Numbers 2. Reports of Brigadier General William W. Averell, U. S. Army, commanding expedition to Virginia and Tennessee Railroad.
EDRAY POCAHONTAS COUNTY, W. VA., DECEMBER 21,
Via Beverly, December 22, 1863. (Received 4.15 p. m. 23d.)
SIR: I have the honor to report that I cut the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad at Salem on the 16th instant, and have arrived safely at this point with my command, consisting of the Second, Third, and Eighth [West] Virginia Mounted Infantry, Fourteenth Pennsylvania, Gibson's battalion cavalry, and Ewing's battery.
At Salem three depots were destroyed, containing 2,000 barrels flour, 10,000 bushels wheat, 100,000 bushels shelled corn, 50,000 bushels oats, 2,000 barrels meat, several cords leather, 1,000 sacks salt, 31 boxes clothing, 20 bales cotton, a large amount of harness, shoes, and saddles, equipments, tools, oil, tar, and various other stores, and 100 wagons. The telegraph wire was cut, coiled, nd burned for half a mile. The water-station, turn-table, and 3 cars were burned, the track torn up, and the rails heated and destroyed as much as possible in six hours. five bridges and several culverts were destroyed, over an extent of 15 miles. A large quantity of bridge timber and repairing materials were also destroyed.
My march was retarded occasionally by the tempest in the mountains, and the icy roads. I was obliged to swim my command and drag my artillery with ropes across Craig's Creek seven times in twenty-four hours. On my return I found six separate commands, under General Early, Jones, Fitz. Lee, Imboden, Jackson, Echols, and McCausland, arranged in a line extending from Staunton to Newport upon all the available roads to prevent my return.
I captured a dispatch from General Jones to General Early, giving me the position, and that of Jackson-at Clifton Forge and Covington-was selected to carry. I marched from the front of Jones to that of Jackson during the night. His outposts were pressed in at a gallop by the Eighth [West] Virginia Mounted Infantry, and the two bridges across Jackson's River saved, although fagots had been piled ready to ignite. My column, about 4 miles long, hastened across regardless of the enemy until all but my ambulances, a few wagons, and one regiment had passed, when a strong effort was made to retake the first bridge, which id not succeed. The ambulance and some sick men were lost, and by the darkness and difficulties the last regiment was detained upon the opposite side until morning, when it was ascertained that the enemy seemed determined to maintain his position up the cliffs which overlooked the bridge.
I caused the bridges, which were long and high, to be destroyed, and the enemy immediately changed his position to the flank and rear of the detachment which was cut off. I sent orders to the remnants to destroy our wagons and come to me across the river or over the mountains. They swam the river, with the loss of only 4 men drowned, and joined me. In the meantime, forces of the enemy were concentrating upon me at Callaghan's over every available road but one, which was deemed impracticable, but by which I crossed over the top of the Alleghanies with my command, with the exception of four caissons, which were destroyed in order to increase the teams of the pieces.