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a miserable condition, and after its dispersion by the Federals, it disappeared in the forests of Western Virginia, and was heard of no more, till Colonel Porterfield appeared in Richmond, to report in person to General Lee the results of his campaign.
This disaster, while it depressed to a certain degree the highwrought popular feeling at the South, materially helped the Confederate cause by making the Virginians more willing to consolidate their forces with those of the other "allied republics ;" and it was not long afterwards balanced in their minds by the ignominious defeat at Bethel Church, in Eastern Virginia, of a force pushed forward by General Butler, from Fortress Monroe and Newport News, to attack the North Carolinians of Colonel Magruder in their intrenchments. The action was in itself insignificant, but it produced a profound impression throughout both sections. The Confederates had lost but one man killed and seven wounded; the Federals nearly one hundred wounded and thirty killed. The confidence of the South was inflamed by the victory; and the dread fact that Northern men had fallen in battle by Southern bullets, struck home for the first time something like a sense of the realities of war upon the heart of the North.
A few days after the fight at Bethel Church, on the 15th of June, Harper's Ferry was evacuated by General Johnstone; the combined advance of General McClellan from the west, and of General Patterson from the northeast, making it necessary for that commander to throw himself upon the road of Patterson at Winchester, in order to keep open his communications with General Beauregard at Manassas Junction.
The first really important action of the war was now about to be fought, and in Western Virginia.
This was the battle of Rich Mountain. On the 16th of May, George B. McClellan, previously commissioned as a majorgeneral by the governor of Ohio, had been raised to the same rank in the army of the United States. He had already, as a
major-general of volunteers, been put in command of the "Department of the Ohio," comprising the States of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, with portions of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Finding the government of the United States unable to afford him any practical help in the organization of a force for active operations, General McClellan twice called the governors of the States embraced in his Department into consultation with himself, and eventually succeeded in moving a respectable force of troops, mainly from Ohio and Indiana, into Northwestern Virginia. On the 25th of April, he occupied the considerable town of Parkersburg, and on the next day issued a proclamation, in which he assured the citizens of Virginia that they and their property of all descriptions should be protected by the army under his command, since he came simply to execute the laws, and neither to break nor to make them. The effect of this proclamation was excellent; and when the army of General McClellan, more efficiently equipped and prepared for service, took the field a month later in Western Virginia, it found the Union sentiment of that region a substantial reality.
The Confederates, however, were not disposed to abandon so important a bulwark of their cause without an effort. General Garnett was appointed in June to the command of the Confederate troops in Western Virginia, and finding General McClellan pressing in upon him in force, he proceeded to intrench himself in the strong positions of Rich Mountain and Laurel Hill, where he could dispute with the Federal commander the passage by Huttonsville, through the Alleghanies, into Eastern Virginia.
On the 29th of June General McClellan in person reached Clarksburg, twenty-two miles from Grafton, and on the 1st of July he moved with eight thousand men, thirty miles, to Buckhannon, a point from which he could turn the positions of General Garnett at Laurel Hill, Rich Mountain, and Carrick's Ford. Of these positions Rich Mountain was the key, and
was held by Colonel Pegram, of Virginia, with about two thousand men, and seven pieces of artillery.
The march of Gen. McClellan from Clarksburg to Buckhannon led him through a wild and wooded country filled with points from which a serious opposition might with ease have been made to his advance. No attempt was made by the Confederates to avail themselves of these opportunities.
From Buckhannon Gen. McClellan rapidly combined his plans for the capture of Rich Mountain and Laurel Hill.
At daybreak on the 11th of July, Brigadier-General Rosecrans, with four regiments of infantry, and a troop of cavalry from Ohio, moved from the position of General McClellan, in front of Rich Mountain, to the attack of Colonel Pegram's force, which was strongly intrenched at the foot of the mountain. Led by a guide of the country, and by Colonel, afterwards General Lander, of Massachusetts, a bold and adventurous pioneer, familiar for years with Rocky Mountain life, the column of General Rosecrans took its way for five miles through a pathless forest. The trees and the dense underbrush were thoroughly wet with the heavy rain of the night before, and when the column emerged at noon in a road upon the edge of a clearing at the summit, the rain was pouring down with renewed violence.
