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Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood
May 17, 1862


Richmond Daily Dispatch
May 31, 1862

The campaign in Western Virginia.

The battle of Princeton.

[Correspondence of the Richmond Dispatch.]

Princeton, Mercer county, Va., May 18th, 1862.

It will be remembered that Col. Jennifer burnt and evacuated this place about a month having been hard pressed by a superior force of the enemy who surprised his cavalry stationed there. Since that time Col. Wharton has been organizing the 50th and 61st regiments and Hennshall's battalion, preparatory to advancing by way of Rocky Gap, and in conjunction with Marshall and Heth marching from different directions, in order to surround the enemy, supposed to be composed of two brigades. One brigade was kept at Princeton, while the other went to the Narrows and took possession of Pearisburg, which Heth so recently drove them from in great confusion.

My account of yesterday's proceedings commences with Heth marching from Giles C. H., driving the enemy; Marshall marching from Tazewell C. H.; while Col. Wharton, with 869 men, and the 1st detachment of the Otey battery, having provided his men with three days rations, takes up his line of march from Rocky Gap, Bland county.

Your correspondent was one of the latter's command, hence I can only state what came under my observation. The distance (10 miles) was travelled by 12M. The morning of the 17th, having driven in foraging parties and pickets all along the route. Arriving in front of the town, about a mile from it, the battery was ordered to the front and wheeled to the right into a field surrounded by woods, and just in front by a small field separating it by a rail fence. Before the gun could be put in position, a regiment of Pratts Zouaves opened brisk fire on the battery at a distance of 36 yards; but old Richmond was in the field, and soon shelled them from the position and drove them back to Princeton. A momentary suspense ensued, when, to our surprise, we heard heavy firing in our rear, which the infantry quite as hotly returned. We soon learned that the enemy, who had escaped Heth, had been following us up all day, and were attacking us with a much superior force; but, all praise to the gallant heroes of Donelson, under Wharton and Hennshall, they were driven in a perfect run from the field. During this engagement the men were exposed to the hottest fire, and I will say that I never saw men, both of the infantry and artillery, bear themselves more gallantly. Col. Wharton, Major Hennshall, and Capt. Peter Otey commanded the infantry, while Lieut. Edward Norvell and O. Serg't John B. Langhorne commanded the rifled gun, which did such execution. Where all bore themselves so well, it would be doing injustice to particularize.

The loss of the enemy was 211 killed and wounded, while we lost but one man killed and twelve wounded. They left us to bury their dead, which enables us to speak with accuracy as to their loss. Soldier Boy.


Gallipolis Journal
May 29, 1862

Correspondence of the Gallipolis Journal

Battle of Princeton

Headquarters of the Great Kanawha, May 23, 62.

Mr. Harper: Let one who has means of being correctly informed of events as they occur in this District, try to give you a true account of the late battle of Princeton. It was more a series of desperate skirmishes, than a regular pitched battle, lasting from the afternoon of the 16th to noon of the 17th. Up to Friday evening General Cox occupied Princeton with four companies, his main army being some distance in advance of that point. The General had been somewhat delayed in his contemplated movement for causes not pertinent just now. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the 16th, Humphrey Marshall with some 2,000 troops attacked our handful of troops at Princeton - after a short but desperate fight on our part, we were compelled to withdraw from the town, leaving Marshall in full possession, and in our rear. There is no doubt but at that time we were in a tight place. General Heath having, as it is said, been reinforced from Eastern Virginia, was in front of us with 12,000 men, and Humphrey Marshall in our rear, holding Princeton with 2,000 men. What was to be done, had to be done quickly, and Gen. Cox was equal to the emergency. Rapidly concentrating his entire force, which he effected during the night, Gen. Cox on the morning of the 17th made an attack upon Marshall, driving him before him and reoccupied Princeton; the enemy retreating to the woods, where skirmishing was kept up during the entire day. Gen. Cox fell back to Flat Top Mountain, thereby securing a much better position and which he now holds. Our troops behaved gallantly, reminding one of veterans. Our loss is said to be about 225 killed, wounded and missing. One gentleman direct from the field tells me it will reach 302.

A thousand and one stories were put in circulation by half-way-house secesh, and a causeless and foolish panic, the entire length of the Kanawha Valley, ensued.

When any one tells you the enemy have cut Gen. Cox to pieces, destroyed all the stores at Gauley and Loup creek, and are marching on Charleston, &c., &c., (vide Allen Collier's stories) just set them down as no such thing, and their authors as secesh sympathisers. Make that a rule to swear by and you will never be led into a panic.

"Why did Gen. Cox fall back to Flat Top?" Well, my good friend, I will tell you in as few words as possible. The position at Princeton was untenable, roads leading to it from all directions, it was easily flanked; again there was a force opposed to us in our front much superior to ours in point of numbers, and, from the number of roads leading into Princeton, and into the main road running through Princeton, it rendered our communication with the base of operations easily cut off and difficult to keep, without a heavier force than we could boast of having. Consequently any good Gen. would have done as Gen. Cox did, fall back upon a position which could be easily held, and at the same time be a point from which to make a successful strike at the enemy when the time comes. Such as in brief, the naked facts in regard to the battle of Princeton, and the whys and wherefores of our falling back, I gathered from officers who were on the spot, and the truth of which I have no doubt. We were not whipped; on the contrary, we gave the enemy a sound thrashing and forced him to 'skedaddle.' I could give you a diagram of the situation at and near Princeton, but it would be useless to you. I have not given you the number on our side, or whose brigades were engaged, for that is contraband. I have aimed to give you a sufficient number of facts to enable you to form a correct idea of the affair. If I have succeeded in this, I shall be satisfied.

A detachment of the 4th Virginia is stationed at Camp Piatt. I found a host of good friends there who did all intheir power to render my visit agreeable and pleasant. But of this and other good things - more anon. My lovely friend Ada! may you and I always fall into as good hands, as we did at charming Camp Piatt. I leave here in a day or two for "above and below." Ada accompanies me on my pilgrimage of sight-seeing.

Yours, Henry Mortimer


The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry Etc.
Frank Moore, ed. Vol. 5. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1863.

A fight took place at Princeton, Va., between the Nationals under the command of General Cox and a body of rebels under Humphrey Marshall, in which the Nationals lost thirty killed and seventy wounded.


Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: May 1862

West Virginia Archives and History