CAMP BUTLER, Newport News, Va., June 11, 1861.
SIR: Pursuant to your order, I left camp between 12 and 1 o’clock the morning of the 10th with five companies of the Vermont regiment, being the Second Company, Captain Pelton; the Fourth Company, Captain Andeross; the Sixth Company, captain Boynton; the Eighth Company, Captain Peck, and the Tenth Company, Captain Riply; and five companies of the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, being Company F, Captain Sheppard; company G, Captain Gordon; Company H, Captain Curtis; Company K, Captain Barnes, and Company M (rifles), Captain Clark.
The strength of the command was as follows: Vermont- Second Company, 50 men, 1 officer; Fourth Company, 52 men, 3 officers; Sixth Company, 48 men, 3 officers; Eighth Company, 52 men, 3 officers; Tenth company, 60 men, 3 officers. Massachusetts- Company F, 47 men, 3 officers; Company G, 40 men, 3 officers; Company M, 73 men, 3 officers. Aggregate, 538. Colonel Bendix, with a detachment of the Seventh New York Volunteers, followed my detachment with two field pieces and eleven artillerists, under the command of Lieutenant Greble, of the Second [U. S.] Artillery. The march proceeded quietly and with great dispatch until we were within about half a mile of Little Bethel, our place of destination, Colonel Bendix having halted with his detachment and one field piece at the junction of the road from Newport News with the road from Hampton, and Lieutenant Greble having followed in the rear of my detachment with one gun. While continuing the march heavy firing of small- arms and artillery was heard in our rear in the direction of Colonel Bendix’s detachment. When it had continued so long and sharply that it appeared to me that it was a serious attack, I countermarched my troops and returned to the place where Colonel Bendix was stationed, and found that he was opposed by a large body of troops coming from the direction of Hampton, a portion of whom I could then see upon a rise of land in front. I immediately formed my command in the order of battle and then, fearing that they were our friends, I caused my whole line to shout “Boston,” together, four times. Receiving no response I advanced my line and was fired upon fro a howitzer, the fire doing us no injury. The enemy, as I then supposed them to be, then disappeared, and I went forward to a house near by, where I found a number of wounded men, who stated that they belonged to Colonel Townsend’s New York regiment.
At this time Colonel Duryea, with his regiment, who had also heard the firing, and who had reached Little Bethel at about the same time that
I should have reached that place if my march had not been interrupted, came to the same place, and General Peirce, who had ben with Colonel Townsend’s regiment, also came up. General Peirce then assumed command of all the troops, and by his order I moved my detachment on to Great Bethel.
The enemy were found there intrenched in force. Pursuant to the order of the general, I formed my troops in line of battle in rear of Colonel Townsend’s regiment. Previous to this General Peirce had taken from my command one-half of Captain Shepard’s company (F), Little Bethel, taking the non- commissioned officers and twenty- one privates. After forming line of battle General Peirce directed that two of my companies be detached as skirmishers, to hold the woods upon our left and prevent a flank attack. The Eighth and Tenth companies of the First Vermont Regiment were detailed for that service and were thus entirely separated from my command. Immediately afterward Captain Clark’s Rifles (Company M), of the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, and the residue of Captain Shepard’s company were also detached by General Peirce and sent into the woods to act as skirmishers in connection with Colonel Duryea’s regiment, and were thus separated from my command. I then received an order from General Peirce to move through the woods beyond the right of the Zouaves and attack the left flank of the enemy’s battery. no other direction as to location was given, and no guide was sent with me.
