- General Butler at Fortress Monroe, 498.
-- movements of troops near Fortress Monroe, 500.
-- slaves pronounced contraband of War
-- Newce fortified, 501.
-- attack on Pig Point Battery
-- the troops at Camp Hamilton, 502.
-- the insurgents on the Peninsula, 503.
-- expedition to Big and little Bethel, 504.
-- the insurgent post at Big Bethel, 506.
-- battle at Big Bethel, 507.
-- death of Major Winthrop, 508.
-- death of Lieutenant Greble, 509.
-- effect of the battle of Big Bethel
-- officers censured, 510.
-- a censured officer justified, 511.
-- the desolation of Hampton, 512.
-- Big Bethel battle-ground visited, 513.
-- Hampton and vicinity, 514.
-- incidents at Hampton, 515.
-- the Eleventh Indiana Regiment, 516.
-- expedition to Romney planned, 517.
-- skirmish at Romney Bridge, 518.
Whilst the campaign in Northwestern Virginia
was opening with vigor, important events were occurring at and near Fortress Monroe
, on the southeastern borders of that State, where General Benjamin F. Butler
was in chief command.
He had been sent thither, as we have observed, after he incurred the displeasure of the General-in-chief
by the seizure of Baltimore
, without orders to do so, and in a manner contrary to a proposed plan.1
The President was not offended by the act, and he gave Butler
the commission of a Major-General
of Volunteers, on the 16th of May, the first of the kind that was issued from his hand.2
With this he sent him to Fortress Monroe
, to take command of the rapidly-gathering forces there, and to conduct military affairs in that part of Virginia
arrived at Fortress Monroe
on the morning of the 22d of May, and was cordially received by Colonel Justin Dimick
, of the regular Army, who was commander of the post.
From the beginning of the rebellious movements in Virginia
, that faithful officer, with only a small garrison--“three hundred men to guard a mile and a half of ramparts--three hundred to protect some sixty-five broad acres within the walls” 3
--had kept the insurgents
at bay. He had quietly but significantly turned the muzzles of some of his great guns landward; and, unheeding the mad cry of the politicians, that it was an act of war, and the threats of rebellious men in arms, of punishment for his insolence, he defied the enemies of his country.
Those guns taught Letcher
prudence, and Wise
caution, and Lee
circumspection, and Jefferson Davis
The immense importance of the post was
apprehended by them all, and its possession was coveted by them all; but there was Dimick
, late in May, with the great fortress and its almost four hundred cannon — the massive key to the waters of Maryland
, and Upper North Carolina
--firmly in his possession--“a fine old Leonidas
head of the three hundred,” when General Butler
arrived and took the chief command, with troops sufficient to insure its safety against the attacks of any force at the disposal of the conspirators.
's first care was, after making Fortress Monroe
secure from capture, to ascertain the condition of affairs in his department.
He knew that it was the desire of the Government
and the people to seize and hold Richmond
, which the conspirators had chosen for their future and permanent Headquarters.
The troops then in and around Washington City
were barely sufficient to keep the hourly increasing host of the insurgents at Manassas
in check; and the easiest and most expeditious route to Richmond
seemed to be by way of the York and James Peninsula
, and the James River
, from Fortress Monroe
With the capture of Richmond
in view, Butler
shaped all of his movements.
On the day after his arrival, the Commanding General
sent out Colonel Phelps
, at the head of some Vermont
troops, to reconnoiter the vicinity of Hampton
They were confronted at the bridge over Hampton Creek
by the blazing timbers of that structure, which the insurgents had fired.
soon extinguished the flames, crossed the stream, entered Hampton
, and drove what few armed opponents they found there out upon the roads leading toward Yorktown
They found the white inhabitants in sullen mood, but the negroes were jubilant, for they regarded the troops as their expected deliverers.
did not linger long in Hampton
, but recrossed the bridge, and on the Segar farm
he selected a place for an encampment, which was at once occupied by the Vermont
regiment and another from Troy
(the Second New York), under Colonel Carr
, and named Camp Hamilton.
On the same day a small redoubt for two guns was cast up at the Fortress Monroe
end of Hampton Bridge, so as to command that passage.
This was the first military work made by Union troops on the soil of Virginia
On the evening of the 24th,
a circumstance occurred at Fortress Monroe
which had a very important bearing upon the contest then opening.
In the confusion caused by Colonel Phelps
's dash into Hampton
, three negroes, claimed as the property of Colonel Mallory
village, escaped to the Union
lines, and declared that many of their race and class were employed by the insurgents in building fortifications,
and that they themselves were about to be sent to North Carolina
for the same purpose.
They were taken before General Butler
He needed laborers on field-works, which he expected to erect immediately.
