Cotton Hill, Va.

Home Camp of The Seventh Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry


Short summary of the events around Cotton Hill, Va. in November of 1861

            The need for good experienced men, few and far between at this juncture of the war, was heard again. General Floyd had chased the outposts on the Fayette Road all the way to the Gauley River and stationed himself,  with 4,000 men, upon Cotton Hill on November 1st. This  hilltop  commanded  control  of Gauley  Bridge  and  Montgomery's  Ferry.  From here Floyd open fired with a pair of 6 pound rifled   pieces of artillery which quickly brought all river operations by  the Union troops to a halt. The only way supplies could be  moved in  or out of the area was under the cover of darkness. This, as  you can guess was a tremendously hazardous affair.     

            There has been much written about the activities around Cotton Hill during the first two weeks of November. This was the Unions first real opportunity to defeat or capture a Rebel force of any size. General Rosecrans was adamant about the  proceedings  of the Union Army and I will point this out over the next several pages.  He had set up camp on the east side of the  Gauley  River  near Gauley Bridge. Here he recruited more horses for his  teams, tried  to supply new clothing to those who needed them, and  also  reassigned men who had been in the hospitals. He now had with him  four  brigades of men; one brigade each under the following  men-  General   Cox,  General  Schenk,  General  Benham,  and   Colonel  McCook.

            General Rosecrans had summoned General Cox to Carnifex Ferry  on  September the 15th to discuss the approaching  conflict  with  Floyd.  They  formulated  a plan by  which  Generals  Benham  and  Schenk would work in concert to capture or destroy General Floyds  forces near Fayetteville, just southeast of Cotton Hill. The plan  called  for General Benham, with a force of some  three  thousand  men,  to cross the Gauley River at Loop Creek. He would make  his  way around or over Cotton Hill and attack General Floyd from  the front.  General Shenck would cross New River at Townsends  Ferry,  15  miles  above Gauley Bridge,  using boats  improvised  out  of  wagon bodies and virtually anything else they could find. Colonel  McCook  was ordered to watch Millers Ferry, where he was camped,  and  be ready to cross and move on Fayette Court House at  a  moments notice.       

            General  Cox was to cross at Montgomery's Ferry and  support  General Benham if necessary. Of course all of this had to be well  played  out  in order for the plan to be successful,  timing  and  surprise  being  the two important aspects.  If  successful  they  could  cut off General Floyds retreat, thus either  capturing  or  destroying Floyds command. General Rosecrans anticipated problems  in  crossing New River and advised General Schenk "if you  cannot  cross, you will come down and attack by the front, while  General  Benham will cut off  their retreat."

            The Seventh played an important part in the events and operations around Cotton Hill and Fayetteville during those first two weeks of November. On November the 2nd General Rosecrans sent the following dispatch to General Benham:       

            Headquarters, Dept. of Western Virginia

            Camp Gauley Mountain, Nov. 2nd, 1861

            “You will immediately prepare to cross the river for an operation up Paint or Loop Creek. The steps thereto are rest for the men, boats to cross, and ammunition in sufficient quantities. Tyler will be ordered to send you 500 picked men, Woods 500, and Siber 500. It will take probably two days to organize this movement. We hope to cross at or near Millers Ferry in force, at the same time we make a strong demonstration or attack on their front. Let everything be done to secure supplies; every faculty made use of. Advise me of your progress.     

            W.S. Rosecrans

            Brigadier General, U.S. Army 

            On  November  the  4th Colonel Creighton,  of  the  Seventh,  leading a detachment of 430 men, boarded a river boat and steamed  down  the  Kanawha River to a point approximately 7  miles  below  Gauley Bridge, and directly opposite Loop Creek. Here the men  of  the Seventh joined the other forces under General Benham at about  dusk. There had been several reports around camp that many  regiments had shunned the mission of crossing Cotton Hill because of steep and dangerous cliffs, but General Benham remarked 'give me the Seventh Ohio Regiment and I can drive the Rebels to  hell,  a place beyond the confines of this lower world.'

