Primary Source Material
on the Soldiers and the Battles
Home The Armies The Soldiers The Battles Civilians Articles Sources About Us
If this website has been useful to you, please consider making a Donation.

Your support will help keep this website free for everyone, and will allow us to do more research. Thank you for your support!

Engagement at Big Bethel or Bethel Church, VA
in the American Civil War
June 10, 1861

Online Books:
Official Records, Union Reports (Page 77-90)
Official Records, Confederate Reports (Page 90-104)
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, by the United States War Department, 1880

Union Battle Summary

Big Bethel, Va., June 10, 1861. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th New York, 1st Vermont, and 4th Massachusetts Infantry, and 2nd United State Artillery. About 8 miles from Newport News were two churches known as Big and Little Bethel. At the former there was a considerable force of Confederates, under Col. J.B. Magruder, and works of more or less strength were in process of construction, while at the latter there was a Confederate outpost, from which a squad of cavalry was nightly sent out to annoy the Federal pickets, impress Union men into the Confederate army, carry away slaves who had been left in charge of farms, and take them to Yorktown and Williamsburg to work on the fortifications. Gen. B.F. Butler, therefore, determined to destroy the outpost and drive the enemy from his position at Big Bethel. An expedition, under the command of Brig.-Gen. E.W. Pierce, was planned on the evening of the 9th and at 1 o'clock on the morning of the 10th the 7th N.Y. (Duryea's zouaves) was ferried across the creek and ordered to march to New Market bridge in the enemy's rear. At 2 o'clock the 3rd N.Y. under Col. Townsend, and the 7th N.Y., with the Massachusetts and Vermont troops under Col. Bendix, marched by different roads, intending to effect a junction at the forks of the road about a mile and a half from Little Bethel, the purpose being to attack that place at day-break. Bendix reached the rendezvous first and his men, mistaking Townsend's force, as it approached in the dim light of the early dawn, for Confederates, fired upon them, killing 2 and wounding 21. The sound of the firing made it impossible to surprise the enemy and some of the officers favored a return to Camp Hamilton, but Pierce, knowing that reinforcements were coming to his assistance, pushed on to find Little Bethel deserted. The church was burned, the artillery, under Lieut. Greble, was brought to the front and the whole column advanced on Big Bethel. By a peculiar coincidence Col. Magruder had planned an attack on Camp Hamilton for that moring, has aroused his men at 3 a.m., and when the first firing was heard was three and a half miles from his works. He returned to his position at Big Bethel and disposed his forces to resist any assault likely to be made. When Pierce came up about 9 o'clock he found the ford on the Hampton road guarded by two companies of North Carolina sharpshooters, while on the opposite side of the road, protected by earthworks, were Stuart's cavalry and the 3rd Va. infantry with a howitzer commanding the road. Beyond the creek were two more howitzers, well supported, trained on the ford. After some skirmishing Pierce, seeing the strength of the Confederate position, withdrew his forces with a loss of 18 killed, 53 wounded and 5 missing. Among the killed were Maj. Theodore Winthrop, of Butler's staff, and Lieut. John T. Greble. commanding the artillery.

Source: The Union Army, Volume 5, Cyclopedia of Battles A - Helena , 1908


Copyright 2010-2011 by
A Division of