Reports of Capt. W. H. Werth, commanding Chatham Grays.
Engagement at Big Bethel, or Bethel Church, Va.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 2 [S# 2] -- CHAPTER IX.
HEADQUARTERS, Yorktown, June 12, 1861.
Col. J. B. MAGRUDER,
SIR: I beg leave very respectfully to make the following report of my scout:
On Sunday afternoon, the 9th of June, 1861, I procured the corn and oats on the Back River road as ordered, and had the wagons returning to camp in two hours and a quarter from the receipt of the order. I was then joined by one company of North Carolina Infantry, one piece of the howitzer battery, and a detachment of Captain Douthatt's cavalry, as I supposed, to assist me in making observations near Hampton, on the Back River. I approached New Market Bridge at 5 o'clock p.m., planted the howitzer so as to sweep the bridge, deployed my infantry in open order on my right flank in ambush, so that they could rake the road. The cavalry I posted in the rear, and threw out vedettes on each of my flanks to avoid a surprise.
In this position I waited for the appearance of the enemy. I of course had no idea of endangering my command by engaging the enemy if in force. I was too weak. I n a few moments alarm guns were fired by a chain of sentinels extending from New Market Bridge to Fort Monroe. In a few moments a force advanced from Hampton (supposed to be a battalion of infantry, but marching in detached companies), whilst at the same time one or more companies approached by the road leading from Newport News. These forces were each advancing upon New Market Bridge from opposite directions, thinking I had crossed the bridge, with my command. Upon observing their approach with a glass, I quietly retired from my position to a point in the rear three-quarters of a mile. The enemy approached the bridge, and when they suddenly came in sight of each other they (each mistaking the other for me) opened fire, and kept it up for some five minutes before they discovered their error. I was sitting on my horse near the bridge, and saw the firing plainly with my glass, but did not at the time know the cause, although I suspected it. At dusk I took up the march for Bethel Church, the enemy following me, and the next morning the fight opened.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. H. WERTH.
One of the prisoners taken (since dead) stated that in this brush there were six killed and thirteen wounded, and corroborated all the above statements of my report.
W. H. WERTH.
CAMP YORKTOWN, June 13, 1861.
JOHN B. MAGRUDER,
Colonel, Commanding Division.
I beg leave to make the following report of the movement of the troops under my command at the battle of Bethel Church on the 10th instant:
By the order of E. B. Montague, major of the Virginia battalion at Bethel, my company, the Chatham Grays, was placed in the redoubt to the rear of the church, to defend the right wing in case of a discomfiture. From this point I was detailed, by your orders, to take position at the ford on the creek, about one mile below the bridge. I crossed my command over the open field under a shower of shell and canister, which the enemy poured into us from their battery, but sustained no damage.
A portion of the Fifth New York Zouave Regiment (three companies) was at this time advancing down the opposite bank of the stream for the purpose of crossing the ford, and thereby turn our left flank. I saw the movement, and at once took double quick and made the distance of over a mile in about nine minutes beating the zouaves, and getting in position at the ford in time to cause them to halt. I obstructed the ford in all conceivable ways by felling trees, &c., and then placed my first platoon on the northwest side, trader cover of an old mill-dam, whilst my second platoon I placed in ambush on the opposite side, where the road leading to the ford could have been raked for four hundred yards with deadly effect.
At 10.10 o'clock one naval howitzer, with a detachment from the Howitzer Battalion, reported to me for duty. I at once placed the gun in position one hundred and twenty yards up the creek from my infantry, where I had a beautiful range for grape or canister on a spot in the road on the opposite side of the stream over which the enemy would of necessity pass in attempting the passage of the ford. From this point I had the pleasure of getting one good shot at the enemy, which, from the sudden rout of the party at which it was aimed, must have done much damage. I also threw down all the fences on either side of the creek, and cleared all the undergrowth and large timber, so that after the enemy had passed the range of the howitzer from its first position I could limber up and in two minutes have it in position to deliver its fire between my two platoons and immediately upon the ford.
At 10 to 11 a.m. the Southern Guard. Captain -----, reported to me for duty. I at once joined this command with my company, all entirely concealed from the enemy. At a little past 11 o'clock, so completely ambuscaded was my entire force, one of the enemy sent down to examine the ford came up to within twenty yards of my position, and did not suspect the presence of any force until I ordered him to ground arms, which he instantly did, and I had the pleasure of taking hint prisoner. He had a fine minie musket, accouterments, and forty-five rounds of cartridges. I placed him under guard, and afterwards forwarded him to headquarters. All the men under my command displayed a wonderful degree of coolness for troops who had never been under fire, and I am assured, if we had been so fortunate as to have been attacked by a force five times our strength, that the command would have made a desperate resistance.
At sundown I was ordered to withdraw.
This special report is rendered necessary by my being detached from Major Montague's battalion.
With high respect, I am, sir, yours, &c.,
W. H. WERTH,
Captain Chatham Grays, Virginia Volunteers
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