Tag Archives: WV

Bradley Johnson and John McCausland

Brig. Gen. John McCausland

One thing I love about blogging, is that I can sit down and share some brief thoughts on small elements of Civil War history. My recent visit to Moorefield has prompted me to reflect on the problems that Brig. Gen. John McCausland experienced with subordinate Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson at Moorefield.

First some background: Johnson had significant experience serving in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. His prior attachment to that army and his membership in that most peculiar class of Confederate known as the Marylander have elevated his historical reputation well above his actual military accomplishments.
In the 1864 Valley Campaign, he proved careless on several occasions. He laxity on July 16, 1864 allowed a small force of Union cavalry to attack Early’s wagon train at the Purcellville Wagon Raid. That same evening, he failed to post pickets and a small Union force attached his camp and put his entire brigade to flight. Then we have Moorefield.

It is clear that McCausland warned Johnson of Averell’s approach several hours before the attack came. Johnson did not pass the warnings on to his regimental commanders. As a result, they and their men were sound asleep when Averell attacked after his Jessie Scouts “relieved” Johnson’s pickets. Johnson barely evaded capture.

When word of the debacle reached Early’s HQ in the Shenandoah Valley, Jed Hotchkiss related that the only wish there was that Johnson had been captured along with the hundreds of other Confederates at Moorefield. To be fair, McCausland had poorly positioned his command, with his two brigades separated by the South Branch of the Potomac River, a poor choice. But Johnson’s lax security finally caught up with him and cost Jubal Early more than 400 horsemen, 600 precious horses and a battery of horse artillery.

If you are interested in learning more about McCausland, Johnson, Moorefield and its impact on Jubal Early’s Valley Campaign, I cover it in detail in my 2007 Book Shenandoah Summer. See the link below:


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The Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, May 9, 1864


As we have just passed the anniversary of the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, fought on May 9, 1864 as part of Union Major General Franz Sigel’s general-offensive out of the Department of West Virginia in the spring of 1864.  Major General George Crook defeated a smaller Confederate force under the command of Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins who was mortally wounded in the battle.  The battle occurred in Pulaski County in Southwest Virginia, not too far from modern day Radford, which was known as Central Depot on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, a key objective of Crook’s.

The ensuing letter was written by Chaplain A. H. Windsor of the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, one of the finest, and perhaps most unsung, regiments that campaigned with Crook throughout 1864.  I would also refer readers to John Hamill’s online tour of Cloyd’s Mountain Battlefield. The scenery is great and you have to visit that field and follow Crook’s route in.

Meadow Bluff, West Va

May 18, 1864

Mr. Van Law:

We have but today returned from the southern part of Virginia and though still some fifty miles distant from Fayette the point of starting, yet we feel in a measure at home. Some enterprising friend of the United States has erected the telegraph line from Gauley Bridge to this place and is extending the line on toward Lewisburg – “southward the Star of Empire takes its way.”

Another blow has been struck against the rebellion, and since the expendition if over, since the long, tedious march has been accomplished, the battle fought and the victory won, we may, far away from the field of strike and the din of battle, look calmly back over the past, see clearly the object of the movement, estimate its cost, and measure its effect upon the downfall of the rebellion.

It has been know since the first of February that a foce was being assembled in the Kanawha Valley for some purpose, but for what purpose the  soldiers of the command knew as little as they did the activities at Richmond, or the more enterprising bushwhackers of Western Virginia.  The General in command [Crook] knows how to keep his own secrets, showing that he is wise in counsel, as his success in the present undertaking indicated his qualifications for the field.

The army consisted of three brigades, each having a certain number of regiments, the whole supplied with batteries of artillery in proportion ot the number of troops. These troops began to pour into Fayetteville on the 2d of May, and on the 3d, at an early hour, they set out upon an expedition, nearly, if not quite as imortant and as full of peril as Napoleon’s celebrated crossing o fthe Alps. They did not cross as lofty mountains, but the forded larger and more rapid streams-they crossed and recrossed several ranges of the Allegheny Mountains.  They traveled nearly three hundred miles, fought three battles, and were victorious in every contest.  The route o fthe army lay through some of the roughestk, as well as the most beautiful country in Virignia.  The army took the road elading form Fayette to Raleigh [now Beckley, WV], thence to Princeton, and then passed over the East River Mountains [?], and down Walker’s Creek to Poplar Hill. Five miles from that place on the road to Dublin was fought hte battle of “Claude [Cloyd’s] Mountain.”  The army passed on to Dublin, and form thence down the railroad to the bridge across New River, which was burned. It then began its retreat, “homeward bound,” by way of Blacksburgh-across Salt Pond Mountain, and the lofty Alleghenies, through Union [WV], across the Greenbrier River to Meadow Bluff where it reposes upon its well eanred laurels to recuperate, prepartory to other achievements-we trust as equally brilliant…

Besides the burning of the bridge, we conquered the rebels in one large engagement and two small ones, destroyed numerous stores at Dublin, took about three hundred prisoners, three pieces of artillery, accidentally came across several good horses, were joined by the colored population to the number of about four hundred and destroyed the railroad for fifteen or twenty miles.  I never realized the hard ships that were endured by our brave soldiers till I learned by bitter experience some of their realities in this raid.  If this rebellion is eer put down, the American nation will owe a debt of gratitude to the common soldier that it will never be able to pay….

Windsor’s detailed account of the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain to follow soon.

