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The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

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OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol 2, Part 1 (First Manassas Campaign)
Page 77 Chapter IX. ENGAGEMENT AT BIG BETHEL, VA.

and protection of the troops of the United States, 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 negroes, carrying them to work in entrenchments at Williamsburg and Yorktown, 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 farther on, on the road to Yorktown, was an outwork of the rebels on the Hampton side of place called Big Bethel, a large church near the head of the north branch of Back River; 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 1 o'clock this morning, and to march by the road up to New Market thence, crossing 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 Lettle Bethel. I directed General Pierce to support him from hampton with Colonel Townsend's regiment with two mounted howitzers, and to march about an hour later. At the same time I directed Colonel Phelps, commanding at Newport News, to send out a battalion composed of such companies of the regiments under his command of Lieutenant-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. Bendix'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 get off, and attach 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 of mistake in the darkness, I directed that no attack should be made until the watchword was shouted by the attacking regiment, and in case that, by any mistake 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 Colonel 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 timed that Colonel Duryea had got in the potion note 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 Bendix's regiment had been posted and ordered to hold the fork of the road with two pieces of artillery, and Townsend's regiment had got the place indicated just behind, and 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 Townsend was in column en route, and when the head of the column was within one hundred yards, Colonel Bendix's regiment opened fire with both artillery


Page 77 Chapter IX. ENGAGEMENT AT BIG BETHEL, VA.
OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol 2, Part 1 (First Manassas Campaign)
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