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[357] fork of the road, with two pieces of artillery, and Colonel Townsend's regiment had got to the place indicated just behind, and were about to form a junction as the day dawned.

Up to this point the plan had been vigorously, accurately, and successfully carried out; but here, by some strange fatuity, and as yet unexplained blunder, without any word of notice, while Colonel Townsend was in column en route, and when the head of the column was within one hundred yards, Col. Bendix's regiment opened fire with both artillery and musketry upon Col. Townsend's column, which, in the hurry and confusion, was irregularly returned by some of Col. Townsend's men, who feared that they had fallen into an ambuscade. Col. Townsend's column immediately retreated to the eminence near by, and were not pursued by Col. Bendix's men. By this almost criminal blunder two men of Col. Townsend's regiment were killed, and eight more or less wounded.

Hearing this cannonading and firing in his rear, Lieutenant-Colonel Washburn, not knowing but that his communication might be cut off, immediately reversed his march, as did Col. Daryea, and marched back to form a junction with his reserves.

General Pierce, who was with Colonel Townsend's regiment, fearing that the enemy had got notice of our approach, and had posted himself in force on the line of march, and not getting any communication from Col. Duryea, sent back to me for reinforcements, and I immediately ordered Col. Allen's regiment to be put in motion, and they reached Hampton about seven o'clock. In the mean time the true state of facts having been ascertained by General Pierce, the regiments effected a junction, and resumed the line of march. At the moment of the firing of Colonel Bendix, Colonel Duryea had surprised a part of an outlaying guard of the enemy, consisting of thirty persons, who have been brought into me.

Of course by this firing all hope of a surprise above the camp at Little Bethel was lost, and, upon marching upon it, it was found to have been vacated, and the cavalry had pressed on toward Big Bethel. Col. Duryea, however, destroyed the camp at Little Bethel, and advanced. General Pierce, then, as he informs me, with the advice of his colonels, thought best to attempt to carry the works of the enemy at Big Bethel, and made dispositions to that effect. The attack commenced, as I am informed — for I have not yet received any official reports — about half-past 9 o'clock.

At about ten o'clock General Pierce sent a note to me saying that there was a sharp engagement with tie enemy, and that he thought le should be able to maintain his position until reinforcements could come up. Acting upon this information, Colonel Carr's regiment, which had been ordered in the morning to proceed as far as Newmarket Bridge, was allowed to go forward. I received this information, for which I had sent a special messenger, about twelve o'clock. I immediately made disposition from Newport News to have Colonel Phelps, from the four regiments there, forward aid if necessary. As soon as these orders could be sent forward I repaired to Hampton, for the purpose of having proper ambulances and wagons for the sick and wounded, intending to go forward and join the command. While the wagons were going forward a messenger came, announcing that the engagement had terminated, and that the troops were retiring in good order to camp.

I remained upon the ground at Hampton, personally seeing the wounded put in boats and towed round to the hospital, and ordering forward Lieutenant Morris, with two boat howitzers, to cover the rear of the returning column in case it should be attacked. Having been informed that the ammunition of the artillery had been expended, and seeing the head of the column approach Hampton in good order, I waited for General Pierce to come up. I am informed by him that the dead and wounded had all been brought off, and that the return had been conducted in good order, and without haste. I learned from him that the men behaved with great steadiness, with the exception of some few instances, and that the attack was made with propriety, vigor, and courage; but that the enemy were found to be supported by a battery, variously estimated as of from fifteen to twenty pieces, some of which were rifled cannon, which were very well served, and protected from being readily turned by a creek in front.

Our loss is very considerable, amounting perhaps to forty or fifty, a quarter part of which you will see was from the unfortunate mistake — to call it by no worse name — of Colonel Bendix.

I will, as soon as official returns can be got, give a fuller detail of the affair, and will only add now that we have to regret especially the death of Lieut. Greble, of the Second Artillery, who went out with Colonel Washburn from Newport News, and who very efficiently and gallantly fought his piece until he was struck by a cannon shot. I will endeavor to get accurate statements to forward by the next mail.

I think, in the unfortunate combination of circumstances, and the result which we experienced, we have gained more than we have lost. Our troops have learned to have confidence in themselves under fire, the enemy have shown that they will not meet us in the open field, and our officers have learned wherein their organization and drill are inefficient.

While waiting for the official reports, I have the honor to submit thus far the information of which I am possessed.

I have the honor to be, most respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

Benj. F. Butler, Major-General Commanding.

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E. D. Townsend (7)
E. W. Pierce (5)
John E. Bendix (4)
J. Duryea (3)
G. A. Washburn (2)
Hampton (2)
James N. Phelps (1)
T. A. Morris (1)
Greble (1)
Daryea (1)
William Carr (1)
Benjamin F. Butler (1)
William H. Allen (1)
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