Report of Capt. Judson Kilpatrick, Fifth New York Infantry.
Engagement at Big Bethel, or Bethel Church, Va.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 2 [S# 2] -- CHAPTER IX.
HEADQUARTERS CAMP HAMILTON,
June 11, 1861.
Col. A. DURYEA.
SIR: In accordance with your order, I have the honor to submit the following report of my command, acting as the advance guard on the evening of the 9th, and a brief account of my command during-the engagement on the following day at the new County Bridge. I left camp with my command at 10 p.m., consisting of fifty men of Company H, one lieutenant (Cambreleng), four sergeants-and four corporals; Company I, Captain Bartlett, one lieutenant (York), four sergeants, and two corporals. Crossed the river at Hampton half past 10 p.m., reached New Market Bridge at 1 a.m., threw out scouts in all directions, and waited for the main body, which arrived at 3 a.m.
According to your orders I advanced on the road to new County Bridge, the point where the enemy was reported to have made a stand. A little before daylight, when within a mile and a quarter of the bridge, we discovered the outlying picket guard of the enemy, and were challenged, "Who comes there?" I replied, "Who stands there?" A horseman attempted to leave. Corporal Ellerson, of Company H, sprang in advance, directing him to halt. I, supposing the enemy to be in force, gave the command to fire and charge. In a moment the affair was over; twenty or thirty shots had been given and exchanged; the officer of the guard was captured and disarmed. At this time, hearing firing in the rear, and supposing that our rear guard was attacked, I returned to follow the main body, under Colonel Duryea, who was advancing by forced march in the direction of the firing, only to discover that by mistake our own forces, coming in different directions, and supposing each to be the enemy, had fired several shots before the mistake was discovered. I again advanced, and at 8 a.m. met with and drove in the picket guards of the enemy. I then detached a portion of my command, made an armed reconnaissance, and found the enemy with about from three thousand to five thousand men posted in a strong position on the opposite side of the bridge, three earthworks and a masked battery on the right and left, in advance of the stream thirty pieces of artillery and a large farce of cavalry, all of which information I reported to you at once.
I was ordered to advance and engage the enemy in throwing out skirmishers on the right and left of the road leading to the bridge. We rapidly advanced, supported by the advance guard of Colonel Duryea and three pieces of artillery, under Lieutenant Greble, of the Second Regiment U.S. Artillery. The enemy soon opened fire on us from the rifle cannon in front. We answered his discharges by a cheer and continued to advance, clearing all before us, till we reached a point just on the edge of the woods, where the fire was so hot and heavy that we were compelled to halt, and there we remained, as directed by Lieutenant-Colonel Warren, till that gallant officer had made dispositions to turn their flanks. The enemy's fire at this time began to tell upon us with great effect. My men were falling one after another, as was the case with the rest of the command.
After remaining in this position about two hours, and our object having been accomplished--numbers of our men being killed and wounded, having received a grape through my thigh, which tore off a portion of the rectangle on Colonel Duryea's left shoulder, passed through my leg, and killed a soldier in my rear-- I withdrew my men to the skirts of the wood. We managed to reach Lieutenant Greble's battery, and bring to his aid several of my men. The charge was then sounded. Lieutenant Greble opened fire with grape and canister within two [hundred] yards of the enemy's lines. Captains Winslow, Bartlett, and myself charged with our commands in front, Captain Denike and Lieutenant Duryea (son of Colonel Duryea), and about two hundred of the Troy Rifles upon the right, Colonel Townsend with his men to the left. The enemy were forced out of the first battery, all the forces were rapidly advancing, and everything promised a speedy victory, when we were ordered to fall back. Where this order came from I do not know. We maintained our position till Colonel Townsend began to retire with his whole command. Being left there, alone, and no prospect of receiving aid, we ordered the men to fall back, which they did, and in good order, forming their line of battle about one hundred and fifty yards in the rear. A few minutes afterwards orders came from General Pierce to cease firing and retire.
It gives me great pleasure to mention the gallant conduct of Captain Bartlett, who came up with the reserve, re-enforcing my line, and was ever at the point of danger encouraging his men. Lieutenant York, in command of my left, and Lieutenant Cambreleng, in command of my right, displayed the greatest bravery. Lieutenant York's sword was broken by a grape shot, and he was slightly wounded in the leg. I shall ever be grateful to Captain Winslow, who rescued me after our forces had left. He came to my aid, assisted by Sergeants Onderdonk and Agnus, at the last moment, but in time to rescue me from the enemy.
I would also favorably mention Private Wood, who brought me valuable information, and who fired the first shot; Private John Dunn, whose arm was shattered by a cannon ball, and who bore himself with the greatest bravery, and who said to Surgeon Gilbert, while amputating his arm, that he could not have lost it in a nobler cause. The whole command, men and officers, did themselves the greatest credit, and I am satisfied can conquer anything except impossibilities.
Captain Company H.
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