Battle of Cloyd's Mountain

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Battle of Cloyd's Mountain
Virginia Civil War History

Civil War Battle of Cloyd's Mountain

Introduction
 
The Battle of Cloyd's Mountain was a Union victory in western Virginia in 1864 that allowed the Union forces to destroy the last railroad that connected Tennessee to Virginia. While two future U.S. presidents fought in the battle, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley, Hayes would serve as 19th President, succeeding U.S. Grant in office, and McKinley, having survived the bloodiest war in U.S. history, would serve as 25th President only to fall victim to an assassin's bullet, which would result in his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, assuming the presidency.
 
The Battle of Cloyd's Mountain was contested on May 9, 1864, at Pulaski County, Virginia. Union Brig. Gen. George Crook, commanding Kanawha Division would press the seven fight against Confederate Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins, commanding Department of Western Virginia. Union troop estimates were 6,100, and Confederate forces were numbered at 2,400. Union casualties were 688, while Confederates losses were 538.

1864 Virginia Civil War Map
Battle of Cloyd's Mountain.jpg
Battle of Cloyd's Mountain and the Saltworks Campaign

Battle of Cloyd's Mountain History Marker
Cloyd's Mountain Historical Marker.jpg
Cloyd's Mountain Historical Marker

The Battle of Cloyd's Mountain
 
Brig. Gen. Albert Jenkins decided to make a stand at Cloyd's Mountain, and set up a strong defensive position. When Brig. Gen. George Crook arrived he decided against a frontal assault, concluding that the Confederate works were too strong and such an attack would decimate his army. The surrounding area was heavily forested so Crook used this as cover and swung his brigades around to the Confederate right flank.

Crook began the battle with an artillery barrage and then advanced his brigade of green West Virginians under Colonel Carr B. White. Crook's remaining two brigades under Horatio G. Sickel and future President Rutherford B. Hayes were to launch a frontal assault as soon as the West Virginians had gotten under way. Carr's brigade, in its first fight ever, advanced to within 20 yards before heavy casualties; its exposed position forced its withdraw. Crook, moving with Hayes' Ohio brigade, had to dismount and traverse the slopes on foot because they were too steep. Still wearing his jack boots, he sank in a small stream, that his troops were crossing, and his boots filled with water. Nearby soldiers rushed back to their general and pulled him out.

Hayes' brigade spearheaded the main assault at approximately 11 a.m. The troops fought their way to the Confederate works and severe hand-to-hand fighting ensued. Sparks from the musket fire ignited the thick blanket of leaves on the ground and many men from Sickel's and Hayes' brigades were pinned down and burned alive. The two brigades began to fall back when Crook sent in two fresh regiments into Hayes' front. The West Virginians finally advanced against the cannon that had plagued them throughout the battle and overran its crew. Now, the Ohio troops began to overwhelm the Confederate center. Jenkins tried desperately to shift troops to the threatened areas, but fell mortally wounded and was captured by Union soldiers. His second-in-command, John McCausland, took command and conducted a rear-guard action as he withdrew his troops.

The Battle of Cloyd's Mountain was short and involved few troops, but contained some of the most severe and savage fighting of the war. The entire engagement lasted a little over an hour with much of it being hand-to-hand combat. Casualties were high for the modest number of troops involved. Crook lost 688 men, roughly 11% of his force. The Confederates lost fewer men—538—but that totaled 23% of their total force. The battle is considered a Union victory because Crook was able to advance and destroy the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad at Dublin, Virginia, and Averell was also able to destroy several railroad bridges along the same line, severing one of the Confederacy's last vital lifelines and its only rail connection to East Tennessee. See also Battle of Cloyd's Mountain: A History.

Sources: Kennedy, Frances H., editor, The Civil War Battlefield Guide: Second Edition (1998); Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; National Park Service.

Recommended Reading: Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign. Description: Jubal A. Early’s disastrous battles in the Shenandoah Valley ultimately resulted in his ignominious dismissal. But Early’s lesser-known summer campaign of 1864, between his raid on Washington and Phil Sheridan’s renowned fall campaign, had a significant impact on the political and military landscape of the time. By focusing on military tactics and battle history in uncovering the facts and events of these little-understood battles, Scott C. Patchan offers a new perspective on Early’s contributions to the Confederate war effort—and to Union battle plans and politicking. Patchan details the previously unexplored battles at Rutherford’s Farm and Kernstown (a pinnacle of Confederate operations in the Shenandoah Valley) and examines the campaign’s influence on President Lincoln’s reelection efforts. Continued below…

He also provides insights into the personalities, careers, and roles in Shenandoah of Confederate General John C. Breckinridge, Union general George Crook, and Union colonel James A. Mulligan, with his “fighting Irish” brigade from Chicago. Finally, Patchan reconsiders the ever-colorful and controversial Early himself, whose importance in the Confederate military pantheon this book at last makes clear. About the Author: Scott C. Patchan, a Civil War battlefield guide and historian, is the author of Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont, Virginia, and a consultant and contributing writer for Shenandoah, 1862.

