1861 CIVIL WAR SKIRMISH AT BIG BEND, ALLEGEDLY 30 REBELS DEAD - Conflicting Reports Of Bloodshed, Expedition To Calhoun

Wheeling Daily Intelligencer October 17, 1861

EXPEDITION INTO CALHOUN CO. - A Vindication of Virginia Volunteers.

CAMP FLAT WOODS, BRAXTON CO. VA. - September 30, 1861.

Editors Intelligencer:

On the 30th day of last August, Companies B, E. and K. Capt. Shuttleworth, Phillips and Hall, of the 3d Va. Regiment, and two companies of the 5th Ohio Regiment, Lieut. Col. Thompson of the 3d Va. Regiment, commanding, left Ellenbour on the N. W. Va. R. R., with orders to make a forced march for the relief of some Union troops surrounded by a large force of rebels at or near Spencer in Roane county.

This detachment underwent hardships and braved dangers which deserve to be chronicled, among the other exploits of the war. Nevertheless, I would not at this late day, undertake the task, only that certain officers of the Ohio companies have published accounts arrogating to themselves whatever honor may have been attached to the expedition, and (in private conversation at least) giving utterance to sentiments derogatory to the bravery and efficiency of the Virginia troops.

I shall say nothing about this very ungenerous conduct, but only give a short truthful history of the expedition, and leave your readers to judge the rest.

Upon our arrival at Brooksville, (the former county seat of Calhoun) situated on the Little Kanawha river, we learned that the rebels had been routed from Spencer by Major Slemmer's command, and that they had divided into guerrilla parties, and fallen back into Calhoun county to harass our march.

We knew nothing definite as to their number or position, so that a halt was ordered to enable us to get information. The men had slept but little for two days and nights, and being very much fatigued from hard marching, and having no tents with us, spread their blankets out along the river bank in the shade, and were soon sound asleep.

In about an hour we were roused by the keen, quick reports of innumerable rifles on the hill-sides around us; not an enemy could be seen. At short intervals the blue smoke could be seen to ascend from behind some distant rock or tree - an instant more and the ball would cut branches of leaves from the bushes along the river bank where our men were standing, or drop harmlessly in our midst.

We were in total ignorance as to the number of the enemy, but the command to advance was given, and our men were soon clambering up the steep hill-sides with yells which resounded through the forest like Indian war whoops. Long before sundown we had driven the enemy back, and our scouts and pickets had full possession of every hill in the neighborhood.

Five of the rebels were killed and several wounded. We captured some good rifles, and also two horses which we found hitched in the woods. Strange to say, not one of our men was hurt.

The next skirmish took place the following Tuesday night, in the Big Bend of the Kanawha, about three miles from Brooksville, where a party of our detachment, mostly from Virginia companies, completely routed a large force of rebels who had taken position in three log houses and among overhanging rocks on both sides of the road, which at that point winds its way along a deep, narrow, rocky ravine.

On our right a high bluff which rose directly from the roadside, and on our left a descent of 20 to 30 feet rendered it impossible to make a flank movement. Nevertheless our men, after exchanging a volley or two with the enemy, rushed boldly forward and drove them back in the wildest confusion. They took refuge among the rocks and trees, and aided by the darkness of the night, succeeded in making their escape.

Five of them were found dead, but the number of wounded could not be ascertained, as many were carried away. A number of rifles were also captured. Gilroy G. Roan, a member of Co. B, 3d Va. Reg't, was badly wounded in the leg. We had no others hurt.

After the fight the two Ohio companies deserted us and returned to Parkersburg. We were thus left with but three companies, numbering only about 200 men, in a country overrun with armed brigands and desperadoes.

We had to detach one company to guard our provision train to and from the railroad, but out of the remaining two scouting parties were sent forth day after day and night after night to hunt up the hidden retreats of the enemy, which they did with remarkable success. But it is unnecessary to give the particulars of each.

During our stay in Calhoun county, about thirty rebels were killed and a number wounded. Seventy-one prisoners were taken, who were released upon taking the oath, on account of their extreme ignorance. Out of the seventy-one, only thirty could subscribe their names to the oath.

I doubt if they can read; I know many of them cannot. Would it not be a good idea to add to the oath "to support the Constitution of the United States as the supreme law of the land," &c., a clause requiring those to whom the oath is administered to read or hear read that Constitution?