Regarding these slaves, according to the laws of Virginia
, as much the property of Colonel Mallory
as his horses or his pistols, and as properly seizable as they, as aids in warfare, and which might be used against the National
said:--“These men are contraband of war; set them at work.”
This order was scarcely pronounced before Major Carey
, of the “Virginia Volunteers,” sought an interview with the General
respecting the fugitives, representing himself as the agent of Colonel Mallory
in “charge of his property.”
The interview was granted, when the Major
wished to know what the General
intended to do with the runaways.
“I shall detain them as contraband of war,” was the reply; and they were held as such.
Other slaves speedily followed those of Colonel Mallory
, and General Butler
wrote to the Secretary of War
concerning them, relating what he had done, on the assumption that they were the property of an enemy used in warfare, and asking for instructions.
The General's action was approved by his Government; and thenceforward all fugitive slaves were considered as “contraband of war,” and treated as such.
On the spot where the first African
who was sold as a slave in America
first inhaled the fresh air of the New World, the destruction of the system of slavery, which had prevailed in Virginia
two hundred and forty years, was thus commenced.6
That master-stroke of policy was one of the most effective blows aimed at the heart of the rebellion; and throughout the war the fugitive slave was known as a contraband
. “An epigram,” prophetically wrote the brilliant Major Winthrop
, of Butler
's staff, who fell in battle a few days later--“an epigram abolished slavery in the United States
Thoroughly convinced that Fortress Monroe
was the proper base for operations against Richmond
; for the severance of Virginia
from the other Southern States; and for the seizure of the great railway centers of that Commonwealth, Butler
made his plans and dispositions accordingly.
On the 27th of May he sent Colonel Phelps
in the steamer Catiline
, with a detachment, to occupy and fortify the promontory of Newport
, where the United States
steamer Harriet Lane
lay to protect them.
He was accompanied by Lieutenant John T. Greble
, of the Second Regiment of Artillery, an accomplished young officer, educated at West Point
, whom he appointed Master of Ordnance, to superintend the construction of the works.
had under his command two subalterns and twenty men of the regular Army.
Camp Butler was at
once established; and in the course of a few days a battery was planted at Newport
that commanded the ship-channel of the James River
and the mouth of the Nansemond
, on one side of which, on Pig Point
, the insurgents had constructed a strong redoubt, and armed it well with cannon from the Gosport Navy Yard
It was a part of Butler
's plan of campaign to
Newport-Newce landing. |
capture or turn that redoubt, pass up the Nansemond
, and seize Suffolk
; and, taking possession of the railway connections between that town and Petersburg
, menace the Weldon Road
— the great highway between Virginia
and the Carolinas.
To do this required more troops and munitions of war, and especially of means for transportation, than General Butler
had then at his command; and he was enabled only to take possession of and hold the important strategic point of Newport
at that time.
In order to ascertain the strength of the Pig Point Battery, he sent Captain John Faunce
, with the United States
armed steamer Harriet Lane
, to attack it.
The water was so shallow that Faunce
was compelled to open fire at the distance of eighteen hundred yards. In the course of forty-five minutes he threw thirty shot and shell at the redoubt, most of which fell short.
With guns of longer range, and more effective, the commander of the battery returned the fire.
The Harriet Lane
was struck twice, and five of her men were wounded.
Satisfied that the battery was a dangerous one, her commander withdrew.7
On the day after Colonel Phelps
's departure, Colonel Abraham Duryee
, commander of a well-disciplined regiment of Zouaves, composing the Fifth New York Volunteers, arrived at Fortress Monroe
, and was at once assigned to the command of Camp Hamilton, as acting brigadier-general.
His regiment had preceded him a few days.
He at once issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of that portion of Virginia
, friendly in tone, and assuring them that the rights and property of all peaceable citizens should be respected.
The troops in his charge consisted of the First, Second, Third, Fifth, Tenth, and Twentieth New York Volunteers, and the Pennsylvania Seventy-first, known as the California Regiment, under Colonel Baker
, a member of the United States Senate.8 Duryee
was succeeded a few days afterward by Brigadier-General E. W. Peirce
, of Massachusetts
's senior in rank in the militia of that State, who had generously yielded his claims to higher position for the sake of his country.
He was a brave and
patriotic man, and was willing to serve the cause in any capacity.
He came from the command of the principal rendezvous for Massachusetts
troops, at Fort Warren
, and entered upon his duties, as the leader of the forces at Camp Hamilton, on the 4th of June.
The forced inaction of the troops at Fortress Monroe
, and the threatening aspect of affairs at Newport
, which Greble
was rendering impregnable, made the armed insurgents on the Peninsula
, who were commanded by Colonel J. Bankhead Magruder9
(who had abandoned his flag), bold, active, and vigilant.
