June 18, 1861
Battle of Bethel Church
Richmond papers of Thursday bring us very full and satisfactory accounts of the
battle which took place at Great Bethel Church, near Hampton, Va., on Monday
last. The details are highly
interesting, and we give the following letter of a correspondent writing from
Yorktown on Tuesday:
OF OUR TROOPS
encampment was a parallel formation, the corners of the fortification lying
nearly due east and west, north and south, and was protected by embankments
thrown up on four sides, the strongest of which was on the southeast side,
which commanded the road, the bridge and the field through which troops must
pass, coming from Hampton, and was well fortified. To the defence of
this position a howitzer battery of three guns under the command of Maj. Geo.
W. Randolph, and four companies of the North Carolina Regiment on the northwest
side; the remainder of the North Carolina Regiment were stationed from east to
west. On the south side was a ravine
thirty feet deep, and very marshy. This
position was defended by a battery of one howitzer gun, under the command of
Captain J. Thompson Brown on the left, and an earthwork and trench made and
occupied by the companies of Lieut. Colonel Stewart’s command, consisting of
the Virginia Life Guard, Capt. Walker; Henrico Southern Guard, Captain Childrey; and Young Guard, Captain Charters—the remainder
of the troops, of infantry and cavalry, were stationed inside the enclosure,
and completed the defence of the entire
parallel. All was now in readiness, and
with calm, determined countenances, the men awaited their coming.
a few minutes our scouts and videttes commenced
firing and coming in, announcing the advance.
The cannoneers and infantry in the line of
fortifications were notified and stood ready, ammunition in hand. Our men (Col. Stewart’s) were ordered in the
trenches, when they were compelled to kneel, in order to conceal our position
until the enemy advanced to the middle of the field, and then open fire. The approach to the fortifications can only
be made through a field 600 yards wide, and by the bridge, spanning the creek
running along the line southeast of our position.
Colonel stood with glass in hand and soon discovered the glistening of bayonets
coming from cover of the woods and up the road.
As soon as they had arrived about one thousand yards from us, they
planted two cannons in the field, to our left, all of them being guns of heavy
caliber. As soon as they were seen in
position, Major Randolph gave the command, and their splendid Parrot gun
belched forth a shot which took effect on the column in the road and did
considerable damage; this was replied to by the enemy from their gun in the
road, and replied to by Capt. Brown’s battery in the field. The action then became general, and the
deafening roar of the guns was all that could be heard for an hour—our shot
taking good effect, that of the other side not having hit a single man or gun,
all being aimed too high, doing great damage among the boughs of the
trees. Colonel Stewart’s command were
placed fifty yards on the right of Captain Brown’s battery, to serve as a
protection to them, and we soon saw the approach of a company of Zouaves of a New York Regiment, advancing under cover of
some houses, and a large orchard to the right of the field. The Virginia Life Guard were ordered to rise
and shoot them, as our position had not been discovered; the men of the first platoon
rose, and taking deliberate aim, fired; the shots had good effect, seven of the
Zouaves falling, two killed and remainder wounded, as
we ascertained afterwards by finding the bodies of the dead. We immediately drew upon us the fire of the Zouaves and one piece of cannon; but our men were
undaunted, and between every fire of the ____ ____ they rose by file and
fired. Nearly every ____ ____was
felled. Our guns being the Enfield
rifled gun, were very effective. The
entire force of both sides [unreadable phrase] and to men accustomed to such
guns, the rifle was sublime. After the
first fire all the hesitating and trepidation incident to the first battle was
over, and every man felt eager to give them a salute. There was a cessation of firing for five
minutes, when our guns commenced again, and constant and rapid firing we kept
up for one hour more, our guns working beautifully and doing great damage. The fire of the enemy wounded three of our
howitzer and one of the North Carolina Regiment men.
this engagement the howitzer ____ ____ field; was accidentally disabled by the
breaking of the front wire to the ____ hole, and had to be carted in the woods
and abandoned, and Colonel Stewart’s command was ordered to close in upon the
fortifications, and defend the interior of our camp as we moved off. A regiment of infantry was seen to fill up
the road to the south of our postings, in order to get in our rear, and several
cannons were ordered to the road through which they must pass. The cannons were supported by the commands of
Col. Stewart and Capt. Montague; but they did not make their appearance and we
remained interested spectators of the third attack, holding our position in the
trenches, and prepared to defend the ravine and the road to the south and west
of our fortifications.
attack was made a few minutes after twelve o’clock, and was the most severe of
all the day’s work. Our guns commenced
again, and after exchanging shots for fifteen or twenty minutes the enemy
formed in column, one thousand strong, and under command of a brave looking
General well-mounted, advanced over the road, over the bridge and up to the
embankment, on the southeast. Every man
looked on with breathless interest, as the charge was a brilliant one. As soon as they were in good range, our
battery opened and the first fire struck the head of the advancing column, and
crashed through from rank to rank. They
attempted to mount the embankment, but our infantry rose, and they were
repulsed with great loss, and so discomfited that they retired with a double
quick movement down the road. The
Colonel commanding in this charge was seen to ____ in his saddle. The battery again exchanged shots, and the
action closed with six men wounded on their side.
was now one o’clock, and the enemy showing no disposition to commence again,
the dragoons were ordered out, and found the enemy retreating with all speed
toward Hampton. As they pursued them,
they scattered like sheep, and the wounded and dying fell on every side of the
road. It was a pitiable sight, and as
our men came back they were picked up and carried on litters to our camp and
battle was now over, having commenced at 9 ½ o’clock A. M. and continued until
1 P. M. One of the wounded of the enemy
said he would tell the truth before he died, and say four thousand five hundred
were engaged on the part of the Federal troops, and five hundred held in
reserve; and the dead and wounded were two hundred, while on our part there
were only twelve hundred men, and at no time were there more than eight hundred
force of the enemy brought against us was 4000, according to the statement of
the six prisoners we took. Ours was
1100. Their loss in killed and wounded
must be nearly 200. Our loss is one
killed and three wounded. The fatal loss
was that of a North Carolinian who volunteered to ___ one of the houses behind
which they were stationed. He started
from the breastwork to accomplish it, but was shot in the head. He died this morning at the hospital. The wounded are Harry Snook, of Richmond, of
Brown’s Battery, shot in the wrist; John Worth, of Richmond, of the same
battery, shot in the leg, and Lieut. Hudson, of the same battery, shot in the
foot. None of the wounds are serious.