            On the sixth of November the Seventh was ordered across  the  Kanawha  River and up Loop Creek to establish a camp at the  foot  of Cotton Hill. The men were not prepared for what they were  about to attempt because Loop Creek was not an ordinary creek. To make things worse the march was to occur at night and in complete silence so as not to alarm the enemy.

            Just prior to dawn the men arrived at 's farm, some nine miles up Loop Creek, and set up camp. At this point the men were about three miles from General Floyds forces then encamped just east of Cotton Hill.

            Colonel Creighton was in command of this force and he sent out pickets and scouts to determine the exact position of General Floyd. He advised his men to report their findings directly to General Benham, which was done. At this time detachments from the 44th and 37th Ohio were placed under the command of Colonel Creighton bringing his command to approximately 1200 men. The command remained here until the 12th of November keeping in constant touch with General Benham.

            At  this juncture the weather became a direct factor in  the  outcome of the campaign. On the 9th General Schenk made the first  attempt to cross New River, with no success. The high river condition caused by a torrential downpour of the past few days had made a crossing impossible. His boats were of little use to him  in  his  efforts to ford the swift and  fast  moving  water.  General  Cox constructed flatboats to move his troops across  the river  and in an hours time had 500 men on the other side of  the river.        

            To  complicate things the air had turned very cold  and  it was  creating severe difficulties for the men. One of the men  of  the Seventh described the scene of the camp during the morning of  the 10th of November as follows: "The severe frost of the night did much mischief  in the  wet  socks of the soldiers while sleeping in the open air. It was amusing , in the latter part of the night, to see men racing about in camp at double quick to prevent their feet from freezing to the ground.

            In preparation for the campaign the regiment was allotted only four days rations and very little camp equipage. It was determined that the men would be gone a few short days and General Floyd would be pushed out of the Kanawha Valley. No one had envisioned the weather turning as bad so quickly, this, with the lack of tents and other necessities brought severe hardships to the men.

            Rosecrans, on the 10th, issued orders for Benham to  advance  on the right of the enemy, General Schenk to advance on the left,  and Cox was to move into position to strike them from the  front,  which  would be from the north. Colonel Devillers, with the  11th  Ohio,  crossed the New River above its mouth into the Gauley  and  moved  to a flank position of the enemy. Cox moved to the top  of  Cotton Hill with his command and could see Floyd retreating  down  the Fayette Pike without any resistance. General Benham's command  was nowhere to be seen.  If we trace the footsteps of the Seventh  we can see what indeed happened with Benham's brigade and some  of  the reasons behind his decisions, and why he was so tardy in his pursuit of Floyd.

            On the 12th of November the regiment was ordered forward  to  Cassidy's  Mill. The mill was located east and a little south  of  their  present location. Their journey would  be  short but because of the extremely hazardous terrain it would not  be easy. Shortly after daylight the regiment began their move  up  the mountain taking an old bridle pathway and following it to the  top.  As Colonel Creighton reached the top he peered down on  the  troops which were following and could see a mile long snake  like  appearance of the troops winding in and out along the bridle path  behind him. The single line formation continued as the men  began  the  descent on the other side of the mountain, it also  being  a  very trying trip for the hungry and cold men. 

            Cassidy's Mill  was reached about 10 pm that evening and Colonel Creighton immediately posted his pickets and sent the scouts out to scour the area and check the position of the enemy. Lewis R. Davis of Company A, Edwin Hart of Company D, and Joseph E. Clarke of Company E scouted the area closest to Floyds camp and were nearly captured on several different occasions. It had been a long and very arduous trip for the men and it took its toll. The weather was still very unfavorable. The rains continued to fall throughout the day and evening making any movement by the men very difficult. 

