Albert G. Jenkins
History Behind the battle of Cloyd's Mountain
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, when planning his offensive of 1864, wanted to put as much pressure on the Confederates as possible, and in as many places as possible. Gen. George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac would strike Gen. Robert E. Lee while Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler advanced on Richmond, and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman advanced on Atlanta while Banks made a foray up the Red River. In Virginia, Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, with 6,000 men, would advance up the Shenandoah Valley to Staunton and take Lynchburg if possible. A small diversion would be made at Lewisburg. Brig. Gen. William Averell with 2,000 men, mostly cavalry, would raid Saltville in the southwest, 1 of only 2 salt producers in the Confederacy, and move east, raiding the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad and the lead mines near Wytheville. He would link up with his superior, Brig. Gen. George Crook with 6,000 men, who would raid the railroad bridge over the New River at Central Depot, now Radford. Combined, Crook and Averell would then move to Lynchburg and link up with Sigel. Operations this complex rarely work out according to plan, and this raid would be no exception.
On May 9, Crook’s three brigades (6,100 men) on a raid into southwestern Virginia encountered a patchwork Confederate force under Brig. Gen. Albert Jenkins at Cloyd’s Mountain. Fighting was furious and hand-to-hand. Casualties were heavy for the size of the forces engaged: Union 10%, Confederate 23%. Jenkins was mortally wounded. Crook afterwards joined forces with Averell, who had burned the New River Bridge, and the united column withdrew to Meadow Bluff after destroying several important railroad bridges. (NPS summary)
Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain
While they rested at Shannon’s Bridge Crook had his telegraph operator tap the wire and listen in on Confederate communications from their Dublin headquarters. The local telegrapher quickly realized that was something was amiss and sent a dinner invitation to Crook and his staff. Crook responded that the dinner engagement would have to wait until the following day when they arrived in town.
At Dublin Colonel McCausland had just finished loading his artillery onto the train that would take them to Staunton when he received Jenkins warning of Crook’s close proximity. Acting decisively McCausland ordered the train unloaded and moved to support Jenkins near Dublin. He also issued a call for all the available Home Guard units to rally to his position. At Christiansburg the call to arms was announced at church and all the male parishioners, including the pastor Reverend William Hickman, departed at once for the march to join McCausland.
At 1000 McCausland’s brigade, consisting of 36th Virginia, 60th Virginia, 45th Virginia Battalion, and Captain Thomas Bryan’s Battery, reached the base of Cloyd’s Mountain and reported to Jenkins. Also reporting was the Ringgold Battery who had been ordered back from their impending departure by McCausland. Expected reinforcements from the Saltville area included the 45th Virginia Regiment and the 5th Kentucky Cavalry. Colonel D. H. Smith loaded as many of his Kentucky troopers on a train as he could, 400 in all, but unfortunately the train derailed and they did not arrive in time.
Using the manpower that was available McCausland adjusted his lines “the best we could get for the force under my command.” After setting the defense Jenkins arrived and the two men began a “sharp dispute” about the disposition of the troops. Jenkins realigned the defense putting all of his artillery, minus one 12 lb Napoleon, west of the road leading down the mountain in a commanding position atop a small ridge. The 36th Virginia was broken up as such; Company A was to support the artillery position, a 40 man detachment was sent to the top of the mountain to act as skirmishers, and the remaining members were sent to the rear to act as a reserve. Just east of the road the 60th Virginia began digging in. On their right was the sole 12 lb gun of Lieutenant A. W. Hoge supported by 29 members of the Ringgold battery who took up muskets. Beside them were the Home Guard units, whose number included John Cloyd the property owner, and the newly arrived 45th Virginia Regiment on the extreme right. The 45th Virginia Battalion was posted slightly in back of the 45th Regiment and did not dig in. Jenkins wanted them to maintain a freedom of motion to react to any circumstance that might arise.
On the other side of the mountain Crook had begun his move toward the awaiting Confederates at 0500. Crook believed that the defense would be conducted at the top of the mountain and made his dispositions accordingly. One half of 3rd Brigade was sent directly up the road followed by 1st Brigade. White’s 2nd Brigade and the other half of 3rd Brigade were sent on a flanking movement to the left guided by contraband. As Sickel’s men neared the summit he deployed one company of the 15th West Virginia to gain the rear of the picket line. The resulting action led to two Confederate wounded and one prisoner. The skirmishers retreated down the mountain to join the main defensive line. When Crook gained the summit he conducted a reconnaissance of the Confederate position and considered his options. He was surprised at the strength of the Confederate position and remarked; “…He may whip us but I guess not.” Undaunted he formulated a plan for attacking the Confederate line. The stage was set for the very bloody sixty minutes that was about to begin.
