Camp Number 5, Princeton, May 2, 8 A. M., [1862.]
Sir: — Lieutenant-Colonel Paxton with the cavalry reached here by the Giles Road about dark. He left the direct road to Princeton at Spanishburg and took the Bluff Road, which strikes the road from Giles to Princeton four miles from Princeton. We found it impossible to send the cavalry to the Tazewell or Wytheville Road, at least in time, and they went to the Giles Road hoping to catch the enemy retreating on that road. The enemy took the Wytheville Road to Rocky Gap and escaped. The cavalry on entering the Giles Road found a great number of fresh tracks leading to Princeton. Hastening on, they came suddenly on the Forty-fifth Virginia coming to the relief of Princeton. As soon as the cavalry came in sight there was a “skedaddling” of the chivalry for the hills and a scattering of knapsacks very creditable to their capacity to appreciate danger. There was a good deal of hurried firing at long range, but nobody hurt on our side and perhaps none on the other. The regiment seemed to number two or three hundred. We suppose they will not be seen again in our vicinity, but shall be vigilant.
This is a most capital point to assemble a brigade. The best camping for an army I have seen in western Virginia. Stabling enough is left for all needful purposes, two or three fine dwellings for headquarters, and smaller houses in sufficient numbers for storage. The large buildings were nearly all burned, all of the brick buildings included. Churches all gone and public buildings of all sorts. Meat — sheep, cattle, and hogs — in sufficient quantities to keep starvation from the door. If you will send salt we shall be able to live through the bad roads. Forage I know nothing of — there must be some. Our couriers were fired on at Bluestone. They report Foley's gang is scattered along the road. There should be a strong force at Flat Top under an enterprising man like Colonel Jones. The country we passed over yesterday is the most dangerous I have seen; at least twelve miles of the twenty-two [miles] needs skirmishing.
If quartermasters are energetic there ought to be no scarcity here. The road can't get worse than it was yesterday and our trains kept up to a fast-moving column nearly all the way. The Twenty-third marched beautifully. A steady rain, thick slippery mud, and twenty-two miles of travelling they did, closed up well, without grumbling, including wading Bluestone waist-deep. The section of the battery behaved well. I have already praised the cavalry. You see how I am compelled to write — a sentence and then an interruption; you will excuse the result. I am very glad the telegraph is coming; we shall need it. I have just heard that the train and one piece of artillery was in rear of the point where our cavalry came on the Forty-fifth. I would be glad to pursue them but am bound to obey instructions in good faith. Rest easy on that point. The men are praying that they [the enemy] may be encouraged yet to come to us.
R. B. Hayes,
Lieutenant-colonel 23D Regiment O. V. I.
P. S. — Lieutenant-Colonel Paxton will act as provost marshal. He is admirably fitted for it and is pleased to act.
SOURCE: Charles Richard Williams, editor, Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2, p. 243-4