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Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Battle of Big Bethel

The Battle of Big Bethel

The Battle of Big Bethel, also known as the Battle of Bethel Church or Great Bethel was one of the earliest land battles of the American Civil War on 10 June 1861. Union, under Brigadier-General Ebenezer W. Peirce, 8,000. Killed, 16, wounded, 34, missing 6. Confederate, under Major-General John B. Magruder, 2,200. Killed, wounded, and missing, uncertain numbers variously reported at from 8 to 150.

This engagement, the first in the field, took place on the 10th of June 1861. Big Bethel is about ten miles north of Newport News, on the road from Hampton to Yorktown. A body of rebel troops stationed at Little Bethel, eight miles from Newfort News liad caused much annoyance to the Union forces under the command of General Butler. On the night of 9th June 1861, an expedition of 3,000 men, under Brigadier-General Pierce, was sent out from Fortress Monroe to dislodge them. He had dispatched several regiments to surprise the enemy at Little Bethel. This movement was in part successful, and the expedition proceeded on their march. One of those untoward accidents now occurred which sometimes turn the chances of victory into a defeat, and arouse instead of alarm an enemy. Colonel Bendix mistaking, in the darkness which surrounded them, the advance of Colonel Townsend's command for the enemy's, opened upon it a heavy fire of artillery and musketry, which was quickly returned. This fatal mistake resulted not only in the killing and wounding of several Union soldiers, but in arousing the whole rebel camp. The enemy, retiring from Little Bethel, joined their main force, consisting of over 2,000 men, which was strongly intrenched at Great Bethel. Without a knowledge of the strength of the latter, and without reconnoitring their position, it was decided to attack them in their stronghold. An advance was made in the morning at ten o'clock. Masked batteries swept the road all along the line of march. Lieutenant Greble was ordered up, with his three pieces of artillery, directly in front of the enemy's works. Unsupported except by his gunners, this gallant young officer was exposed to their destructive fire. But bravery alone can not repair the errors of incompetency, and he sealed with his devoted life his patriotism and daring love of his profession. Lieutenant Greble's men falling around him, and he himself struck down by a cannon ball, his guns were withdrawn from their position. The infantry columns made gallant but futile attempts, by different approaches, to storm the works. These defenses were protected in front by a deep stream and a marsh, and at other points by a ditch. Colonel Blenker's regiment and the Zouaves charged up to them repeatedly, in the face of the batteries. These brave men were gradually flanking the position when, it is said, the order to retreat was given. Among the killed in this battle was Major Theodore Winthrop, an accomplished volunteer officer, who in times of peace adorned the profession of the pen, as, in war, he honored that of the sword. 

Orders of Battle

Confederate Commander-in-chief 

1st Brigade, under the command of 

2nd Brigade, under the command of


Union Commander-in-chief 

1st Brigade, under the command of 

2nd Brigade, under the command of 

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The Battle of Big Bethel

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