On October 25, 1862, 156 years ago, General Jacob Cox was on the verge of once again taking West Virginia for the Union.
Early in the war Cox and William Rosecrans had led the Union forces which pushed the Confederates out of the northern part of Virginia, allowing the statehood forces to advance plans for “seceding from the secession.” Cox had in fact taken Charleston, the future capital, in July 1861, a few days after the disaster at Bull Run I.
In August 1862 Cox had been called to Washington to reinforce John Pope’s Army of Virginia, an assignment which eventually led to his commanding the left flank of the Union at Antietam. However, the forces he left behind in West Virginia failed to hold the gains, and in early October 1862 Cox was assigned the role of re-taking West Virginia.
He was very confident of his ultimate success, writing to his wife “the report now is that the rebels are retreating at the mere rumor of my preparations here to follow them. ” Actually, Robert E. Lee was confident in his men, telling Confederate commander William Loring on October 15, “I do not think the enemy is able to send strong reinforcements into Western Virginia…Major General Cox, with four brigades has been detached…but no more.”
But Lee misjudged both Cox and Loring. The latter was in fact preparing to retreat, and he was soon replaced by General John Echols, who was ordered “to march his forces back into the Kanawha Valley.” But Cox advanced rapidly, and Echols reported on October 28 that he had to make a “forced march of 31 miles” to escape. Cox took Charleston a second time on October 29, telling his wife that “the rebels decamped pell-mell out of the valley.”
Once again “West” Virginia was secure, the path to statehood paved with a Union victory.