January 27, 1927
The Pocahontas Times
Lee had not seen any of the spruce woods. His camps were all in hardwood territory where a man may walk with some degree of comfort and speed. But to take an army in the night time through the jungles of Cheat was an unheard of project. The evergreens are as thick as wheat in a field. There are great patches of laurel a bear could hardly penetrate. The dense growth of something like a hundred thousand board feet to the acre means that the ground is covered with decaying trunks. There are plants there that are called hobblerod that make a passage painful and difficult. And there are windfalls that cannot be negotiated in the night time.
And realizing that the pike was sealed, the orders were on the night of September 13 to climb the mountain and parallel the pike on both sides and silently pass over the mountains and fall in behind the enemy at White’s Top.
You will remember that after topping Back Allegheny Mountain that it is some miles across a boggy, swampy country, so covered with fir that the sun could hardly light it in the daytime, and once across that, Cheat Mountain was to be climbed.
To add to the horrors of those southern boys from a warm climate, the first snow of the winter began to fall that night and when the men got into that dank morass through which Cheat River winds its murky way, they scattered. All sense of direction was lost and the soldiers were cold and freezing, lost and bewildered. Few shots were exchanged with the enemy. It is to be supposed that a few of the soldiers would drift out that way but as it was uphill, not very many. Under circumstances like this, men throw away their arms and engage in a mad scramble to get somewhere, or else sit down under a tree and stay there until they die.
Of course the greater number found their way back to camp or to the Valley Mountain camp but it was days before the army was in shape to present a warlike front. The attack of September 14 had failed because the mountains took a hand in the business, and it was destined that these troops should not make a battlefield out of the smiling meadows near the Elkwater.
To give you some idea of how dense the growth may be in Cheat, some time ago a party of us in that difficult country came on a growth of young fir trees covering a great acreage that we estimated to grow forty-five thousand trees to the acre. The top of this forest looks as closely woven as carpet…
Last summer the new highway over Middle Mountain and Valley Mountain was being graded as Route 24, or Seneca Trail, and at one place the excavation uncovered a great army dump pile in which all sorts of war trophies were to be found, ranging from muskets to parts of cannon. This was left by Lee’s first command in the Civil War.
The only luck that the Federal forces had in 1861 was in West Virginia, and I will always believe that the mountains won that for them.
Ambrose Bierce was a Union soldier in camp at White’s Top at the time of the movement of September 14. He was a seasoned trooper having served his first three months and beginning on his second enlistment. He does not know that an attack was made or contemplated.
He says, “It was a strange country. Nine in ten of us had never seen a mountain, nor a hill, as high as a church spire, until we had crossed the Ohio River. In power upon the emotions nothing, I think, is comparable to a first sight of mountains. To a member of a plains-tribe, born and reared on the flats of Ohio or Indiana, a mountain region was a perpetual miracle. Space seemed to have taken on a new dimension; areas to have not only length and breadth, but thickness. Modern literature is full of evidence that our great-grandfathers looked upon mountains with aversion and horrors.
He was speaking of the time that he guarded a pass on the summit of Cheat Mountain through which no one wanted to go, and on a road that led from Nowhere to the southeast…
To be continued…