Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 21.djvu/127
Life and Character of Lt.-Gfaieral I). II. Hill. 119
with a small branch of Black river on his front and right flank and an almost impenetrable forest on his left, he used twenty- five spades and several hundreds of bayonets during the night in making an enclosed work. Ben. Butler had started 5,000 men in three columns, with the confident expectation that two of the detachments would travel by roads passing north and south of the position at Little Bethel, and form a junction two or three miles in rear of it, where the roads traveled by the two came together, while Duryea's regi- ment of Zouaves would engage Hill in front till the other columns should unite, and then press him in the rear in his expected retreat. Two of the detachments mistook each other in the night, and engaged in a skirmish, in which two men were killed and eight wounded. The Zouaves, instead of "following immediately upon the heels" of the fugitive rebels, as contemplated by Butler, turned back, and fled precipitately on hearing the firing in front of their own reserve line.
On the next day they again moved forward and attacked the force at Big Bethel, Colonel McGruder having meantime arrived with Gary's battalion of infantry. The whole force engaged on the Confederate side was 800 North Carolinians and 400 Virginians; on the Federal, 3,500, with 1,50010 2,500 in reserve. After preliminary skirmishing for about two hours, and an attack that lasted two and a half hours longer, the enemy retreated in great confusion, with a loss of probably 50 killed and 300 wounded, and were so hotly pur- sued by our cavalry that they scattered guns, haversacks and knap- sacks till they crossed a bridge and stopped the pursuit by destroying it. The names of no soldiers of North Carolina should be inscribed in a more prominent place on the monument to be erected to her heroic dead than those of Henry L. Wyatt, the first offering of the South to the Lost Cause, and his three comrades, who rushed forward in a hail of shot and shell to destroy a house where the sharpshooters ofthe enemy had taken shelter. Judging of its impor- tance by the numbers engaged and the losses on both sides, the battle of Bethel scarcely rose above the dignity of a skirmish; yet few events in the early history of the war had a more important influence upon the contests of the following year. The splendid bearing of our soldiers sent a thrill of pride to every Southern heart, and when the first battle of Manassas was fought, less than a month later, our soldiers moved forward in the confidence that Southern