Their principal rendezvous was Yorktown
, which they were fortifying, and from which they came down the Peninsula
, to impress the slaves of men who had fled from their farms into service on the military works, to force Union residents into their ranks, and on some occasions to attack the Union
's aid and military secretary, whose whole soul was alive with zeal in the cause he had espoused, was continually on the alert, and he soon learned from a “contraband,” named George Scott
, that the insurgents had fortified outposts at Great and Little Bethel (the names of two churches), on the road between Yorktown
, and only a few miles from the latter place.
as guide, Winthrop
reconnoitered these positions, and was satisfied that Magruder
was preparing to attempt the seizure of Newport
, and confine Butler
to Fortress Monroe
The latter resolved upon a countervailing movement, by an attack upon these outposts by troops moving at midnight in two columns, one from Fortress Monroe
and the other from Newport
Among Major Winthrop
's papers was found a rough draft of the details of the plan, in his own handwriting, which the biographer of Butler
says was “the joint production of the General
and his Secretary
,” and which “was substantially adopted, and orders in accordance therewith were issued.”
At noon on Sunday, the 9th of June, General Peirce
received a note from General Butler
, written with a pencil on the back of an address card, summoning him to Fortress Monroe
was too ill to ride on horseback, and was taken by water in a small boat.
There he found a plan minutely arranged for an attack upon the insurgents at the two Bethels, on the Yorktown
Road, and received orders to command the expedition.
He was directed to lead Duryee
's Fifth and Townsend
's Third New York Volunteers from Camp Hamilton to a point near Little Bethel, where he was to be joined by a detachment from Colonel Phelps
's command at Newport
These latter consisted of a battalion of Vermont
troops (the latter of Wardrop
's Third Regiment), under Lieutenant-Colonel Washburne
's Germans (the Seventh New York), known as the Steuben Rifle Regiment, and a battery of two light field-pieces (6-pounders), in charge of Lieutenant Greble
, who was accompanied by eleven artillery-men of his little band of regulars.
As the expedition was to be undertaken in the night, and there was to be a junction of troops converging from two points, General Butler
ordered the watchword, “Boston
,” to be given to each party, and that they should wear on their left arms a white rag or handkerchief, so as to be known to each other.
The column at Camp Hamilton was to start at midnight, and that at Newport
a little later, as its line of march would be shorter.
The troops at Camp Hamilton were ordered to shout “Boston
,” when they should charge the insurgents; and other precautions were taken to prevent blunders, into which inexperienced soldiers were liable to fall.
and his Zouaves left Camp Hamilton at near midnight,
preceded by two companies of skirmishers, under Captains Bartlett
and Kilpatrick. Hampton Bridge
had been so much injured by the fire that it might not be safely crossed in darkness, so the troops were ferried over the creek in surf-boats, after considerable delay.
's Albany Regiment, with two mountain howitzers, marched an hour later to support Duryee
The latter was directed to take a by-road, after crossing New Market Bridge, over the southwest branch of Back River
, and, getting between the insurgent forces at Big and Little Bethel, fall upon those at the latter place, and, if successful there, push on and attack those at the former.
reached New Market Bridge at one o'clock in the morning,
where they awaited the arrival of the Zouaves three o'clock. They then pushed on toward the new County Bridge at Big Bethel, and at a little before daylight captured an insurgent picket-guard near there.
In the mean time Lieutenant-Colonel Washburne
had advanced from Newport
, followed by Bendix
with his Germans, and Greble
with his battery and artillerymen, as supports.
had directed the march of both columns to be so timed as to make a simultaneous attack at Little Bethel just at dawn; and to prevent mistakes he ordered the troops that might first attack to shout “Boston
Every thing was working admirably, according to instructions, when an unfortunate circumstance ruined the expedition.
, as we have observed, was pressing on to get in the rear of Little
, followed by Townsend
, at the same time, was pushing on toward the same point, followed by Bendix
and the artillery.
approached the point of junction, in front of Little Bethel, in a thick wood, at the same moment.
's men, dressed similar to the insurgents, wore their white badges, and were ready to shout the watchword.
's men had no badges, and were ignorant of the watchword.
's aid, who was sent to Newport
with orders for the advance, had neglected to give the watchword or order the wearing of the badges.
knew that the insurgents, with proper precaution, had worn white bands on their hats.
Seeing, in the dim starlight and a slight mist, just before the
dawn, similar badges on the arms of an approaching column of men, clad something like the enemy, he mistook them for his foe,12
and ordered an attack.
at once opened upon Townsend
's column with musketry and one cannon.
