Sunday, August 21, 2011

August 24 (Saturday): Wise Writes (Unwisely) to Lee

General Henry A. Wise

                                                            DOGWOOD GAP CAMP, August 24, 1861.
General R. E. LEE, Commanding, &c.;
   SIR:  I received your last dispatch this morning and I confess with a heavy heart.  The general instruction is that my command is independent in its organization, and cannot be detached, yet General Floyd may divide and detail it in part, subject to his direct orders, in any proportion of force, so as to deprive me of all opportunity to organize and protect it, and to command the respect from it which I must have, in order to make it efficient or to be myself of any use in the service.  To be plain, sir, I am compelled to inform you expressly that every order I have received from General Floyd indicates a purpose to merge my command to his own and to destroy the distinct organization of my Legion.  We are now brought into a critical position by the vacillation of orders and confusion of command.
   Two days ago I was ordered to proceed down the turnpike to meet the enemy.  Everything was put in motion, and the commands were united at the foot of Gauley Mountain, where the foe was found in force.  We arrived on the evening of the 21st.  That night General Floyd, for the first time, conferred with me, and I concurred in a plan to attack Carnifix Ferry, on the Gauley, while he should hold the front on the turnpike, and was accordingly ordered to proceed that night at 3 o’clock to take and cross that ferry.  He was to check the enemy in front and join me at the ferry, after covering my train and artillery, which he had left at Dogwood Gap.  At 3.30 o’clock I marched.  Found no enemy on the Sunday road. They had retreated across the ferry, and I arrived there early in the morning.  I paused to get breakfast while looking out for boats on which to cross.  The enemy had sunk one and sent the other adrift over the falls.  I had scarcely paused before General Floyd, with his whole force, arrived by another road, leaving his train and his artillery unprotected on the turnpike.  The rain and mud were nearly insufferable the day before yesterday, and the men without tents after a night’s march.  In the course of the day he changed orders three times, and at least ordered me to divide my batteries, giving him three pieces of artillery, with a detachment for the guns, and 100 horse to follow across the Gauley.  The sunken boat having men raised—a single boat of the smallest size for a country ferry—he ordered me, with the remainder of my command, to take position on the road and check the enemy, leaving me four pieces and he taking six—four of mine and two of his own.  Under these orders I marched back yesterday to Dogwood, leaving Captain Hart, with my detached artillery, on this side of the ferry, awaiting the opportunity to cross, General Floyd having taken over his own two pieces.  Last night his quartermaster dispatched to me the message that their boat sank yesterday and went with General Floyd are cut off until we can build another ferry boat.  He has with him only about 1,000 men and two pieces of artillery, the enemy having about 4,000 men at Gauley and Back Creek, and within a few hours march of him.  This unfortunate move may cut him to pieces, but Colonel Tompkins is coming up with about 750 men, and we will do what we can to cover the retreat or to re-enforce his position.
   I now ask to be entirely detached from all union with General Floyd’s command.  I beg you, sir, to present this request to the President and Secreatry of War for me.  I am willing, anxious, to do and suffer anything for the cause I serve, but I cannot consent to be even subordinately responsible for General Floyd’s command, nor can I consent to command in dishonor.  I have not been treated with respect by General Floyd, and co-operation with him will be difficult and disagreeable, if not impossible.  I earnestly ask that while he is attempting to penetrate Gauley I may be allowed to operate in separate command from him, but aiding his operations, by being ordered to penetrate the Kanawha Valley on the south side, by the Loop or Paint Creek, or by the Coal River; or send me anywhere, so I am from under the orders of General Floyd.
    I am, with the highest respect, your obedient servant,
                                                                                    HENRY A. WISE
Official Records, Series I., Vol. 5, Page 804

Wise would very likely have been cashiered but for his political influence.  Even then, it is hard to imagine a superior other than Lee with the patience to endure the constant sniping between Wise and Floyd.  One criticism of Lee in West Virginia, and it appears valid, is that he was unable to act decisively to address the Wise-Floyd feud, relying on diplomatic messages and invocations of the good of the cause.

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