ENGAGEMENT AT CAMP ALLEGHENY
Boyd B. Stutler
The campaign for control of the Cheat Mountain-Allegheny area settled down to a stalemate after the repulse of Brigadier General Joseph J. Reynolds' Federals at the crossing of Greenbrier River on October 3, 1861. That action, fought at what is now Bartow, Pocahontas County--then known as Travelers' Repose--was decisive only in that Reynolds was turned back in his bid to clear the Parkersburg-Staunton Turnpike to the eastern section of Virginia. Brigadier General Henry R. Jackson, who commanded the Confederate forces, held his position at Camp Bartow, while Reynolds returned his troops to the fortified post on Cheat Summit, some twelve miles distant. Both armies sitting on the turnpike, held keys to the gateway--Jackson blocked passage to the South and East; Reynolds barred the way to the Northwest.
Some small skirmishes were fought by roving patrols and reconnaissance troops, but nothing like a general engagement, or an attempt by either army to dislodge the other, was tried until the second week in December. General Reynolds was transferred to another theatre on December 10, and Robert H. Milroy, a newly minted Brigadier General, succeeded to command of the Federal forces in the Cheat Mountain Division. Milroy was not a stranger to the area or to the troops under his command; as a colonel he had commanded the 9th Indiana Infantry at the Philippi affair and in the subsequent summer campaign in the Tygarts valley and Cheat Mountain region. Though commissioned from civil life, he was a graduate of Norwich Military Academy and was a veteran company commander in the War with Mexico.
In the meantime, after the battle of October 3, General Jackson had abandoned camp Bartow and moved his holding force to Allegheny summit, where the 52nd Virginia infantry had been posted in camp Baldwin. The new position was about eight or nine miles southeast of camp Bartow, but still astride the Parkersburg-Staunton pike, and even more defensible than the position at the Greenbrier crossing. Crude log cabins had been thrown up to protect the men from the wintry blasts in that high altitude, some defensive works were constructed and trenches were dug in the more exposed areas. The small force of about 1,200 men under Colonel Edward Johnson, of the 12th Georgia Infantry, prepared to settle down for the winter.
Milroy, at his position about twenty miles to the northwest, determined to destroy this Confederate outpost and, though overestimating the enemy strength at 2,500, he launched an offensive striking force of just short of 1,900 men. The main engagement was fought at Camp Allegheny or Camp Baldwin--on the morning of December 13, when the attacking troops suffered a sound defeat. The Confederates, however, did not have strength enough to follow up their success in beating off the assault. Theirs was purely a defensive action, and they were well content to let the attackers move back to their posts to lick their wounds.
General Milroy had assembled his task force by detachments from the posts at Beverly, Elkwater, Huttonsville, and Cheat Summit, and in no instance did he have a complete regimental or special Service unit. When brought together to start the twenty-mile march, the force was composed of 700 men of the 9th Indiana Infantry, under Colonel Gideon C. Moody; 400 of the 25th Ohio infantry, Colonel James A. Jones; 250 of the 2nd (West) Virginia Infantry, commanded by Major James D. Owens; 300 of the 13th Indiana infantry, Major Cyrus J. Dobbs; 130 of the 32nd Ohio Infantry, Captain William D. Hamilton; 30 of Captain James R. Bracken's Indiana Cavalry, and 75 of Captain Rigby's artillery. In supreme confidence of victory, the artillery men marched with the column without their guns, expecting to take possession and work the Confederate guns when captured.
To oppose Milroy and to defend his position, Colonel Johnson had the 12th Georgia infantry, his own regiment, then under the direct command of Lieutenant Colonel Z. T. Conner; 52nd Virginia Infantry, Major John D. H. Ross; 31st Virginia Infantry, Major Francis M. Boykin, Jr.; Hansborugh's [sic] and Reger's infantry battalions, two batteries of artillery with eight guns, and a detachment of the Pittsylvania cavalry under Lieutenant C. E. Dabney. The regiments were greatly depleted by home leave and by sickness, some companies mustering only a few men for duty. In all, Colonel Johnson could not call to the field more than 1,200 men of all arms.
General Milroy started the advance from Cheat Summit on the morning of December 12, when he sent two companies of the 9th Indiana forward as all advance guard to seize and hold Camp Bartow until the main force arrived. But when within two miles of the old Confederate camp the advance guard fell into a rebel ambuscade. Two men were killed; the Confederate pickets escaped to Camp Allegheny to give notice that Union troops were on the prowl. However, they knew of only the two companies in that regional.