The other cannon was with Lieutenant Greble
, who had pushed eagerly forward a mile or more in advance.13 Townsend
's men shouted “Boston
” lustily, while Bendix
's men shouted “Saratoga
The shots of the Germans were returned irregularly, when the assailed party,
supposing they had fallen into an ambush of insurgents, retreated to the fork of the road, when the dreadful mistake was discovered.
lost two men killed and several wounded in the affair.
, the officer who forgot to give the order for the badges and the watchword, was greatly distressed by the consequences of his remissness, and exclaimed, “How can I go back and look General Butler
in the face!”
Hearing the firing in their rear, both Duryee
(who had just surprised and captured an outlying guard of thirty men) and Washburne
, and also Lieutenant Greble
, thinking the insurgents had fallen upon the supporting columns, immediately reversed their march and joined the sadly confused regiments of Townsend
In the mean time, General Peirce
, who knew that the insurgents at Great Bethel had been warned of the presence of National troops by this firing, had sent back for re-enforcements.
The First New York, Colonel William H. Allen
, and the Second New York, Colonel Carr
, were immediately sent forward from Camp Hamilton, the former with directions to proceed to the front, and the latter to halt for further orders at New Market Bridge.
The insurgents at Little Bethel, not more than fifty in number, had fled to the stronger post at Big Bethel, four or five miles distant, and the National
troops speedily followed, after destroying the abandoned camp of the fugitives.15
The insurgents at Big Bethel, about twelve miles from Hampton Bridge, were on the alert.
Their position was a strong one, on the bank of the northwest branch of Back River
, with that stream directly in front, which was there narrow and shallow, and spanned by a bridge, but widening on each flank into a morass, much of the time impassable, according to the testimony of George Scott
, the negro guide.
They had erected a strong earthwork on each side of the road, which commanded the bridge, and a line of intrenchments along the bank of the wooded swamp on their right.
Immediately in the rear of their works was a wooden structure known as Big Bethel Church.
Behind these works, which were masked by green boughs, and partly concealed by a wood, were about eighteen hundred insurgents16
(many of them cavalry), under Colonel Magruder
, composed of Virginians
and a North Carolina regiment under Colonel D. H. Hill
They were reported to be four thousand strong, with twenty pieces of heavy cannon; and such was Kilpatrick
's estimate, after a reconnoissance.17
Notwithstanding this reputed strength of the insurgents, and thee weariness of his troops, who had been up all night, and had marched many miles in the hot sunbeams, General Peirce
, after consultation with his officers, resolved to attack them.
The whole force under his command pressed forward, and by half-past 9 o'clock in the morning they reached a point within a mile of the foe, where disposition was made for battle.
's Zouaves was assigned the duty of leading in the attack.
Skirmishers, under Captains Kilpatrick
, and Winslow
, and all under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel G. K. Warren
, of the Zouaves (who was acquainted with the ground), were thrown out on each side of the road leading to the bridge, closely followed by Duryee
, and three pieces of artillery under Lieutenant Greble
On the right of the advancing force was a wood that extended almost to the stream, and on the front and left were an orchard and corn-field.
Into the orchard and corn-field Duryee
advanced obliquely, with Townsend
as a support on his right and rear.
, with his battery, continued to advance along the road, with Bendix
as a support, whose regiment deployed on the right of the highway, in the wood, toward the left flank of the insurgents, with three companies of Massachusetts
troops of Washburne
The battle was opened by a Parrott rifled cannon fired from the insurgent battery to the right of the bridge, by Major Randolph
, commander of the Richmond
This was answered by cheers from the Union
troops, who steadily advanced in the face of a heavy fire, intending to dash across the stream and storm the works.
Most of the shot passed over their heads at first.
Very soon the firing became more accurate; men began to fall here and there; and at length the storm of shot and shell was intolerable.
The skirmishers and Zouaves withdrew from the open fields to the shelter of the wood on the right of the road, whilst Greble
, still advancing, poured a rapid and effective shower of grape and canister shot from his battery upon the works of the insurgents, at a distance, finally, of not more than two hundred yards. That position he held for almost two hours, while the remainder of the army was resting and preparing for a general assault.
He had only an ordinary force of gunners at first, but Warren
managed to send him relief, and by a skillful use of his guns, and limited supply of ammunition, he kept the insurgents within their works.
All things being in readiness, at about noon a charge was sounded, and the troops moved rapidly forward, with instructions to dash across the morass, flank the works of the insurgents, and drive out the occupants at the point of the bayonet.
's Zouaves moved to attack them on their left, and Townsend
's New York Third started for like duty on their right, while Bendix
, with the New York Seventh and the rest of the Newport-Newce
detachment, should assail them on their left flank and rear.
, in the mean time, kept his position in the road on their front.
