Reports of Col. J. B. Magruder, C. S. Army.
Engagement at Big Bethel, or Bethel Church, Va.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 2 [S# 2] -- CHAPTER IX.
HEADQUARTERS BETHEL CHURCH,
June 10, 1861.
Hon. L. P. WALKER,
Secretary of War.
SIR: I have the honor to inform you that we were attacked by about 3,500 troops of the Federal Army, with several pieces of heavy artillery, firing grape shot, this morning at 10 o'clock, and at 12½ routed them completely, with considerable loss on their side. The prisoners report their force to be 5,000. It was certainly 3,500. Ours about 1,200 engaged; 1,400 in all.
Mr. George A. Magruder, jr., a volunteer aide, who is as conspicuous for his gallantry as for his efficiency, will deliver this in person.
Thirty-five hundred men are on my right flank; 10,000 on my left. Please send re-enforcements immediately. Yorktown and Williamsburg, in my rear, have troops quite insufficient in numbers to defend them.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. BANKHEAD MAGRUDER,
Colonel, Commanding Hampton Division.
HEADQUARTERS CAMP BETHEL,
Bethel Church, June 10, 1861.
SIR: The enemy, thirty-five hundred strong, attacked us at our post, and after a very animated conflict of two hours and a half was repulsed at all points and totally muted. Four companies of cavalry are now in hot pursuit toward Newport News. I cannot speak too highly of the devotion of our troops, all of whom did their duty nobly, and whilst it might appear invidious to speak particularly of any regiment or corps where all behaved so well, I am compelled to express my great appreciation of the skill and gallantry of Major Randolph and his howitzer batteries, and Colonel Hill, the officers and men of the North Carolina regiment. As an instance of the latter I will merely mention that a gun under the gallant Captain Brown, of the howitzer battery, having been rendered unfit for service by the breaking of a priming wire in the vent, and not being defended by infantry from the small number we had at our command, Captain Brown threw it over a precipice, and the work was occupied for a moment by the enemy. Captain Bridgers, of the North Carolina regiment, in the most gallant manner retook it and held it until Captain Brown had replaced and put in position another piece, and then defended it with his infantry in the most gallant manner. Colonel Hills judicious and determined action was worthy of his ancient glory, and Colonel Stuart, Major Montague, Major Cary, Captains Walker and Atkinson, with every officer and every man under their command, did good service in the front of the fight.
The able and efficient manner in which Captains Douthatt, Phillips, and Jones, of the cavalry, performed the duties of infantry, and Lieutenant Chisman, of the Wythe Rifles, in protecting the rear of the position, is deserving of high commendation.
There were many acts of personal gallantry, some under my own observation, and others which were reported to me, that I will take occasion to mention in a subsequent communication. At present I expect another attack, and have no time.
I am extremely indebted to the two brothers Robert H. and William R. Vaughan, my acting commissary and quartermaster, for the most gallant and efficient services, no less than to my youthful aides, Mr. George A. Magruder, jr., and Hugh Stannard, who were always in the front of the fight, and upon whom I request the Government to bestow commissions, as they are desirous of entering the regular service.
In the hurry of this communication I may have omitted to mention many gallant men.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. BANKHEAD MAGRUDER,
Col. R. S. GARNETT.
Number of killed and wounded on our side--one killed and seven wounded. Enemy--ten dead bodies found, as reported to me, and perhaps fifty wounded. Three prisoners. Our force, all told, about one thousand two hundred men. Enemy--three thousand five hundred, with 18 and 24 pounder guns, besides light guns.
J. B. M.
HEADQUARTERS YORKTOWN, June 12, 1861.
SIR: I had the honor to transmit by Mr. Hugh Stannard a short account of a battle with the enemy at Bethel Bridge, on the 10th. This was written on the field, and I had not then had time to ascertain the number of killed and wounded on the other side. I think I reported ten killed and many wounded. I have now to report that eighteen dead were found on the field, and I learn from reliable citizens living on the road that many dead as well as a great many wounded were carried in wagons to Hampton. I think I can safely report their loss at from twenty-five to thirty killed and one hundred and fifty wounded. I understand the enemy acknowledge one hundred and seventy-five killed and wounded. It is a source of great gratification to me to be able to say that our own loss as far as heard from was only one killed and seven wounded, but too much praise cannot he bestowed upon the heroic soldier whom we lost. He was one of four who volunteered to set fire to a house in our front which was thought to afford protection to our enemy, and advancing alone between the two fires he fell midway, pierced in the forehead by a musket ball. Henry L. Wyatt is the name of this brave soldier and devoted patriot. He was a member of the brave and gallant North Carolina regiment.
I omitted to mention in my hurried dispatch of the 10th the name of Captain Jones, of Cavalry, who rendered important service before and during the battle. I regret to say that one of his vedettes was cut off by the enemy, and is presumed to have been taken prisoner.
I cannot omit to again bring to the notice of the general commanding-in-chief the valuable services and gallant conduct of the First North Carolina Regiment, and Major Randolph, of the howitzer batteries. These officers were not only prompt and daring in the execution of their duties, but most industrious and energetic in the preparations for the conflict. The firing of the howitzer batteries was as perfect as the bearing of the men, which was entirely what it ought to have been. Captain Bridgers, of the North Carolina regiment, retook in the most daring manner, and at a critical period of the fight, the work from which Captain Brown, of the artillery, had withdrawn a disabled gun to prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy, and which work had been subsequently occupied by the enemy. This work was soon again occupied with another piece by Captain Brown, who resumed an effective fire. Captain Bridgers deserves the highest praise for this timely act of gallantry.
The Louisiana regiment arrived after the battle was over, having made a most extraordinary march. They returned to Yorktown the same night, making a distance of twenty-eight miles. It was not thought prudent to leave Yorktown exposed any longer. I therefore occupied the ground with cavalry, and marched the remainder of my forces to Yorktown. We took several prisoners, among them some wounded.
Our means of transportation were exceedingly limited, but the wounded enemy were carried with our own wounded to farm houses in our rear, where the good people, who have lost almost everything by this war, and who could see the smoking ruins of their neighbors' houses, destroyed by the enemy both in his advance and retreat, received them most kindly and bound up their wounds. I also ordered the humane Captain Brown to bury as many of the enemy's dead as could be found near our camp, which was done.
The cavalry pursued the enemy for five miles, but were stopped by the bridge across Back River at New Market, which was destroyed by the flying enemy after crossing it.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. B. MAGRUDER,
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