On October 29, 1861, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee departed present-day West Virginia, near the end of his ill-fated western Virginia campaign. The rest of his Civil War career would rank Lee among the greatest generals in history. However, his first campaign was a total calamity.
He had been dispatched to the region to regain territory for the Confederacy. His plans came to a head in September 1861 atop Cheat Mountain in Pocahontas County. Lee’s attack, though, fell apart. His troops made a hasty retreat, and he soon abandoned the effort.
Lee’s three months in what would become West Virginia were marked by flooding rains, muddy quagmires, inexperienced officers, and diseases among the troops. An editorial in the Richmond Examiner said that Lee had been “outwitted, outmaneuvered, and outgeneraled.” Another newspaper mocked him with the nickname “Granny Lee.”
But there was one upside for Lee during his disastrous adventure. While at Sewell Mountain in Fayette County, he first set eyes on a grey American Saddlebred that would become his faithful companion. He later acquired the horse, which he would name Traveller and ride throughout the war.