This post is the latest in Zac Cowsert’s series “The Civil War in the Press,” which explores the interactions between soldiers and civilians, politics and the press throughout the Civil War. You can read other posts in the series here.
On August 22, 1862, Confederate cavalry dashed into the Union supply depot at Catlett’s Station, Virginia, capturing a small number of Union soldiers and a vast amount of Union supplies. Included in the spoils of war were the personal belongings of Union Major-General John Pope, commanding U.S. forces in northern Virginia. Aside from capturing the general’s uniform, horses, and money, the Confederate cavaliers also uncovered a “dispatch-book of General Pope, which contained information of great importance to us, throwing light upon the strength, movements, and designs of the enemy.”
The captured dispatch book quickly made its way to Confederate authorities in Richmond, who promptly utilized the information to their advantage. On August 29, Confederate Secretary of War George Randolph penned a note to Major-General William Wing Loring. Randolph informed Loring that “Pope’s letter-book has been captured,” and the Union forces in the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia were being shifted elsewhere. Seeing an opportunity, Secretary Randolph ordered General Loring to “Clear the valley of the Kanawha and operate northwardly to a junction with our army in the valley.” As Robert E. Lee prepared to invade Maryland, destined for the banks of Antietam Creek, William Loring was likewise set to invade West Virginia.
On September 6, Loring’s forces set out on their expedition. Over the next week, the Confederate army of some 5,000—including many Virginians who hailed from the western region of their state—fought a series of engagements with their Union foes, culminating in a battle for the town of Charleston on September 13. “Capturing the town after a stout resistance from the enemy,” General Loring occupied the town of Charleston and secured the surrounding region.
The fall of Charleston provided an opportunity for pro-Confederate sentiments to reemerge in the public sphere. Within two weeks of the Rebel army’s appearance, the pro-Confederate newspaper The Guerilla began circulating the streets of the town. Published daily by “Associate Printers” for the duration of the short-lived Confederate occupation, the two extant copies of the Guerilla shed light on the nature of the Civil War in West Virginia and the short-lived Confederate occupation of the Kanawha River Valley.
Proclaiming itself “Devoted to Southern Rights and Institutions,” The Guerilla served as a trumpet for Confederate occupiers, and its pages contained articles attesting to the desire of Confederates—many of whom were Virginians native to the region—to be seen as liberators, not occupiers. Moreover, the appearance of the Confederate army within the region temporarily stymied Union attempts to create a new state of West Virginia. In a proclamation published in the paper’s pages, General Loring declared the army’s desire “to rescue the people from the despotism of the counterfeit State Government imposed upon you by Northern bayonets, and to restore the country once more to its natural allegiance to the State. We fight for peace and the possession of our own territory…” Other articles urged local merchants to open their stores to the Confederate soldiers, and to likewise set aside their “scruples about taking Confederate money.” Unionist Virginians were encouraged to embrace their Confederate counterparts.
Although some Virginians did welcome the return of Confederate authorities, republished reports from Ohio newspapers in The Guerilla attest to the flood of Unionists who fled into Ohio in the face of the Confederate invasion. Unionists abandoned their homes and livestock in search of refuge. Hundreds of African-Americans also fled west “in the effort to elude the rebel advent, which they have learned to dread greatly.” Many African-Americans scraped together makeshift rafts and sailed up the Kanawha to the Ohio River; one black refugee claimed “that he came down the Kanawha fifty miles on a log, but that he would rather drown that remain with his master, who is in Loring’s army and is expected home in a few days.” For some, the return of Confederate forces was a homecoming; for others, it proved a nightmare from which to escape.
While Confederates—especially those Virginians in gray—desired to liberate western Virginia from Union control, The Guerilla’s articles also shed light on more strategic motivations for the Confederate invasion. By returning to the populated Kanawha Valley, it was hoped that fresh recruits could help fill the Confederacy’s depleting ranks. Advertisements heralded the creation of a new six-gun artillery battery and promised recruits service “full of exciting incident. No half-sleep men need apply!” Rebel advertisements also sought the services of teamsters to help transport Confederate supplies.
As the Confederacy sought recruits to man its guns and drive it wagons, it also sought the ability to feed them. Critical to the sustenance of Confederate armies was salt, which preserved meat and allowed for its transportation and consumption over long distances and periods of time. The Kanawha Valley was one of the largest salt-producing regions in the antebellum United States, which helped induce Confederate forces to invade the region in 1862. The Guerilla urged salt-owners to meet and coordinate with each other, so that “some established and reasonable price for this much-needed article” could be set.
Although much of The Guerilla’s pages were devoted to local affairs, national politics did not escape the editors’ notice. The paper unsurprisingly took a low opinion of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and his administration. “The song of Lincoln’s syrens [sic] has lost its sweetness, and the eyes of the people are opening to the danger of the threatening despotism,” The Guerilla warned. “Perhaps in after years, Lincoln may, like a second Marius, while sitting on the ruins of his boasted empire, hear the passer-by ask, now where the United States is, but where the United States was.” The newspaper also excoriated Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which it saw as a desperate war-measure by the North. “Poor Abe, like a [drowning] man, has for the last month been grasping at every little straw, but all have been of no avail, and now in the last struggles of death, with not the least hope to cheer him in his last moments.”
Despite their fiery, pro-Confederate enthusiasm, the associate printers of the Guerilla were only able to produce approximately half a dozen issues of their newspaper. By late October, little over a month after Confederate forces occupied Charleston, General Loring and the Rebels were forced to evacuate the city in the face of a much larger approaching Union army. The Guerilla, whose printers had made clear their Southern allegiance, presumably ceased publication around this time. It’s possible the printers of the Guerilla were Confederate soldiers under General Loring themselves. However short-lived, the Guerilla nevertheless remains a valuable insight into the Civil War in West Virginia and the Kanawha Valley.
Zac Cowsert currently studies 19th-century U.S. history as a doctoral candidate at West Virginia University, where he also received his master's degree. He earned his bachelor's degree in history and political science from Centenary College of Louisiana, a small liberal-arts college in Shreveport. Zac's research focuses on the involvement and experiences of the Five Tribes of Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) during the American Civil War. He has worked for the National Park Service at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. ©
Sources & Further Reading:
The Guerilla [Charleston, WV]. Chronicling America. Library of Congress.
Lowry, Terry. The Battle of Charleston and the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign. Charleston, WV: 35th Star Publishing, 2016.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I. Vol. 19, Part 1.
Snell, Mark. West Virginia and the Civil War: Mountaineers Are Always Free. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.