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Battle of Rich Mountain
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The western approach to Beverly, the Parkersburg-Staunton Turnpike, rises before it reaches Rich Mountain, crossing through a rugged gap just south of the mountain. Brigadier General Robert S. Garnett [CS], then in charge of Operations in Western Virginia positioned a detachment of men under Colonel John Pegram [CS] at the base of the mountain near the gap while the rest of his force protected the road from Philippi to Beverly.
Garnett, who served as Robert E. Lee's West Point trained Adjutant-General, was reassigned to western Virginia to organized Colonel John Porterfield's forces, badly defeated at Philippi and to ensure control of some of the breakaway counties in the western portion of the state. To this end Garnett established two camps, one along the portion of the Parkersburg-Staunton Turnpike across Rich Mountain and the second at Laurel Hill, about 25 miles north.
George McClellan took over personal command of the Union troops on June 23, 1861, in Grafton. McClellan ordered Brigadier General Thomas Morris south along the road from Philippi to Beverly with 4,000 men while McClellan left along the turnpike, hoping to cut off the Confederates from their base with 7,000 men. He calculated the force under Pegram to be 3,500 men giving McClellan a 2-to-1 advantage. The general commanding probably would have been surprised to find that Pegram only had 1,300 men, giving him a 5-to-1 advantage.
Arriving at the gap in Rich Mountain on July 9, federal forces began a reconnaissance the following day, finding out that Pegram was in a well-fortified position at the bottom of the mountain. During the recon Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans found a pro-Union farmer named David Hart who worked land at the top of Rich Mountain. Hart told Rosecrans of a obscure back road to the top of Rich Mountain. Hart offered his services as a guide and the following day he led just under two brigades of men up the obscure path.
The Yankees, fresh recruits for the most part, where suppose to reach the crest at 10:00am. In heavy rain, climbing the mountain took Rosecrans a lot longer than anticipated, but McClellan was ready to attack at the first sounds of battle. At 2:30pm Rosecrans announced the start of the battle with the boom of cannon, firing at a small group of infantry on the top of Rich Mountain. Pegram had gotten wind of the flanking maneuver and dispatched 350 men early in the morning to build a breastworks and defend the mountaintop.
With the sound of the artillery, McClellan rode forward, but seemed perplexed. Rosecrans was most definitely not attacking Pegram's rear as ordered and McClellan was not sure who Rosecrans was attacking. For McClellan to attack now, against Rebels in a fortified position and now lacking his assumed 2-to-1 numerical superiority could mean heavy casualties, but not attacking might spell defeat for Brigadier General Rosecrans.
Late in the day a disturbing cheer went up in the Rebels lines. Had Rosecrans suffered a defeat? For some time the Rebel captain had held off the federals, which had brought on the cheer, but the hope of Pegram's men was soon to be dashed - Rosecrans had overrun the Confederate line on the mountaintop. Perhaps too cautious, McClellan decided to wait for morning to attack.
Overnight, Pegram's men withdrew from Rich Mountain, but with no command structure and few rations, the men were wandering aimlessly along the road to Beverly. Pegram decided to surrender the next day.
At a congressional hearing following the battle, Rosecrans argued that McClellan's inaction should be censured, but by that time McClellan was General-in-Chief and not likely to be censured by Congress.
Battle of Rich Mountain
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Battle of Rich Mountain was last changed on - September 12, 2009
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