Battle of Big Bethel Church, Virginia
Battle of Big Bethel
Other Names: Battle of Bethel Church, Battle of
Location: York County and Hampton
Campaign: Blockade of the Chesapeake Bay (May-June 1861)
Date(s): June 10, 1861
Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. Ebenezer Pierce [US]; Col. John
B. Magruder and Col. D.H. Hill [CS]
Forces Engaged: 4,700 total (US 3,500; CS 1,200)
Estimated Casualties: 87 total (US 79; CS 8)
Result(s): Confederate victory
|Battlefield of Big Bethel
|Civil War Battle of Big Bethel Map
Description: This was the first land battle in Virginia. Maj.
Gen. Benjamin F. Butler sent converging columns from Hampton and Newport News against advanced Confederate outposts at Little
and Big Bethel. (Also see the Bethel Battlefield Map below.) Confederates abandoned Little Bethel and fell back
to their entrenchments behind Brick Kiln Creek, near Big Bethel Church. The Federals, under immediate command of Brig.
Gen. Ebenezer Pierce, pursued, attacked frontally along the road, and were repulsed. Crossing downstream, the 5th New York
Zouaves attempted to turn the Confederate left flank, but were repulsed. Unit commander Col. T. Wynthrop was killed.
The Union forces were disorganized and retired, returning to Hampton and Newport News. The Confederates
suffered 1 killed, 7 wounded. Bethel also witnessed the First Confederate Soldier Killed in the American Civil War.
Approximately 125,000 North
Carolina soldiers fought during the course of the war; moreover, 40,000 never returned home. At the Battle of Big Bethel,
the Old North State had experienced its Baptism of Fire and witnessed its first casualty.
|Battle of Big Bethel Civil War Map
|Civil War Big Bethel Battlefield Map
|Civil War Battle of Big Bethel, Virginia
|Battle of Big Bethel Historical Marker
|Alfred R. Waud, artist, June 10, 1861.
(Related reading below.)
Sources: National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate
Armies; Library of Congress.
Reading: More Terrible than Victory: North Carolina's Bloody Bethel Regiment, 1861-65 (368 Pages). Description: Craig Chapman presents the definitive history of the First North Carolina Volunteers / 11th Regiment North Carolina
Troops--the legendary Bethel Regiment. The 1st North Carolina Volunteers struck history as it engaged in the Civil War's first
land battle and witnessed the first soldier killed in the great conflict. Chapman conveys the compelling history of these
brave men as they left hearth and home in defense of their state, beliefs and ideals. Most of the unit's raw, young
recruits had never traveled outside of North Carolina, nor
fired a weapon in combat. "That all changed, and it dramatically changed their lives
After an enlistment of six months, North Carolina's First Regiment disbanded. Most of
the men then enlisted in the Eleventh NC Regiment, commonly referred to as the Bloody
Bethel Regiment, and fought in the bloodiest battles and campaigns of the Civil War. About
the Author: Craig S. Chapman commands one of the North Carolina National Guard infantry battalions that traces
its lineage to the Eleventh Regiment North Carolina Troops, the unit that started out as the First North Carolina Volunteers
and nicknamed the Bethel Regiment. Chapman resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Recommended Reading: Confederate
Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina
In The Civil War, 1861-1865. Description:
The author, Prof. D. H. Hill, Jr., was the son of Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey Hill (North
Carolina produced only two lieutenant generals and it was the second highest rank in the army)
and his mother was General “Stonewall” Jackson’s wife's sister. In Confederate
Military History Of North Carolina, Hill discusses North Carolina’s massive task of preparing and mobilizing
for the conflict; the many regiments and battalions recruited from the Old North State; as well as the state's numerous
contributions during the war. Continued below...
During Hill's Tar Heel State
study, the reader begins with interesting and thought-provoking statistical data regarding the 125,000 "Old North State"
soldiers that fought during the course of the war and the 40,000 that perished. Hill advances with the
Fighting Tar Heels to the first battle at Bethel, through numerous bloody campaigns
and battles--including North Carolina’s contributions at the "High Watermark" at Gettysburg--and concludes with Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
Recommended Reading: The Civil War in North Carolina. Description:
Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought in North Carolina
during the Civil War, and the campaigns and battles themselves were crucial in the grand strategy of the conflict and involved
some of the most famous generals of the war. Continued below...
John Barrett presents the complete story of military engagements and battles across the state, including
the classical pitched battle of Bentonville--involving Generals Joe Johnston and William
Sherman--the siege of Fort Fisher, the amphibious campaigns on the
coast, and cavalry sweeps such as General George Stoneman's Raid. "Includes cavalry battles, Union Navy
operations, Confederate Navy expeditions, Naval bombardments, the land battles... [A]n indispensable edition." Also
available in hardcover: The Civil War in North Carolina.
Recommended Reading: Shock Troops of the Confederacy
(Hardcover: 432 pages). Description: Fred Ray's Shock Troops of
the Confederacy is primarily focused on the "sharpshooter battalions" of the Army of Northern Virginia. In a Civil
War context, "sharpshooter" was usually more akin to "skirmisher" than "sniper," although these specialized battalions also
used innovative open order assault techniques, especially late in the war. Ray includes, however, a detailed study of
Union sharpshooter battalions and Confederate sharpshooters in the West. Continued below...
Remarkably, little has been published about such organizations in the past, so Fred Ray's book offers a
unique study of the evolution of Civil War infantry tactics, revealing a more complex, sophisticated approach to the battlefield
than is usually understood.
Reading: The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide. Review: This is one of the most useful guides I've ever read.
Virginia was host to nearly one-third of all Civil War engagements,
and this guide covers them all like a mini-history of the war. Unlike travel books that are organized geographically, this
guide organizes them chronologically. Each campaign is prefaced by a detailed overview, followed by concise (from 1 to 4 pages,
depending on the battle's importance) but engrossing descriptions of the individual engagements. Continued below…
make this a great book to browse through when you're not in the car. Most sites' summaries touch on their condition--whether
they're threatened by development (as too many are) and whether they're in private hands or protected by the park service.
But the maps are where this book really stands out. Each battle features a very clear map designating army positions and historical
roads, as well as historical markers (the author also wrote “A Guidebook to Virginia's Historical Markers”), parking, and visitors'
centers. Best of all, though, many battles are illustrated with paintings or photographs of the sites, and the point-of-view
of these pictures is marked on each map!
Reading: The Civil War Battlefield
Guide: The Definitive Guide, Completely Revised, with New Maps and More Than 300 Additional Battles (Second Edition)
(Hardcover). Description: This new edition of the definitive guide to Civil War battlefields
is really a completely new book. While the first edition covered 60 major battlefields, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox, the
second covers all of the 384 designated as the "principal battlefields" in the
American Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report. Continued below...
As in the first edition, the essays are authoritative and concise, written by such leading Civil War
historians as James M. McPherson, Stephen W. Sears, Edwin C. Bearss, James I. Robinson, Jr., and Gary W. Gallager. The second
edition also features 83 new four-color maps covering the most important battles. The Civil War Battlefield Guide is an essential
reference for anyone interested in the Civil War. "Reading this book is like being
at the bloodiest battles of the war..."