Crook Decided to directly challenge for possession of the road and supply depot that lay behind the Confederate line by sending 1st and 3rd Brigade down the road into the teeth of the defense. Meanwhile 2nd Brigade would continue around seeking the enemy flank and rear on the left. Colonel Oley and his cavalrymen would support the artillery and form the reserve.
As the main body began its move down the road they became visible to the Confederate artillery men who took them under fire at 2500 yards. The wild fire did not cause any serious damage but pushed the column out of the danger area and down the slope with a sense of urgency. When they reached the bottom a change in elevation obscured them from direct view of the gun crews but a steady area fire was maintained. Under this fire Crook made his troop dispositions on the northern bank of Back Creek. The alignment consisted of the 15th West Virginia just west of the road, 11th West Virginia across the road, the 4th and 3rd Pennsylvania Reserves formed the middle, and the 23rd and 36th Ohio formed the left flank of the main line. As the infantry moved into position the Union artillery attempted to establish a firing point near the road to cover them but found the endeavor to be extremely dangerous. Captain Glassie moved one of his 3 inch rifles to a firing point and immediately drew the attention of the enemy gunners. The crew managed just a single shot before it was forced to retire under the accurate Confederate fire. Glassie made another effort and this piece remained long enough to fire 20 rounds before three of the crew was wounded and the gun retired.
Colonel White’s 2nd Brigade was having a difficult time maneuvering in the heavy underbrush on the left. He deployed the 14th West Virginia as guides and eventually managed to get into attack position on Jenkins right flank undetected. He formed his brigade in two lines. The front line had the 14th West Virginia on the right and the 12th Ohio on the left. In support the back line consisted of the 9th West Virginia and 91st Ohio right to left. While this deployment was developing the Federal guns were taking position under heavy fire at “the only possible place to plant artillery.” Captain James McMullin put his 1st Ohio Battery into operation once the main line was formed and fired 190 rounds in support of the attack while Glassie’s guns added “15 rounds per gun” to the cannonade.
At 1100 the Federal assault began with an attack on the Confederate right. The 14th West Virginia and 12th Ohio attacked the 45th Virginia Regiment from their position in the tree line. Colonel William Browne of the 45th expertly moved his men and a portion of the reserve to meet and repulse the assault. On the far right of the Union line Colonel Sickel reacted prematurely to the sound of guns and splashed across the creek without waiting for Hayes to get into final attack position. This assault was also stopped by the combined weight of fire from the 60th Virginia and the nearby artillery firing canister. With the success of the overall Union plan in jeopardy Hayes rushed his command forward to reenergize the attack. They dispatched the Home Guard and began flowing into the 60th Virginia's works. A terrifying hand to hand struggle ensued for control of the position. The 36th Virginia left their reserve position to the bolster the main line but were called back when the 15th West Virginia left their reserve position on the Federal right to attack the Confederate artillery position. Confused by the conflicting orders the 36th fell back precipitating a complete collapse of the Confederate line.
On the Confederate right Jenkins, evaluating the early repulse of the Federal attack as an opportunity for victory, ordered an attack by the 45th Virginia Battalion from their reserve position. The attack was devastated by fire from the 9th West Virginia and 91st Ohio. The emboldened Union troops then counter-attacked and gained the main line of the 45th Virginia Regiment. Less than thirty minutes of brutal close in combat settled the issue. The entire Confederate line dissolved. Jenkins fell wounded and McCausland saved a complete disaster with a skillful holding action while the artillery and remaining infantry made good their escape. Crook bemoaned the lack of cavalry which he thought would have completely destroyed the Confederate forces. Apparently he had no confidence in Oley and his troopers to accomplish anything in this fashion.
The one hour fight left 1226 casualties on the field including Reverend Hickman, who would later die of his wounds. The Federals suffered the attacker’s bulk of the casualties with 688 but exacted a horrible 23% casualty rate on the defenders. Jenkins would die after the amputation arm of his arm and the depot at Dublin was destroyed by Crook’s men.