June 25, 1861
Letter from Norfolk
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
Our Own Correspondent]
Va., June 17, 1861
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
his memory should be awarded a monument and to his surviving companions
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.
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.
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.
[Transcribed by Sharon Strout]