, and Winslow
charged boldly on the front of the foe, while Captain Denike
and Lieutenant Duryee
(son of the Colonel
) and some of Townsend
's regiment as boldly fell upon their right.
The insurgents were driven out of their battery nearest the bridge, and a speedy victory for the
Union soldiers seemed inevitable.
The Zouaves were then advancing through the wood to the morass, but, believing it to be impassable, their commander
<*>Attle at Big Bethel.|
ordered them to retire.
was pressing vigorously on toward the right of the foe, but was suddenly checked by a fatal blunder.
In the haste of starting, two companies of his regiment had marched unobserved on the side of a thickly hedged ditch opposite the main body, and, pushing rapidly forward, came up a gentle slope at some distance in the front, where the smoke was thick, to join their companions.
Their dress, as we have observed, was similar to that worn by the insurgents, and they were mistaken for a party of Magruder
's men out-flanking the New Yorkers.
immediately halted, and then fell back to the point of departure.
At that moment, General Peirce
had placed himself at the head of the Zouaves, to lead them to an attack, and Bendix
and the rest of the Newport-Newce
detachment were pressing forward, in obedience to orders.
Some of them crossed the morass, and felt sure of victory,. when they were driven back by a murderous fire.
The insurgents, having been relieved on their right by the withdrawal of Townsend
, had concentrated their forces at the battery in front of this assaulting party.
was with the Newport-Newce
troops at this time, and had pressed eagerly forward, with private Jones
of the Vermont
regiment, to a point within thirty or forty yards of the battery.
He sprang upon a log to get a view of the position, when the bullet of a North Carolina
drummer-boy penetrated his brain, and he fell dead.
's retirement, the repulse on the right, and the assurance of Colonel Duryee
, that his ammunition was exhausted, caused General Peirce
,. with the concurrence of his colonels, to order a retreat.
was still at work, but with only one gun, for he had only five men left.
On receiving the order, he directed Corporal Peoples
to limber up the piece and take it away.
At that moment a shot from the insurgents struck a glancing blow upon his right temple, and he fell dead, with the exclamation, “Oh!
Thus perished, at the very opening of the civil war, one of the most promising of the young officers who had hastened to the field in obedience to the call of the President
He was the first officer of the regular Army
who gave his life to his country in the great struggle; and was one of a class of graduates of the West Point
Military Academy, which furnished several distinguished general officers for the war that ensued.19
Generous, brave, and good, he was greatly beloved by all who knew him, and was sincerely mourned by the nation.
His name will forever be associated, in the minds and hearts of his countrymen, with all the brave men who fought in that struggle for Nationality and Right, as the beloved young martyr.20
So, too, will the memory of Winthrop
, the gentle, the brilliant, and the brave, be cherished by a grateful people.
, as we have observed, had sent Colonel Allen
with the First, and Colonel Carr
with the Second New York Regiment,
These arrived while the battle was going on. Peirce
ordered them to the front, as if to renew the conflict, and they served as a cover to the wearied troops in their retreat.
That retreat was in good order.
The dead and wounded, and arms and munitions were all borne away.
carried off the body of Lieutenant Greble
, but that of Winthrop
remained for a time with the insurgents.21 Kilpatrick
, who was badly wounded by a shot through his thigh, was rescued and borne away by Captain Winslow
The insurgent cavalry pursued about six miles, when they returned; and on the same day Magruder
and his whole party withdrew to Yorktown
The loss of the National
troops was reported at sixteen killed, thirty-four wounded, and five missing. That of the insurgents was trifling.
The number of the National
force at Great Bethel was about twenty-five hundred, and that of the insurgents eighteen hundred.
As soon as General Butler
was informed of the action he proceeded to Hampton
, for the purpose of sending forward wagons and ambulances for the sick and wounded, and to join the expedition in person.
His horse swam Hampton Creek
, while he crossed in a boat.
Tidings soon came that the battle Was over, and he remained at Hampton
to receive the disabled, who were sent by water to the hospital at Fortress Monroe
The battle at Bethel
, with its disastrous results, surprised and mortified the nation, and the assurance of the Department Commander
, that “we have gained more than we have lost,” was not accepted at the time as a fair conclusion.
“Our troops,” he said, in support of his inference, “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.”
But the people were not satisfied.
Their chagrin must be appeased.
It was felt that somebody was to blame, and the offender on whom to lay the responsibility was earnestly sought.
The Department Commander, the chief leader on the field, and the heads of regiments, were all in turn censured, while the bravery of the troops was properly extolled.
So thoroughly were Butler
's services at Annapolis
overshadowed and obscured by this cloud of disaster, that the confirmation of his appointment to a major-generalship was secured in the Senate by only two votes, and these through the exertions of Senator Baker
, who was soon to fall a sacrifice to incompetency or something worse.
