|Gen. John Bankhead Magruder|
The Richmond Daily Dispatch
June 15, 1861
The Peninsula battle further accounts.
From persons who left Yorktown two days after the battle at Bethel Church, we learn that on Wednesday morning our camp was approached by five New York Zouaves under a flag of truce. The object of their mission was ostensibly to be permitted to bury their dead and to effect an exchange of a prisoner. Their request, we understand, was granted by Col. Magruder. From several sources we hear that these men admitted they had 225 killed and wounded in the battle on Monday; and that at roll-call on Tuesday morning, 440 were missing.
Below we give further particulars of the battle:
Correspondence of the Richmond Dispatch.
Yorktown. June 11, 1861.
As the steamer from your city is in sight. I hasten to give you a brief description, of the battle of Bethel Church, which took place yesterday. For two days previous we had been anticipating an attack by the Federal troops, and on Saturday had stood an hour in a marsh a waiting their approach. On Sabbath afternoon at 4, the three companies under command of Lieut. Col. Smart, of Richmond, began the erection of earth works in a grave yard to the right of the Church, and beyond the creek. We continued the work till sunset, and made considerable progress.--This was the most advanced point of all the operations for defence — not very elevated, but the best that could be got. Yesterday morning at hall past three the bugle sounded "to arms." and in a few minutes the three companies — to wit: Young Guard, Capt. Charters; Henrico Southern Guard, Capt Children, of Hanover; and the Life Guard, Capt walker, all of the 3d Regiment of Virginia Volunteers, Lieutenant Col. [William] Stuart commanding — were under arms, and started for a position just this side of the work on which they had been engaged the day before. It was a mill dam, which had been converted into a redoubt. After halting here a half hour, we were ordered to repair to our former position, on the little eminence to the right, in the grave-yard. Here we continued to work in the entrenchment, continuing it in a crescentic form, and concealing it from the enemy by newly-felled bushes and trees. The boys worked well, and were cheered to the labor by the announcement that the enemy were certainly approaching. Just before the engagement, learning that the enemy distinguish themselves by white badges on their arms, we put them (of white cotton) on our hats, and thus saved some lives, doubtless.
At 9½ o'clock we espied two mounted men to our right, inspecting some fifty cords of wood that lay upon the road, and, we feared, with a design of erecting a battery behind it. The Colonel dispatched a member of the Life Guard to approach them, under cover of some brushwood that skirted a branch, to examine them more closely. After two inspections with the glass, we feared the realization of our first opinion. It appeared after wards that they were our friends. In a few moments the gleaming of hundreds of bayonets were seen just in our front, distant six or eight hundred yards above the top of a relic, and presently the wild cheering of the invaders was heard. In five minutes there after, bang went the [Richmond] Howitzer battery fifty yards to our left, and just in front of the main road, by which the enemy were approaching. In an instant the fire was returned with great spirit, and such a cannonading began as I never heard before. Shot and shell flew thick and fast, shaking the very earth by their reverberation. Thanks at last fell the branches from the neighboring trees, and as the shell burst in the air, our men watched the curling smoke with pleasure rather than fear. Our little detachment of Howitzers alluded to, under command of Capt. Brown, of Richmond, fought with great spirit. We had a full view of their firing. A ball from one of their riffed cannon almost made me tremble for its effects even upon the enemy as it rushed right down the road at a capital range, and must have torn some of the enemy limb from limb. Now. while our men canceled them-selves in the trenches keeping down their bayonets well from the sight of the enemy, I saw him deploy on our right, and presently sharpshooters leaped the fence just in front of us, about two hundred and fifty yards distant and we discovered them to be the (would be) famous [9th N.Y., Hawkin's] Zouaves, in their red pants. Our men became very anxious to fire upon them and Col. Stuart, who was above the breastwork fearlessly observing their approach, found it difficult to restrain them. They had been thrown out doubtless to pick off our Howitzers, and were entirely ignorant of out position. "Ready — aim — fire," commanded the Colonel, and the front rank of the first platoon of the Life Guard was in a blaze and one man certainly fell mortally wounded, and the rest threw them selves flat upon their faces and returned our fire. We continued to fire about five minutes by files, when the Zouaves got out of the open field much faster than they got into it. Concealing themselves behind; the fence and some neighboring houses, they continues a very well directed fire for perhaps an hour. The Minute balls whizzed after a fashion I never heard before. It was by a merciful Providence that not a man of us was hurt.--None of the officers occupied the ditch except partially, and one brave Colonel exposed his whole person to the enemy's fire. The balls often threw up the fresh earth upon the tops of our embankments, showing that they had the right range. Our commander kept his eye on the right of our position, fearing the approach of artillery, which we were not in a condition to resist. All this while, I forgot to state, the Howitzer Battery in its greatest strength under the command of Maj. Randolph, situated to our left and in the centre of our lines, and commanding a bridge which lay just in front of the Church, kept up a splendid fire, and no doubt with great effect. An unsuccessful attempt was made to burn the houses in our front, a thing that should have been done on Sunday, and the neglect of this obvious precaution caused one brave man to lose his life. As the enemy were now seen about 1,500 strong on our right supported by artillery, and covering their position by some brush wood, intending to storm our position, and Col. Stuart finding that the three companies under his command, numbering 190 men, would not be able without artillery to maintain their ground, sent a dispatch to Col. Magruder to that effect. Before my return from headquarters orders had been received to evacuate our trenches, and on my way back to our position I met our three companies retiring by a private road made the day before for the purpose, in the very best order. After this movement we took our position, by command of Col. Magruder, in a trench to the rear of the Church, and commanding the marsh which we had just passed.
