Walter Clark.

Histories of the several regiments and battalions from North Carolina, in the great war 1861-'65 online

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Big Bethel at three o'clock in the morning, and Butler's army
from Hampton and Newport News at one o'clock and two
o'clock. Except for Bendix's daybreak fight and the consequent
delay, we should probably have come upon Duryea's and Wash-
burn's troops a little to the Yorktown side of Little Bethel.

Our forces as assembled for battle may be thus summarized:

First North Carolina Regiment, Colonel Hill, . 800

Three companies of the Third Virginia Regi-
ment, Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart,* . . 208

Three companies of Virginia troops. Major
Montague (estimated), . . . .150

Battalion of Virginia Artillery, Major Randolph
(estimated), . . . . . .150

Douthatt's, Phillips's and Jones's companies of
Virginia Cavalry (estimated), . . . 100

Total, 1,408

Randolph reports one rifled (iron) Parrott gun, three how-
itzers, and one rifled howitzer on the ground. He sent, besides,
one howitzer to the "Half- Way House," some three miles away,
and one howitzer had previously been posted "in the rear of the
road leading from the Half- Way House."

At nine o'clock the head of the enemy's column (Bendix's
Seventh New York) appeared in the road, half a mile away, and



♦Stuart's report, " War of the Rebellion," Vol. II, page 97.



90 North Carolina Troops, 1861-'65.



soon they seemed to fill it. Who will forget that tremendous
moment, ushering in the war! A few minutes after nine o'clock
a shot from Eandolph's Parrot gun, aimed by himself, screamed
away at them. It hit the earth just in their front and ricocheted.*
They fell away from the road like a mist before the sun, their
artillery at once replied, and the battle began.

The positions of the several companies of the First North
Carolina Regiment at the opening of the battle, and their changes
of position during its progress, were as follows:

Company A, Captain Bridgers, was posted in the dense wood,
or swamp, beyond the works, beyond the creek, and to the left
of the road. They were deployed as skirmishers. When Brown's
howitzer was spiked and abandoned. Company A was transferred
to the right, where they attacked the enemy and recovered the
howitzer.

Company B, Lieutenant Owens, on the south face of the
works. From this position the company took part in the repulse
of the enemy^'s first attempt on our right and in the repulse of
Winthrop's attack.

Company C, Captain Ross, on the left of Company B, and
occupying the adjacent part of the east face of the works. After
the temporary capture by the enemy of Brown's abandoned how-
itzer, Company C was ordered (with Company A) to recapture
it. When this was done they were returned to their original posi-
tion, where they took part in the repulse of Winthrop's attack.

Company D, Captain Ashe, at the northeast angle of the
works.

Company E, Captain McDowell, on the north and northwest
faces of the works.

Company F, Captain Starr, in the woods to the north and left
of Company D's position, with exception of a detachment under
Lieutenant Roberts, stationed at a ford a mile below the bridge.

Company G, Captain Avery, was thrown beyond the stream,
to the right of the road, near an old mill-dam, where they took
part in the repulse of the enemy's first advance on our right.

*Bendix says in his report: "Before we had got ready for action the enemy opened
their Are upon us, striking one man down at my side at the first shot."



The Bethel Regiment. 91

Subsequently they were mover! forward to the support of the
howitzer which had replaced the spiked and abandoned one.

Company H, Captain Huske, on the west face of the works,
on the right (north) of Montague's Battalion. Shortly after the
fight began Company H was moved forward to the support of
the main battery (Randolph's), southeast of the church. When
Winthrop made his attack upon the southeast angle, half of the
company, under Lieutenants Cook and McKethan, were sent
thither by Colonel Magruder, where they took part in the
repulse of Winthrop.

Company I, Lieutenant Parker, on the right (north) of Com-
pany H's first position, and extending to the northwest angle of
the works. During the progress of the battle Company I was
deployed in front of its position in the works and remained thus
until it was over.

Company K, Captain Hoke, in the woods on the left (north)
of Company F. During the battle Company K was deployed
one hundred and fifty yards in front of its position, in anticipa-
tion of Winthrop's skirmishers striking there. Upon their fail-
ure to do this, it was withdrawn to its original position. At
the close of the battle Company K was sent forward, as described
further on.

