Page images

Government felt that French promises would be respected; and, when M. Thouvenel stated his purpose to allow the Confederate Commissioners no official status, nor to grant the use of French ports to Southern privateers, it was regarded at Washington as satisfactory. The recognition, in conjunction with the British Government, of the belligerent rights of the Southern States, was grounded upon what was by France considered a settled provision of the laws of nations, and was not regarded by M. Thouvenel as a source of aid or comfort to the enemy, with the restrictions of neutrality rigidly enforced, and with the denial of ports of entry or harbor to Southern privateers, strictly carried out. Our confidence in English good faith was want

Want of Confidence in British Good Faith.

ing from the first, and with good reason her neutrality was the merest mockery. Hardly had the blockade been established ere English fast-sailing vessels and steamers sought to break it. An English island near our coast (New Providence) became an open and recognized rendezvous for this illegal commerce. Thither English vessels, with no attempt at concealment, transported cargoes of arms, munitions, clothing and goods-everything needed by the Confederates to conduct their war with vigor. From Nassau harbor the vessels would dash into any Southern port from which the blockading squadron might be temporarily absent, or which it had not yet been able to close. Thus the Confederates received, during the summer and fall months of 1861, immense supplies of those things most useful and needful in aiding the insurgents. What an impudent mockery was that "neutrality!" The infamous character of the proceeding was not heightened when English guns covered and protected the privateers Sumter and Nashville

while they lay, for weeks, in English harbors. No act of the English Government could exceed the baseness and bad faith of allowing its commerce, through many months, to supply our enemies with all the necessaries of an effective resistance. Had the American Government connived at a full supply of arms to the Sepoys, to assist them in murdering their British rulers, the act would have been less reprehensible, because the Sepoys had been robbed of their heritage their coun try

Want of Confidence in British Good Faith.

their all, by British arms, and their stroke was for freedom from British chains. Whatever reputation may attach to the French Emperor for ambitious designs, America has less to charge to his sins than to the duplicity of British Ministers and the malig nity of the leading British press. French honor and integrity were un questioned by the Federal Government; British honor and integrity not only were questioned but were the subject of scorn by our people if not by our Government. Whatever may come forth, in the future, to qualify and direct the relations between the United States and the two powers named, one thing is assured: not for two generations, in this country, will there exist for Great Britain anything more than a formal friendship. There rankles in the heart of the Northern people a dislike which bodes no good to the future relations of the two great Anglo-Saxon powers. We chronicle the existence of this feeling as a fact from which great events may spring-not that it is a just resentment for indignities received. Public like private resentments should be tempered with charity; and, though we may deplore the animosity toward the English Government which unquestionably exists among us, we are not blind enough to believe it portends a future of peace.



Disposition of Forces.



Disposition of Forces.

MAJOR - General Butler river, overlooking much of and staff arrived at Fort- the Hampton Roads anress Monroe Wednesday afternoon, May 22d.chorage. This point was circumvallated, and His promotion to leading rank in the regular a heavy battery mounted on the bluff facing service, with orders to assume command at the water. The object of this occupation the Fortress, indicated extensive operations was not then, and is not now, apparent. It at and from that point. The enemy, antici- was too far away from Yorktown or Warwick pating this, had occupied the best positions to menace those places, or to afford a base commanding the avenues of communication of operations which the Fortress and Hampwith their Capital and with the South. ton did not offer. It was too exposed for a Yorktown and Gloucester Point were pro- camp of instruction. It divided a command vided with earthworks and guns of an impos- at no time too strong, and weakened operaing nature. Colonel Magruder-late Colonel tions by compelling the troops to stand on in the U. S. service, and an officer of much the defensive thus inaugurating a policy distinction as an obstinate combatant-was at once fatal to the spirit of the troops and placed in command (rebel) of the Peninsula. to the success of our arms. Butler acted unNorfolk Bay and Peninsula were strongly for- der superior orders in the disposition. titied by batteries at several points, and a The second camp on the Peninsula, comlarge number of troops were centered there posed of Colonel Duryea's Zouaves and Colounder command of General Huger-also late nel Carr's (Troy) regiment N. Y. volunteers, of the U. S. service. At Willoughby Point, was located one mile north-west of the FortSewall's Point, Craney Island and Pig Point, ress, just beyond the dyke leading to the imposing earthworks were thrown up. The main land, on the farm of Colonel Segar. Gosport Navy Yard was drawn upon for ar- Hampton Village, near by, was deserted by tillery and munitions to mount and supply all its inhabitants, soon after Butler's arrival. of these defenses. Confederate troops to the His several dashing reconnoissances, and the number of about twelve thousand were gath- advance of his troops, convinced the Secesered in Norfolk and vicinity, by June 1st. sionists of the necessity of leaving his neighThey hastened forward rapidly, after the at-borhood, and, by June 1st, the village was tack on the Sewell's Point Battery by the quite deserted-not one hundred of its one U. S. gunboat Star, on the 19th of May. thousand inhabitants remaining. When Butler entered upon the “campaign of the Peninsula," he found his surroundings fairly bristling with ordnance which bad management of Federal agents had placed in the enemy's hands. [See page 114.]

