Destruction of Mercer Salt Works

Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2, edited by Charles Richard Williams (Columbus: The Ohio State Archeological and Historical Society, 1922), 321-24.

August 9. Saturday. - Am planning an expedition to go to Salt Well and destroy it; also to catch old Crump if he is at home...

I send out today Company E, thirty-nine men, K, twenty-seven men, H, about thirty men, and a squad of men from A, I, and C of twenty-seven men, and about twenty-five cavalry to stop the salt well in Mercer, twenty miles above here. Total force about one hundred and fifty men. They go up to Crump's Bottom, catch him if they can, take his canoe and the ferry-boat and destroy the Mercer salt well. This is the programme...

Sunday, August 10, 1862, 9:30 A. M. - Captain Drake and Gilmore's Cavalry have returned. The infantry are bathing in Bluestone. The expedition was completely successful, and was of more importance than I supposed it would be. They reached the salt well about 2:30 A. M.; found the works in full blast - a good engine pumping, two pans thirty feet long boiling, etc., etc. The salt is good; considerable salt was on hand. All the works were destroyed by fire. A canoe found at Crump's was taken to the ferry.

I spent an anxious night. Jackson, Major Comly's scout, reported that the salt well was guarded. This came to me after I was in bed and too late to send the word to the expedition. I slept little, was up often. But luckily all went well. Not a man was in sight. This morning, as they were returning, the cavalry were bushwhacked, horses wounded, clothes cut, but no man hurt.

Received a "secret" order to be ready to move on one-half hour's notice. Rode post to the ferry; set the men to preparing for one of General Pope's minute and practical inspections.

Camp Green Meadows, August 10, 1862.

Dearest Lute: - All your names are sweet. "Lu" is good; I always think of the girls at Platt's saying "Aunt Lu." "Lute" and "Luty" is Joe; and "Lucy darling," that's me. All pretty and lovable.

Your letter of the 2nd came last night. A great comfort it was. Several things last night were weighing on me, and I needed a dear word from you. I had got a reluctant permission to send a party to attempt to destroy the salt-works at the Mercer salt well twenty-five miles from here, over a rough mountain country full of enemies, and uncertain who might be at the well. I started the party at 6 P. M. to make a night march of it to get there and do the work and get fairly off before daylight. Captains Drake and Zimmerman were in command with twenty of Gilmore's gallant cavalry and one hundred and thirty of our best men. I had got all the facts I could before they left, but after they were gone three hours, a scout I have given up came in with information that the works were strongly guarded. I slept none during that night. Then too, the sad news that McCook was murdered was in the evening dispatches, casting a deep shadow over all. It needed your letter to carry me through the night.

I was out at early dawn, walking the camp, fearing to hear the gallop of a horse. Time went on slowly enough, but it was a case where no news was good news. If they had run into trouble the word would have returned as fast as horseflesh could bring it. By breakfast time I began to feel pretty safe; at eight I visited the hospital and talked cheerfully to the sick, feeling pretty cheerful really. About half past nine Captain Drake rode in. The fifty miles had been travelled, and the Secesh salt well for all this saltless region was burned out root and branch. Three horses were badly wounded; many [men] had their clothes cut, but not a man was hurt. They reached the well at 2 A. M., found it in full blast, steam on, etc., etc., received one feeble volley of rifle balls and the thing was done. So much good your letter did...

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