Saturday, September 17, 2016

Diary of Lieutenant-Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes: Thursday, May 1, 1862

Camp 5, Princeton. — Marched at 6 A. M. Heard firing in advance. Turned out to be Company C on Camp Creek, attacked by Lieutenant-Colonel Fitzhugh with four companies, dismounted, Jenkins' Cavalry and Foley's bushwhackers. The company was in line ready to move off to return to camp when they saw a party of bushwhackers coming down the road who called out (Captain Foley called): “Don't fire; we are Richmond's men.” Immediately after, a volley was fired into our men from all sides. They were surrounded by three hundred Secesh. Finding the attack so heavy, Company C was ordered by Lieutenant Bottsford to take shelter in the log house where they had quartered. They kept up such a spirited fire that the enemy retreated, leaving four dead, four mortally [wounded], four more dangerously. All these we got. Captain Foley had his shoulder broken. The enemy fled in confusion leaving their dead and wounded on the field. This was a splendid victory for Lieutenant Bottsford and Sergeant Ritter, of Company C, and Sergeant Abbott, Company I. They were the prominent officers. Our loss was a German, Pfeffer, killed; Lenox and another mortally wounded, three severely wounded, and fifteen others slightly. Sergeant Ritter had a bullet shot into his head lodging between the scalp and skull. He fell, but instantly jumped up saying, “You must shoot lower if you want to kill me.” It was a gallant fight. Company C wears the honors.

I came up to the scene of the conflict soon after the enemy fled. They say our coming drove them away. I couldn't speak when I came up to the gallant little company and they presented arms to me. I went around shaking hands with the wounded. They all spoke cheerfully. We immediately pushed on in mud and rain after the retreating foe. Captain McIlrath's company (A) [led]. At a house where three cavalrymen were leaving two of the enemy's wounded, they killed one and captured his horse and shotgun, etc. I then sent the cavalry under Lieutenant-Colonel Paxton in advance. They soon were fired on by a gang of bushwhackers from a hill and their horses badly stampeded. One horse threw his forelegs over Colonel Paxton's horse's neck. The cavalry dismounted, charged up the hill, and caught one dragoon.

Finding the cavalry would dismount and skirmish all the bad hillsides (and they were abundant — being twelve miles of defiles), I again put the Twenty-third in advance. At Ferguson's we saw Captain Ward, quartermaster Rebel army, badly wounded and another young soldier.

We pushed on rapidly, crossing Wolf Creek, Camp Creek, and wading Bluestone waist-deep — rain falling, mud deep and slippery. We came in sight of the wagons of the retreating foe, but for want of cavalry familiarized to the business, we were unable to overtake them. We were told of great reinforcements at Princeton or soon to be at Princeton. The Forty-fifth [Virginia] there or coming. Captain Ward, a pleasant gentleman, said we would probably “get thunder at Princeton.” We kept ahead. On approaching town we saw great clouds. Some thought it smoke, some supposed it was clouds. Within two miles we knew the Rebels were burning the town. We hurried forward; soon reached an elevated ground overlooking the place. All the brick buildings, court-house, churches, etc., were burning. I ordered up the howitzers to scatter out the few Rebel cavalry who were doing it; deployed the regiment by a file right into a field and marched forward by battalion front. The town was soon overrun. Some fires were put out; four or five tolerably fine dwellings were saved; a number of small buildings and some good stables were also saved.

And so ended the first of May — twenty-two miles in mud and rain. An exciting day. Five enemy killed, nine badly wounded that we got; three unwounded prisoners, and about a dozen Rebels wounded. Total five killed, three prisoners, twenty-one wounded. A good day's work.

SOURCE: Charles Richard Williams, editor, Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2, p. 238-40

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