Our loss in this expedition was Lieutenant McClaskey, of Ritchie county, killed, and four privates wounded - all belonging to the Virginia companies. Not a single Ohioan was hurt, and yet they claim to have done all the fighting.

Lieut. McClaskey was a good officer, and a bold, fearless man. On the 5th inst., in a skirmish with a large party of guerrillas, a rifle ball passed through his body, inflicting a fatal wound. After being wounded, he loaded and fired a musket several times, cheering on the men by his heroic example.

But when the fight was over, and the excitement had passed away, he sank down by the road side completely exhausted. We procured a trubdle bed, upon which, with much difficulty, we succeeded in carrying him to the mouth of the West Fork of the Little Kanawha (Creston) - a distance of eight miles - where he died early the following morning.

Had he lived, he doubtless would have left his record upon a brighter page of his country's history. As it was, he expressed his willingness to die, only regretting that he had fallen by the hands of men who were too cowardly to fight, except from behind rocks and trees.

In conclusion, I will add that everything is quiet now in Calhoun, and that the masses are almost unanimously in favor of the new Government.

Lieutenant Colonel Thompson took much pains to explain the matter to them, as they were in complete ignorance, and he deserves as much credit for his patience and forbearance in doing so, as he does for the able manner in which he conducted the expedition. He spent about two years fighting the Indians in Oregon, and consequently knows how to conduct an expedition against Guerrillas and Bushwhackers.

General Rosecrans ordered us to this point, so as to be ready to march into Webster county and put things to rights there. That county is at present overrun with armed rebels, who are cutting a pretty high dash - stealing horses, shooting down Union men, &c. But "wo unto them that laugh now, for the time will come when they shall weep and mourn!"

In consequence of the desertion of the two Ohio companies, we cannot advance until we are reinforced. I will give you the result in due time.

L. A. M.

Wheeling Daily Intelligencer - October 30, 1861

THE EXPEDITION TO CALHOUN COUNTY - The part Mutually Played in it by the Ohio and Virginia Boys - Reply to the Account of one of our Correspondents.

CLARKSBURG, VA., Oct. 24, 1861.

Editors Intelligencer:

In your paper of the 17th of the month, appeared communication, headed a vindication of Virginia volunteers, signed L. A. M. the writer of which has fallen into several grave errors, and is guilty of making some unnecessary misstatements.

L. A. M. pretends to give a correct statement of the expedition to Calhoun county, but he falls into so many errors that a person who knew any thing about this affair would suppose he wrote merely from hearsay instead of personal knowledge, I cannot imagine what reasons he can have for calling his communication "A Vindication of Virginia Volunteers," as no one has as yet slandered them, neither has any Ohio officer claimed the honor that may be attached to this expedition.

Therefore I consider his communication not as a "vindication of Virginia volunteers," but as a causeless and unnecessary attack upon the two Ohio companies engaged in that enterprise.

The companies of the Fifth Ohio Regiment alluded to were H and K, and were under the immediate command of Maj. Gaskell of the Fifth. These with the detachments of the Virginia companies made the force under Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson between 300 and 400 strong.

We arrived at Brooksville Sept. 2 I believe.

Here we were halted, it was said for a few hours to rest and get something to eat. While some were preparing the food, others spread their blankets for a nap, while some embraced the opportunity to bottom their feet.

While we were engaged in these occupations, a few shots were fired from across the Little Kanawha - some three or four perhaps - one of them striking a tree against which corporal E. T. Armstead, of Company K, Fifth Ohio Regiment, was leaning.

One or two others had, perhaps, equally narrow escapes. As soon as the shots were fired, one or two of the Virginia companies seized their guns and fired volley after volley into the woods, at the trees I suppose, thereby doing terrible execution among the aforesaid trees and Uncle Sam's ammunition.

In this battle (?) the Ohio companies had not the honor to participate. This is the only engagement in which they did not have a hand. As soon as this battle was over, the Lieutenant-Colonel ordered us to fall into line, and we marched up the river. We had not gone far before a few more shots were fired at us from across the stream.

