May 17, 1862: The Civil War Battle of Pigeon Roost Occurs at Princeton

May 17, 2017

The Civil War Battle of Pigeon Roost occurred at Princeton in Mercer County on May 17, 1862. The battle ended a month-long series of engagements in which Union forces under General Jacob Cox aimed to destroy a strategic railroad at Dublin, Virginia, which was defended by Confederates under General Humphrey Marshall. Under Cox’s command were two officers who’d later become presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.

Mercer County Courthouse in Princeton
Credit E-WV / West Virginia Humanities Council

Several weeks before the battle, a Union advance guard had been attacked near Camp Creek. The Confederates then retreated south and burned Princeton on May 1.

Federal troops moved through the ruins of Princeton; advanced to Pearisburg, Virginia; but then fell back to Princeton, where they skirmished with pursuing Confederates on May 16. As evening fell, the Confederates spread out on a ridge overlooking Princeton known as Pigeon Roost.

On the morning of May 17, Union troops were approaching Princeton quite noisily, unaware that Confederates were lying in ambush. The attack left an estimated 18 Union troops killed and 38 wounded. That evening, the Yankees pulled north, ending their campaign to destroy the railroad at Dublin.