four pieces of artillery (two 12-pounder field howitzers and two 6-pounder rifled cannon), and about 300 stand of arms. We have a loss of 11 killed and 54 wounded, the greater number of whom are not dangerously so. Many of our wounded were fired upon by citizens of the town as they returned on the way to the hospital, and one wounded man shot dead in the street. The housed which can be fully identified as having been fired from will be burned, and if I can capture any of the parties engaged they will be hung in the street as an example to all such assassins.

Our forces engaged were about 1,200 infantry. Had my force been larger, so that I might have left my rear guarded, there being reasonable ground to expect another force in our rear, and had I possessed transportation (which I need very much) the enemy would have been pursued until they were captured or dispersed.

It is unnecessary to eulogize the men whom I have the honor to command. Their steady, firm advance in the face of the fire which met them and the result will speak for itself. I need only say that not an officer or private in my command failed in doing his whole duty as a soldier. I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Captain G. M. BASCOM,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

Numbers 3. Report of Lieutenant Colonel Melvin Clarke, Thirty-sixth Ohio Infantry.

LEWISBURG, May 23, 1862.

SIR: In obedience to your order of this morning, issued on the approach of the enemy under General Heth, I formed the regiment which I had the honor to command on the left of the line of your brigade, my position being to the left of the road leading to Greenbrier Bridge, and at the foot of a steep declivity, having an elevation of some 50 feet, and along the brow of which were several houses surrounded by inclosure, beyond which the larger portion of the enemy's infantry, commanded by General Heth in person, were formed.

Having taken this position I at once marched my battalion to the top of the steep declivity, and passing the houses over numerous fences found myself in front of the enemy, who was posted behind a fence, and immediately opened a brisk fire upon us, which was returned with promptness and alacrity.

For a short time the fight was very sharp. I continued to advance until the line of the battalion was within 40 yards of that of the enemy, when they fled in confusion. The firing ceased only when the enemy had got beyond our range. We pursued the enemy a considerable distance, but as they fled with great speed it was impossible to keep up with them. A large number of their dead and wounded lay behind the fence where they were first posted and scattered through the fields beyond.

Though the first battle in which the regiment was ever engaged, the men behaved nobly. From the time we arrived beyond the hoses we had to pass and received the first of the enemy the battalion pressed steadily and firmly forward in the face of a galling fire. Not a man flinched. The steadiness, firmness, and determination and vigor with which the line moved on, together with the rapidity and accuracy of our fie, seemed to inspire the enemy-though twice our number or more-with terror. But nine companies of my regiment, having an aggregate of 600 men, were in the engagement.

Of the officers, every one was in his place and did his whole duty, exhibiting a courage and determination worthy of all praise. It would be invidious to specify any as peculiarly worthy of commendation when all so well merit it. The casualties of the engagement in my regiment are-killed, 5; wounded, 41; missing, 4.*(Nominal list omitted.) The missing were on picket duty on the Greenbier Bridge road and were probably prisoners.

All which is respectfully submitted.

I have the honor to remain, your obedient servant,

Lieutenant Colonel, Commanding Thirty-sixth Regiment Ohio Vol. Infantry.

Colonel GEORGE CROOK, Commanding Third Brigade.

Numbers 4. Report of Colonel Samuel A. Gilbert, Forty-fourth Ohio Infantry.

May 12, 1862-12 m.

COLONEL: I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by my regiment in the affair at this place to-day:

In obedience to your orders I sent forward a company (Company D, L. W. Talley's) to ascertain the nature of the attack that had been made upon our outpost at the Greenbrier Bridge. Near the east end of the town they came upon the enemy in force, who opened a heavy fire of musketry and advanced upon them. The company was deployed to the south of the road, and contested the ground warmly as they fell back.

As soon as the presence of the enemy was known, in accordance side your order I formed the Forty-fourth in line of battle on the south side of the main street of the town and advanced as rapidly as the nature of the ground would admit toward the enemy's position. On emerging from a small grove we came suddenly upon a battery of the enemy, consisting of two rifled 10-pounders and two 12-pounder field howitzers, which was charged with such impetuosity that the gunners had no time to fire. Here some 20 of the enemy were killed, as many more wounded, and many prisoners taken; also about 200 stand of small arms taken.

