Robert E. Lee’s first American Civil War Battle:
In 1861 General Robert E. Lee invaded, what would become West Virginia. His green Confederate Army of the Northwest meandered through the mountains of Virginia looking for a fight. They found it at Cheat Mountain. They were disadvantaged due to continuous bad weather and steep terrain. The Cheat Mountain fortifications were at over 4000 feet above sea level.
From the diary of David Phillips of the 7th Tennessee Infantry
“September 10. By 7 o’clock in morning we were drawn up in line of battle with knapsacks and haversacks on, ready for a five-days march. Soon we were on the way to Cheat mountain. General Lee intended to attack the enemy at Cheat Pass in both front and rear, General Jackson to attack in front; our regiment and 1st and 14th regiments under General Anderson in the rear. General Donelson was to attack a camp of the enemy in our rear. In order to obtain a position in the rear we had to cross the country over our own path which we had to cut as we went.
We traveled till sundown. Stopped on the top of a hill from which a fine view could be had of the surrounding country. We ate supper and rested a while, then we moved off again. After dark it got cloudy. Had to march in little farm paths which were crossed with logs and fences so that it made our march very slow. Finally about 10 o’clock the 14th regiment got behind and lost the path. We passed on and passed down a very steep bald mountain. The clouds had thickened and it began to rain and got very dark. In passing down that mountain we had a grand time. A person after falling would get up but to fall again. It was a perfect roll down. We got down with bruised bodies, tired limbs and sleepy eyes.
Down in a little flat we were permitted to halt and lie down and sleep. We got off into the land of dreams about 12 o’clock. I had a sweet sleep till morning, felt much refreshed. The next morning we arose, ate a cold breakfast of bread and boiled beef half cooked. Strong indications of rain. Started on our march early; drizzled rain all morning. About 1 p.m. we entered a dark woods high upon the side of a mountain which towered still far above us. Had to cut our road through the undergrowth and fallen trees. Commenced raining hard directly we entered the woods. We advanced slowly. The word was passed along the line that we were on Cheat Mountain; also “Keep your powder dry.” Heard a Yankee drum while passing along. Passed along the mountain, gradually ascending till about 5 p. m., when we started down a very rough and precipitous place. Descended several hundred feet to a small fence on the mountain side; there stopped to camp. No fires allowed; everybody wet except those like myself who were fortanate enough to have an oil cloth. The rain ceased about the time we stopped. All made beds of leaves and arbors of bushes to sleep under. I made shelter of my oil cloth. Rained very hard during night. Scarcely any sleeping done, everybody and everything wet, completely wet. All of our bread and beef got wet, beef all sopoiled. Had nothing to eat but bread, made without soda or grease.
Pretty soon we were ordered to get ready to march; our wet bankets made our loads very heavy. About the time we were under a full start we were startled by a volley of musketry which seemed to be a mile or more westward from us. Soon volley after volley was heard rolling along the mountain sides in that same direction. In a short time the firing ceased and a loud yell made the woods resound which announced to us that somebody was whipped. We heard nothing more from that side all day. The air was chilly that morning, especially to us who were wet. We were halted and ordered to load. Some of the pieces were in a miserable condition, being wet and rusty. I think, though, mine would have fired. As soon as loaded we were ordered to march at quick time. Everybody was expecting to hear the rolling of small arms and booming of cannon constantly. Then commenced a scene of throwing away blankets, clothes and other burdensome articles, which was continued all day. We passed around the hillside for some distance and then turned our course down the precipice.
Passed down a very steep place and while making the descent near the bottom Captain Baber ordered one of his men to fire his piece if he could because he thought it too wet to explode, At the first trial it went off. Some pickets of the enemy who were stationed around the hill below where we camped heard the gun and three of them came running around to see what was to pay. There was a path along which they came which we were entering and turning to the right. The Yankees came stealing along unobserved by the line in the path. I and the files around me who were still above the path observed somebody running through the bushes and remarked about it, but supposed they were some of our men who had been on the scout. They approached in about 40 yards of our lines when two of them ran back but the third, more bold than the rest, fired at one of Captain Baber’s men, the ball taking effect in his left side, inflicting a severe wound. The assassin then fled back the road. This incident caused the command “Prime” to be sent back along the lines. We then put on caps and kept a sharp lookout in the bushes which lined the road so thick we could not see twenty yards. Nothing more happened till we got to the pike which was not more than a mile off.
We got on the pike at 8 p.m., threw off our knapsacks and everything burdensome so as to be ready for active fight. The first regiment went up the mountain to see if any of the enemy could be found, while we took position down the road to prevent reenforcements from passing up. While taking our position by companies, Col. Maney’s men got into hot work up the road. They fell into about 300 of the enemy in ambush. Pop, pop, pop, pop, went several guns and then a tremendous volley shook the mountain sides while bullets went whirling and whizzing over our heads cutting limbs and leaves off the trees and bushes over our heads. The firing continued for several minutes when the enemy were driven back at the point of bayonet. Col. Maney’s men then fell back and took position with us on the road to wait the commencement of the attack by Jackson. There we stood all shivering in the cold waiting for orders or the Yankees, we didn’t care which. Several times we thought the enemy were coming on us, but all of the reports proved to be false. Some of our boys when we first got on the road were sent down the road to see what could be found. They took a wagon with two horses, a lieutenant and six privates, and other little articles and brought them up. Later in the day our pickets took a member of a calvary company from Indiana. The other Yanks were from Ohio. They also killed a Yankee courier who fired on our boy and wounded one of Capt. Anthony’s men in the left arm. Some of the Yanks were bold enough to attack a party of negroes…”