The battle at Bethel.
official report of the Yankee General.
The following report of Gen. Butler
to his superior at Washington
, was written on the evening of the day on which the battle was fought.
The reader will readily detect its falsehoods, and comment on our part is unnecessary:
Headquarters, Department of Virginia,
General:Having learned that the enemy had established an outpost of some strength at a place called Little Bethel, a small church, about eight miles from Newport News, and the same distance from Hampton
, from whence they were accustomed nightly to advance both on New port News and the picket guards of Hampton
to anney them, and also from whence they had come down in small squads of cavalry and taken a number of Union men, some of whom had the sateguard and protection of the troops of the United Staes; and forced them into the rebel ranks, and that they were also gathering up the slaves of citizens who had moved away and left their farms in charge of their negroces, carrying them to work in entrenchments at Williamsburg
, I had determined to send up a force to drive them back and destroy their camp, the headquarters of which was this small church.
I had also learned that at a place a short distance further on, on the road to Yorktown
, was an outwork of the rebels, on the Hampton
side of a place called Big Bethel, a large church, near the head of the north branch of Back river
, and that here was a very considerable rendezvous, with works of more or less strength in process of erection, and from this point the whole country was laid under contribution.
Accordingly I ordered General Pierce
, who is in command of Camp Hamilton, at Hampton
, to send Duryea
's regiment of Zouaves to be ferried over Hampton Creek
at one o'clock this morning, and to march by the road up to New Market bridge, then croesing the bridge, to go by a by-road, and thus put the regiment in the rear of the enemy, and between Big Bethel and Little Bethel, in part for the purpose of cutting him off, and then to make an attack upon Little Bethel.
I directed General Pierce
to support him from Hampton
with Col. Townsend
's regiment, with two mounted howitzers, and to march about authour later.
At the same time I directed Col. Phelps
, commanding at Newport News, to send out a battalion, composed of such companies of the regiments under his command as he thought best, under command of Lieut. Colonel Washburn
, in time to make a demonstration upon Little Bethel in front, and to have him supported by Colonel Bendix
's regiment, with two field-pieces.
's and Townsend
's regiments should effect a junction at a fork of the road leading from Hampton
to Newport News, something like a mile and a half from Little Bethel.
I directed the march to be so timed that the attack should be made just at daybreak, and that after the attack was made upon Little Bethel, Duryea
's regiment, and a regiment from Newport News, should follow immediately upon the heels of the fugitives, if they were enabled to cut them off and attack the battery on the road to Big Bethel, while covered by the fugitives: or, if it was thought expedient by General Pierce
, failing to surprise the camp at Little Bethel, they should attempt to take the work near Big Bethel, To prevent the possibility of mistake in the darkness, I directed that no attack should be made until the watchword should be shouted by the attacking regiment, and, in case that by any mistake in the march the regiments that were to make in the march the regiments that were to make the junction should unexpectedly meet and be unknown to each other, also directed that the members of Col. Townsend
's regiment should be known, if in daylight, by something white worn on the arm. The troops were accordingly put in motion as ordered, and the march was so timed that Colonel Duryea
had got in the position noted upon the accompanying sketch, and Lieutenant Colonel Washburn
, in command of the regiment from Newport News, had got into the position indicated upon the sketch, and Col. Bendix
's regiment had been posted and ordered to hold the fork of the road, with two pieces of artillery, and Col. 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 Col. 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.
T.'s men, who feared that they had fallen into an ambuscade.
'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 Col. Washburn
, not knowing but that his communication might be cut off, immediately reversed his march, as did Col. Duryea
, and marched back to form a junction with his reserves.
, who was with Col. 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 7 o'clock. In the meantime, the true state of facts having been ascertained by Gen. Pierce
, the regiments effected a junction, and resumed the line of march.
At the moment of the firing of Col. Bendix
, Col. Duryea
had surprised a part of an outlying guard of the enemy, consisting of thirty persons, who have been brough 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.
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 report,) 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 the enemy, and that he thought he 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 wagous 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 Lieut. Morfis
, 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 be conducted in order, and without haste.
I learned from him that the men behaved with great steadiness, with the exception of some 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 at 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 Col.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 Col. 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 presented.