War of the Rebellion: Serial 002 Page 0081 Chapter IX. ENGAGEMENT AT BIG BETHEL, VA.

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o'clock to prevent the egress of persons from our camp in the direction of Yorktown, but we have since learned that information had been communicated to the enemy of our approach and we believe that we have under arrest the person who communicated the intelligence-a discharged soldier of the United States many years since, who resided in Hampton. If the evidence is satisfactory to court-martial, he will be dealt with such severity of punishment as will be a lesson to the many who surround us, and who are engaged in the same nefarious business.

From subsequent information I am certain that the force which was at first in Great bethel did not exceed a regiment, and had the order been executed which I had given to General Pierce of attack, that, "if we find the enemy and surprise them we will fire a volley if necessary, not reload, but go ahead with the bayonet," I have no doubt of the capture of the battery. But in attempting to obtain information upon the road as to the force in Big Bethel, the exaggerated statements of the inhabitants and the negroes as to the numbers entrenched were taken, instead of the estimates and information of the commanding general, so that it was believed by the officers in command and by the men that there were 4,000 or 5,000 there in force. From the intelligence given the enemy, and the unfortunate occurrence of the morning, two regiments to re-enforce them were at last brought up, but not until about the time our troops retired. I make no doubt that the battery would have been taken but for another unfortunate mistake, as reported

to me, wherein the colonel of a regiment mistook two companies of his own men, which had been separated from him a thicket, for a flanking party of the enemy, making a sortie from the battery, and because of that mistake retired; so that it would seem that the skirmish was lost twice because our officers mistook their friends for their enemies. I am informed, and fully believe, that immediately upon the retiring of our troops, for the propose, as was supposed by the enemy, of turning the flank the battery, the battery was immediately evacuated, and remained so evacuated until the second day. If it was so done it would be a matter for no consequence, because, as General Scott had been informed, as I have already previously stated, it was no part of our intention to occupy it. The major part of the officers and men behaved with the greatest gallantry and good conduct, and I have to mention in terms of commendation the gallantry and courage of Colonel Townsend, the coolness and firmness of Lieutenant-Colonel Washburn, and the efficiency of Captain Haggerty, of my staff, who was acting as aid to General Pierce, a part of his own being sick.

The country has to deplore the loss of Major Theodore Winthrop, my acting military secretary, who led the advance corps whit Colonel Duryea, and who the moment before his death had gone forward on the right with the detachment of Vermont and Massachusetts troops, under order of Lieutenant-Colonel Washburn, and who at the moment of his death was engaged in finding the best manner of entering the battery, when he fell mortally wounded. His conduct, his courage, his efficiency in the field, were spoken of in terms of praise by all who saw hi.

Subsequent knowledge has shown beyond all question that, if at the time our troops retired, and advance had been ordered the battery would have been taken; but this is the result of subsequent knowledge, and is not to be taken as evidence of the want of efficiency of those in command of our troops. It is a pleasure to be able announce that our loss was much less even than was reported in my former dispatch,

6 R R-VOL II.