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27. 

 

    On the same day that Frank and Bevens were attending the Wheeling Convention, Major General George B. McClellan arrived in Cincinnati to assume command of the army Department of the Ohio. McClellan had been charged with two major responsibilities in Virginia: to protect the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from Confederate marauders and to defend the predominately Unionist population in the northwest corner of the state from their secessionist neighbors. But McClellan was ambitious; he wanted a more prestigious assignment and had still another plan in mind.

    He planned to invade Virginia through its northwestern corner, execute a wide sweep to the east and advance across the state to attack the rebel capital at Richmond, thus effectively ending the war. It was a grand scheme suiting a man with grand dreams of advancement, but McClellan would have to be patient. After all, Virginia was still part of the United States.

    In the meantime, the dissolution of the Union continued. On May 20, 1861, it was North Carolina's turn to pass an ordinance of secession; it was the tenth state to leave. Only one more piece was needed to complete the Confederate mosaic. To no one's surprise, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in a state wide referendum held on May 23, voted overwhelming to affirm the Ordinance of Secession passed four weeks earlier. As a percentage, the margin of victory, 132,201 to 37,451, was even greater than the margin registered by delegate votes in the Convention. Virginia, the first state in the Confederacy in so many ways, was the last to join.              Also, as expected, the northwestern counties voted differently from the rest of the state, rejecting the Ordinance by a vote of 34,677 to 19,121, a ratio of almost two to one. The number of counties were distributed about evenly between the two opposing sides. The pro-Confederate faction controlled more acreage; the pro-Unionist, greater population. Now that the formality of the vote had rendered all questions of legal standing irrelevant, the work of the Wheeling Convention could continue.

 

    Frank and Bevens lingered in Pittsburgh for a week visiting with Rebecca's father; he had much advice to give them concerning the crisis in Virginia. They finally arrived home in Morgantown just in time to learn about the results of the referendum. If the Wheeling Convention reconvened as planned, Frank wanted Cameron to take his place as a delegate. It was one thing to bargain with cagey, and sometimes unscrupulous, businessmen, but quite another matter to negotiate with slippery politicians. In this regard, Cameron's talents were greater than his. But he had more pressing reasons to leave politics to others. He wanted a measure of normality restored to his personal life. Rebecca was getting closer to term, and even with Isador doing a very competent job managing the mine, things tended to pile up in his absence. One of those things was rather unexpected. War had arrived on the Monongahela.

 

    South of Morgantown, Confederate troops had become active in Marion County, burning Baltimore and Ohio railroad bridges near the town of Farmington and threatening the important bridge across the Monongahela at Fairmont. On May 23, three days after the referendum, McClellan ordered the First Virginia Infantry, reinforced, under the command of Colonel Benjamin F. Kelley to march south from Wheeling seventy miles to Fairmont, occupy the town and protect the bridge. Once that was accomplished, he was directed to proceed south fifteen miles to Grafton, a centrally located railroad intersection.

    In the meanwhile, Colonel George A. Porterfield, who had been placed in command of all Confederate troops in northwest Virginia, was in Grafton supervising the enlistment of new recruits and was surprised to learn about the federal advance upon his position. Rather than risk a fight with his eight hundred inexperienced men, he quietly withdrew south to Philippi, the site of an covered bridge across the Tygart Valley River, a crossing that was critical for both sides.

     A second Union column, the Fourteenth Ohio Infantry Regiment, had entered Parkersberg and was also marching toward Grafton. McClellan now had about three thousand men in the field whom he placed under the command of Colonel Thomas A. Morris. By the time Morris arrived in Grafton on June 1, Kelley had devised a plan for a surprise attack on the Confederates in Philippi.

    The following day, the plan was put into motion. They divided their forces in two, planning to envelope Philippi and entrap the unsuspecting Confederate recruits. Kelley led the largest contingent, sixteen hundred men from the First Virginia, the Ninth Indiana Infantry, and the Sixteenth Ohio Infantry Regiments, aboard an eastbound train as a diversion, hoping to deceive the enemy into believing that they were on route to attack Harpers Ferry. After a short ride, they left the train at the small town of Thornton and began marching south, following back country roads toward Philippi in the dark under a heavy rainfall. Kelley expected to attack the town from the rear and prevent a Confederate escape.

    The second column, under Colonel Ebenezer Dumont, consisting of fourteen hundred men from the Sixth Indiana, the Seventh Indiana, and the Fourteenth Ohio Regiments, marched three and a half miles southwest to Webster, then continued directly south along the Beverly-Fairmont Turnpike toward Philippi. Dumont's forces would attack the Confederate front.

    Both columns arrived at Philippi before dawn on June 3, 1861 and prepared to launch an assault on the sleeping, unsuspecting Confederate troops who had failed to post picket lines around their encampment. A pistol shot would be the signal to attack.

    In the meantime, Mrs. Thomas Humphreys, a local resident and Confederate sympathizer, was woken by the passing Union troops and sent her young son on horseback to warn Porterfield of the impending attack. When he was detained by federal solders, she fired several shots with her revolter, missing everyone but signaling Kelley and Dumont to begin  a premature assault.