The heaviest weight of responsibility finally rested, in the public comprehension of the affair, on General Peirce
; but, we are satisfied, after careful investigation,
During the remainder of his three months service, when he held command at Hampton
, he bore the load of odium with suffering that almost dethroned his reason, but with the dignity of conscious innocence.
Then he entered the service for three years as a private soldier.
He arose quickly to the position of a commander of a regiment, and performed signal service in Maryland
, and Mississippi
In one of the severe battles fought on the Virginia Peninsula
, which we shall consider hereafter, he was chosen by General Richardson
to perform most perilous duty in front of a heavy battery of the foe, then hurling a hundred shot a minute.
Whilst waving his sword, and shouting to his regiment, “At the double-quick!
his right arm was torn from his shoulder by a 32-pound ball, that cut a man in two just behind him. Peirce
was a gallant and faithful soldier during the whole war, and deserves the grateful thanks of his countrymen.
In contemplating the battle at Bethel
in the light of contemporary and subsequent events, the historian is constrained to believe that the disaster on that day was chargeable more to a general eagerness to do, without experience in doing, than to any special shortcomings of individuals.
View in the main Street of Hampton in 1864.24 |
The writer visited the battle-ground at Great Bethel early in December, 1864, in company with the father of Lieutenant Greble
and his friend (F. J
), who was with him when he bore home the lifeless body of his son. We arrived at Fortress Monroe
on Sunday morning,
and after breakfasting at the Hygeian Restaurant
, near the Baltimore wharf
, we called on General Butler
, who was then the commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina.
He was at his quarters in the fortress, and was preparing to sail on the memorable expedition against the forts at the mouth of the Cape Fear River
, and the town of Wilmington
, so famous as the chief port for blockade-runners.
We were invited by General Butler
to accompany him, and gladly embraced the opportunity to become spectators of some of the most stirring scenes of the war. Whilst waiting two or three days for the expedition to sail, we visited the battle-ground at Big Bethel, the site of Hampton
, and the hospitals and schools in the vicinity of Fortress Monroe
Sixteen years before,
the writer, while gathering up materials for his Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution
, visited Hampton
and the fortress, and traveled over the road from Yorktown
to the coast, on which the battle at Great Bethel occurred.
The aspect of every thing was now changed.
The country, then thickly settled and well cultivated, was now desolated and depopulated.
The beautiful village of Hampton
, which contained a resident population of about fourteen hundred souls when the war broke out, had been devoured by fire; and the venerable St. John's Church, built in far-back colonial times, and presenting a picturesque and well-preserved relic of the past, was now a blackened and mutilated ruin, with the ancient brick wall around the yard serving as a part of the line of fortifications cast up there by the National
The site of the town
Ruins of St. John's Church.25 |
was covered with rude cabins, all occupied by negroes freed from bondage; and the chimney of many a stately mansion that was occupied in summer by some of the wealthiest families of Virginia
, who sought comfort near the seaside, now served the same purpose for a cabin only a few feet square.
Only the Court House
and seven or eight other buildings of the five hundred that comprised the village escaped the conflagration lighted by General Magruder
just after midnight on the 7th of August, 1861, when the National
troops had withdrawn to the opposite side of Hampton Creek
In that Court House, which had been partly destroyed, we found two young women from Vermont
earnestly engaged in teaching the children of the freedmen.
In the main street of the village, where we remembered having seen fine stores and dwellings of brick, nothing was now to be seen but miserable huts, their chimneys composed of the bricks of the ruined buildings.
It was a very sad sight.
The sketches on this and the preceding page, made by the writer at the time, give an idea of the desolate appearance of the once flourishing town, over which the chariot of war rolled fearfully at the beginning of the struggle.
Cabin and chimney. |
On Monday, the 12th of December, a cold, blustering day, we visited the Bethel battle-field, in company with Doctor Ely McClellan
, of Philadelphia
, then the surgeon in charge of the hospitals at Fortress Monroe
, and Assistant Medical Director
of the post.
In a light wagon, drawn by two lively horses belonging to the doctor, we made a journey of about twenty-five miles during the short afternoon, attended by two armed outriders to keep off the “bushwhackers” or prowling secessionists with which the desolated country was infested.
The road was fine, and passed over an
almost level country, gradually rising from the coast.
was well acquainted with that region, and pointed out every locality of interest on the way. A few miles out from Hampton
we passed a small freedmen's village.
Then we came to the place, in a wood, where the collision between Bendix
occurred; and a mile or so onward we came to the site of Little Bethel and the ruins of Whiting
A few miles farther brought us to the spot where the Union
troops formed the line of battle for the final attack on the insurgents at Great Bethel.