Review

"The author's descriptions of the battles are very detailed, full or regimental level actions, and individual incidents. He bases the accounts on commendable research in manuscript collections, newspapers, published memoirs and regimental histories, and secondary works. The words of the participants, quoted often by the author, give the narrative an immediacy. . . . A very creditable account of a neglected period."-Jeffry D. Wert, Civil War News (Jeffry D. Wert Civil War News 20070914)

"[Shenandoah Summer] contains excellent diagrams and maps of every battle and is recommended reading for those who have a passion for books on the Civil War."-Waterline (Waterline 20070831)

"The narrative is interesting and readable, with chapters of a digestible length covering many of the battles of the campaign."-Curled Up With a Good Book (Curled Up With a Good Book 20060815)

"Shenandoah Summer provides readers with detailed combat action, colorful character portrayals, and sound strategic analysis. Patchan''s book succeeds in reminding readers that there is still plenty to write about when it comes to the American Civil War."-John Deppen, Blue & Grey Magazine (John Deppen Blue & Grey Magazine 20060508)

"Scott C. Patchan has solidified his position as the leading authority of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign with his outstanding campaign study, Shenandoah Summer. Mr. Patchan not only unearths this vital portion of the campaign, he has brought it back to life with a crisp and suspenseful narrative. His impeccable scholarship, confident analyses, spellbinding battle scenes, and wonderful character portraits will captivate even the most demanding readers. Shenandoah Summer is a must read for the Civil War aficionado as well as for students and scholars of American military history."-Gary Ecelbarger, author of "We Are in for It!": The First Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862 (Gary Ecelbarger 20060903)

"Scott Patchan has given us a definitive account of the 1864 Valley Campaign. In clear prose and vivid detail, he weaves a spellbinding narrative that bristles with detail but never loses sight of the big picture. This is a campaign narrative of the first order."-Gordon C. Rhea, author of The Battle of the Wilderness: May 5-6, 1864 (Gordon C. Rhea )

"[Scott Patchan] is a `boots-on-the-ground' historian, who works not just in archives but also in the sun and the rain and tall grass. Patchan's mastery of the topography and the battlefields of the Valley is what sets him apart and, together with his deep research, gives his analysis of the campaign an unimpeachable authority."-William J. Miller, author of Mapping for Stonewall and Great Maps of the Civil War (William J. Miller)

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Recommended Reading: Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign, by Peter Cozzens (Civil War America) (Hardcover). Description: In the spring of 1862, Federal troops under the command of General George B. McClellan launched what was to be a coordinated, two-pronged attack on Richmond in the hope of taking the Confederate capital and bringing a quick end to the Civil War. The Confederate high command tasked Stonewall Jackson with diverting critical Union resources from this drive, a mission Jackson fulfilled by repeatedly defeating much larger enemy forces. His victories elevated him to near iconic status in both the North and the South and signaled a long war ahead. One of the most intriguing and storied episodes of the Civil War, the Valley Campaign has heretofore only been related from the Confederate point of view. Continued below…

With Shenandoah 1862, Peter Cozzens dramatically and conclusively corrects this shortcoming, giving equal attention to both Union and Confederate perspectives. Based on a multitude of primary sources, Cozzens's groundbreaking work offers new interpretations of the campaign and the reasons for Jackson's success. Cozzens also demonstrates instances in which the mythology that has come to shroud the campaign has masked errors on Jackson's part. In addition, Shenandoah 1862 provides the first detailed appraisal of Union leadership in the Valley Campaign, with some surprising conclusions. Moving seamlessly between tactical details and analysis of strategic significance, Cozzens presents the first balanced, comprehensive account of a campaign that has long been romanticized but never fully understood. Includes 13 illustrations and 13 maps. About the Author: Peter Cozzens is an independent scholar and Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State. He is author or editor of nine highly acclaimed Civil War books, including The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth (from the University of North Carolina Press).

