The following is Part I in a series of articles written in 1993 and published in this “Looking Back with Lloyd Mathews” section of The Southwest Times. The series, entitled The Battle of Cloyd’s Farm and the Skirmish at New River Bridge May Ninth and Tenth, 1864: A series of newspaper articles written about the only Civil War action taking place in Pulaski County, Virginia, will be re-published this winter to commemorate the anniversary of this important battle.
In this the 150th Anniversary year since the battle, the Pulaski Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, the New River Rifles and the 1st Stuart Artillery are honored to invite you to living history and reenactments on the actual battlefield, April 5th and 6th, 2014. For information: HYPERLINK “http://www.battleofcloydsmtn.org/”www.battleofcloydsmtn.org
The Virginia Civil War History Mobile will be located at the New River Valley Fair Grounds on April 4th and 5th, with the 4th being a day for the local schools. Event parking will be at the fairgrounds, and there will be bus transportation to the battlefield. Bus tours of the local historical sites will be available on Saturday the 5th from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m.
Part I: The Battle of Cloyd’s Farm
On May 2, 1864, the Union Army commenced a Civil War campaign that they called Expeditions against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. The terrible Civil War was in its fourth year, and Pulaski County had thus far escaped any actual conflict on its own soil. Before the end of the 19-day campaign, war would finally come to the county in a very real and bloody way.
A substantial number of northern troops were assembled on the Kanawha River in West Virginia, and by the time General George Crook’s army left that area on May 2, word had already reached Confederate Headquarters in Dublin, and leaders were preparing for an attack.
On May 3, a message from Confederate General John Echols was received at the headquarters of General John C. Bredkenridge, the commander of Confederate forces in southwestern Virginia. It read in part:
“My two best scouts are just directly in from Averell’s headquarters on the Kanawha… This force is called the right wing of Grant’s Army. Their intention as expressed is to strike the salt works and New River Bridge…. There is no mistake about this information…. They are expected to move very soon.”
On May 4, General Breckenridge in Dublin received the following message from Confederate General John McCausland: “Two soldiers from the 23rd Virginia Battalion have just come through from Kanawha. I know them to be reliable men. They report seven regiments on Kanawha and that they will move this way about the 10th of May.”
With so much advance notice, one is made to wonder why the Confederate Army was not better prepared when the enemy came down off the mountain onto Cloyd’s Farm in Pulaski County on the morning of May 9.
One answer to that question is the fact that by this time in the war, Confederate troops were spread over such a large area that they were just too few in number and too short on equipment and supplies to fight a battle of any magnitude. It is my opinion from what I have read that about all the Confederates had for the Battle of Cloyd’s Farm was a tremendous amount of verve, great bravery, and not enough fire power to meet the well-equipped enemy with superior numbers. One Confederate officer told about his men leaving on the night before and moving directly to the field of battle without having a meal.
Dozens of telegraph messages sent in and out of General Breckenridge’s headquarters in Dublin tell the story of desperate movements of troops to expected points of attack. There just weren’t enough of them to be at all the places they were needed.
May 9, 1864, brought few surprises. Greatly outnumbered Confederate soldiers met the northern forces in the Battle of Cloyd’s Farm in what has been described as one of the most fierce and bloody battles in the entire Civil War, and were defeated.
For the next few weeks I will attempt to present the story of the only battle fought on Pulaski County soil from the pens of some of those from both sides, who witnessed it and fought it, and lived in its midst.
Very little has been written about how the civilian population fared, but a few stories have survived in print.
There will be copies of several letters describing conditions here, and some of the heartache and pain experienced by local people, as well as reports turned in by various officers, telling the story from their points of view.
It is not my intention to continue fanning the embers of such a tragic event, but it is a part of our history about which very little hometown dialogue has been recorded. I hope this will give us a better understanding of what went on in the minds and lives of the people who experienced it.