            General Benham decided to send the Seventh to Cassidy's Mill  because of the terrible condition of New River and the unlikeness of General Schenks ability to cross with his command. The original plans would now have to be altered to suit the weather. Controversy abounds over the next several steps in General Benhams movements. He ordered the detachments of the 44th and 37th Ohio regiments to leave the Seventh at Cassidy's Mills and proceed to join him at the base of Cotton Hill near Hershbergers farm. This movement left the Seventh, all 430 of them, only three miles from the entire Rebel force under General Floyds command. The Seventh was so close that they could here the bugle calls in Floyd's camp. Had General Benhams force been at the same location as the Seventh was, he surely could have done irreparable damage to Floyds forces. This not being the case, they allowed General Floyd and his entire command, at 2:30 am on the morning of the 13th, to effect his escape moving down the Raleigh Road south out of the Kanawha Valley.                 

            General Floyd's scouts must have seen what was about to transpire and directed the General to remove his forces from such a vulnerable position. When the Rebels left they destroyed nearly all of their camp equipment and left many wagons burning in their hasty retreat. When the Seventh arrived at the deserted Rebel camp, Dickersons's farm, evidence of their eagerness to get out was everywhere. The fences were lined with carcasses of cattle that were to be food for the army. In some cases the beef was still intact on the carcass.

            The Seventh joined the rest of General Benham's forces  here  at Dickersons's farm at about 11 pm on November the 13th. At midnight the forces under Benham began the pursuit of Floyds men. They reached Fayetteville about 1:30 pm. Still in the pursuit, Benhams' men reached Hawkins farm at about 4 am on the following morning. Hawkins farm  is located approximately 5 miles south of Fayetteville on the Raleigh Pike and the men halted to eat their breakfast here- two army crackers per man     

            The chase continued and at noon on the 14th the regiment arrived northwest of McCoy's Mill, here the forces under Floyd decided to make a stand, or at least hold Benhams forces while the remainder of his troops got off safely. About this same time the 13th Ohio overtook the rear guard of the Rebels. Here a sharp encounter occurred which resulted in the mortal wounding of George Croghan, Colonel of the 2nd Georgia Cavalry and formerly of the United States Army. The Colonel had been taken to one of the nearby homes and left there to die in peace. When General Benham appeared on the scene he was informed of the injured Colonel nearby. Not knowing who the Colonel was he went to try to get further information from him. To his astonishment he discovered Colonel Croghan, a former classmate at West Point. Trying to comfort him as best as possible, the Colonel confided to General Benham that he was against the war and was politically forced into taking the command and that he missed the Old Flag tremendously. He died not long afterward with General Benham by his side.

            The Seventh was held in reserve initially but this, however, did not last long. At about 1 o'clock the Seventh, headed by Colonel Creighton, was ordered to perform a flank attack upon the forces under Floyd. Companies A and K were in the front while the attack was taking place. Just west of McCoys Mill is a small ridge by which Colonel Creighton and the Seventh passed behind, and then over, thereby completely surprising Floyds troops. The surprise was complete and the regiment opened with two pieces of rifled artillery upon the Rebels. This caused great confusion among the Confederates, and being flanked gave them no alternative but to fall back. When the Seventh saw the retreat they immediately pursued at close range, close enough to here the Rebel bugler signaling the retreat. At this point the fight became a rout and as the enemy retired they discarded everything that might impede their plight.    

            The forces under General Benham continued their pursuit. Shortly after passing through McCoys Mill a small stream whose banks are exceptionally steep for its size was encountered. Within the stream could be seen the remnants of many wagons, full of gear, and also some cannon strewn about on the bottom as the Rebels continued to retreat in total disarray.

            The chase continued relentlessly onward. Floyds troops  were  in a disastrous situation, they must now continue to run or  face  capture  by the Union forces. Their retreat was hampered  by  the  road conditions which by now were almost impassable. If they stopped for anything General Floyd knew his forces would be destroyed. However, due to the Unions inept leadership, General Floyd was allowed to retire without further molestation.      