Simultaneously with the advance over the Potomac, the Federal troops pushed out to occupy Newport News Point, on the James

Troops rapidly poured into Butler's department, and he soon found himself in a condition to act on the offensive. scouts and cavalry greatly annoyed the two Magruder's camps mentioned. They had, also, seizerl several Union men. These raids became so frequent and annoying that a night attack was concerted upon their positions at Little

The Expedition

Against the Bethels.

The Federal Troops fire on one another.

Bethel and Big Bethel-the We state these orders explicitly that the latter, near the north branch commanding General who ordered the expeof Back River, where it was dition may have their benefit in a decision as understood Magruder's outposts were throw- to the responsibility for the disgraceful dising up strong works. Brigadier-General aster which followed. Pierce, of the Massachusetts troops, was The troops were all put detailed to command the expedition. Dur-in motion as ordered. The yea's Zouaves were pushed over Hampton beautiful night, clear with Creek shortly after midnight, with orders to "march by the road up to Newmarket bridge, then 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 Little Bethel." This regiment was to be supported by Colonel Townsend's regiment (Third New York volunteers) at Hampton, which was to take up its line of march at two o'clock. Colonel Phelps, at Newport News, was ordered to send forward "such companies of the regiments under his command as he thought best, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Washburne, in time to make a demonstration apon Little Bethel in front, and to have him supported by Colonel Bendix's regiment, with two field pieces." Bendix and Townsend were to form a junction at the forks of the roads leading from Hampton and Newport News, about a mile and a half from Little Bethel.

the light of stars, rendered every movement easy. The regiments passed to their several designated positions - Duryea's in the advance and Lieutenant-Colonel Washburne with the Newport News troops close at hand. Townsend's regiment, coming up, was within a few yards of the rendezvous, when suddenly a furious fire opened upon his ranks. This fire, supposed to proceed from an ambuscade of the enemy, was returned, while the assailed regiment left the road and took the cover of a ridge in the rear. Not until several rounds had been discharged and two of Townsend's men killed and eight wounded did the assailants (who proved to be a portion of Colonel Bendix's regiment of German riflemen, together with a few companies of Massachusetts and Vermont men) discover their grievous mistake.

Meanwhile, Duryea and Washburne, hearing the firing, supposed the supporting regiments to be engaged with the enemy-in which event they were completely flanked. They therefore fell back, although the enemy's pickets had been driven in and five of them captured. The alarm thus given prevented the contemplated surprise of the enemy. When the forces again moved forward to the attack, it was to find Little Bethel deserted. A conference was then called and an assault of Big Bethel resolved upon-Duryca to lead the advance. Butler was informed, by messenger, of the state of affairs, and sent forward Colonel Allen's regiment as a reserve, to await orders at Hampton.

These movements were so arranged that the attack upon Little Bethel was to be made at daybreak; when, the enemy being repulsed, Duryea's Zouaves and one of the Newport News regiments was to "follow upon the heels of the flying rebels and attack 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 at Big Bethel. To prevent the possibility of mistake in the darkness, Butler 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 to make the junction should unex-swept by their artillery. A thick woods to pectedly meet and be unknown to each other, it was directed that the members of Colonel Townsend's regiment should be known, if in daylight, by something white worn on the arm."

Approaching the enemy's position at Big Bethel, it was found that their guns commanded all points of approach. The road leading up to the bridge over the creek was

the left of the road afforded some protection
to the Federal left. An open field on the
right of the approach only offered a house
and out-buildings as a cover.
The enemy



The Assault on Big

occupied a hill, beyond the | on his horse, rode between

creek, which almost completely secured their front. At their rear was a dense wood. This gave them the advantage of ground, greatly. A reconnoissance would have demonstrated the futility of a front attack except by artillery. The only hope for the Federals was in a flank movement, higher up the creek, by which, the stream being passed, the enemy could be assaulted in their works, at the point of the bayonet, if necessary. This movement was only attempted partially at a late hour in the day.

The rebels were well prepared, and only awaited the appearance of the head of the Federal advance to open a sharp fire. Duryea, covered by two howitzers and a brass six-pounder, took the centre; Townsend the left, near the plain, with two guns; Bendix the right, in the woods, with Lieutenant Greble serving his single piece of artillery, in front, openly. The fight was, from the first, extremely unequal. A front attack was sheer folly. But, the flank movement was not ordered. A second messenger was dispatched for reenforcements-as if five to one in favor of the Federals were not enough! Colonel Carr's regiment then advanced as far as Newmarket bridge, moved to the scene of conflict-only reaching it, however, to participate in the retreat.