Near there was a brick house, used by General McClellan
for Headquarters for a day or two in 1862; and by the road-side was a more humble dwelling, occupied by some colored women, one of whom was over eighty years of age. They lived near there at the time of the battle.
“Law sakes alive!”
said the old woman, “we was mighty skeered, but we reckoned all de time dat it was de Lord
come to help us.”
Big Bethel battle-field.27 |
Half a mile farther on we came to the County Bridge
at Great Bethel, where the stream, widening into a morass on each side, is only a few feet in width.
We visited the remains of Magruder
's redoubts and intrenchments, and of Big Bethel Church; and from the embankments of the principal redoubt, westward of the bridge, made the accompanying sketch of the battlefield.
Returning we took the Back River
road, which passed through a
pleasant country, with fine-looking houses and cultivated fields, that seemed to have suffered but little from the effects of war. The twilight had passed when we reached the Southwest Branch
, and the remainder of the journey we traveled in the light of an unclouded moon.
We spent Tuesday among the ruins at Hampton
and vicinity, and in visiting the schools and hospitals, and making sketches.
Among these was
Remains of the redoubt at Hampton Bridge.28 |
a drawing of the two-gun redoubt (erected, as we have observed, by order of General Butler
, at the eastern end of Hampton Bridge), including a view of the desolated town.
Near the bridge, on that side of the creek, were the summer residences of several wealthy men, then occupied for public uses.
That in which Doctor McClellan
resided belonged to Mallory
, the so-called “Confederate Secretary of the Navy
A little below it was the house of Ex-President Tyler
; and near it the spacious and more ancient looking mansion of Doctor Woods
, who was then with the enemies of the Government
, in which several Quaker
women, from Philadelphia
, had established an Orphan's Home for colored children.
's residence was the home of several of the teachers of the children of freedmen, and others engaged in benevolent work.
On our return to Fortress Monroe
in the evening, we received orders to go on board the Ben, Deford
, a stanch ocean steamer which was to be General Butler
's Headquarters in the expedition about to depart.
At. near noon the following day we left the wharf, passed out to sea with a large fleet of transports, and at sunset were far down the coast of North Carolina
, and in full view of its shores.
Our military company consisted of Generals Butler
, and Graham
, and their respective staff officers, and Colonel
(afterward General) Comstock
, General Grant
We were the only civilians, excepting Mr. Clarke
, editor of a newspaper at Norfolk
A record of the events of that expedition will be found in another volume of this work.
After the battle at Big Bethel
, nothing of great importance occurred at Fortress Monroe
and its vicinity during the remainder of General Butler
's administration of the affairs of that department, which ended on the 18th of August,
excepting the burning of Hampton
on the 7th of that month.
It was now plainly perceived that the insurgents were terribly in earnest, and that a fierce struggle was at hand.
It was evident that their strength and resources had been underrated.
Before any advance toward Richmond
, or, indeed, in any other direction from Fortress Monroe
might be undertaken, a great increase in the number of the troops and in the quantity of munitions of war would be necessary; and all that General Butler
was enabled to do, in the absence of these, was to hold his position at Newport
and the village of Hampton
On the 1st of July that village was formally taken possession of, and General Peirce
was placed in command of the camp established there.
Under his direction a line of intrenchments was thrown up, extending from Hampton Creek
across to the marshes of Back River
, a part of which, as we have observed, included the old church-yard walls.
On these intrenchments the large number of fugitive slaves who had fled to the Union
lines were employed.
Troops from the North
continued to arrive in small numbers, and the spacious building of the “Chesapeake
Female Seminary,” standing on the edge of the water, and overlooking Hampton Roads
, was taken possession of and used as a hospital.
began to have hopes of sufficient strength to make some aggressive movements, when the disastrous battle at Bull's Run
occurred, and blasted them.
drew upon him for so many troops for the defense of Washington
that he was compelled to reduce the garrison at Newport
, and to abandon Hampton
The latter movement greatly alarmed the “contrabands” there, under the protection of the Union flag; and when the regiments moved over Hampton Bridge, during a bright moonlit evening,
these fugitives followed — men women, and children — carrying with them all of their earthly effects.
“It was a most interesting sight,” General Butler
wrote to the Secretary of War
, “to see these poor creatures, who trusted to the protection of the arms of the United States
, and who aided the troops of the United States
in their enterprise, thus obliged to flee from their homes, and the homes of their masters who had deserted them, and become fugitives from fear of the return of the rebel soldiery, who had threatened to shoot the men who had wrought for us, and to carry off the women who had served us to a worse than Egyptian
It was in this letter
that General Butler
asked the important questions, “First
, What shall be done with these fugitives?
, What is their state
Then followed the consent of the Government
to have them considered “contraband of war,” already noticed.29
We have observed that the loyal people of the country were greatly disappointed and mortified by the affair at Great Bethel.
