THE BATTLE OF BIG BETHEL

The following is from "Writing and Fighting the Civil War Soldier Correspondence" to the NY Sunday Mercury. The Mercury actively solicited "Soldier Correspondents" who responded by writing to the newspaper throughout the war. In return, the Mercury sent free newspapers to the boys at the front. While not included in the following, please note that the NY 8th Regiment- Called the Washington Grays also participated in this battle and suffered both enemy and friendly fire because the gray uniforms they wore looked too much like the Confederate uniform. Big Bethel was actually a skirmish--1st Bull run was to follow a month later. Date specified is the issue date when the letter was published, Unit specified is the correspondents unit.

 June 23,1861   

FIFTH REGIMENT (DURYEE'S ZOUAVES) 

(The following extract is from the pen of Dan. Hart, Orderly Sargeant Co. F, of Duryee's Zouaves (or Advance Guard) formerly clerk to the Central Park Commissioners. It tells the whole story of the battle of Big Bethel in a nutshell, and shows that a necessity exists for better arms) 

When the company came in from evening parade on Sunday [June 9], I noticed the captain examining the muskets, etc, and immediately "smelt a mice." Later in the evening, he ordered me confidentially to see that the men were supplied with ammunition and rations for a day, which I did; and after tatoo, was ordered to rouse them silently at 11 o' clock, and, as orderly, was informed that we were bound for business. Of course there was little sleep in my tent. We put our house in order, wrote a little note to the folks, in case we should be unfortunate, and enclosed them where they would be found. At 11 0'clock we were mustered, and, to our surprise, found the whole regiment under arms, not a light being visable, or a word spoken above a whisper. We marched out to the road from camp, and, joining with the artillery, proceeded to Hampton, where we crossed the creek in large boats, and resumed our march. It was a curious occasion; the darkness and silence, and the steady, firm step of such a body of men, trained like a machine- nobody knowing where or what we were ordered to do, but all feeling that something was impending, and that probably the time of some of us was come. So we continued until after daylight, when we heard the quick discharge of arms at our front--a few cries, and then all was still. A moment afterward, the skirmishers took to the rear several prisoners, and we learned that we had driven in the enemy's pickets. In this condition, and without any time for rest, we were ordered to form a line, and to make ready for a charge on the enemy. The artillery advanced, and galloped up the road directly in our front. In a moment or two we heard a heavy report, followed by a volley from a concealed foe, and the way the shivers of grape and cannon-balls came whistling around us, and tearing up the ground, was neither interesting nor pleasant. Thereafter, as we saw the flash, we each dropped to mother earth in quick time. We were ordered to a wood by the roadside under cover of which we hoped to proceed; but the enemy soon had our range, and the boys began to fall around me. It was a horrible time, and one to appeal to the stoutest heart. However, on we pushed, the balls crashing all over us, and through the trees, as though a wheat-field. A man who was crouching behind a tree by me, was killed instantly by a cannon-ball, and numbers were hurt close by. All we could do was to crouch on the ground and remain quiet. Some of our men went to the enemy's flank and endeavored to harass them, but only partially succeeded, as our miserable muskets will not carry; they are almost worthless. 

DANIEL H. HART

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