Battle of Cheat Mountain "Granny Lee's First Test" September 11-13, 1861
After the twin Union victories at Philippi and Rich Mountain, much of the pro-Union western Virginia was securely in federal control. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan received the credit for the victories and was called to Washington to command the Union armies in the East. The Confederacy called Gen. Robert E. Lee from his job as military advisor to President Jefferson Davis, and sent him to reclaim the territory in the rugged mountains.
At Cheat Mountain, a key position in western Virginia that controlled the traffic on the major turnpike and several mountain passes, were 2,000 Union troops under Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds. Five of the six regiments held a defensive position on the turnpike, while the remaining regiment was placed on the summit of the mountain, seven miles away. Lee assumed the personal direction of 15,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of Brig. Gen. William W. Loring, and decided to attack the Cheat Mountain position. He devised an intricate plan to take the summit while simultaneously attacking the forces on the turnpike.
On September 11, in a steady, drenching rain, part of the Confederate force made contact with Reynolds's outpost. The next morning, as the rain continued to pour down, Lee pressed his attack, but his plan was too complicated for his inexperienced troops. The surprise attack on the summit never came, and Lee's plan quickly fell apart. Captured Union soldiers convinced Lee that he was outnumbered two to one when he actually commanded six men for every one Union soldier. Meanwhile, Reynolds received reinforcements and skirmishing continued on September 13. Lee, having lost the element of surprise and knowing the federal troops held an impregnable position, withdrew his troops. Casualties in the battle were light-100 Confederate and 21 Union soldiers. Lee's failure was severely criticized. Dubbed "Granny Lee", he was shipped off to South Carolina to supervise fortifications.
Fascinating Fact: The Confederacy never regained the territory lost in western Virginia. Through an irregular and illegal process, the state of West Virginia entered the Union on June 20, 1863.
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