Battle of Big Bethel, Virginia
(aka Great Bethel; Big Bethel Church)
Battle of Big Bethel, Virginia, by D. H. Hill, Jr.*
"At the convergence of these roads, Colonel Bendix's Seventh New York
Regiment mistook Colonel Townsend's Third New York for Confederates and fired upon it. The fire was returned and twenty-one
were killed and wounded before the mistake could be corrected."
|Big Bethel Battle Map
|1861 Battle of Big Bethel, Virginia, Map
|Civil War Battle of Big Bethel Virginia
|Big Bethel Battlefield Virginia
The long struggle that was to cost North Carolina all its wealth, except
its land; that was to overthrow its social system; that was to crush to mute despair its home-keepers; that was to cause the
almost reckless pouring out of the blood of as proudly submissive, as grimly persistent, as coolly dauntless a body of soldiers
as ever formed line of battle opened at Bethel Church, VA. Bethel is only a short distance from Yorktown. It is not a
little singular that the great contest with our brethren began only ten miles from the weary struggle of our fathers culminated.
This battle--if with the memory of Gettysburg and Chickamauga still fresh,
we can call it a battle--was fought on the 10th of June, 1861. Being the first serious fight of the war, it of course attracted
attention out of proportion to its importance. Anticipating attack, Col. D. H. Hill [father of the writer] had, with the First
North Carolina Regiment, thrown up an enclosed earthwork on the bank of Marsh Creek. The Confederate position was held by
the following forces: Three companies of the Third Virginia, under Lieut.-Col. W. D. Stuart, occupied a slight earthwork to
the right and front of the enclosed work; three companies of the Virginia battalion, under Major. E. B. Montague; five pieces
of artillery, under major (afterwards secretary of war) G. W. Randolph, of the Richmond Howitzers; and the First North Carolina,
under Colonel Hill, occupied the inside of the works. The companies composing the North Carolina regiment, which had the envied
distinction of being the initial troops to enter organized battle, were: Edgecombe Guards, Capt. J. L. Bridgers; Hornet's
Nest Riflemen (Mecklenburg), Capt. L. S. Williams; Charlotte Grays, Capt. E. A. Ross; Orange Light Infantry, Capt. R. J. Ashe;
Buncombe Rifles, Capt. William McDowell; Lafayette Light Infantry (Cumberland), Capt. J. B. Starr; Burke Rifles, Capt. C.
M. Avery; Fayetteville Light Infantry, Capt. Wright Huske; Enfield Blues, Capt. D. B. Bell; Southern Stars (Lincoln), Capt.
W. J. Hoke. The whole force was nominally under the command of Col. J. B. Magruder, and numbered between 1,200 and 1,400 men.
To surprise and capture this force, Gen. B. F. Butler, commanding on the
Virginia coast, sent Gen. E. W. Pierce with five companies of the First Vermont, five companies of the Fourth Massachusetts,
two of Carr's Mountain Howitzers, and two pieces of regular artillery under Lieut. J. T. Greble, the whole force amounting,
according to Gen. Carr of the Federal army, to 3,500 men. On the night of the 9th, this force was advanced toward the Confederate
position on two roads. At the convergence of these roads, Colonel Bendix's Seventh New York Regiment mistook Colonel
Townsend's Third New York for Confederates and fired upon it. The fire was returned and twenty-one were killed and wounded
before the mistake could be corrected. Thinking it impossible after the firing to surprise the Confederates, General Pierce
sent back for reinforcements and then moved on toward Bethel. About 9 o'clock, on the morning of the 10th, the Federals appeared
on the field in front of the Southern works, and Greble's Battery took position. A shot from a Parrott gun in the Confederate
works ushered in the great Civil War on land. The first Federal attack was on the front. As a result of this attack, Colonel
Carr says: "Our troops were soon seeking shelter of the woods after a vain attempt to drive the enemy from the works." This
attack was repelled mainly be Randolph's accurate fire, aided by the gallant conduct of Burke's Rifles under Capt. Avery and
by the Hornet's Nest Rifles. A little later in the action the Edgecombe Guards, Captain Bridgers, gallantly took a redoubt
that had, on the accidental disabling of a gun, been abandoned by the Confederates. In front of this redoubt the Federals
had found shelter behind and in a house. Colonel Hill called for volunteers from the Edgecombe Guards to burn this house.
