Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 13, 1861 (Saturday): Lee Fails to Take Cheat Mountain

General Albert Rust

  Report of Colonel Albert Rust, Third Arkansas Infantry.

CAMP BARTOW, September 13, 1861-10 p. m.

   GENERAL: The expedition against Cheat Mountain failed. My command consisted of between 1,500 and 1,600 men. Got there at the appointed time, notwithstanding the rain. Seized a number of their pickets and scouts. Learned from them that the enemy was between 4,000 and 5,000 strong, and they reported them to be strongly fortified. Upon a reconnaissance their representations were fully corroborated. A fort or block-house on the point or elbow of the road, entrenchments on the south, and outside of the entrenchments and all around up to the road heavy and impassable abatis, if the enemy were not behind them. Colonel Baton, my lieutenant-colonel, and all the field offices declared it would be madness to make na attack. We learned from the prisoners they were aware of your movements, and had been telegraphed of re-enforcements, and i heard three pieces of artillery pass down toward your encampment while we were seeking to make na assault upon them.
   I took the assistant commissary, and for one regiment I found upon his person a requisition for 930 rations; also a letter indicating they had very little subsistence. I brought only one prisoner back with me. The cowardice of the guard (not Arkansan) permitted the others to escape. Spies had evidently communicated our movements to the enemy. The fort was completed, as reported by the different prisoners examined separately, and another in process of construction. We got near enough to see the enemy in the trenches beyond the abatis. The most of my command behaved admirably. Some I would prefer to be without upon any expedition.
   General Jackson requests me to say that he is in possession of the first summit of Cheat Mountain, and hopes you are doing something in Tygart's Valley, and will retain command of it until he receives orders from your quarters. My own opinion is that there is nothing to be gained by occupying that mountain. It will take a heavy force tot make the pass, and at a heavy loss. I knew the enemy had four times my force; but for the abatis we would have made the assault. We could not get to them to make it. The general says, in his note to me, his occupying Cheat Mountain may bring on an engagement, but he is pre-pared and will whip them if they come.  I see from the postscript that he requests his note to me to be enclosed to you.  I can only say that all human power could do towards success in my expedition failed of success.  The taking of the picket looked like a providential interposition.  I took the first one myself, being at he head of the column when I got to the road.
   In great haste, very respectfully, your obedient servant.
A.    RUST
Colonel, &c.
General Loring, Commanding, &c.

Official Records, Series I., Vol 5., Page 192
Lee attempted to surround Fort Milroy, the defenses at the top of Cheat Mountain designed to defend the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike.  Lee personally oversaw the attacks, although General William C. Loring had direct command of his troops (the Army of the Northwest).  Although outnumbered 3,000 to 1,500, the Union forces had a commanding position and heavy obstructions plus better knowledge of the terrain.  The weather, with rain and fog, added to the advantage of the defenses.  When Lee’s three attacking columns were unable to gain ground or even coordinate with each other, they eventually were withdraw.  Casualties were around 100 on either side and the battle resulted in no advantage.  Lee would be recalled to Richmond at the end of October, and Loring would gain some measure of fame during his dispute with Stonewall Jackson.

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