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[198] comparatively a small affair, considered in the light of subsequent events, at the time of its occurence it was thought to be a great battle, and was flashed all over the country and was the subject of comment in every household. In the South it was an affair of considerable importance, inasmuch as it sent the first gleam of sunlight through the dark cloud of war that overspread this section, while at the North it served to convince the people that the South was in earnest in the secession movement.

What soldier does not remember his first battle? I will never forget this one. The early morning breakfast, the silence and seriousness that took possession of the troops as they marched to their positions, the hurried erection of breastworks, and the masking of them with sassafras bushes that were growing wild in the vicinity, the fire from which was so demoralizing to the enemy when the troops behind them rose as if out of the ground and delivered a deadly volley into their ranks. What a feeling takes possession of a man when he is crouched down behind earthworks awaiting the approach of the enemy, all unsuspecting, and he rises up from behind a masked battery and delivers his fire for the first time!

Early in June, 1861, the Confederates established an outpost at Bethel Church, on the Peninsula formed by the York and James rivers, about thirteen miles from Yorktown, eight from Hampton, and eight from the now-flourishing town of Newport News, but which was then an insignificant hamlet. Federal raiding parties had previously visited Bethel and inscribed on its church walls such ‘terrifying’ words as ‘Death to Traitors!’ ‘Down with the Rebels!’ etc.

General B. F. Butler, who was in command of the Department of Virginia, with headquarters at Fortress Monroe, determined to break up this observation post of the Confederates, and organized an expedition for that purpose, consisting of about 4,400 men from the First, Second, Third, Fifth and Seventh New York regiments, under the commands of Colonels Allen, Carr, Townsend, Duryea, and Bendix, respectively; the First Vermont, Fourth Massachusetts, and Second United States Artillery (regulars), under Lieutenant John T. Greble, with orders to ‘burn both Bethels; blow up if of brick’ (meaning Little Bethel and Big Bethel churches).

To meet this then formidable host the Confederates had assembled, under General John Bankhead Magruder, about 1,400 men, consisting of the First North Carolina regiment, Colonel D. H. Hill; three companies of the Third Virginia regiment (afterwards the Fifteenth),

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E. D. Townsend (2)
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