The main body left Cheat Summit in the afternoon and arrived, without incident, at Camp Bartow just after dark. There they halted for rest and for the evening mess. Here Milroy divided his force: the 9th Indiana and 2nd (West) Virginian under Colonel Moody, were sent around by the Greenbank road to reach a point of attack on the left of the Confederate encampment, a distance of about twelve miles. The plan of attack was to strike both the right and left at daybreak, but as so often happened in the mountain campaigns the difficult terrain upset the timetable. Moody was hours late in reaching the designated point, and thus was not in position to support the main body on the right when the engagement was brought on prematurely, but well after daybreak.
The main force under the direct command of General Milroy moved up the Parkersburg-Staunton pike and, though the highway was rutted and churned to deep mud, he had a comparatively easy march. When about two miles from Camp Allegheny an enemy picket opened fire on the advanced column, killing one man. Leaving the pike at this point, under command of Colonel Jones, the troops clambered up a steep mountainside to reach the intended position on the right and rear of the Confederates, Colonel Jones was under orders not to make an attack until he heard Moody attacking on the left, but a company of the 13th Indiana, under Lieutenant Isalall B. McDonald, which was leading the column, came upon a strong rebel picket and had a short exchange of rifle fire. A few of the Confederates were captured, the balance retreated to the camp to give the alarm.
But Colonel Johnson had already been aroused by the first pickets encountered and even before Colonel Jones could get his troops into the designated position the Confederates were under arms and were advancing in line of battle in full force. However, to their disadvantage, the Confederates opened fire before reaching an effective range. Their fire was returned by the Union troops, armed with superior rifles permitting a longer range, while they deployed for position. The Federals poured such a withering hail into the rebel ranks that they broke in confusion and retreated to the shelter of their trenches and their log cabins. Rallied, the Confederates returned to the field in greater force and with more effective fire. The Union line wavered and a considerable number broke to the rear but were soon rallied.
The tide of battle Moved in and out--advance and retreat--first one side and then the other. Still nothing was heard from Colonel Moody and his troops on the left. Several times the blue-clad attackers gained a temporary hold in the camp itself, only to be driven back. The Confederates, with thin lines, tried flanking movements several times, but each movement was halted before it really got under way. The fighting was in close quarters, so close that the eight guns in the Confederate emplacements could not be worked efficiently. The Federal attackers had lost heavily in killed and wounded, a greater number had skulked away, and Milroy's fighting force had dwindled down to about 150. A final charge was made and the Confederates were again driven back to their huts. Recovering the dead and wounded in the open field, General Milroy led his beaten men back to the turnpike.
But at just about the time the troops reached a point of comparative safety Colonel Moody made his attack on the left, hours too late. With the attackers on the right neatly disposed of, Colonel Johnson was able to commit his whole fighting force to defense of the left wing. Worn out by the long night march, the men of the 9th Indiana and 2nd (West) Virginia fought stubbornly for a while, but, outnumbered and with all the advantage of terrain with the defenders, they fought a losing battle from the first. Driven back, they gathered their dead and wounded and retreated slowly down the mountainside.
The battle opened at a quarter past seven in the morning. By two o'clock in the afternoon it was all over. The Confederates still held Camp Allegheny, and both wings of the Federal attacking force were in full retreat. General Milroy had lost his first battle as a general officer.
On hearing Moody's attack on the left, though his own wing had been driven from the field, Milroy galloped on a roundabout road to join the force. When he met Moody at about five o'clock the men had just reached the valley. They had halted on the descent long enough to bury their dead, digging the graves with bayonets and swords.
In few engagements during the Civil War were the casualties as evenly balanced as in the fight at Camp Allegheny. General Milroy reported a casualty list of 20 killed, 107 wounded, some of whom died later, and 10 missing, for an over-all loss of 137. The Confederate loss almost evenly balanced: Colonel Johnson reported 20 killed, 98 wounded, and 28 missing, a total casualty list of l46. Of the 28 missing Confederates, Milroy reported 26 prisoners taken, which would leave only two men unaccounted for.
In the official reports, Colonel Johnson lauded his men for cool, courageous behavior while under fire, Milroy complained that his men behaved badly. "Our ranks were thinned," he said, "by the continued skulking away of the timorous.... Too much praise cannot be given to the brave soldiers who remained on the field to the last.... On the other hand, too much execration cannot be poured upon the many base cowards who deserted the battlefield and left their brave companions. They would be remembered in eternal infamy."
The fight at Camp Allegheny closed the mountain campaign for the winter, with exception of skirmishes between small probing groups. Colonel Johnson's force remained at the camp, though suffering greatly from the winter weather, until the following April.
Stutler, Boyd B., West Virginia in the Civil War (Charleston, West Virginia; Educational Foundation, Inc., 1963), 136-140.
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