Thursday, September 29, 2016

Lieutenant-Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes to Colonel Eliakim P Scammon, May 2, 1862

Camp Number 5, Princeton, May 2, 7:30 A. M., 1862.

Sir: — Your strictures on the expedition under Lieutenant Bottsford are very severe. I wrote you my account of it hastily during a momentary delay of the column and am perhaps blamable for sending to you anything so imperfect as to lead to such misapprehension. I was, however, compelled to write such an account or none at all. I trusted to your favorable judgment of what was done rather than to the fulness and accuracy of what I was writing. I thought that a most meritorious thing in all respects had been done and did not imagine that it could be so stated as to give you such a view of it as you have taken.

You seem to think that the expedition was an improper one and that Lieutenant Bottsford or his men must have been guilty of great negligence. I think the expedition was strictly according to the spirit and letter of instruction given by both you and General Fremont and that no blame ought to attach to any one for the manner of it in any particular. I knew by reliable information, which turned out to be perfectly correct, that Captain Foley and his notorious gang of bushwhackers were camped within sixteen or eighteen miles of the camp at Shady Spring where I was stationed; that Foley's force was from thirty to sixty men, and that the only way of catching him was by surprising his camp at night or early daylight. I sent Lieutenant Bottsford with about seventy-five men of Company C, aided by Sergeant Abbott and his scouts, six in number, to do this service. I was satisfied that the enemy had no force worth naming nearer than Princeton, and at Princeton their force was small, probably not over two hundred or three hundred. All this information has turned out to be correct. Lieutenant Bottsford left camp at 9 P. M., April 29, and reached Foley's about daylight. He found the nest warm but the bird was gone. I can find no blame in this. He was compelled to move slowly in a strange country at night. A scout could easily give the required warning without fault on our part.

On the 30th, Lieutenant Bottsford scouted the country for the bushwhackers; camped in a house very defensible within four to six miles of where he knew I was to camp with the regiment. In the meantime Lieutenant-Colonel Fitz Hugh, or Fitzhugh, had marched with the whole force at Princeton, four companies of Jenifer's Cavalry, dismounted, numbering over two hundred, to aid Foley. This was done on the morning of the 30th, and on that evening Foley with bushwhackers and militia, to the number of seventy-five or one hundred, joined Fitzhugh. During the night they got as near Lieutenant Bottsford as they could without alarming his pickets, not near enough to do any mischief. In the morning Lieutenant Bottsford prepared to return to camp. He drew in his pickets, formed his line, and then for the first time, the enemy came within gunshot. Bottsford's men, in line of battle in front of a log house, saw the enemy approaching. A volley was fired on each side, when Lieutenant Bottsford, finding the strength of the attack, took shelter in the house and fired with such spirit and accuracy as to drive the enemy out of gunshot, leaving his dead and four of his wounded on the field, all of whom were taken possession of by Lieutenant Bottsford's men immediately, besides four wounded prisoners who didn't run far enough before hiding.

This attack was in no blamable sense “a surprise.” It found Lieutenant Bottsford perfectly prepared for it.

You seem to think there was nothing gained by this affair; that it is a “disaster” and that “we lost twenty men.” Surely I could have said nothing to warrant this. Of the twenty wounded over two-thirds were able and desired to march to Princeton with us. Our loss was one killed, two dangerously, perhaps mortally, wounded, and two, possibly three, others disabled, — perhaps not more than one. The enemy's loss was thirteen dead and disabled that “we got.” Captain Foley was disabled and we know of four others in like condition and I know not how many slightly wounded. This is not a disaster, but a fight of the sort which crushes the Rebellion.

You speak of Company C as advanced beyond “supporting distance.” We heard the firing and if the enemy had been stubborn should have been in good time to help drive him off. He reported here that our advance did in fact drive him off. If this is not supporting distance, parties cannot leave camp without violating an important rule. Lieutenant Bottsford had retreated to within four miles of us.

Upon the whole, I think that the affair deserves commendation rather than censure, and I take blame to myself for writing you a note under circumstances which precluded a full statement; such a statement as would prevent such misapprehension as I think you are under.

R. B. Hayes,
Lieutenant-colonel 23RD Regiment, O. V. I.,
[colonel Scammon.]

SOURCE: Charles Richard Williams, editor, Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2, p. 240-2

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