    When the Union army opened fire with their artillery, the eight hundred recruits scampered out of their tents, fired a few volleys at the enemy, and raced frantically toward the south, fearing for their lives. In the dark and rain, Kelley had mistakenly arrived in Philippi on the wrong side of the river and was unable to cut off the fleeing troops.

    Thus, the battle, what there was of it, ended well before it ever began, much to everyone's relief, for the men were still young and the war still new. Under cover of the ensuing confusion, the remaining Confederate troops began an orderly retreat to Huttonsville, seventy miles south where they rallied the men back into their original units. Kelley himself was one of the few causalities of the engagement but recovered afterward and served to the end of the war.

    Thirty men from both sides were killed or wounded during the action, a small total in comparison to the carnage that would occur later on other battlefields, but that was small consolation to the families who had borne the losses. In spite of the limited number of men committed, the Battle of Philippi was considered the first major engagement between Union and Confederate forces on the eastern front, perhaps more for the complexity of the military maneuvers than the actual skirmish that followed. Harpers Ferry had greater strategic importance, but when it was occupied in April by Confederate troops, the Union garrison had withdrawn before they arrived, avoiding any actual contact.

    As a result of the battle, General McClellan added luster to his reputation with the eastern press, an increase in notoriety that no doubt proved valuable when dealing with his superiors, particularly with President Lincoln when he went shopping about for a more effective commander. From the other side, Colonel Porterfield was replaced in western Virginia by Brigadier General Robert S. Garnett; his recruits were dispersed throughout the several Confederate armies. Newspaper accounts of the engagement added a humorous note, renaming the battle as the "Philippi Races" as a description of the Confederates fleeing as through they had entered a sporting event. There would be fewer occasions for levity in the years to come.

 

    Frank watched the Battle of Philippi cautiously. Federal troops had marched through Monongalia County only a short distance from their mine; indeed, they had crossed the Monongahela and occupied Fairmont, just eighteen miles to the south and a major port on the River. Frank was a unionist himself, but the presence of federal troops implied that Confederate units were probably nearby; any business that might be construed, no matter how indirectly, as aiding the Yankee war effort would be singled out for destruction. The engagement at Philippi was minor, as they say, but who knew how large future battles might be. The mine needed protection, that was clear, at least to Frank, and the others agreed.

    Bevens found a source for munitions in Youngstown, Ohio, and the day after the battle, Frank ordered six hundred rifles, four canon, and ten thousand rounds of ammunition. During the next few weeks, the cache was smuggled in by wagon and concealed within the mine. If anyone intended harm, he would be ready.

 

    In contrast to the rowdy gathering attended by Frank and Bevens in May, the Second Wheeling Convention which convened on June 11, was a staid affair, but also a much more serious, somber event. Men had died on both sides, and Virginia had formally left the Union. In spite of its importance, the attendance was purposefully restricted. Four hundred and twenty-five delegates had attended the first convention; only one hundred and four were given credentials to the second.

    Such a smaller number might imply that delegate selection was carried out more systematically, more prudently with an effort given over to choosing the best qualified attendees; but in fact, it was not. A random selection might have chosen the same  body of conventioneers. Thirty-five members of the General Assembly in Richmond representing the northwestern counties were invited; some of these had been elected during the May 23 general election, and some were not. A few holdover state senators were also invited. Whatever their shortcomings, at least these two contingents of assemblymen and senators represented, admittedly to a limited degree, a certain legitimacy; they had been chosen at some point by the electorate.

    The other members were chosen more haphazardly. The selection process was irregular and depended on a number of factors. Some of these factors were pertinent to the functions of a delegate; others were simply irrelevant.

    A few delegates were elected at mass meetings, increasingly a common occurrence in wartime Virginia politics; others were appointed by county committees, and a very special few seemed to have not been selected by anyone. In effect, they selected themselves.

    Much to his astonishment, Frank was invited back, although both Henry Bevens and Harris Bomford, the previous representative from Barbour County and a business associate, were excluded without any explanation.

    "Well, that is amazing, that they should ask me back. Why me? Henry. We arrived late and did absolutely nothing while there," Frank remarked, puzzled at the contents of the letter he had just received.

    "Someone, dear fellow, has to represent Morgantown and Monongahela County if this hallowed gathering would like to claim legitimacy. Morgantown, Fairmont, and Charleston are the largest communities in the northwest. Besides that, all of them are  strongly pro-union."

    "Did you forget Wheeling itself?"

    "My God, no. One is compelled to remember Wheeling, presently a haven for Yankee miscreants."

    "Sometimes, Henry, I think you would make a convincing rebel," said Frank.

    "Slavery aside, you may be right. I've liked and admired more of our southern brethren than their northern cousins. Present company excluded, of course."

    "Well, in any case, Henry, I'm not going. These politicians could skin a snake while he slept. Someone else can take my place. Cameron, for instance." 

 

  

January 2012

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