The Battle of Pigeon Roost occurred in Princeton, Mercer County, May 17, 1862, during the Civil War. The battle culminated a month-long series of engagements, in which Union forces under the command of Gen. Jacob Cox attempted to destroy the Virginia & Tennessee Railway in southwest Virginia. Defending the railway and surrounding territory were three Confederate brigades under the command of Gen. Humphrey Marshall. Cox’s force had two officers destined to become U.S. presidents, Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes and Sgt. William McKinley.
Union forces left Fayetteville in mid-April 1862, passed through Beckley, and entered Mercer County by way of Flat Top Mountain. An advance guard was attacked on April 30 near Camp Creek, but their Confederate attackers were driven back toward Princeton after the main Union force arrived. Retreating Confederates burned Princeton on May 1.
Federal troops moved through the ruins of Princeton and advanced 25 miles before being stopped at Pearisburg, Virginia, on May 10. They retreated to Princeton where they skirmished with pursuing Confederates on May 16. As evening fell, the Confederates were able to reoccupy Princeton, spreading out on Pigeon Roost, a ridge south of town. By the next morning, Union forces had reentered Princeton and more soldiers continued to arrive throughout the day. The Confederates were also reinforced in their position on the ridge overlooking town.
The Battle of Pigeon Roost occurred on the morning of May 17 and consisted primarily of fighting between the 51st Virginia infantry and soldiers of the 37th Ohio. The Union men were noisily approaching Princeton from the southeast, unaware that the Confederates were lying in ambush. The attack left an estimated 18 federal troops killed and 38 wounded. No further fighting ensued even though both armies were drawn up for battle facing each other. On the evening of May 17, Union forces began to withdraw northward, ending the campaign to destroy the railroad at Dublin.
Written by Michael M. Meador
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