54.-the battle at great Bethel.
The attack on Great Bethel, it appears, was planned by the late Major Winthrop
The correspondent of the Boston Journal writes from Fortress Monroe
This literal copy of a private memorandum made by Theodore Winthrop
early on the day preceding the fight, and from which, with very trifling alteration of form, the official plan was (as I am informed) drawn up, is a sufficient answer to the whole.
I violate no confidence in sending you these
Notes of the plan of attack,
By two detachments, upon Little Bethel and Big Bethel.
A regiment or a battalion to march from Newport News, and a regiment or a battalion to march from Camp Hamilton, Duryea
's. Each regiment to be supported by sufficient reserves, under arms, in camp, and with advanced guards out on the road of march.
to push out two pickets at 10 P. M., one two and a half miles beyond Hampton
, on the county road, but not so far as to alarm the enemy.
This is important.
Second picket half as far as the first.
Both pickets to keep as much out of sight as possible.
No one whatever to be allowed to pass out through their lines.
Persons to be allowed to pass inward towards Hampton
, unless it appear that they intend to go round about and dodge through to the front.
At 12, midnight, Col. Duryea
will march his regiment with fifteen rounds cartridges, on the county road toward Little Bethel.
Scows will be provided to ferry them across Hampton Creek
March will be rapid, but not hurried
A howitzer with canister and shrapnel to go.
A wagon with planks and materials to repair the New Market bridge
to have the 200 rifles, (Sharpe
's rifles, purchased the day previous, are alluded to.) He will pick the men to whom to intrust them.
Rocket to be thrown up from Newport News.
Notify Commodore Prendergast
) of this, to prevent general alarm.
Newport News movement to be made somewhat later than this, as the distance is less.
If we find and surprise them we will fire one volley, if desirable, not reload
, and go ahead with the bayonet.
As the attack is to be by night, or dusk of morning, and in detachments, our people should have some token, say a white rag on the left arm.
Perhaps the detachments which are to do the job should be smaller than a regiment: three hundred or five hundred on the right and left of the attack would be more easily handled.
If we bag the Little Bethel men push on to Big Bethel and similarly bag them.
Burn both the Bethels, or blow up if brick.
To protect our rear, in case we take the field-pieces and the enemy should march his main body (if he has any) to recover them, it would be well to have a squad of competent artillerists, regular or other, to handle the captured guns on the retirement of our main body.
Also, to spike them if retaken.
(colored guide) to have a shooting iron.
's men would be awkward with a new arm in a night or early dawn attack, where there will be little marksman duty to perform.
Most of the work will be done with the bayonet, and they are already handy with the old ones.
This private memorandum formed the basis of the official plan.
To the white badge was added the watchword “Boston
The two field-pieces which it was hoped would be captured are the same which you will find reported, in a letter written the day before the battle, as being stationed at Little Bethel.
The purpose of the expedition was to caution the rebels to cease their predatory attacks upon our pickets.
To accomplish this object it was proposed to surprise, and if possible to capture, the small force at Little Bethel.
If that should be successfully accomplished, the battery at Big Bethel was to be reconnoitred, and if desirable it was to be attacked-but it was not to be attacked unless success was positively assured.
This was the last instruction, as I happen to know, having been present at the time, given by Gen. Butler
to Mr. Winthrop
. “Be brave as you please,” said the General
, “but run no risk.”
But be not too bold!
” shall be our motto,
And upon instructions, of which these are the substance, the two expeditions started.
The object of a surprise was totally defeated by Colonel Bendix
's blunder; yet in defiance of all the rules of war of which I have ever heard, they kept on; they destroyed the Little Bethel, and then, as it seems to me, somebody, entirely upon his own responsibility, decided to proceed to attack Big Bethel.
But even this would seem to be scarcely improper.
After reading the criticisms of various partisan newspapers, after hearing the stories of many persons who were engaged in the affair in one capacity and another, after hearing a detailed statement, reported by reliable authority, of a conversation with Colonel Bankhead Magruder
, the commandant of the rebel forces, and after having had a personal interview with Captain Levy
, of Louisiana
-whose appearance had, without previous acquaintance, sufficiently assured me that he is a truth-telling gentleman, and who had excellent opportunities for understanding the whole affair, since he was present in the rebel battery during the entire skirmish, and his corps was at Yorktown
, and as he is moreover a competent judge, having seen much service,
I am able to say this: I have yet to meet an intelligent and competent officer, present at the skirmish, and engaged upon either side, who does not believe that the place might easily have been taken.
This might have been accomplished, first, by turning it upon our right, as Mr. Winthrop
was attempting to do when he fell.
That attempt might have succeeded; to use the language of Captain Levy
, as nearly as I remember it: “Had you had a hundred men as brave as Winthrop
, and one to lead when he fell, I would be in Fortress Monroe
a prisoner of war to-night.”
It might have been accomplished, second, with much less difficulty upon the left; Captain Haggerty
had discovered this, had suggested it to General Pierce
, had after some difficulty secured Colonel Townsend
's cooperation, when this plan was defeated by the gross blunder of whoever was in command of Townsend
's left — a captain I believe — in allowing three companies to become detached from the main body by a thicket.
From this circumstance Townsend
, as he was proceeding to the attack, was led to believe, as he saw the bayonets of his own men glistening through the foliage, that he was outflanked.
He retreated, and that was the end of the battle.