Leaving small guards over the artillery and prisoners we pushed on to the top of the hill, where the enemy had first formed into line. Here we reformed our line and relieved our companies that had been deployed as skirmishers; ordered the new line of skirmishers, composed of two companies, to continue the pursuit, feeling their way carefully through the dense woods that cover the greater part of the slope toward Greenbrier River. But the enemy having retired beyond the river and set fire to the bridge any farther pursuit was not attempted.

The casualties in my regiment are as follows: Killed, 6; wounded, 14; of which 3 are very slightly and none very severely; missing, none. Among my wounded are J. C. Longston, captain Company B, ball through calf of leg, and Samuel C. Howell, first lieutenant Company C, ball through the leg above the knee.

In regard to the conduct of my officers and men I am proud to say that without exception they displayed the greatest coolness and energy, and performed the work before them in a soldier-like manner, as the above report will show.

With much respect, I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

Colonel Forty-fourth Regiment Ohio Volunteers.

Colonel GEORGE CROOK, Commanding Third Provisional Brigade.

Numbers 5. Report of Major General William W. Loring, C. S. Army.

Dublin Depot, May 27, 1862.

MAJOR: I send you the report of General Heth relative to his recent affair.

The general moved for the purpose of cutting off the enemy, who at the time was between Lewisburg and Covington, as we were then informed, and if the found his force sufficient to attack him wherever he could find him. This was commenced before my arrival. Subsequently I received the telegram inclosed, which I sent the general, together with my letter, also inclosed, and his reply. He explains in his communication why it was that he attacked the enemy at Lewisburg, with an account of his withdrawal.

I have no further information with regard to this affair to send you. I shall leave to-day for General Heth's command, and will repair the damage done as far as I can with the force I have. I regret we cannot get additional strength. I think the enemy, from all I can learn, much larger than Heth estimates him. If possible more troops should be sent. It will take time to raise the rangers. I have been exerting myself to effect the object ever since my arrival.

With respect, I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.

Major W. H. TAYLOR,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

[Inclosure Numbers 1.]

Giles Court-House, May 21, 1862.

Brigadier-General HETH,

GENERAL: I have the honor to inclose you the within communication and telegram,*(Telegram not found.) just received, and I send them to you for you information.

Unless you can form a junction with the forces mentioned your present direction may bring you rather near the enemy at Lewisburg, which, if true, as has been represented, has been strongly re-enforced.

For the want of information of the country over which you are now passing it is impossible for me to say at what point it would be best for you to move upon in order to communicate, and, if possible, combine, with the forces of Johnson. Unless more definite information can be obtained of the strength of the enemy at Lewisburg and the movements of Johnson's forces would it not be well to strike the road leading to Salem, in order to await further information and protect the railroad at Bonsack's and Salem, and also to enable you to return here in case it is threatened. I give you this opinion more as a suggestion, because of your better knowledge of the country and means of information.

I shall leave here to-day for Newbern, and shall be pleased to hear from you constantly. I have not up to this time written to the Department at Richmond, but shall to-day write them of the necessity of sending additional troops to guard the lines from Salem to Bonsack's.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.

DUBLIN, May 20, 1862-8 p. m.

Major-General LORING,
Commanding Department:

GENERAL: Knowing General Heth's movement I hasten to give you the following facts just to hand: The telegraphic operator, with his papers, at Jackson River was captured by the enemy. Among the undestroyed dispatches was one ordering two of Jackson's regiments and Ashby's cavalry to the rear of the enemy at Covington. As soon as captured the enemy fell back to Lewisburg. At the latter post he has been strongly re-enforced within the last thirty-six hours.

If Heth makes the contemplated move he may easily be seriously threatened and annoyed by a superior force on his left.

The enemy burnt the first railroad bridge between Jackson River Depot.

General Cox's headquarters are at Lewisburg. The operator was making his was off with his instruments, &c., when he was captured.

I think this information is entirely reliable.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Lieutenant-Colonel, C. S. Army.

May 21, 1862.
Major General W. W. LORING:

GENERAL: Yours of 21st instant, with inclosure, to hand. I am at this point with my force, 24 miles from Lewisburg.

I think I have pretty accurately ascertained that the force of the enemy does not exceed three regiments of infantry, 300 or 400 cavalry, with six or eight pieces of artillery.

