Camp Number 5, Princeton, May 5, 1862.
Sir: — This whole region is completely conquered. Rapid movement is all that is needed to take possession of the railroad and several good counties without opposition. Militiamen are coming in glad to take the oath and get home "to work crops." A part of Jenifer's force retreated through Tazewell, abandoning Jeffersonville and it is reported burning it. Humphrey Marshall is reported on the railroad and near or at Wytheville. The Forty-fifth retreated on to Giles abandoning the Narrows, leaving the position deserted. These are the reports. Not perfectly reliable, but I am inclined to credit them. At the Rocky Gap many muskets even were burned, the militiamen thinking it safer to return home unarmed. There is a report from Tazewell that a battalion of cavalry is approaching through Logan and McDowell, the other part of the Second Virginia. If so they will meet with no opposition worth naming. It is about certain that the enemy had but one cannon at the Narrows. All I give you is rumor, or the nature of rumor, except the conduct and disposition of the new militia. I hear that from their own lips. An active command can push to the railroad, taking coffee, salt, and sugar, and subsist itself long enough to get the railroad from Newbern a hundred miles west. I speak of the future in the way of suggestion that your thoughts may turn towards planning enterprises before the scare subsides. The rations I speak of because we ought to have a larger supply of some things, counting upon the country for the others. Colonel Little will send in reports perfectly reliable as to the Narrows tomorrow. I hear a report that the enemy — the Forty-fifth — didn't stop at Giles but kept on towards Newbern! I give these reports as showing the drift of feeling in this country, and [as] hints at truth rather than truth itself.
Monday night. — I now have reliable information of the enemy, I think. It differs in many respects from rumors mentioned in the foregoing. The Forty-fifth Regiment during Friday and Saturday straggled back to its camp at the mouth of Wolf Creek, a short distance above the Narrows. About four-fifths of the force got back foot-sore, without hats, coats, knapsacks, and arms in many cases. In the course of Friday and Saturday a considerable part (perhaps half) of the cavalry we drove from here reached the same point (mouth of Wolf Creek) having passed through Rocky Gap and thence taken the Wolf Creek and Tazewell Road easterly. On Saturday evening they were preparing to leave camp; the Forty-fifth to go to Richmond whither they had just been ordered, and the cavalry and the few militia were to go with them as far as Dublin. The militia were uncertain whether they were to remain at Dublin or go west to the Salt Works in Washington and Wythe Counties. They all expected to be gone from Wolf Creek and the Narrows during Sunday. There would be no fighting the Yankees this side of Dublin — possibly at Dublin a fight. The militia of Wythe, Grayson, and Carroll, seven hundred strong, are the force [at] Wytheville. At Abbington, one thousand [of] Floyd's men. In Russell County Humphrey Marshall is still reported with three thousand men badly armed and worse disciplined. The great Salt Works (King's) work four hundred [men], ten furnaces, and turn out seventeen hundred bushels every twenty-four hours. No armed force there. All this from contrabands and substantially correct.
Later. — Seven more contrabands just in. They report that on Sunday the Forty-fifth and other forces, except about thirty guards of baggage, left the vicinity of the Narrows arriving at Giles Court-house Sunday afternoon on their way to Dublin Depot; that from there they expected to go west to Abbington. The contrabands passed the Narrows; only a small guard was there with a few tents and wagons. No cannon were left there. I do not doubt the general truthfulness of the story. It confirms the former. The enclosed letters perhaps contain something that ought to be known to General Fremont; if so you can extract a fact or two to telegraph. They were got from the last mail sent here by the Rebels. The carrier stopped seven miles south of here and the mail [was] picked up there.
I wish to send three companies or so to the Narrows immediately to see if we can catch the guard and baggage left behind. If you approve send me word back immediately and I will start the expedition in the morning.
Latest. — Two more contrabands!! We can surely get the baggage in six hours (eighteen miles) without difficulty. Do send the order.
R. B. Hayes,
Lieutenant-colonel 23D Regiment O. V. I.,
SOURCE: Charles Richard Williams, editor, Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2, p. 251-3