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Monday, July 11, 2011

Thursday, July 11, 1861

Thursday, July 11, 1861

The Battle of Rich Mountain [Wikipedia, NPS, Rich Mountain Battlefield]

This was the first major battle of the Civil War, It gave birth to the state of West Virginia and propelled General George B McClellan onto the national stage.

Early in the Civil war, both Federal and Confederate War Planners saw the mountains of western Virginia as key to obtaining victory for their side. For the confederates, in particular General Thomas J Jacksoncontrol of the area would allow confederate forces to advance toward the Great Lakes and cut the Union in two and provide the Confederacy with a greater chance of being recognized by other nations. That did not happen, as the federals were able to retain control over the region and the results of the battle propelled General McClellan into national prominence. After initial offensives, the Civil War in Western Virginia degenerated into raids, limited hit-and-run attacks, inconclusive maneuvering, and a nasty guerilla conflict that would seethe in the area for generations to come.

July 11th at Rich Mountain

Map taken from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol 1 Sumter to Shiloh page 131On the morning of July 11, the force at the pass consisted of 310 men and one cannon. Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans led a reinforced brigade by a mountain path to seize the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike in Pegram’s rear. About 2:30 P.M., the Union column encountered Confederate skirmishers on top of Rich Mountain. The surprised Confederate outpost at the pass took cover behind rocks and trees and, with the help of their 1 cannon, held off the Union attack for over 2 hours. Badly outnumbered, they eventually gave way, and Rosecrans' troops took possession of the field. Pegram, realizing that the Confederates were in his rear, ordered the withdrawal of his remaining forces from Camp Garnett during the night. The victory opened the road to Beverly. McClellan with the main Federal force was supposed to attack when Rosecrans made his move, but did not do so.

McClellan received much credit for the victory, which, most historians agree, really belongs to Rosecrans, who originated the idea and performed the difficult part.

To the north at Laurel Hill, T.A. Morris' Federals demonstrated against the main Confederate force of Garnett.

At Rich Mountain, Pegram had about 1300 men, all told, and Garnett some 4000 at Laurel Hill. On the Federal side, Morris had about 4000 and McClellan and Rosecrans about 8000. Rosecrans lost 12 killed and 49 wounded, while Confederate reports of the losses are unreliable.

Other Events on July 11th

The US Senate expelled the senators from Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas, plus one from Tennessee. This was a mere formality; they had already left.

Here is a list of the Senators expelled:

James M. Mason of Virginia
Robert M.T. Hunter of Virginia
Thomas L. Clingman of North Carolina
Thomas Bragg of North Carolina
James Chesnut, Jr., of South Carolina
A.O.P. Nicholson of Tennessee
William K. Sebastian of Arkansas
Charles B. Mitchel of Arkansas
John Hemphill of Texas
Louis T. Wigfall of Texas
Disloyalty to the Union
Resolution introduced: July 10, 1861
Senate vote: July 11, 1861

Result: Expelled

Here are a couple of videos of a reenactment of the confederate skirmishers at the top of Rich Mountain, and their eventual retreat:

...the skirmish...

...and the retreat...

I wish i knew who these reenactors were, and their website URL. If you do, please drop me a line in the comments and I'll give these guys credit.

Here is an account of the Battle of Rich Mountain given in the July 27, 1861 issue of Harper's Weekly:

A brilliant battle, resulting in a complete success, signalized the opening of the campaign of General McClellan in Western Virginia. It occurred on Thursday afternoon at Rich Mountain, where a force of 2000 rebels were strongly intrenched under Colonel Pegram. The official dispatch of General McClellan to the War Department, dated from Rich Mountain, states that he dispatched Brigadier-General Rosencrans, a young and able West Point officer of engineers, with four regiments of Ohio and Indiana troops, as an advance-body, through the mountains from Roaring Rum, a distance of eight miles, over which route they had to cut their way through the woods. After a march of nearly twelve hours, General Rosencrans came on the rear of the rebels, and, after a desperate fight of an hour and a half, completely routed them, driving them in the utmost disorder into the woods, and capturing all their guns, wagons, and camp equipage, or, as General McClellan says, "all they had." They also took several prisoners, many officers among them. Sixty of the rebels were killed, and a large number wounded. Of the Union troops twenty were killed and forty wounded. General McClellan had his guns mounted to command the rebel's position, but he found that the gallantry of Rosencrans spared him the trouble of going into action.

Source: Son of the South

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