I am endeavoring to place myself in communication with the forces under General johnson, supposed to be advancing toward Covington, and if compelled to fall back I will do so in the direction of Bonsack's and Salem, covering those point.

I hope to learn something form General Johnson's force early to morrow, 22nd instant. I will communicate with you by every opportunity daily, if possible.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Fincastle, May 25, 1862.

Brigadier General HENRY HETH,
Commanding Brigade:

GENERAL: I am just now in receipt of a telegram informing me that you are falling back to The Narrows.

Will not this movement leave the entire country exposed to the enemy? Retiring will give them an impetus which may induce them to move upon the railroad at once, and if you go back to The Narrows there will be no one to stop them. Can you not get supplies so as to enable you to halt at some point to protect the approaches to the railroad in the direction of Bonsack's and Salem, as well as, if necessary, to move upon The Narrows.

Try and effect the protection of the railroad. I have no information of any enemy approaching The Narrows, and until that there is no immediate necessity of going there.

In your note in reply to mine relative to the re-enforcement of the enemy at Lewisburg you informed me that, in case you did not deem it proper upon information to attack the enemy, you would take position so as to afford the protection desired. Cannot this be done now?

I shall be at Dublin Depot to-morrow.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.

Numbers 6. Report of Brigadier General Henry Heth, C. S. Army.

May 23, 1862.

GENERAL: I have the honor to state that after the rout of Cox's army by the combined forces of General Johnson and my own I at once concluded to attack the force at Lewisburg, and was the more determined upon this course when I learned that the enemy had divided his force at Lewisburg and sent a portion of it in the direction of Covington.

This plan was communicated to you on assuming the command of the department; in fact, the movement had then already commenced.

I proceeded rapidly in the direction of Lewisburg. I had the most accurate information of the enemy's force in every respect. He numbered about 1,500 men (infantry)-two regiments-two mountain howitzers, and about 150 cavalry. The force I led against him numbered about 2,000 infantry, three batteries, and about 100 cavalry.

My chance of success was good, provided I could surprise the enemy and get into position. This I succeeded in doing far beyond my expectation. Most of his pickets were captured, and I attained without firing a shot that position in front of Lewisburg which I would have selected.

The enemy retired to a range of hill corresponding in height on the west side of the town.

As my regiments and batteries arrived they were deployed as follows:

Finney's battalion on the left, the Forty-fifth Regiment in the center, and the Twenty-second Virginia Regiment on the right; Lieutenant-Colonel Cook's battalion of dismounted men, Eighth Virginia Cavalry, as the reserve.

While deploying and getting my batteries into position the enemy, evidently in order to cover the retreat of his wagons, threw forward his smallest regiment, sending one-half to the right and the other to the left of the main approach to the town.

I advanced to meet him. I directed Lieutenant-Colonel Finney, commanding battalion, to occupy a small body of oak timber. In doing this Colonel Finney had to cross a wheat field. The enemy, numbering only three companies, opened upon his battalion a very severe fire, which possible compelled his command to fall back. At this time the left of the enemy was in full retreat. One of those causeless panics for which there is no accounting seized upon my command. Victory was in my grasp, instead of which I have to admit a most disgraceful retreat.

The field officers, among whom none were more conspicuous than the gallant Lieutenant-Colonel Finney, as well as some few captains, threw themselves between the enemy and their retreating men, but threats and persuasions were alike unavailing. The result is, we mourn the loss of many a brave officer.

The only excuse that can be offered for the disgraceful behavior of three regiments and batteries is that they are filled with conscripts and newly officered under the election system.

I cannot as yet ascertain our exact loss, but will furnish you reports at my earliest convenience. By far the greater portion of the casualties was among the officers-a consequence of the panic.

I do not wish to be understood as shifting the responsibility of what has occured upon the shoulders of my troops, for as a general is the recipient of honors gained, so he should bear his proportion of the result of the disaster. I simply give you a plain statement of facts apparent to all present.

I move to-morrow or next day to my original position at The Narrows, as the tents of my command are there.

I have the honor to be, &c.,


Major General W. W. LORING,
Commanding Department of Southwest Virginia.

Civil War

West Virginia Archives and History