            General Schenk arrived at the scene, Kenton's farm, three miles east of McCoys Mill, and ordered a halt in the pursuit. Therefore, at 11 pm on the evening of the 14th of November General Benhams forces ceased the pursuit and began their return to Gauley Bridge. After all the work the men had put forth to route the enemy they were told to retire.

            After much discussion with the men the decision was made  to  return  at once and not wait until morning. There was nowhere  to  bunk down for the night because they were already soaked from the  continuous rains of the passed few days. The troops were very disappointed that they were not allowed to finish off the task they had been given.     

            General Benhams report, on the return of his forces after the pursuit was halted, illustrated the horrid conditions that the men had faced :

            "As the men were still, or more than nine tenths of them, without shelter in a most drenching rain or succession of violent thunder storms, many without blankets, which had been thrown off during the ardor of the chase, and as they were still standing around their fires, unable to sleep in the rain, upon the open ground, the greater part of the command, though most unwilling to give up the pursuit, felt that if we were so ordered that it would be best for themselves, after a few hours halt (it could not be called rest), to retrace their steps that very night rather than remain standing in the cold and wet until morning, with only the prospect of their return. We accordingly commenced our return (from Kentons farm, 15 miles out from Fayetteville, on the road  to Raleigh) soon after 1 o'clock am, reaching  McCoys Mill about 4 o'clock am, we rested until about 6 am of the 15th, when we moved onward, and with a single halt reached this place, Fayetteville, soon after noon, being still in excellent spirits, their main disappointment being in not having been permitted to continue the pursuit of the Rebels. We are at this hour partly in houses, but a great number are out in the open air in the village, where it is now snowing upon them, which, added to their great exposure, will, I fear, half annihilate their effective strength.

            “I have now but to report the noble conduct of the forces during this most toilsome march, where through all their great exposure in the storm, upon the route, and in bivouac, without shelter against the rain or snow that fell in each of the last three nights, not a murmur was heard by me, but every duty was performed with great cheerfulness and alacrity, and the principal officers of the command were worthy of the men they lead.  

            “Colonel Creighton of the Seventh Ohio, executed the maneuver from our right flank which decided the rout at McCoys Mill, in the most gallant style.

            In the morning they were to march to Gauley Bridge were they  would  board  steamers that would take them back  to  Charleston.  That night, the 16th of November, after marching continuously for  several days, they threw themselves upon the ground, wet  clothes  and all. When they awakened in the morning they found  themselves  with  a  blanket provided by mother nature of about 4  inches  of  snow.  Many of the men's wet clothes were actually frozen  to  the  turf, making it very difficult to free themselves from the ground.        

            General  Rosecrans submitted a report to  General  McClellan  discussing  the operation around Cotton Hill. Portions  of  which  follow:

             November 25th, 1861

            ....."One of the plans for capturing Floyd failed on account  of the high water, the other, while it was successful in  driving  them from this part of the country, failed to capture and destroy  their force for want of vigorous and energetic execution of plans  confided to General Benham."

            ....."It has been with great regret that I have to censure a  general  officer for the failure to capture the rebel forces  who  were justly ours."      

                  On November 29th, 1861 General Rosecrans sent the  following  dispatch to General L. Thomas in Washington D. C.:     

                 "On the 26th instant I found it necessary to arrest  General  H. W. Benham for unofficer like neglect of duty. He applied  for  a  leave of absence on a medical certificate, with permission  to  visit a city, and has gone to New York."   

            General Floyds forces never again returned to the Valley  of  the Kanawha. They continued their flight to Raleigh where they set up camp for the winter and remained until the following spring.  Lee's entire campaign  in  Western Virginia was regarded by many as being a total failure, was  ordered to Charleston, South Carolina to become commander of the installation there.      

            On the 17th of November the regiment crossed the Gauley River and boarded the steamer Marmora which transported them back to Charleston where they rejoined the rest of the Seventh.


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