With a sneak attack on Cheat Summit no longer possible, Lee began planning an assault on the Union camp at Elkwater.
On Sept. 13, he sent his son, Maj. W.H. Fitzhugh Lee, on a scouting trip to make note of Union positions in the vicinity. Accompanying him was Gen. Lee's second aide de camp, Lt. Col. John A. Washington, a great-grandnephew of the first president, who had recently sold his family's Mount Vernon estate.
From a hilltop west of the camp, the scouting party spotted a mounted federal soldier in the valley below, and made an effort to intercept and capture him for intelligence purposes. As young Lee and Washington galloped after the soldier, troops from the 17th Indiana Infantry emerged from a wooded slope and fired on them.
Maj. Lee survived having his horse shot out from under him, but Washington wasn't so lucky. Three shots pierced his body, killing him outright. Lee, who was not injured, managed to climb atop Washington's horse and escape behind Confederate lines.
Lee was deeply saddened by the death of Washington, who was a friend and a tent-mate, not to mention a relative of his wife.
On Sept. 14, after Union troops returned Washington's body, Lee called off the Cheat Mountain campaign.
While a full-out battle never materialized, casualties during the three-day encounter totaled about 80 for Union troops and 90 for Confederates.
Lee bore the brunt of the blame for the failure of the Cheat Mountain campaign, while Rust's indecision, followed by panic -- which caused the attack to fizzle -- drew no unfavorable consequences.
By Sept. 20, Lee was in the mountains along the Fayette-Greenbrier County line. There, feuding Confederate generals Wise and Floyd had refused to follow his suggestion to consolidate their troops in a single encampment, rather than in separate camps at Sewell Mountain and Meadow Bluff, 12 miles apart.
Wise was recalled to Richmond on Sept. 25, putting an end to the bickering and enabling Lee to create a single Confederate strongpoint at Big Sewell Mountain, which he believed more likely to be attacked by the Union force camped at Gauley Bridge.
In early October, federal troops approached Sewell Mountain camp, and appeared to be making preparations to attack. Lee felt confident his troops would prevail if the federals attacked his position, but did not believe he had the reserve of supplies needed to mount and maintain an offensive. Both southern and northern armies numbered about 9,000 men.
On the night of Oct. 5, Lee's lookouts heard the sounds of what they thought were Union wagons and artillery pieces being wheeled into position for attack. But when dawn broke, it turned out the noises heard during the night came from federal troops exiting the area and returning toward the Kanawha Valley.
"I wish he would have attacked us, as I believe he would have been repulsed with great loss," Lee wrote in a letter to his mother on Oct. 7. "His plan was to attack us at all points at the same time. The rumbling of his wheels, etc., was heard by our pickets, but as that was customary at night in the moving and placing of his cannon, it was [believed] to be a preparation for attack in the morning. When day appeared, the bird had flown."
In the letter, Lee vented a bit to his mother over his treatment by Southern newspapers.
"I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of the armies cannot keep pace with the expectations of the editors of papers," he wrote. "I know they can regulate matters satisfactorily to themselves on paper. I wish they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than I do and would be happy to see them have full swing."
Perhaps the best thing that happened to Lee during his time at Sewell Mountain was his introduction to the horse that would be his faithful companion through the end of the war and beyond.
Maj. Thomas Broun of Charleston, then serving in the 3rd Virginia Infantry, was riding a 4-year-old horse named Jeff Davis, which Lee admired for its rapid, springy walk, high spirits and bold carriage.
"When [Lee] first saw this horse, he took a great fancy to it," Broun said in an 1886 newspaper article. "He called it his colt, and said that he would use it before the war was over."
The horse, which Lee later renamed Traveller, had been raised in Blue Sulphur Springs, and was the blue ribbon winner at the Greenbrier County Fair in 1859 and 1860.
After Lee was recalled to Richmond and reassigned to oversee the construction of coastal defenses in South Carolina, he encountered the steed again in February 1862, near Pocotaligo, S.C. There, Broun's brother, Capt. Joseph Broun, was serving as a quartermaster in the 60th Virginia Infantry.
"Upon seeing my brother on this horse, General Lee at once recognized the horse and again inquired pleasantly about 'his' colt," Broun said. Joseph Broun offered the horse to the general as a gift, which Lee declined. Broun countered by offering to sell the horse at cost, which Lee accepted, adding $25 to the $175 asking price to make up for currency depreciation.
Lee's other enduring memento from his time in West Virginia was his trademark gray beard, grown here for the first time, and worn for the remainder of the war.
After making the ride from Meadow Bluff to Richmond during the closing days of October, Lee learned that despite his vilification in the press, Confederate President Jefferson Davis continued to have faith in his leadership abilities and tactical skills.
After Gen. Joseph Johnston was wounded in the Battle of Seven Pines on June 1, 1862, Davis put Lee in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, where he began a string of Southern victories that caused a drop in Northern morale and a turnaround in Confederate public opinion.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.