News of their march had, however, preceded them. A dragoon sent after the column with dispatches had fallen, about seven o'clock, into the hands of the Confederates.
Colonel Pegram had instantly notified General Garnett of General McClellan's intentions, and urging it upon him to occupy a designated point on the road between Rich Mountain and Beverly for the purpose of checking the advance of General McClellan, had dispatched a force of about five hundred men with three guns to occupy the summit of Rich Mountain.
This force opened fire from its hastily constructed intrenchments upon the troops of General Rosecrans as soon as they made their appearance on the edge of the forest. The Union
troops, availing themselves of the cover of the woods, returned the fire with spirit, and after an irregular but animated action the Confederates, their line of breastworks being turned by an Indiana regiment, gave way in disorder and fled; one man alone standing his ground and loading and firing a fieldpiece, until he was shot with a revolver at his post.
General Rosecrans, the field being won, re-formed his troops in line of battle and waited events. Colonel Pegram, finding himself not attacked by Rosecrans, and learning that the advance of General McClellan had not been delayed, attempted to make his escape, taking with him reinforcements which had been sent forward to him from Beverly. A part of his force, dispersed in the trackless forests of the mountains, made its way to a place of safety; but Colonel Pegram himself, with about six hundred men, caught upon the banks of the Cheat River, with no means of escape, sent in a flag of truce and made his surrender to General McClellan on Saturday, July 13th.
The inaction of General Rosecrans after the engagement at Hart's farm, on Rich Mountain, enabled General Garnett to evacuate Laurel Hill during the night. He attempted to make his way by the Huttonsville pass to the Staunton road, but in consequence of some strange misrepresentation, misdirection, or misconception of orders, Colonel Scott, who had been ordered by General Garnett, in conformity with the suggestion of Colonel Pegram, to hold the key of the Beverly road, had failed so to do. General Garnett was accordingly compelled to retreat through the mountains to the southwest. His forces were twice overtaken and attacked by the troops of General McClellan; and in the second of these affairs, General Garnett exposing himself with reckless gallantry, to encourage his men, was killed. His little army was, however, brought off in safety after a most difficult and painful march through a mountain wilderness.
The prostration of the Confederate power in Western Vir
ginia was complete. General McClellan telegraphed to Washington the inspiring news of the capture of a thousand prisoners, with all the stores, baggage, and artillery of the enemy. "Secession," he added, "is killed in this country." This proved to be no empty boast.
The judicious measures which General McClellan had six weeks before taken to appease the alarms and make easy the submission to law of the West Virginia population now bore their fruit abundantly. The armed force which had represented the rebel government being entirely dispersed, and the army of General McClellan conducting itself as in a friendly country, the yeomanry of the mountains, never very warmly disposed towards the great slaveholding interest of the further South and of Eastern Virginia, rapidly made up their minds to stand by the Federal authority.
After accepting the surrender of "John Pegram, Esquire, styling himself Colonel in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States," General McClellan treated his prisoners with marked kindness and consideration, and eventually paroled them all. The effect of this course was greatly to indispose the majority of these prisoners to the further prosecution of hostilities, and for many subsequent months the most passionate organs of public opinion in the Confederate States took frequent occasion to point out the evil influence upon the Confederate army of conduct so entirely in contrast with the popular convictions on the subject of Northern feeling towards the South.
The moral advantages of the victory of Rich Mountain to the cause of the Union, great as they were, were not greater than its material consequences might have proved to be, had not the successes of the Federals in Western Virginia been practically nullified by the terrible disaster which was about to overtake them in the East.
Immediately after the battle of the 11th of July, General McClellan advanced his headquarters to Huttonsville, where