Sergt. George H. Williams, Thomas Fallon, John H. Thorpe, H. L. Wyatt and R. H. Bradley promptly offered their services and
made a brave rush for the house. On the way a shot from the enemy's rear guard struck Wyatt down. The determined spirit of
this heroic young soldier led to a premature death, but by dying he won the undying fame of being the first Confederate killed
An attempt to turn the Confederate left having failed, a force headed by
General Butler's aide, the gifted young Connecticut novelist, Maj. Theodore Winthrop, made an attempt on the left, but the
Carolinians posted there killed Winthrop at the first fire, and his followers soon rejoined Pierce and the whole force retreated
toward Fortress Monroe. Just at the close of action, Lieutenant Greble, who had served his guns untiringly against the Confederates,
was killed. The gun that he was firing was abandoned, says General Carr, and his body left beside it, but subsequently recovered
by a company that volunteered for that purpose.
Swinton in his "Army of the Potomac" says that while Colonel Warren yet
remained on the ground the Confederates abandoned the position. This is far from correct. General Magruder in his report says
that Confederate cavalry pursued the Federals for five miles. Colonel Carr, who commanded the Federal rear guard, says: "The
pursuit of the Confederates was easily checked." These two reports establish the fact that there was a pursuit and not abandonment.
Colonel Magruder further says, "It was not thought prudent to leave Yorktown exposed any longer. I therefore occupied the
ground with cavalry; and marched the remainder of my force to Yorktown. So evidently the position was not abandoned while
"Warren was yet on the ground." The Confederate loss in this precursor of many bloody fields was 1 killed and 11 wounded;
the Federal loss was 18 killed and 53 wounded.
In the South this little victory over a vastly superior force awakened a
wild enthusiasm, for it was thought to indicate the future and final success of the cause for which its people were battling.
|Virginia Civil War Battle of Big Bethel
|Alfred R. Waud, artist, June 10, 1861.
(Right) Civil War era sketch of the Battle of Big Bethel, Virginia,
by Alfred Waud, 1861. Alfred Rudolph Waud (October 2, 1828 – April 6, 1891), born in London, England, was
an American artist and illustrator who is best known for his sketches of American Civil War battles (1861 – 1865). Waud, having
immigrated to the US in 1850, would become a staff illustrator for New York Illustrated News in 1860 before
working for Harper's Weekly in late 1861. Whilst he illustrated the First Battle of Bull Run and numerous other
battles, Waud would become only one of two artists who sketched during the Battle of Gettysburg. His depiction of Pickett's
Charge remains one of his most notable sketches. Although Waud would illustrate for the duration of the four year war, the
artist correspondent would gain much of his notoriety during the latter half of life, when for 30 years he would
visit the battlefields of the late conflict. In 1891, Waud would die in Marietta, Georgia while touring battlefields
of the South. LOC.
*D. H. Hill, Jr., son of Confederate Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey Hill,
Sr., was the author of Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina
In The Civil War, 1861-1865 -- which is a welcome addition to the North Carolina Civil War buff. North
Carolina native Daniel Harvey Hill, Sr. -- commonly referred to as D. H. Hill -- was one of only two lieutenant
generals from the Tar Heel State. (Lieutenant general was the second highest rank in the Confederate Army.) Hill was
also brother-in-law to the renowned "Stonewall" Jackson.
More Terrible than Victory: North Carolina's Bloody Bethel Regiment, 1861-65
(368 Pages). Description: Craig Chapman presents
the definitive history of the First North Carolina Volunteers / 11th Regiment North Carolina Troops--the legendary Bethel
Regiment. The 1st North Carolina Volunteers struck history as it engaged in the Civil War's first land battle and witnessed
the first soldier killed in the great conflict. Chapman conveys the compelling history of these brave men as they left hearth
and home in defense of their state, beliefs and ideals. Most of the unit's raw, young recruits had never traveled
outside of North Carolina, nor fired a weapon in combat.
After an enlistment
of six months, North Carolina's First Regiment disbanded. Most of the men then enlisted in the Eleventh
NC Regiment, commonly referred to as the Bloody Bethel Regiment, and fought
in the bloodiest battles and campaigns of the Civil War. About the Author: Craig S. Chapman commands
one of the North Carolina National Guard infantry battalions that traces its lineage to the Eleventh Regiment North Carolina
Troops, the unit that started out as the First North Carolina Volunteers and nicknamed the Bethel Regiment. Chapman resides
in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Eyewitness to the Civil War (Hardcover: 416 pages) (National Geographic;
Fists edition) (November 21, 2006). Description: At once an informed overview for general-interest readers and a superb resource for serious
buffs, this extraordinary, gloriously illustrated volume is sure to become one of the fundamental books in any Civil War library.