 

Recommended Reading: Lee's Endangered Left: The Civil War In Western Virginia, Spring Of 1864. From Kirkus Reviews: A competent, well-executed addition to the ever-growing horde of Civil War literature, by Duncan (History/Georgetown University). The author reconsiders Union General Ulysses S. Grants attempts to destroy the Confederates, led by General Robert E. Lee, at their traditional stronghold in western Virginia and his efforts to threaten Lynchburg during the spring and summer of 1864. Continued below…

The writing here is crisp; refreshingly, our chronicler pays sharp attention to the effects of the campaign on civilians as the Union army penetrated beyond its supply lines and came to live off the countryside in one of the Confederacy’s richest agricultural regions, bringing home the harsh realities of war to civilians. The campaign swung back and forth, with Northern victories at Cloyd's Mountain and New River Bridge and Confederate routs at New Market, followed by a Union failure to seize Lynchburg. Though the campaign proved costly to the South, overall the Unions hope to capture the Shenandoah Valley foundered and the Confederates then went on to threaten Washington, D.C. Duncan sensitively employs a wide variety of sources, military and civilian, to add to the coherence of his account. Still, the books scope remains narrow, focusing on a not terribly glamorous period in the wars history; then, too, wed do well to have the volume trimmed by a third. Duncan’s contention that the Unions severity in dealing with civilian populations was directly reciprocated when the Confederates took Chambersburg, Penn., creating a chain of vengeance that culminated when Sherman marched through the South, is insightfully argued, offering a fresh analysis to the historical debate. Casual readers of the Civil War genre (and many die-hard buffs, as well) may want to leave this superbly researched yet ultimately too specialized study for the historians to ponder. Includes 20 photographs.

 

Recommended Reading: From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864. Amazon.com Review: Virginia's Shenandoah Valley was a crucial avenue for Confederate armies intending to invade Northern states during the Civil War. Running southwest to northeast, it "pointed, like a giant's lance, at the Union's heart, Washington, D.C.," writes Jeffry Wert. It was also "the granary of the Confederacy," supplying the food for much of Virginia. Both sides long understood its strategic importance, but not until the fall of 1864 did Union troops led by Napoleon-sized cavalry General Phil Sheridan (5'3", 120 lbs.) finally seize it for good. He defeated Confederate General Jubal Early at four key battles that autumn. Continued below…

In addition to a narrative of the campaign (featuring dozens of characters, including General George Custer and future president Rutherford B. Hayes), this book is a study of command. Both Sheridan and Early were capable military leaders, though each had flaws. Sheridan tended to make mistakes before battles, Early during them. Wert considers Early the better general, but admits that few could match the real-time decision-making and leadership skills of Sheridan once the bullets started flying: "When Little Phil rode onto the battlefield, he entered his element." Early was a bold fighter, but lacked the skills necessary to make up for his disadvantage in manpower. At Cedar Creek, the climactic battle of the 1864 Shenandoah campaign, Early "executed a masterful offensive against a numerically superior opponent, only to watch it result in ruin." With more Confederate troops on the scene, history might have been different. Wert relates the facts of what actually happened with his customary clarity and insightful analysis.

 

Recommended Reading: Saltville Massacre (Civil War Campaigns and Commanders). Description: In October 1864, in the mountains of southwest Virginia, one of the most brutal acts of the Civil War occurs. Brig. Gen. Stephen Burbridge launches a raid to capture Saltville. Included among his forces is the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry. Repeated Federal attacks are repulsed by Confederate forces under the command of Gen. John S. Williams. Continued below…

As the sun begins to set, Burbridge pulls his troops from the field, leaving many wounded. In the morning, Confederate troops, including a company of ruffians under the command of Captain Champ Ferguson, advance over the battleground seeking out and killing the wounded black soldiers. What starts as a small but intense mountain battle degenerates into a no-quarter, racial massacre. A detailed account from eyewitness reports of the most blatant battlefield atrocity of the war.

 

Recommended Reading: Saltville (VA) (Images of America), by Jeffrey C. Weaver (Author), The Museum of the Middle Appalachians (Author): Description: Saltville, Virginia, lies on the banks of the North Fork of the Holston River on the border between Smyth and Washington Counties. Its history began very long ago; in fact, archeological evidence suggests extensive human habitation there for more than 14,000 years. Saltville was named because it was a source of salt,-and by the end of the 18th century, a thriving industry was born. During the Civil War, Saltville attained considerable importance to the Confederate government as a supply of salt. Continued below…

A large Confederate army garrison was maintained there, and extensive fortifications were constructed. After the Civil War, the town led the way in industrialization of the South. Flip through the pages of Images of America: Saltville to learn why Saltville is one of the most historic places in the world. About the Author: The Museum of the Middle Appalachians, located on Palmer Avenue in Saltville, was established by the Saltville Foundation in the 1990s. It has become the repository for fossils, artifacts, and photographs of the region. Author Jeffrey C. Weaver holds degrees in American history from Appalachian State University, and after serving in the U.S. Army for several years, he worked as a contracting officer for the U.S. Department of Energy. He is currently the manager of the Chilhowie Public Library.

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