Lieutenant- Colonel Stuart's three companies were stationed on
the hill to the extreme right, beyond the creek, where he com-
pleted the slight breastwork erected to protect his command.

Major Montague's three companies were stationed on the west
face of the works, back and northwest of the church. Upon
Stuart's retirement to this point, shortly after the action began,
Montague's command was ordered to a point a mile and a quarter
to the left. The enemy making no demonstration in that quar-
ter, they took no other part in the action.

Randolph's artillery was posted as follows: The Parrott gun
and one howitzer in the main battery on the right of the road,
near the front of the church; a howitzer under Captain Brown
in the battery erected on the right, beyond the ravine; a howitzer
near the bridge, on the right of the road; the rifled howitzer on



92 North Carolina Troops, 18 61-'65.

the left of the road, behind the right of the redoubt erected
there.*

The three coQipanies of cavalry (dismounted) were posted in
rear of the whole.f

A detachment of fifteen cadets from the North Carolina Mili-
tary Institute was posted beside the last mentioned howitzer.

How these dispositions for defense appeared to the attack-
ing party is revealed by their reports of the battle.

Captain Judson Kilpatrick, of Duryea's Fifth New York
(afterwards the cavalry general who had the interesting experi-
ence with Wheeler's Cavalry near Fayetteville in 1865), with two
companies of his regiment, acted as the enemy's advance guard.

He says that he drove in our pickets at eight o'clock, and
then made an "armed reaonnaissance" of our position and forces.
He was much impressed with what he saw. He "found the
enemy with about- from three to five thousand men posted in a
stroug position on the opposite side of the bridge, three earth-
works and a masked "battery on the right and left; in advance of
the stream thirty pieces of artillery and a large force of cavalry." J
General Butler's view, from Fortress Monroe, was different. He
reiterated in his report his conviction that we had not more than
a regiment during the battle, and that if his orders " to go ahead
with the bayonet," after the first volley, had been obeyed, the
"battery" would have been captured.

When within a mile of our position, General Pierce halted his



*The following is a summary of such portions of Major Randolph's i-eport as are useful
to the present purpose; The howitzer on the right (under Captain Brown) was spiked
early in the action by the breaking of a priming-wire, and was withdrawn. It was re-
placed near the close by Moseley's howitzer, brought up from the Half- Way House. The
ford on the left being threatened, the howitzer at the bridge was withdrawn and sent to
that point. The rifled howitzer was withdrawn from the left of the road and sent to the
rear when tliat was supposed to be threatened. The same disposition was subsequently
made of the howitzer in the main battery near the church, leaving only the Parrott gun
there. Randolph says in his report: "The fire was maintained on our side for sometime
by the five pieces posted in front"; but one of them being spilled and another sent to the
ford early in the' action, "the fire was continued with three pieces, and at no time did
we afterwards have more than three pieces playing upon the enemy." He reports ninety-
eight shot altogether fired by his artillery. As his first shot was shortly after nine o'clock
and his last at half past one o'clock, that would be an average of one in three minutes.
The three wounded in his battalion received their injury, in the words of his report,
"from the fire of musketry on Our left flank, the ground on that side between us and the
enemy sinking down so as to expose us over the top of the breastwork erected by the
North Carolina regiment." (The fire of musketry alluded to was from Winthrop's attaclt-
ing force).

fMagruder's report, " War of the Rebellion," Vol. II, page 91.
JKilpatrick's report, " War of the Rebellion," Vol. II, page 89.



The Bethel Regiment. 93

column, and thea, witliiu eight hundred yards of our works,
formed his troops in line of battle. Duryea's Fifth New York
was placed od the right (our left) of the road. Washburn's
Vermonters and Massachusetts men, after some preliminary
movements, were also sent to the right and placed in extension
of Duryea's line. Townsend's Third New York was formed on
the left (our right) of the road. Bendix's Seventh New York,
which had brought up the rear in the march from the scene of
his daybreak fusillade, was now ordered to the front.* The
head of his column was dispersed, as we have seen, by Randolph's
opening shot, after which, as Beudix reports, he did the best he
could "as skirmishers in the woods" (on our left), finally taking
position with Washburn's command. Bendix had one piece of
artillery with him when he first moved to the front. This seems
to have been joined by the three other pieces, when all were
served, under Greble's command, in or near the orchard to the
left (our right) of the road.