I moved through the woods, which were very close and tangled, and after considerable difficulty succeeded in placing my men in the proper position and opened fire. The attack by my men was very spirited, and the firing from both sides very warm. Soon after I commenced the attack the firing ceased upon every other part of the work, and the enemy’s fire appeared to be concentrated upon us. While making the attack I was joined by Colonel Bendix with a body of his men, probably about sixty in all. After the firing had continued about twenty minutes the enemy brought their artillery to bear upon us with grape- shot, and finding that I was not supported by any fire or attack elsewhere, except an occasional fire from Lieutenant Greble’s guns, I ceased firing and withdrew my men in good order under cover of the woods. There the companies became separated, so that in forming line I found with me only Captain Pelton’s company of the First Vermont Regiment, and Captains Barnes’ and Curtis’ companies, of the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, and a few men from the Fourth and Sixth Companies of the First Vermont Regiment. After remaining in line until all the men had come in from the point of attack, I returned with these men to the place where I had first formed. I then found that Colonel Duryea’s regiment had retired and were then out of sight, and colonel Townsend’s regiment was also retreating. All of my detachment assembled quickly, and I formed line of battle again upon the ground I had first occupied, and reported to General Peirce for further orders, and was told by him that he had ordered a retreat and was directed to retire with my command. I retired about fifty rods, and then halted until the wounded had been got ready for transportation and the two field pieces had been brought off. One I left with General Peirce and the other I moved off to the rear, when General Peirce informed me that the one left had been disabled, and directed me to leave the other for Colonel Allen’s regiment, to cover the retreat, and I did so. Both were taken by General Peirce to Fort Monroe. I then assumed the return march, arriving in camp toward night.
The expedition was almost exhausting one for all under my command. In eighteen hours the men marched some thirty- five miles, and were engaged in the battle with very slight rest, and no food except a little hard bread. Before commencing the battle they had been under arms nine hours without refreshment. The strength of the companies with which I made the assault upon the works was at that time as follows; Vermont- Second Company, 50 men, 1 officer; Fourth Company, 52 men, 3 officers; Sixth Company, 46 men, 1 officer. Massachusetts- Company G, 39 men, 3 officers; Company H, 33 men, 3 officers; Company K, 55 men, 3 officers. Aggregate, 289. The killed, wounded, and missing are as follows: Killed, 3; wounded, 3; missing, 1.* The officers and men who were left under my immediate command behaved with perfect coolness and kept perfect order, both in the advance through the woods and in their attack upon the works. Everyone went into the engagement and fought manfully and without flinching. When all behaved so well, I cannot particularize any of them, under my immediate eye. It would be invidious to do so. I particularly noticed the coolness and bravery of Major Whittemore, of the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, who was my second in command; of Captains Pelton and Andross, and Lieutenant Webb, of the Vermont regiment, and of Captains Barnes, Curtis, and Gordon, of the Fourth Massachusetts. Captain Pelton was the first man who mounted the bank in face of the enemy, and he retained his exposed position during most of the attack. Captain Andross reports Privates A. H. Stover, George W. Flanders, Burnham Cowdrey, and A. J. Young, of the Fourth Company of the Vermont regiment, as entitled to commendation. The other captains report that all their men behaved with so much resolution and courage that they cannot particularize any. To Major Whittemore I was much indebted for the compact order and effective position upon the march in which the men were kept. in the attack he was int the foremost lines. I return herewith the reports+ of Captains Ripley’s and Peck, of the Vermont regiment, and Captains Shepard and Clark, of the Fourth Massachusetts, who were taken from under my command by General Peirce, and who were not afterward with me until the action had closed. I regret to be compelled to report, also, the death of Lieutenant Greble. He occupied, with his guns, the most exposed position in the attack, and worked them with the most perfect coolness an bravery during the action. He was killed by h last discharge but one which way. The men under his command are justly entitled to great credit. They fought bravely, brought off all their guns, and also the body of Lieutenant Greble. From information received by me I particularly mention Corporal Peeples and also Private Bisgood, of COMPANY F, Third U. S . Artillery. From my personal observation I believe Major Winthrop, of Major- General Butler’s staff, to have been killed during my attack. He came to me during the midst of the attack and rushed forward, and one of my men, describing his uniform, appearance, and arms accurately, states that he fell by his side.
I have the honor to remain, your most obedient servant,
PETER T. WASHBURN,
Lieutenant-Colonel First Vermont Volunteers.
Colonel J. W. PHELPS,
First Regiment Vermont Volunteers, Commanding Post.
*Nominal list (omitted) shows 3 wounded and 1 missing of the First Vermont, and 3 killed of the Fourth Massachusetts.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. LI, Part I. With additions and corrections. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902.