The Battle of Big Bethel
The Battle of Big Bethel was fought on June 10, 1861. It was fought near the tip of Virginia’s Peninsula. This battle was a forerunner of the bloody civil war to come.
It was the first land battle in Virginia. Major General Benjamin F. Butler was the Union leader in this battle. He marched his men from Hampton and Newport News against the Confederate outposts that were at Little and Big Bethel.
Before this march Butler had had reports of slaves being impressed into the service of the Confederates to build entrenchments on the Virginia Peninsula at Williamsburg and Yorktown. Also, Union troops had been harassed and captured by the Confederates at the peninsula’s tip.
Butler’s ultimate goal was controlling the peninsula in its entirety but most particularly the major shipbuilding resources in Hampton. This he could not do if there were still confederates intruding upon the land of the peninsula.
Therefore, he decided to attack and destroy a camp of the confederates near Little Bethel. The element of surprise would be in their favor, or so he hoped. Due to the blunder of mistaking some soldiers as the enemy, the element of surprise was lost.
In fact, the confederates were aroused by the commotion caused by the Union soldiers fighting themselves. They watched from their fortifications the battle of Union soldiers fighting against each other. By the time the Union soldiers had stopped fighting each other, the Confederate soldiers had gathered and organized.
Even so, the Union men still marched on. But when they arrived at Big Bethel, Confederate forces led by John B. Magruder quickly repelled them. This battle was over in less than three hours. By the end of these three hours the Confederates claimed an easy victory over the Union.
The Union suffered the majority of the casualties. They lost 60 men while the Confederates lost 8.
This Battle uplifted the morale of the south, stimulated a sense of superiority, and also motivated the making of the first battlefield map of the war to honor the victory.