Its features include a dramatic narrative packed with eyewitness accounts and hundreds
of rare photographs, pictures, artifacts, and period illustrations. Evocative sidebars, detailed maps, and timelines add to
the reference-ready quality of the text. Continued below...
From John Brown's raid to Reconstruction, Eyewitness to the
Civil War presents a clear, comprehensive discussion that addresses every military, political, and social aspect of this crucial
period. In-depth descriptions of campaigns and battles in all theaters of war are accompanied by a thorough evaluation of
the nonmilitary elements of the struggle between North and South. In their own words, commanders and common soldiers in both
armies tell of life on the battlefield and behind the lines, while letters from wives, mothers, and sisters provide a portrait
of the home front. More than 375 historical photographs, portraits, and artifacts—many never before published—evoke
the era's flavor; and detailed maps of terrain and troop movements make it easy to follow the strategies and tactics of Union and Confederate generals
as they fought through four harsh years of war. Photoessays on topics ranging from the everyday lives of soldiers to the dramatic
escapades of the cavalry lend a breathtaking you-are-there feeling, and an inclusive appendix adds even more detail to what
is already a magnificently meticulous history.
Reading: The Civil War Battlefield Guide: The Definitive Guide, Completely Revised,
with New Maps and More Than 300 Additional Battles (Second Edition) (Hardcover). Description: This new edition of the definitive guide to Civil War battlefields is really a completely
new book. While the first edition covered 60 major battlefields, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox, the second covers all of the 384 designated as the "principal battlefields" in the American Civil War Sites Advisory Commission
Report. Continued below...
As in the first edition, the essays are authoritative and concise, written by such leading Civil War
historians as James M. McPherson, Stephen W. Sears, Edwin C. Bearss, James I. Robinson, Jr., and Gary W. Gallager. The second
edition also features 83 new four-color maps covering the most important battles. The Civil War Battlefield Guide is an essential
reference for anyone interested in the Civil War.
The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (444 pages)
(Louisiana State University Press) (Updated edition: November 2007) Description: The Life of Johnny Reb does not merely describe the battles and skirmishes fought by
the Confederate foot soldier. Rather, it provides an intimate history of a soldier's daily life--the songs he sang, the foods
he ate, the hopes and fears he experienced, the reasons he fought. Wiley examined countless letters, diaries, newspaper accounts,
and official records to construct this frequently poignant, sometimes humorous account of the life of Johnny Reb. In a new
foreword for this updated edition, Civil War expert James I. Robertson, Jr., explores the exemplary career of Bell Irvin Wiley,
who championed the common folk, whom he saw as ensnared in the great conflict of the 1860s. Continued below...
About Johnny Reb:
"A Civil War
classic."--Florida Historical Quarterly
"This book deserves to be on the shelf of every Civil War modeler and enthusiast."--Model
"[Wiley] has painted with skill a picture of the life of the Confederate private. .
. . It is a picture that is not only by far the most complete we have ever had but perhaps the best of its kind we ever shall
have."--Saturday Review of Literature
Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War, by Edwin C. Bearss (Author),
James Mcpherson (Introduction). Description: Bearss, a former chief historian of the
National Parks Service and internationally recognized American Civil War historian, chronicles 14 crucial battles, including
Fort Sumter, Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Sherman's march through the Carolinas, and Appomattox--the
battles ranging between 1861 and 1865; included is an introductory chapter describing John Brown's raid in October 1859. Continued
Bearss describes the terrain, tactics, strategies, personalities, the soldiers and the commanders.
(He personalizes the generals and politicians, sergeants and privates.) The text is augmented by 80 black-and-white photographs
and 19 maps. It is like touring the battlefields without leaving home. A must for every one of America's
countless Civil War buffs, this major work will stand as an important reference and enduring legacy of a great historian for
generations to come.
The Flags of the Confederacy: An Illustrated History. Description: Devereaux D. Cannon is an expert on vexillology
(the study of flags). This book offers a history, profiles, design specifications and an overview of the various flags (national
flags, battle flags and naval ensigns) that were utilized by the Confederacy. The book features several pages with glossy
photos of the various flags of the Confederacy. It features even the little known flags. Cannon's book has inspired flag makers
to revive the old flags in addition to the 3 national flags, the battle flag and the naval ensign. This book is must have
for flag gurus, Civil War buffs and southern partisans.