The fortunes of the day needed but a master-hand to direct them, to have turned in favor of the Union troops. General Pierce refrained from active command*—each_regiment seeming to act entirely on its own responsibility. Several most gallant advances were made by the Zouaves, up to the enemy's very face, to pick off the men lurking behind their guns. Colonel Bendix prepared for a final assault, but found no orders given for a support. Townsend's men behaved with great gallantry, and were only brought away from the murderous fire of the artillery by the personal leadership of the Colonel, who, * There is much variation in the several versions of this affair made public. Pierce's friends regard the battle as having been lost by the refusal of the several regimental commanders to act in concert. If they disobeyed orders why did he not have them


The Assault on Big

the fires, and compelled his
troops to retire. Lieuten-
ant-Colonel Washburne had, also, arranged
for a flank movement which, with a combined
attack from the front, must have ended the
struggle; but the order for retreat was given
before the movement could be executed.
One who was present as an observer, wrote:

"The raw troops, recruits not yet two months enlisted, and many of them not having received two weeks drill, stood fire well. They were almost utterly unable to defend themselves, from the nature of things, but never flinched. Some were less dis

ciplined than others, and their efforts less available, but no lack of the most difficult sort of courage, that which consists in enduring without the excitement of performing, was manifested. The cannonading of the enemy was incessant. Shrapnel, canister, and rifled balls came at the rate of three a minute; the only intervals being those necessary to allow their guns to cool. Our own guns, although of comparatively little use, were not idle, until the artillery ammunition was entirely exhausted. Almost all of the cartridge rounds of the Zouaves were also


"At about one o'clock, Colonel Allen's regiment, the First New York, came up as a reenforcement, and, at about the same time, Colonel Carr's, of the Troy Volunteers; these also received several dis

charges of artillery; but did not move upon the open field, with the exception of two hundred of the Troy Rifles. Their approach, however, seemed to the commanding General to give no hope that he would be able, without more artillery, to take or silence the batteries, and, at about twenty minutes past one, he gave the order to withdraw.”

The Federal loss was fourteen killed, fortynine wounded and five missing. Among the killed were two of the most gallant and noble men in the service-Major Theodore Winthrop, Secretary and Aid to General Butler, and first-Lieutenant John T. Greble, of the United States regular artillery, Second regiment. The rebels pronounced their loss to have been but one killed and four wounded. The retreat was accomplished in good order

the enemy not pursuing. A troop of cavalry sallied over the bridge, and fell upon the wagons collecting the wounded-disregarding the flag of truce borne by the Chaplain in command; but no attack was made on the lines. Colonel Phelps had dispatched two hundred and fifty men, under Colonel Haw

The Assault on Big

Colonel Hill, in his announcement to Governor Ellis, of North Carolina, of the engagement, stated his force to have been eight hundred men of the First North Carolina regiment and three hundred and sixty Virginians.


kins, to the scene of combat; | Parrot field-piece. The battery was worked but these troops only met by one hundred chosen men, under Major the retreat. Randolph. This contest excited the public mind greatly. Upon General Pierce the censure of defeat fell, with merciless severity. He was charged with inefficiency, ignorance of field manoeuvres, want of pluck, etc., etc. It is questionable if such charges were just. The first error was in dispatching so large a force without equivalent artillery. Had there been a dozen good field-pieces, the enemy would have been driven from his position in half an hour. As it was, Greble's single gun did memorable service. Or, had Bendix and Duryea been supported in a charge at a moment when it was evident that Greble and the sharpshooters had silenced over half of the enemy's guns, the day must have been won. General Pierce apparently lacked confidence in himself. It was his first experience on the battle field; he seemed confused by its responsibilities. Conceded to be a brave officer and a good disciplinarian, he still lacked the experience of a general field command. Had he wisely transferred that command to Duryea or Townsend, that army never would have retreated, especially after the arrival of Colonel Carr's fine troops, with their two effective pieces of artillery.

In the enemy's account of the fight, as given by the Richmond Dispatch, the fact was made known that Magruder commanded in person. The infantry present consisted of the First North Carolina regiment, Colonel Hill. Their guns consisted of a superb howitzer battery (seven guns), embracing one fine

After this affair nothing of further moment transpired during the command of Butler, which extended up to August 16th, when he was relieved by Major General Wool. The heavy Federal force which found itself gathered at the Fortress and its vicinity during the months of June and July, served only as a menace to Norfolk and Yorktown, but did not, as such, give the enemy any alarm. Magruder's forces swarmed over the Peninsula, to the constant harassment of the Union camps, and the terror of the "contrabands," whose numbers had so rapidly increased that, by August 1st, three thousand men, women and children were provided with daily rations. To catch these "black rascals" was a labor into which the rebels entered with zeal. Wo betide the poor wretch who, having once fled to the Federal lines, afterwards fell into Confederate hands! August 9th the village of Hampton was burned by the rebels, acting under orders of Magruder. As this village was almost under the very guns of the Fortress, it will be inferred that the Federals had made but little advance since their first movements adverted to in the first portion of this chapter.

« PreviousContinue »