There was some confusion at the Church owing to this movement, together with the breaking away of horses and the falling limbs from the tree; but order was soon restored, and we awaited anxiously the approach of the enemy.
|Col. D.H. Hill|
Just after we abandoned our trenches, Company "A" Capt. Atkinson, of our regiment, which had been stationed two miles off to guard a road, came up, and the enemy having retired in part, our right, Col. Stuart, with Capt. A. 's command, part of the Wythe Rifles and a detachment of Company "G"of North Carolina Rifles, resumed our former position on the flank and front. The Howitzer Battery, one piece of which having by accident, before we left our position, been rendered, useless, was now reinforced by Capt. Bridges company of Riflemen, and being annoyed by the fire of the enemy's musketry from the white house in front, four men were sent to burn it, and in the attempt a noble North Carolinian was shot in she head and died last night.--The effort failed and the house was finally fired by a shell.
At 2 o'clock the enemy's fire had nearly ceased, and, after a fight of four hours and a half, he began to retire. He was pursue by the cavalry to the bridge leading to Hampton, which, in his fright, he burnt after passing.
The Number of killed and wounded.
On our side, one man killed, (he died here last night,) and two others (one badly) wounded.
In all, there were eleven only wounded, and most of them, I think, slightly, I saw the worst cases. Our brave friend Hudnall, of the Howitzer Battery, was slightly wounded in his foot. I saw him last night, and he was doing well. Several of the Howitzers were among the wounded, and I learn bear their wounds bravely. Without them, we would probably have been whipped.
Of the killed of the enemy, there is necessarily much uncertainty. The general impression is, they lost about 200, about 50 of these killed. I think among the slain were two Captains and a Sergeant of the third New York Regiment.
Our whole force was not beyond 1,200. I made my calculation before the fight. Of these, 800 were from the Old North State; the remainder were Virginians. I do not think that more than one half of our number fired a single gun. Of our own detachment of 190 men, not more than one fifth fired. The Louisiana regiment arrived from York too late to participate in the fight.
Of the enemy (several of whom were captured) we learn there were four regiments. One man says there were 4,500 men. A lady on the road timed their passing her house, and says it occupied one hour. I think it may safely be put down at 3,000.
You will doubtless receive many interesting details of this engagement, and as I have already written far more than I expected, I must close.
Of the conduct of our own men, I feel some delicacy in speaking. Suffice it to say, that the officers and privates, we hope, have not impaired our ancient renown. The men were remarkably calm and resolute.
P. S.--Wednesday--The boat left on yesterday before I got to the wharf, and I will add a word.
Monday evening, (the day of the fight.) the order was issued that our whole force should retire upon Yorktown, and the march was taken up at sunset. Everything was removed that was of any value. The following are the reasons for this movement: 1st Our ammunition was nearly exhausted. 2nd We were much farther from the "back bone." or strength of our position, than were the enemy. 3rd. The position itself is by no means a strong one--on the contrary, in some respects it is very week.
I have just learned that a wounded Sergeant of the enemy, says there were five regiments engaged, and that they were led on by Col. Phelps, of Vermont. The official report will not give, I think, a correct account of the killed of the enemy, as many have been found since in the woods. Up to Tuesday evening they had not sent to bury their dead, though there was a false rumor in the morning that they were advancing in a large body. P.