That disappointment and chagrin were somewhat relieved by a victory obtained over insurgent troops at Romney
, in Hampshire County
, Northwestern Virginia
, achieved on the following day by a detachment of the Eleventh Indiana (Zouaves),
Eleventh Indiana Regiment. |
commanded by Colonel Wallace
, whose speedy organization of the first volunteer regiments of that State we have already observed.30
That regiment, in material, deportment, drill, and discipline, was considered one of the best in the State
Its colors had been presented by the women of Indiana
with imposing ceremonies,31
and anticipations concerning its services had been raised which were never disappointed.32
It expected to accompany the Indiana
troops whom General McClellan
sent to Western Virginia
, but was ordered instead to Evansville
, on the Ohio
, in Southern Indiana
, to act as a police force in preventing supplies and munitions of war being sent to the South
, and to protect that region from threatened invasion.
The regiment chafed in its comparatively inactive service, with an earnest desire for duty in the field, and it was delighted by an order issued on the 6th of June, by the General-in-chief
, to “proceed by rail to Cumberland, Maryland
, and report to Major-General Patterson
,” then moving from Pennsylvania
toward Harper's Ferry
, where the insurgents were in strong force under General Joseph E. Johnston
This order was the result of the urgent importunities of Colonel Wallace
and his friends, to allow his fine regiment an opportunity for active duties.
During the few weeks it had encamped at Evansville
, it had been thoroughly drilled by the most severe discipline.
On the day after the receipt of the order, Wallace
and his regiment were passing rapidly through Indiana
by railway, and were everywhere greeted by the most hearty demonstrations of good-will.
, it received ammunition; and on the night of the 9th, it reached the vicinity of
where it remained, near the banks of the Potomac
, until the next day. Its advent astonished all, and gave pleasure to the Unionists, for there was an insurgent force at Romney
, only a day's march south from Cumberland
, said to be twelve hundred strong; while at Winchester
there was a much heavier one. General Morris
, at Grafton
, had warned Wallace
of the proximity of these insurgents, and directed him to be watchful.
believed that the best security for his troops and the safety of the railway was to place his foes on the defensive, and he resolved to attack those at Romney
He procured two trusty guides at Piedmont
, from whom he learned that there was a rude and perilous mountain road, but little traveled, and probably unguarded, leading from New Creek Station, westward of Cumberland
, to Romney
, a distance of twenty-three miles. That road he resolved to traverse at night, and surprise the insurgents, before he should pitch a tent anywhere.
For the purpose of deceiving the secessionists of Cumberland
went about on the 10th with his staff, pretending to seek for a good place to encamp, but found none, and he told the citizens that he would be compelled to go back a few miles on the railway to a suitable spot.
All that day his men rested, and at evening the train took them to New Creek
, where Wallace
and eight hundred of his command left the cars, and pushed on toward Romney
in the darkness, following their guides, one of whom was afterward caught and hanged for his “treason to the Confederacy
It was a perilous and most fatiguing march, and they did not get near Romney
eight o'clock in the morning.
In a narrow pass, half a mile from the bridge which there spans the south branch of the Potomac
, the advance-guard was fired upon by mounted pickets, who then dashed ahead and alarmed the camp of the insurgents, on a bluff near the village, where they had planted a battery of field-pieces.
The guard followed, crossed the bridge on a run, and drew several shots from a large brick dwelling-house near the bank of the stream, which was used as a sort of citadel.
immediately led a second company across, drove the foe from the house to the shelter of the mountains, and then pushed four companies, in skirmish order, directly up the hill, to capture the battery.
This was unexpected to the insurgents, who supposed the assailants would follow the winding road, and they fled in terror to the forest, accompanied by all the women and children of the village, excepting negroes, who seemed to have no fear of the invaders.
Having no cavalry with which to pursue the fugitives, and knowing that at a hundred points on the road between Romney
and New Creek
a small force might ruin or rout his regiment, Wallace
at once retraced his steps, and returned to Cumberland
In the space of twenty-four hours he and his men had traveled eighty-seven miles without rest (forty-six of them on foot), engaged in a brisk skirmish, and, “what is more,” said the gallant Colonel
in his report, “my men are ready to repeat it to-morrow.”
This dash on the insurgents at Romney
had a salutary effect.
It inspirited the loyal people in that region, thrilled the whole country with joy, and, according to the Richmond
newspapers, so alarmed Johnston
by its boldness, and its menaces of his line of communication with Richmond
, and Manassas
(for he believed these troops to be the advance of a much larger force), that he forthwith evacuated Harper's Ferry
, and moved up the Valley
to a point nearer Winchester
Tail-piece — Knapsack.|