Louisiana Regiment arrived about an hour after the fight was over. They are a fine looking lot of fellows.
there was force enough at Old Point to send up to Bethel and surround us, we
took up the line of march and came to Yorktown, where we now are.
nine o’clock the glittering bayonets of the enemy appeared on the hill
opposite, and above them waved the Star Spangled Banner. The moment the head of the column advanced
far enough to show one or two companies, the Parrot gun of the Howitzer Battery
opened on them, throwing a shell right into their midst. Their ranks broke in confusion, and the
column, or as much of it as we could see, retreated behind two small farm
houses. From their position a fire was
opened on us, which was replied to by our battery, which commanded the route of
their approach. Our firing was
excellent, and the shells scattered in all directions when they burst. They could hardly approach the guns which
they were firing for the shells which came from our battery. Within our encampment fell a perlee? in a storm of cannon shot, bullets and balls. Remarkable to say not one of our men was
killed in all of our encampment. Several
horses were slain by the shells and bullets.
that bombardment would not waiver, the enemy, about 11 o’clock, tried to carry
the position by assault, but met a terrible repulse at the hands of the
infantry as he tried to scale the breast works.
The men disregarded ____ line defence erected
for them, and leaping on the embankment, stood and fired at the Yankees,
cutting them down as they came up. One
company of the New York 7th Regiment, under Capt. Garthrop, or Winthrop, attempted to take the redoubt on the
left. The marsh they crossed was strewn
with their bodies. Their Captain, a fine
looking man, reached the fence, and leaping on a log, waved his sword, crying,
“Come on boys; one charge and the day is over.”
The words were his last, for a Cadet in ____ ended his life the next
moment, and his men had to turn back. At
the redoubt on the right a company of about 800 New York Zouaves
charged one of our guns, but could not stand the fire of the artillery and
these charges the main body of the enemy, on the hill, were attempting to
concentrate for a general assault, but the shell from the Howitzer battery
prevented them. As one regiment would
give up the effort, another would be marched to the position, but with no
better success, for a shell would scatter them like chaff. The men did not seem able to stand fire at
1 o’clock their guns were silenced, and a few moments after their infantry
retreated precipitately down the road to Hampton.
cavalry, numbering three companies, went in pursuit, and harassed them down to
the edge of Hampton. As they retreated,
many of the wounded fell along the road and died, and the whole road to Hampton
was strewn with haversacks, overcoats, canteens, muskets, etc., which the men
had thrown off in their retreat.
the battle I visited the position they held.
The houses behind which they had been hid had been burnt by our
troops. Around the yard were the dead
bodies of the men who had been killed by our cannon, mangled in the most
frightening manner by the shells. The
uniforms on the bodies were very different, and many of them are like the
Virginia soldiery. A little further on
we came to the point to which they had carried some of the wounded, who had
since died. The gay looking uniforms of
the New York Zouaves contrasted greatly with the
paled, fixed faces of their owners.
Going to the swamp through which they attempted to pass to assault our
lines, presented another bloody scene.
Bodies dotted the black morass from one end to the other. I saw the boyish, delicate looking fellow
lying on the mud, with a bullet hole through his breast. His hand was pressed on the wound from which
his life blood had poured, and the other was clenched in the grass that grew
near him. Lying on the ground was a
Testament which had fallen from his pocket, dabbed with blood. On opening the cover I found the printed
inscription “Presented to the defenders of their Country, by the New York Bible
Society.” A U. S. flag was also stamped
on the title page.
the haversacks picked up along the route were many letters from the Northern
States, asking if they liked the Southern farms, and if the Southern barbarians
had been whipped out yet.
OF THE BATTLE
enemy, when they first approached, tried to keep up their courage by repeated
cheering, yelling like so many savages, which the writer of this heard
distinctly, while our men said not a word, but with uplifted hearts to the God
of Battles, stood silent and courageously, awaiting them.
of the captains of the advancing column of the enemy, approached near the North
Carolina Regiment’s line, and, standing on a log, cheered his men. He was seen, and a private in one of the
companies took deliberate aim, and he fell dead. The man ran out and secured his sword as a trophy
of his valor.
went over the field after the fight. The
sight was sickening. Here lay the body
of a Zouave, the blood still gushing from its wound;
a little further, the body of one of some other regiment, with his musket in
his clenched hand; and all about lay the dead, with their eyes glazed and
the entire engagement, Col. Magruder was in every
part of the field, and displayed consummate generalship and courage, directing
every movement in person and exposing himself with a recklessness of danger
which was seen and admired by all in camp.
of our corps picked up, on the field of battle, a memorandum book, belonging to
one R. M. Parker, private in the 2d company, 1st Regiment Vermont
Volunteers, in which I find the following entry:
5th—Harriet Lane demolished the battery opposite. Six Massachusetts privates shot
accidentally—carelessness in an attack.
Eight hundred more troops arrived from New York. H. Lane
was struck—25 on board wounded.”
there is the truth about Pig Point. We
have punished the Yankees awfully, depend upon it, in every battle we have yet
had with them.
[Transcribed by Sharon Strout]