We were then halted, and detachments of five or ten from each company, under Lieut. McCasky, were sent over. They soon routed the enemy, and returned with a few guns, two horses and two prisoners. They did not know whether they had killed any one or not, but the supposition was that "somebody was hurt."

This was the great battle in which L. A. M. heard "innumerable rifles." I heard not more than twenty-five at most. After this little affair, we were ordered right about, and having again arrived at Brooksville, we took possession of the old Court House, and stationed pickets all around the place, but not a rebel was seen that night.

On Monday night, volunteers for a scouting party, under Lieut. Hefferman, of Co. K, 5th Reg't O. V., were called for. I happened to be one of this party. This expedition, according to L. A. M., was composed chiefly of Virginians.

Now the facts were these: There were 16 of Co. K and 17 of Co. H. There were 52 all told. Add 16 and 17, and subtract the amount, and you have the number of Virginians.

The road, instead of winding along a deep, narrow, rocky ravine, winds along the side of a hill, with a hill to our right, and a descent of ten or ten or [sic] fifteen feet on our left. We were fired upon just as we got to the top of the hill, where stood three log cabins.

The enemy had laid their plans well, but were too cowardly to put them into execution, and after giving us one round, they ran. Some fifteen or twenty shots were fired in return by our party, and we advanced without any further hindrance.

None were wounded on our side in this engagement. G. W. Phillips, of Co. K, 5th O. V., had a bullet hole through his hat, and Lieut. Hefferman found himself pretty well sprinkled with squirrel shot, but no damage was done.

From the statements made by a prisoner, the enemy was waiting in large force at a hill a few miles beyond.

Our Lieutenant then thought best to send back to camp for reinforcements. These came and were fired upon by a solitary rebel at the Big Bend. It was thus that Gilroy G. Roan was wounded.

The fellow that fired the shot escaped and the two detachments joining, marched on but were disappointed and had to go back without further meeting the enemy.

On our return we found one rebel dead at the Big Bend. This expedition throughout was under the command of Lieut. Hefferman.

L. A. M. says that after this the two Ohio companies deserted them. Here his treacherous memory again leads him into a mistake, for the Ohio boys did not leave till the Sunday after.

A day or two after the Big Bend affair the expedition to the West Fork was undertaken. In this, detachments of all the companies in camp took part and the whole was placed under command of Major Gaskell. All the Ohio officers, the Major included, carried Enfield Rifles. Lieut. McCloskey also carried a gun. After he was struck he fired his musket once and walked some three hundred yards.

Malone, of Co. K, 3d Va. Reg't, was also wounded in this affair, but not seriously. After they were wounded Wm. L. Givens, of Co. K, 5th Reg't O. V., took off his shirt and bound up their wounds.

The bed upon which McClosky was carried was taken from the house of one Connelly, a secessionist, and the task of carrying him was cheerfully shared by all the boys, Ohioans as well as Virginians.

Lieuts. Smith and Hefferman took their turns as well as any of the boys. And still this fellow, L. A. M., insinuates that the Ohio companies were not there. L. A. M. must have a queer sort of a memory and a strange pair of eyes.

The number of killed and wounded multiplied amazingly in his sight, and the Ohio troops were in Parkersburg at this time, according to his recollection.

What a wonderful man he must be to associate with men for ten days, and be commanded by officers on at least two expeditions, and then forget the time of their departure. Verily, he has "eyes that see not, and ears that hear not."

Oh, what a military commander does he make of Thompson, who, having a body [of] troops under his command, allows them (according to L. A. M.'s story) to pack up and desert him at the very time of need. L. A. M.'s memory is still more heedless in regard to the remembrance of another fact, for it tells him nothing of Co. K, 3d Virginia regiment, Capt. Hall, leaving the same time that the Ohio companies left.

These three companies arrived at Harrisville together, and there participated in the sad and solemn duty of paying their last respects to the remains of the brave McCloskey. After our arrival at Parkersburg we were ordered to this port, where we again met Co. K, 3d Virginia, and they greeted us as comrades and friends. This company, which had sustained the greatest loss on our side, was well satisfied with the part the Ohio boys bore.

I do not know who L. A. M. is, and I do not wish to, as long as he has such a treacherous memory. The man remembers nothing that is true, and he is too clumsy to make a good writer of fictions.

Yours, truly,
Co. K, 5th Regiment O.V.