On the Bookshelf – ‘The First Campaign’

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Author Hunter Lesser has put together “Three One-Day Driving Tours” to guide Civil War buffs to sites and through history within the borders of West Virginia.

“West Virginia was the setting for the First Campaign of America’s Civil War,” he writes. “Here brothers clashed in combat amid the rugged mountains of Western Virginia in 1861. The First Campaign became a proving ground for soldiers and civilians who would shape American history.

“In these mountains, a Union army led by George McClellan battled Confederates directed by Robert E. Lee. McClellan rocketed to stardom here, while a mud-spattered “Granny” Lee left the mountains in defeat. Meanwhile, daring Unionists forged a new Virginia government. With President Lincoln’s aid, the new state of West Virginia was born.

“This guidebook offers three one-day driving tours filled with spellbinding scenery and adventure. Easy to follow directions, narrative and fun facts are your ticket to a delightful journey through these enchanted mountains.

“Historic Elkins serves as your gateway to outdoor adventure.

“Day 1 transports you back in time to a majestic covered bridge at Philppi and the first land battle of the Civil War. Relive the action at Belington, Laurel Hill and the first death of a general at Corricks Ford.

“Day 2 tracks the armies to the pivotal Battle of Rich Mountain. Antebellum homes, shops and museums beckon in Beverly, along with the drama of Robert E. Lee’s first command at Elkwater, Mingo Flats and Valley Mountain near Snowshoe Resort.

“On Day 3, trace the historic Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike into the Alleghenies. Explore the wilds of Cheat Summit Fort, and the bucolic battlefield at Camp Bartow, as your tour comes to a climax on the haunting heights of Camp Allegheny.”

In Lessor’s book, stop #7 is at Camp Allegheny’s Winter Quarters:

“In this field, Confederate soldiers built cabins for winter quarters during 1861 -62. The stone mounds are the collapsed chimneys from those log shanties. Outlines of the cabins are still visible in the sod.

“Well, sis, we are into winter quarters at last,” penned a member of the 12th Georgia Infantry stationed here on November 28, 1861, “16 men crowded into one little hut – 16 ft. by 16 ft. – one small fireplace to cook, eat and warm around, and the weather cold, bitter cold, snow all over the ground and a difficult matter to get wood.”

During the battle at Camp Allegheny, Union and Confederate troops fought at close quarters among these structures. One Yankee was shot down upon leaving a cabin with stolen bread. A rebel who witnessed the act later offered him water and a knapsack for a pillow.

The winter of 1861-62 was bitterly cold in these mountains. Members of the Army of the Northwest suffered terribly at this high altitude post. Frostbite was a common foe.

“I have seen ice on the barrels of our guns one fourth of an inch thick; I have seen the stoutest men of our regiment wrenching their hands and shedding tears from cold, in short, it’s almost a matter of impossibility to describe the suffering of the soldiers on the Allegheny Mountain” – Parson Parker, 12th Georgia Infantry.

Cold as the North Pole

Arctic blasts pummeled this exposed encampment. Fierce winds drove smoke down the rude chimneys  and sifted snow through clapboard roofs. Long winter days and nights in these shanties were passed with reading, music and preaching – or with smuggled whiskey and gambling.

“Men are drunk as usual,” wrote a disgusted Confederate in January 1862. “Decent men must endure it – there is no escape…”

By spring 1862, the survivors of this encampment were hardy veterans – along with the frostbitten Federals on Cheat Mountain. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice remain buried here in unmarked graves. Please honor them! Lessor writes.

“Sickness is more to be dreaded by far in the army than the bullets. No bravery can achieve anything against it. The soldier may sicken and die, without receiving any attention but from the rough hands of his fellow soldiers.” – James Hall, 31st Virginia Infantry.

Camp Allegheny is amazingly well preserved. Please help protect it.

A limited number of copies of Hunter Lesser’s book, The First Campaign – A Guide to Civil War in the Mountains of West Virginia, 1861, are available at The Pocahontas Times, 206 Eighth Street, Marlinton, WV 24954.

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