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June 21, 1861

Page 1


The Battle of Bethel

            The Northern papers have extraordinary accounts of the battle of Bethel.  The New York Herald says the “rebels” had constructed an entrenched camp, comprising six batteries of rifled cannon and sixty-eight twelve-pound howitzers, and in another place the same paper alludes to the “capture of 12,000 rebels,” and shouts joyously—“Butler is evidently the right man in the right place!”  Later issues of the New York papers contain articles betraying the profoundest mortification, apparent amid all the falsifications in which they endeavor to find consolation in their distress.

            From various accounts published by Virginia papers we compile the following interesting items:

            The howitzer rifle cannon did dreadful work; the shots striking on the right flank would go entirely through the left.  (The enemy advanced by right flank, and never formed line of battle.)  One of these shots went through and through a farmhouse, and through a Yankee on the other side, and then cut a fine tree half down.  The hole in the man was about the size of a common water bucket.  In the first of the battle the enemy threw forward four companies of New York Zouaves to cross the creek at a ford a mile below.  Colonel Magruder then ordered the Chatham Grays, 85 strong, with one Naval howitzer, under command of Captain W. H. Werth, to defend the ford to the very last extremity.  Captain Werth, with his command, left their redoubt on the right, and crossed a wide open field within four hundred yards of the enemy’s battery, which was then pouring shot of all kinds and shell around them, about as fast as hail down the side of the stream at a double quick, whilst the Zouave regiment was at the same speed going down on the opposite side, both aiming for the ford.  The Virginians trotted the mile first, got possession of the ford, planted their gun, ambushed the infantry, and waited for an attack; but the Zouaves did not like the looks of things, and put back to the main body without once getting in range.  All the trees around Bethel Church are cut all to pieces, and the foliage stripped off by the musket balls.  The fire was terrible, and shot fell about as fast as any man would like.  Not more than seven hundred of our troops got into the fight, owing to the fact that the enemy confined his attack chiefly to the centre, thus leaving all the troops posted to defend the flanks nothing to do but to play a quiet game of seven up.

            During the engagement, a howitzer, under command of Capt. J. Thompson Brown, of Richmond, became disabled, from accident, the primer breaking off in the touch hole and striking the gun.  It was removed from its position and carried into the woods about 150 yards beyond the entrenchments.  This was discovered by the enemy, and a party of 200 Zouaves rallied out and seized it.  They were dragging it off, when Col. Hill ordered two of his companies to charge bayonet and recover the gun.  Wild with enthusiasm, the gallant Carolinians escaped the entrenchments, and at a bound or two, rushed towards the famous Zouaves with bayonets fixed.  So many glittering steel points, in the hands of such sturdy sons of Carolina, struck terror to the already frightened wretches, and they rushed pell-mell from the spot, leaving their imagined trophy in the hands of the Confederates.  The Yankees will not cross bayonets under any circumstances—not even to defend the “stars and stripes.”

The residence of a widow lady, residing on the vicinity of Hampton, was visited Monday afternoon and the building demanded for a hospital.  The lady protested against its appropriation for any such purpose.  The cowards then demanded material for bandages, which being refused, they laid violent hands on every sheet, counterpane, pillow case and table cloth, tearing them up into suitable widths.  Beds were taken, and a large dining table.  The table was carried into the yard, beneath the thick branches of a pleasant grove, and here the surgeons relieved many a poor fellow of a broken arm or a shattered leg.

A lady living in the vicinity and near the road says the affrightened creatures left the scene of their exploits in the wildest confusion.  Some were crying with pain, others screaming with terror, and still others yelling like demons, in the hope, probably, of frightening back all pursuers.  Twenty-five haversacks were found in one pile, and other accoutrements without numbers.  A letter was found, written by one of these thieving Yankees to his mother.  He informed her that he had secured some twenty-five horses and several negroes, but had met with no opportunity to dispose of them.  The mother was requested to forward some funds until the writer could realize something from his horses and negroes, when she would be repaid with interest.

            Another letter was penned in beautiful, delicate style.  It was from a sister to a brother.  It breathed the most ardent affection, and enjoined upon him to kill a thousand slave-breeders if possible, and by all means to avenge the death of the handsome and brave young Elmer Ellsworth.

            An old trapper of respectability who has resided in Hampton for many years, named Benj. Phillips, was coming on the road near Hampton in the afternoon, armed with a double-barreled gun.  Seeing a buggy some distance ahead of him, he slipped into the woods and waited its approach.  He soon discovered two officers seated in the buggy, and saw from their distressed appearance that they were in no condition to do him much damage.  They hailed him as they passed, asking who he was?  He replied by telling them to pass on.  As soon as they did so, the old man let fly both barrels of his gun in rapid succession into the back of the buggy.  A shriek was heard, and one of the officers leaped out and took to the woods.  The other fell forward and the buggy passed on.  Mr. Phillips is of the impression that the shriek was the death-yell of the individual who remained in the vehicle.  Mr. Phillips had previously killed at different times nine of the Federal scouts.

            The day on which the battle was fought, (last Monday), our informant states, was one of the loveliest he ever witnessed.  Not a speck was to be seen in the blue skies overhead, and a more delightful temperature was never vouchsafed to patriot hearts.

            Col. Magruder placed the men in position, and with great coolness went around, delivering to each company a few spirited remarks.  To one he closed with the encouraging language of Rev. Mr. Adams, a Baptist minister, who had preached to the troops at Bethel Church the night previous, saying, “God is with us, and victory is sure.”  To another Col. Magruder said, in the language of the patriot Garibaldi, “God never made a more beautiful day for men to die in defence of their country.”  And lastly, Col. Magruder addressed the Hampton Brigade, commanded by Maj. John B. Cary, and after a few spirited remarks, closed by telling them that Hamptonians had the strongest incentives to nerve their strong arms in this struggle, “for they had deep and grievous wrongs of their own to avenge.”


[Transcribed by: Sharon Strout]


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