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(Civil War Chat) – From early August to late October 1861 Robert E. Lee labored in Virginia’s western counties to prevent the region from forming a new Union-loyal state. The resultant West Virginia shows he failed. Even though he was merely an advisor to the applicable armies, he absorbed the blame.
Brigadier General W. W. Loring commanded one of the armies. He would soon be transferred out of the region due to a dispute with Major General Stonewall Jackson. The other two armies were led by former Virginia governors John Floyd and Henry Wise who were political rivals. A few months later Floyd took some of his Virginia troops to Tennessee where he commanded at Fort Donelson. When the fort’s war council voted that Donelson should surrender, Floyd seized a steamer and took several Virginia units with him to safety in Nashville. The 12,000 rebels remaining behind were captured and sent to POW camps. Although he had no military experience, Brigadier General Henry Wise led the third army and refused to cooperate with Floyd. To be sure, the nearly useless Wise of 1861 eventually became a competent general.
Lee first tried to help Loring by pointing out a chance to make a surprise attack. After Loring reacted slowly, the opportunity expired. Next Lee conducted a personal reconnaissance, that led him to discover a way to launch a surprise attack on the Yankees atop Cheat Mountain. He persuaded Loring to launch a coordinated offensive to be triggered by that attack. Colonel Albert Rust successfully positioned his 3,000-man force for a dawn assault on September 12, 1861.
Unfortunately, Rust first captured a…