The first movement upon our lines was made by two com-
panies of Townsend's Regiment, advancing as skirmishers against
our right. They were promptly driven back by our artillery,
one of Stuart's companies, and companies B and G of the First
North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Duryea's and Washburn's troops, advancing against
our left, made several attempts to charge our works, but, were
prevented by the creek. f During these attempts they approached
the old ford below the bridge, where Colonel Hill had posted a
picket of some forty men under Lieutenant Roberts. This led
Colonel Magruder to re-inforce the latter with Werth's company
of Montague's Battalion and the howitzer at the bridge, which
latter drove back the enemy with one shot. J

Townsend now moved forward his whole regiment in line of
battle against our right, with one hundred of Duryea's Fifth
Regiment (Zouaves) as skirmishers on his right. In this forward



*Bendix's report, "War of the Rebellion," page 88.
tPieree's report. Ibid., Vol. II, page 85.
tWerth's report Ibid., page 103.



94 North Carolina Troops, 1861-'65.

movement, TowDseDd reports that one of his companies (presum-
ably the one on his left flank) got separated from the rest of the
regiment by a "thickly- hedged ditch" (probably the ravine
mentioned in Stuart's report), but continued to march forward in
line with it. Captain Brown's gun having been disabled and
withdrawn some time before, Colonel Stuart reported to Colonel
Magruder the advance of this heavy force (which he estimated
at fifteen hundred, accompanied by artillery), and the advance,
also, of " a line of skirmishers down the ravine on my right,"
obscured from his own view but discovered by his scouts. He
was accordingly directed by Colonel Magruder to fall back to
the works occupied by Montague, back of the church, and the
whole of our advanced troops (that is, those across the creek, on
the right of the road) were withdrawn.

At this critical moment Colonel Hill called Captain Bridgers,
with his Company A, of the First North Carolina, out of the
swamp (on the left) and directed him to occupy the nearest ad-
vanced work (on the right of the road). He also ordered Cap-
tain Eoss, with his Company C, of the First North Carolina, to
the support of Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart. "These two captains,
with their companies," says Hill, "crossed over to Randolph's
battery, under a most heavy fire, in a most gallant manner. As
Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart had withdrawn. Captain Ross was
detained at the church, near Randolph's battery. Captain
Bridgers, however, crossed over and drove the Zouaves out of
the advanced howitzer battery, and re-occupied it. It is impos-
sible to overestimate this service. It decided the action in our
favor."

Of this decisive movement Colonel Magruder says in his
hasty report, made the same day:

"Whilst it might appear invidious to speak particularly of
any regiment or corpsj whefe all behaved so well, I am compelled
to express my great appreciation of the skill and gallantry of
Major Randolph and his howitzer battalion and Colonel Hill, the
officers and men of the North Carolina regiment. As an instance



The Bethel Regiment. 95

of the latter, I will merely mention that a gun under the gallant
Captain Brf)wn of the howitzer battery having been rendered
unfit for service by the breaking of a priming-wire in the vent,
Captain Brown threw it over a precipice, and the work was occu-
pied 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 posi-
tion another piece, and defended it with his infantry in the most
gallant manner. Colonel Hill's judicious and determined action
was worthy of his ancient glory."

In Colonel Magruder's second report, dated June 12th, he
again refers to the subject, saying:

"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, re-took 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. Captain
Bridgers deserves the highest praise for this timely act of gal-
lantry."

Stuart was now sent back to his original position; he and
Captain Avery, with his Company G, of the First North Caro-
lina, drove off some skirmishers advancing through the orchard ;
and the enemy's operations ceased on that side of the road.

It is interesting to note that the same company of Townsend's
men who were separated from the rest of their regiment, and
were supposed by Stuart to be moving to outflank him, were



96 North Carolina Troops, 1861-'65.

mistaken by Townsend for a flanking party from our side.
Townsend says, referring to this company of his regiment: "Upon
seeing among the breaks in the hedge the glistening bayonets in
the adjoining field, I immediately concluded that the enemy were
outflanking us, and conceived it to be my duty immediately to
retire and repel that advance. I resumed, therefore, my original
position on the left of Colonel Duryea. Shortly after all the
forces were directed to retire, the design of the reconnaissance
having been accomplished."

