The following account of the battle of Big Bethel was given by a Confederate soldier, who participated in the defence: “An engagement lasting four hours took place yesterday, June 10, between five regiments of the troops from Old Point, and 1100 Confederate troops, consisting of Virginians and North Carolinians under Gen. Magruder, at Bethel Church, York County. Before telling you of the battle, I will give you some circumstances preceding it. About two weeks ago, a party of three hundred Yankees came up from Hampton, and occupied Bethel Church, which position they held a day or two, and then retired, leaving written on the walls of the church several inscriptions, such as Death to the Traitors. Down with the Rebels, &c. To nearly all these the names of the writers were defiantly signed, and all of the penmen signed themselves as from New York, except one, who was from Boston, Mass. U. S. To these excursions into the interior, of which this was the boldest, Gen. Magruder determined to put a stop, and accordingly filled the place, after the Yankees left, with a few companies of his own troops. In addition to this, he determined to carry the war into the enemys country, and on Wednesday last, Stanards battery of the Howitzer Battalion was ordered down to the church, where it was soon joined by a portion of Browns battery of the same corps. The North Carolina regiment, under Col. Hill, was also there, making in all about 1100 men, and seven howitzer guns. On Saturday last the first excursion of considerable importance was made. A detachment of 200 infantry and a howitzer gun under Major Randolph, and one of 70 infantry and another howitzer under Major Lane, of the North Carolina regiment, started different routes to cut off a party which had left Hampton. The party was seen and fired at by Major Randolphs detachment, but made such fast time that they escaped. The troops under Major Lane passed within sight of Hampton, and as they turned up the road to return to Bethel, encountered the Yankees, numbering about 90, who were intrenched behind a fence in the field, protected by a high bank. Our advance guard fired on them, and in another moment the North Carolinians were dashing over the fence in regular French (not New York) Zouave style, firing at them in real squirrel-hunting style. The Yankees fled for their lives after firing for about three minutes without effect, leaving behind them three dead and a prisoner. The fellow was a stout, ugly fellow, from Troy, N. Y. He said he had nothing against the South, but somebody must be soldiers, and he thought he had as well enlist. None of our men were hurt. This bold excursion, under the very guns of the enemy, determined the authorities at Old Point to put a stop to it, and clear us out from Bethel. This determination was conveyed to us from persons who came from the neighborhood of the enemy. On Monday morning, 600 infantry and two guns, under Gen. Magruder, left the camp and proceeded towards Hampton, but after advancing a mile or two, received information that the Yankees were coming in large force. We then retired, and after reaching camp the guns were placed in battery, and the infantry took their places behind their breastwork. Everybody was cool, and all were anxious to give the invaders a good reception. About nine oclock, the glittering bayonets of the enemy appeared on the hill opposite, and above them waved the Star-spangled Banner. The moment the head of the column advanced far enough to show one or two companies, the Parrott gun of the Howitzer-Battery opened on them, throwing a shell right into their midst. Their ranks broke in confusion, and the column, or as much of it as we could see, retreated behind two small farm-houses. From their position a fire was opened on us, which was replied to by our battery, which commanded the route of their approach. Our firing was excellent, and the shells scattered in all directions when they burst. They could hardly approach the guns which they were firing for the shells which came from our battery. Within our encampment fell a perfect hail-storm of canister-shot, bullets, and balls. Remarkable to say, not one of our men was killed inside of our encampment. Several horses were slain by the shells and bullets. Finding that bombardment would not answer, the enemy, about eleven oclock, tried to carry the position by assault, but met a terrible repulse at the hands of the infantry as he tried to scale the breastworks. The men disregarded sometimes the defences erected for them, and, leaping on the embankment, stood and fired at the Yankees, cutting them down as they came up. One company of the New York 7th Regiment, under Capt. Winthrop, attempted to take the redoubt on the left. The marsh they crossed was strewn with their bodies. Their Captain, a fine-looking man, reached the fence, and, leaping on a log, waved his sword, crying, Come on, boys; one charge, and the day is ours! The words were his last, for a Carolina rifle ended his life the next moment, and his men fled in terror back. At the redobt on the right, a company of about 300 New York Zouaves charged one of our guns, but could not stand the fire of the infantry, and retreated precipitately. During these charges the main body of the enemy on the hill were attempting to concentrate for a general assault, but the shells from the Howitzer Battery prevented them. As one regiment would give up the effort, another would be marched to the position, but with no better success, for a shell would scatter them like chaff. The men did not seem able to stand fire at all. About one oclock their guns were silenced, and a few moments after, their infantry retreated precipitately down the road to Hampton. Our cavalry, numbering three companies, went in pursuit, and harassed them down to the edge of Hampton. As they retreated many of the wounded fell along the road and died, and the whole road to Hampton was strewn with haversacks, overcoats, canteens, muskets, &c., which the men had thrown off in their retreat. After the battle, I visited the position they held. The houses behind which they had been hid had been burned by our troops. Around the yard were the dead bodies of the men who had been killed by our cannon, mangled in the most frightful manner by the shells. The uniforms on the bodies were very different, and many of them are like those of the Virginia soldiery. A little farther on we came to the point to which they had carried some of their wounded, who had since died. The gay-looking uniforms of the New York Zouaves contrasted greatly with the pale, fixed faces of their dead owners. Going to the swamp, through which they attempted to pass to assault our lines, presented another bloody scene. Bodies dotted the black morass from one end to the other. I saw one boyish, delicate-looking fellow lying on the mud, with a bullet-hole through his breast. One hand was pressed on the wound, from which his life-blood had poured, and the other was clinched in the grass that grew near him. Lying on the ground was a Testament which had fallen from his pocket, dabbled with blood. On opening the cover, I found the printed inscription: Presented to the Defenders of their Country by the New York Bible Society. A United States flag was also stamped on the title-page. Among the haversacks picked up along the route were many letters from the Northern States, asking if they liked the Southern farms, and if the Southern barbarians had been whipped out yet. The force of the enemy brought against us was 4000, according to the statement of the six prisoners we took. Ours was 1100. Their loss in killed and wounded must be nearly 200. Our loss is one killed and three wounded. The fatal case was that of a North Carolinian who volunteered to fire one of the houses behind which they were stationed. He started from the breastwork to accomplish it, but was shot in the head. The wounded are Harry Shook, of Richmond, of Browns battery, shot in the wrist; John Werth, of Richmond, of the same battery, shot in the leg, and Lieut. Hudnall, of the same battery, shot in the foot. None of the wounds are serious. The Louisiana regiment arrived about one hour after the fight was over.”
Originally posted 2008-06-07 19:29:09.