Camp On Flat Top Mountain On Line Between
Mercer And Raleigh Counties, May 20, 1862.
Dear Uncle: — The last three weeks has been a period of great activity with us — severe marching, sharp fighting, and all sorts of strategy and manoeuvring. I had command of the advance southward and marched to within ten miles of the railroad, seventy miles south of this. This was ten days ago. On the morning of the 10th the enemy attacked us in greatly superior numbers and with artillery. In obedience to orders we have been falling back ever since. I was much vexed that we were not reinforced. Perhaps I was wrong. It is now believed that the enemy, since their reverses in eastern Virginia, have been sending heavy bodies of troops this way; that our force is wholly inadequate to its task, and must wait here until largely strengthened. I am not sure about this, but accept it without much grumbling. As I had command of the advance, I also had command of the rear-guard during the two most perilous days of the retreat. I am glad to know that nobody blames me with anything. Perhaps nobody ought to be blamed, certainly not if the force of the enemy is correctly reported. We have got off very well, having the best of all the fighting, and losing very little property in the retreat, and conducting it in good order.
General Cox and staff narrowly escaped capture. My command had a narrow escape. With any common precautions we should have been captured or destroyed, but luckily I had mounted pickets two miles further out than usual and got notice of the trap in time. The total loss of my command up to yesterday since May 1 inclusive is seven killed, six missing, and thirty-five wounded. We have killed forty to fifty of the enemy, captured about fifty, and wounded a large number. We have captured and destroyed many arms, and lived on the enemy's grub a week. We also took several teams and waggons. We have lost our tents (except headquarters) and part of our mess furniture.
We shall remain here and hereabouts some time to get reinforced and to get supplies. We are in telegraphic communication with the world and only sixty miles from navigation.
Dr. James Webb is now in this brigade, assistant surgeon of the Twelfth Regiment O. V. I. Dr. Joe is brigade surgeon. We shall enjoy a few days' rest here. The Twenty-third is a capital set. They always stood up squarely to the work and enjoyed it. A vast difference between raw troops and those who have tried it enough to be at home.
Love to all. Good-bye.
R. B. Hayes.
SOURCE: Charles Richard Williams, editor, Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2, p. 273-4