A very potent body of men that separated company proved
to be.

We were now as secure, says Colonel Hill, as at the beginning
of the fight, and as yet had no man killed. Foiled on our right
flank, the enemy now made his final efibrt upon our left. A
column consisting of Washburn's command of Vermont and
Massachusetts troops, led by Major Theodore Winthrop, of Gen-
eral Butler's staff^, crossed over the creek and appeared at the
angle on our left. They came on with a cheer, no doubt think-
ing that our work was open at the gorge and that they could
enter by a sudden rush. "Companies B and C, however," says
Colonel Hill, "dispelled the illusion by a cool, deliberate and
well directed fire. Colonel Magruder sent over portions of com-
panies G, C and H of my regiment to our support, and now
began as cool firing on our side as was ever witnessed. The
three field officers of the regiment were present, and but few
shots were fired without their permission. * * * They (the
men) were all in high glee, and seemed to enjoy it. * * *
Captain Winthrop, while most gallantly urging on his men, was
shot through the heart,* when all rushed back with the utmost
precipitation."

Major Theodore Winthrop, the officer referred to, was Gen-
eral Butler's acting military secretary, who represented General
Butler upon General Pierce's staff. He was of the old Massa-



*Private G. W. Buhman aad private Steve Kussell, of Company H (Fayettevillel pri-
vate Molver, of Company (Charlotte), and Captain Ashe, Company D (Chapel Hill) for
his negro servant, claimed the firing of the fatal shot.



The Bethel Regiment. 97

chusetts family of Winthrop, but the son of Francis Bayard
Winthrop, of New Haven, Connecticut.

The fight at the angle lasted but twenty minutes. It seemed
to completely discourage the enemy, and he made no further
effort at assault. It is no doubt to this period that Colonel Ma-
gruder refers in his report when he sets the ending of the battle
at half past twelve o'clock, whereas Major Randolph says the
last shot was fired at half past one o'clock.

Meanwhile, Colonel Allen's First New York and Colonel
Carr's Second New York had come up. General Pierce threw
Allen's Regiment into the lane on his left which Townsend's
Third Regiment had occupied at the beginning of its advance,
and from which it had now retired ; and he placed Carr's Regi-
ment in the position which had been occupied by Duryea's Fifth
Regiment, now withdrawn. Under protection of this new line
the dead and wounded were ordered to be collected and carried
off. The retreat then began, Allen's and Carr's Regiments cov-
ering the rear.

The following extract from Major Randolph's report gives us
a glimpse of Alien's and Carr's Regiments as they arrived on the
field:

"After some intermission of the assault in front, a heavy col-
umn, apparently a re-inforcement, or reserve, made its appear-
ance on the Hampton road and pressed forward towards the
bridge, carrying the United States flag near the head of the
column. As the road had been clear for some time, and our
flanks and rear had been threatened, the howitzer in the main
battery* had been sent to the rear, and our fire did not at first
check them. I hurried a howitzer forward from the rear, loaded
it with canister and prepared to sweep the approach to the
bridge, but the fire of the Parrott gun again drove them back.
The howitzer brought from the Half- Way House by Lieutenant
Moseley arriving most opportunely, I carried it to the battery
on the right to replace the disabled piece. On getting there, I

*By the "main battery" Major Randolph means the one near the church, containing
the Parrott gan and a howitzer.

7



98 North Carolina Troops, 1861 -'65.

learned from the infantry that a small house in front was occu-
pied by sharp-shooters, and saw the body of a Carolinian lying
thirty yards in front of the battery, who had been killed in a
most gallant attempt to burn the house. I opened upon the
house with shell for the purpose of burning it, and the battery
of the enemy in the Hampton road being on the line with it,
and supposing probably that the fire was at them, immediately
returned it with solid shot. This disclosed their position, and
enabled me to fire at the house and at their battery at the same
time. After an exchange of five or six shots a shell entered a
window of the house, increased the fire already kindled, until it
soon broke out into a light blaze, and, as I have reason to be-
lieve, disabled one of the enemy's pieces. This was the last shot
fired.* They soon after retreated, and we saw no more of them."

