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June 25, 1861

Page 4


Interesting Letter from Norfolk

The Reported Battle at Hampton no Battle at all—Prevalence of Sensation Rumors—Lieut. McDowell, of the N. C. Rifles—The Bethel Fight—Heroic Conduct and Death of Wyatt—The Strength of the Enemy and their Loss—Col. Winston’s Regiment

[From Our Own Correspondent]

Norfolk, Va., June 17, 1861

            “Lord! Lord! How this world is given to lying,” said jolly Jack Fallstaff over two hundred years ago, and if Jack were here now we do not see how he could do justice to the present age and say less.

            In the close of my last letter from Richmond I intimated to you that a rumor of a bloody battle at Hampton was rife in the city, and that it was represented as having emanated from Norfolk—from whence it was asserted the conflict had been witnessed and the report of the artillery had been heard.  Upon arriving here at 11 A. M. today, I ascertained, first, that there had been no fight at Hampton; secondly, if there had been one it could not have been witnessed from Norfolk; thirdly, that if artillery were employed in a fight at Hampton, and were heard in Norfolk, it could not be known with any degree of certainty that it was Hampton from whence the report proceeded.  So you perceive, the only persons liable to be imposed upon by the details at last were those who were entirely ignorant of the geography of the localities involved; and here I will take occasion to remark that if lying were an accomplishment without which no man could be a gentleman, I do not see how any more misrepresentations could get abroad than do now.  In these times and in these parts, whether it will do or will not do to say “truth is stranger than fiction,” certainly it may be justly said that truth is a far greater stranger than fiction.  But I am gratified to be able to testify that our gallant army have escaped the pestilential propensity for misrepresentation and exaggeration which seems to be raging so malignantly without the lines.  If they are lucky enough to engage the enemy their first report if the result is as modest and meager, as the nature of the circumstances will admit, and before the whole truth is gotten at, which, when finally it is, covers our flag with glory, it has to be fished for and extracted by means of a rigid cross examination.

            On the cars this morning I met with Lieut. McDowell, of the N. C. Burke Rifles, which company, it is already recorded, bore a conspicuous part in the brilliant engagement at Bethel, and although I found him affable and communicative upon all other subjects, yet upon the Bethel affair the only way I could get any information whatever from him was by propounding interrogatories to him so emphatically direct that a refusal to answer must have involved a question of civility.  The only allusions he made to the fight which were not answers to questions, were, first to the enthusiasm of our troops as to which he said the order to march was given at 3 o’clock in the morning and that long before daylight they were ready for the order “forward,” and obeyed it with a most unsophisticated alacrity.

            Secondly, that the fight was begun by a Virginian who was not a soldier and who took a position on the road, and as soon as the Yankees came within range of his rifle, blazed away on his own hook and, said he, “he fought like a tiger throughout the fight;” thirdly, and lastly, he mentioned voluntarily, the circumstances under which young Wyatt, the only man at post, fell, and sympathizing as I do with the sentiments of generosity and the high sense of justice which induced him to mention them, I shall record them, with the hope that they may be transferred to the page of history.

            It seems a portion of the enemy were in possession of a house from which it became important to dislodge them, and as we had no artillery that could be brought to bear upon it, they could only be dislodged by firing the building, where upon Capt. Bridges of company A, of the North Carolina Regiment, called for in forlorn hope of five to volunteer to fire the house, when corporal George Williams and privates H. L. Wyatt, John Thorp and Thomas Fallon immediately presented themselves as said forlorn hope, and it was while they were promptly and gallantly executing their mission that the brave young Wyatt fell. 

            To his memory should be awarded a monument and to his surviving companions promotion.

            Lieut. McDowell stated, responsive to inquiries about the strength of the enemy and their probable loss, that after the fight a messenger from the enemy appeared in our own camp, under a flag of truce, to ask permission to bury their dead, and that he stated that they had on the field 5,500 troops, and that when the roll was called after the fight, five hundred were missing.  He admitted 150 were killed and 250 wounded.  I dare say the remaining hundred, unaccounted for, broke at the first fire and may be running yet.  We had only 1100 troops on the field and only about 700 of them participated in the fight.  Had their General not been a knuckle headed booby or a white livered dastard, he might have easily surrounded our little band of heroes.  But suppose he had, he could not have taken a single prisoner alive, and it is more than probable that not one-fourth of his force would have left the scene of action alive.

            Col. Winston’s regiment is composed of Stephens Guards, Hamp. Smith Rifles, Emerald Guards, German Fusileers, and Independent Scouts, all of Mobile; and the Alabama Rangers and Southern Guards, of Perry county, Alabama; the Greenville Guards, of Butler county; Governor’s Guards, of Wetumpka, and the Independent  Blues, of Selma.

            I will write you tomorrow after having paid the 3d Alabama Regiment a visit.  I know full well who it is your readers really desire to hear from, and I appreciate their feelings and will endeavor to meet their expectations.

[from] BAYARD

[Transcribed by Sharon Strout]


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