White Top on the Cheat Mountain Ridge is over 4,000 feet (1,220 m) high, and the home of the Cheat Mountain salamander. It must be a hardy amphibian: in 1861, the first snow fell on August 13, and by September, horses were freezing to death. Colonel Rust led the Confederate assault force, under Robert E. Lee’s oversight in his first engagement, although no assault force actually took place. Capturing a few Union pickets while reconnoitring, Rust became convinced a force of 4,000 commanded the summit (there were actually only 1,800), and the Confederates decided to withdraw. A similar timidity gripped the Confederate forces in the valley below, where despite again possessing numerical advantage, they declined to engage the obdurately entrenched Union soldiers. The Union commander there, Brigadier Reynolds, was so bullish he sent reinforcements to White Top. But there was no need. Making an inauspicious inauguration to his stellar Civil War career, Lee had already decamped.
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