Lieutenant John T. Greble, of the Second United States Ar-
tillery (regulars), was killed "by a cannon shot," says General
Butler, and General Pierce tells us that this occurred "just at
the close of the action." He was in command of the enemy's
artillery, and was regarded as an able as well as a gallant officer.

Captain Hoke, with his Company K, of the First North Caro-
lina, now advanced and explored the woods in front. Upon his
ascertaining that the road was clear, some one hundred dragoons,
under Captain Douthatt, pursued the enemy as far as New Mar-
ket Bridge, which the latter tore up behind hipi. "The enemy
in his haste," says Colonel Hill, "threw away hundreds of can-
teens, haversacks, overcoats, etc.; even the dead were thrown out
of the wagons," and "the pursuit soon became a chase."

THE TWO CRISES OP THE BATTLE.

It will be seen that there were two crises in the battle; one
when Bridgers made his brilliant charge and recaptured the
redoubt from which our troops had withdrawn upon the advance
of Townsend's Regiment and a portion of Duryea's; the other

*Elsewhere ia his report, " War of the Rebellion," Vol. II, page 99, Major Randolph
fixes the hour at which the cannonading ceased at half past one.



The Bethel Regiment. 99

when Company B, re-inforced by portions of Companies C, G
and H, repulsed "Winthrop's bold attack. It is probable that
the failure of either of these splendid efforts of the North Caro-
linians would have given victory to the enemy. The ordeal
which those companies underwent in running the gauntlet of the
enemy's concentrated fire, in passing in the open from the left to
the right and from the right to the left, was a trying one for
unseasoned troops, but from which not a man flinched.

A SUMMARY.

Summing up the achievements of his command, Colonel Hill
says: "There were not quite eight hundred of my regiment
engaged in the fight, and not one-half of these drew trigger
during the day. All remained manfully at the posts assigned
them, and not a man in the regiment behaved- badly. The com-
panies not engaged were as much exposed and rendered ecjual
service with those participating in the fight. They deserve
equally the thanks of the country. In fact, it is the most try-
ing ordeal to which soldiers can be subjected, to receive a fire
which their orders forbid them to return. Had a single com-
pany left its post our works would have been exposed ; and the
constancy and discipline of the unengaged companies cannot be
too highly commended. * * * j cannot speak in too high
terms of my two field officers, Lieutenant- Colonel Lee and Ma-
jor Lane. Their services have been of the highest importance
since taking the field to the present moment." In another part
of his report. Colonel Hill says: ''We had never more than
three hundred actively engaged at any one time" — meaning
troops of all arms.

For Colonel Hill's acknowledgments to his staff and to his
company officers and others in detail, the reader is referred to the
extract from his report given in the appendix to this article.

After the battle was over and the enemy had retreated, the
Louisiana regiment arrived, after a forced march from York-
town. On the other hand, as a set-off against this ex post facto
re-inforcement, it is worth recording that an associated press dis-



100 North Carolina Troops, 1861-'65



patch, dated at Fortress Monroe, June 10th, stated that Colonel
McChesney's Regiment formed a reserve for General Pierce's
army, and also that Colonel Hawkins's Regiment had "moved
from Newport News" during the day.

Yorktown being exposed, the battlefield was occupied by
cavalry, and the i-emainder of the troops, including the Louisiana
regiment, were marched back to the former place the same night.

THE DEATH OF WYATT.

The body of the Carolinian whom Major Randolph saw lying
thirty yards in front of the recovered battery was that of private
Wyatt, of Captain Bridgers's Company A (Edgecombe Guards),
of the First North Carolina Regiment. When Bridgers recap-
tured the battery he found in his front the house mentioned by
Major Randolph, used as a shelter for the enemy's sharp-shooters^
as described. At Colonel Hill's suggestion, Captain Bridgers
called for five volunteers to burn it. Corporal George Williams
and privates Henry L. Wyatt, Thomas Fallon, John H. Thorpe
and R. H. Bradley responded. At once they leaped the works
and went on their dangerous mission. "They behaved with
great gallantry," says Colonel Hill in his reporb. On the way



Online LibraryWalter ClarkHistories of the several regiments and battalions from North Carolina, in the great war 1861-'65 → online text (page 9 of 66)