Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/68

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62 Southern Historical Society Papers.

whose aspirations after early laurels might move him to move upon the advanced camp of the Confederates at Big Bethel. Confidently taking the gauntlet up, General Benjamin F. Butler marched out from Fortress Monroe with a fine array of well-appointed artillery and infantry, and made a spirited attack upon Magruder's audacious little army on the morning of the roth of June, 1862. When those serried columns of Federal troops, a dense mass of men, came crowd- ing up the road and, halting in front of Big Bethel, opened the battle with a cannon shot that came hurtling over the little encampment still staying there, as if courting annihilation, it was not only a perilous moment for Magruder and his men, but it was a pivotal moment for the city of Richmond, too ; for with the capture of the Confederate force on the Peninsula it would have been but a holiday march to the Southern capital for the invading army. But Magru- der, brave as Ney, meteoric as Murat on the field, and steady and stern as Soult when there was need for the nerve to stand, was more than equal to the hazard of the unequal battle. The odds against him were enough to discompose almost any man ; but instead of being unnerved Magruder seemed to find both pride and pleasure in straining all his resources as a great soldier to meet the emergency and master it. The first piece of his artillery fired was said to have been sighted by his own accurate eye, and to have told with havoc in the enemy's ranks. The battle was brisk and brief, closing with brilliant success on the Confederate side, a rapid retreat of the invad- ing army to its impregnable stronghold at Fortress Monroe, and the loss of but a single man of Magruder's force, with dead and wounded enough on the Federal side to tell a tale of woe as the troops that had proudly tramped through the streets of Hampton in the early morning, to break up and brush away the nest of " rebels " at Big Bethel, returned in the evening gloaming dispirited, disor- dered, and whipped into a new estimation of the prowess of the men of the South fighting for their firesides and in the faith of their fathers, who were as tall as the tallest among the framers of the Con- stitution and the founders of the Union. The battle of Big Bethel demonstrated the great qualities of soldiership in Magruder, and the unsurpassed courage, constancy and devotion of the rank and file of the Confederate armies, as illustrated in the sample shown that day of the then unrenowned soldiery of the South.