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Lt. Col. John P. Wolfe and the 51st Virginia Infantry at the Battle of Leetown, 8/25/1864 By Robert E. Wolfe

Battle of Leetown, Jed Hotchkiss Map, Library of Congress

The Battle of Leetown occurred on August 25, 1864 when Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early took the bulk of his army on a reconnaissance in force toward Shepherdstown and the Potomac River. Sheridan, who had just fallen back to the defenses of Harper’s Ferry, simultaneously sent two cavalry divisions on a recon mission of their own toward Early’s northern flank. With two large forces moving in the same direction, a clash of arms was inevitable. After General George A. Custer scored an initial  success against the Confederate advance, Early brought his superior manpower to bear upon the Federals and forced them back in confusion, although Sheridan’s cavalry had acquitted itself well in a toe-to-toe fight with the Confederate infantry. In the course of the fighting, Lt. Col. Wolfe was killed. The following story is told by his brother.

Early’s infantry was encamped in the vicinity northwest of Charlestown on the morning of the 25th of Aug. 1864. About 8 o’clock A.M., the whole army marched in the direction of Shepherdstown. At 12 M. Wharton’s division in front and his old brigade in front of his division with the 51 Va Regiment leading the advance. We halted at a brick church abut one mile from Leetown – remained here about one hour, and resumed the advance. We had not gone more than one half of a mile when we met our cavalry falling back. Col. Wolfe received orders to deploy his regiment (the 51st) as skirmishers on both sides of the turnpike and advance. This was quietly done and the regiment advanced at a double quick, the other troops being in column on the road.

This regiment charged a strong line of battle supported by artillery posted on an eminence in their front, driving them back upon their reserves one half mile beyond their first position. The enemy now began to flank with cavalry on the right and left of the skirmishers. On the right they were met and repulsed by the 45th Va Regiment sent by Col. [Augustus] Forsberg commanding brigade under direction of Gen. [Gabriel] Wharton. Col. Wolfe seeing the right of the regiment made safe, hastened to the left of the road into a cornfield, where he as shot and instantly fell dead. The regiment then fell back to the top of the hill from which they had driven the enemy, but not until the last round of ammunition had been expended.

By this time other brigades of the the division had been deployed and advanced and drove the enemy in great confusion across the Potomac before sundown. Our loss was chiefly in the 51st. This regiment was the largest regiment in Gen. Early’s command, and had no superior in the point of discipline and valor.

Some time after the battle, I spoke to General Early about the battle being fought by a skirmish line and the loss of my brother and he told me that according to the information he had received from our cavalry in front that there was but one brigade of the enemy present and that he knew that Col Wolfe could, with the 51st, whip any brigade of yankee cavalry on top of the earth. But at the time our cavalry fell back and the 51st advanced two other brigades of the enemy had reached the field, which was not known to him until after the battle was joined.

In this battle I had another brother [Peter Wolfe] wounded – disabled for life. I hope that you will forgive me for the length of this letter about Leetown or Kearnesyville as it is sometimes called. My loss shall be my plea.

The 51st Virginia Infantry lost 12 killed, 63 wounded and 27 captured at Leetown.

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General George Washington Getty

Gen. George W. Getty

In 1864, General George W. Getty received command of the Second Division, VI Army Corps, Army of the Potomac. Prior to that he had served as an artillery commander, infantry division commander in the Antietam and Suffolk Campaigns and a military engineer. He had quietly carried out his assigned duties to the best of his ability, which was quite considerable. Getty had developed a reputation for dependability seldom matched in the often quarrelsome Army of the Potomac. “He is a cool man,” declared Theodore Lyman of General George Meade’s staff . “Quite a wonder,” he added. Getty considered himself to be a soldier whose duty it was to obey orders. ” I always obey an order. If I was ordered to march my division across the Atlantic Ocean, I’d do it. At least I would march them up to their necks in the sea, and then withdraw and report that it was impractical to carry out the order.”

Getty exhibited his leadership ability on May 5, 1864 at the battle of the Wilderness. When ordered to a vital crossroads at Parker’s Store, Getty raced ahead of his division with his staff and arrived at the intersection just ahead of A. P. Hill’s Corps. With only his staff and orderlies, Getty held the position until his combat troops arrived. Getty would lead his troops and others assigned to him in the Wilderness fighting until he went down wounded. He returned to command in time to assist with the fighting at Fort Stevens, during Confederate General Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington. With the Sixth Corps, Getty would spend the balance of the active campaigning that year in the Shenandoah Valley.

Getty was often called upon anytime there was a tight situation at hand. His division bore the brunt of the fighting in an all day, high intensity skirmish at Charlestown on August 21 and anchored Sheridan’s left flank at the battle of Opequon Creek (Third Winchester). When the Confederates smashed in the VI Corps right wing during Sheridan’s initial attack, it was Getty who brought up the New Jersey Brigade from reserve and threw them into the thickest of the fight to staunch the bleeding and turned artillery against the attacking Confederates.

However, it was at the battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, that Getty rose to the apex of his duties in the Valley. With Jubal Early’s legions sweeping Sheridan’s army back in confusion, Getty, who had rose to Corps command due to Sheridan’s absence and casualties,  posted his division on Middletown’s Cemetery Hill, becoming the sole bulwark of Union resistance. Elements of three Confederate divisions attacked, but Getty’s men held the position. Confederate artillery attempted to hammer them off the hill but Getty did not pull back until the Southern infantry had bypassed his right flank in their pursuit of the balance of the Sixth Corps. When Sheridan arrived on the battlefield that morning, Getty’s was the only organized infantry division from the entire army that was on the front line confronting the Confederates with the Union cavalry. After the battle, Sheridan wrote Grant, “General, I want Getty of the Sixth Corps and the brave boys, Merritt and Custer, promoted by brevet. Getty would go on to serve the Union cause well on April 2, 1865, when his division spearheaded the Union breakthrough at Petersburg but his service at Cedar Creek was perhaps his greatest contribution to the Union war effort. Had it not been for Getty, there is no telling how the Battle of Cedar Creek would have played out and what impact its loss would have had on Abraham Lincoln’s reelection.

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