Numbers 4. Report of Brigadier General Henry W. Benham, U. S. Army, of operations from November 11-16.
FAYETTEVILLE COURT-HOUSE, VA.,
November 16, 1861.
SIR: I have the honor to report as follows to report as follows in relation to the expedition from which I have this afternoon returned by the order of General Schenck from the pursuit of General Floyd upon the road to Raleigh, by which he escaped by a most rapid and arduous march last night.
Upon the night of the 11th instant, while at a kind of a bivouac at Loop Creek Mouth, where I have been with part of my command by the directions of General Rosecrans since the 4th and 5th instant, I received your orders to proceed as early as practicable with the force then at that point, about 1,500 men of the Tenth, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Regiments, to occupy Cotton Hill, there having been previously stationed by his orders under my direction the Thirty-seventh Regiment of 700 men at Loop Creek Forks, about 4 miles up, and in detachments up to 10 miles from the mouth of the creek; also about 320 of the Forty-fourth Regiment and 430 of the Seventh Regiment about 1 mile up on the left fork.
About the time of marching from Loop Creek, however, I have directed, as he had ordered me, about 1,000 men from these last three regiments to occupy Cassidy's Mill, about 6 miles up from the left fork towards this place, and the remainder, being part of the Thirty-seventh regiment, to endeavor to reach me at Cotton Hill by a march to the left of Cassidy's Mill by Nugent's.
On the morning of the 12th, in accordance with the directions given, with the first-named force and four mountain howitzers and two rifled 6-pounders, we moved up the left bank of the Kanawha, 4 miles from the mouth of Loop Creek, to Gauley Falls, thence to the right some 5 miles over Cotton Hill to Herscliberger's by 3 p. m., where at Laurel Creek we met the advance pickets of the enemy in force, as it was afterwards ascertained, in a most strong position, prepared with abatis, and after skirmishing with them with the greater part of the Thirteenth Regiment until dark, we went into bivouac in the open air on the escaped mountain road, with but few fires and but little water, myself and staff lying on the bare rocks, with our horses held below us.
Our loss in this skirmish was 1 man killed and 4 wounded; that of the enemy 2 at least killed and about 7 wounded. The enemy were completely driven from the ground they occupied, but not much farther, as a large re-enforcement was seen coming to them (I have since learned four regiments and one piece of artillery were sent), and with only 1,640 men, for Colonel Siber's detachment had not fully joined, I did not think it would be safe to draw on a battle with the whole rebel force, reported by General Rosecrans to me to be from 4,000 to 6,000 men, and, as I heard after, with nine to eleven guns, although, as reported to him that night, I felt I could hold my position on the mountain secure against their force.
During the night, at about 2.30 a. m. of the 13th, it was reported to me by a scout I had sent out to watch the rebel camp that the wheels of heavy wagons or artillery were heard rumbling in the direction of the camp, but as they became no fainter, it was uncertain whether they were retreating or receiving re-enforcements. I immediately sent directions to Colonel Smith, of the Thirteenth Regiment, to send out two.