Our Correspondence
Letter from Charles Potter. - The fight at Big Bethel. - How a soldier feels when he first goes into battle.


Our Correspondence.

Letter From Charles Potter—The Fight at Big Bethel. — How a Soldier feels when he first goes into Battle.

Camp Hamilton, Near Fort Monroe, Va., June 15.

Dear —,

We have had a Battle, and a very severe one. l am safe and sound. I was struck in the leg by a spent ball, but it did not leave a mark. It is impossible to learn how many are killed, but I think not more than ten. There are quite a number wounded, and two are missing. I cannot tell you how I felt when we first entered the field. It was indescribable; but that soon passed away, and I thought of nothing else but to go in. There was a perfect hail of shot where I stood, being one of the nearest to their battery. Kelly, Manderville, and myself were the last to leave the field. General Pierce came to Col. Duryea five times and ordered him to draw off his men, but the Col. would not do it.

I will try and give you a short account of of the affairs. Sunday night, about nine o'clock, we had orders to get ready, with one day's rations, for a march in the country. At half-past nine we were all ready and on the march. We reached Hampton at 11 o'clock. It took us two hours to cross over the river and form. At 1 o'clock, we left Hampton and started for a place called Little Bethel, where we were to form a junction with Col. Bendix Regiment from Newport News. Arriving there, they were nowhere to be seen, and after waiting about half an hour we started on without them. After marching about three miles further we suddenly came across a picket, consisting of one officer and two privates. These we secured and sent to the rear. We were about starting again when we heard firing some distance in our rear. Col. Duryca supposing we had marched past the enemy during the night, faced us about and gave the order to double quick march, back again, and arriving at Little Bethel, we there found Col. Bendix and the Albany Regiment had met, and mistaking each other for foes, had fired on one another, several were killed and wounded before the mistake was discovered. After the wounded were all cared for, we formed again and started. This time the whole Brigade, Col.Townsend's, Col. Carr's, Col. Bendix and our Regiment, forming a pretty long string—Col. Duryea's taking the lead. I wish to say in reference to the affair in the morning, that it was a very lucky thing for us that it so happened, for if it had not, we would have marched straight into the Masked Battery, as we were within a mile of it when we heard the firing in our rear. If we had, situated as we then were without cannon, and only about 500 men, we would have been either all killed or taken prisoners. But, thanks be to the Lord, this did not happen. But to resume. It was now about half-past four o'clock A.M., when the whole Brigade started forward. We marched about five miles, when suddenly, the first intimation we had of an enemy's presence was in the shape of a Rifled Cannon Ball which came tearing through the trees over our heads, fortunately hitting none, as it was aimed too high. The order of halt was given, and we immediately formed in line of battle. Our Regiment taking the right, our Col. (as he said afterward) having no idea that we had been fired into from a Masked Battery, gave the order to Charge, and away went down through an open field, helter skelter, until we got about half way across, when we were again assailed by a perfect storm of shot and shell, killing one man and mortally wounding another close alongside of me. The shot seemed to strike all around me, tearing up the ground and making great havoc generally. When l saw those two men fall alongside of me I trust say I felt rather queer, it being the first time that I had ever faced death in that shape; but after the first fire I seemed to forget myself entirely, mixing right in, and feeling no more concern than I would if they had been firing Fish Balls instead of leaden ones.

It was not until the Battle was over that I seemed to feel the danger I had been in ; but the mortification of having to back out swallowed up all other feelings. I venture to say, that had Col. Pierce let us go on, every Zouave would have been killed, or else we would have taken the Battery. As it was, he gave the order to Col. Duryea five different times for us to fall back, and the Col. repeated it to us; but the men did not heed it. Col. Townsend's men posted on the left of us, and when he saw us charging on the Battery, he said to his men, "Will you stand here and see the Zouaves slaughtered and not offer to help them — I am ashamed of you." At that, a few of them came to our support. But it was useless; the fates were against us as its seemed, and our ammunition failing, we had to retreat. Thus ended our first battle. You may think we were pretty well tired by the time we got back to Camp, having marched forty miles and hardly having an hours rest during the whole w time. This soldiering business is not what it is cracked up to be. There is a report in Camp that we are to go to Washington. I hope it is so, but can hardly believe it. You have the report of the killed and wounded in the papers.



Charles Potter, “Our Correspondence
Letter from Charles Potter. - The fight at Big Bethel. - How a soldier feels when he first goes into battle.,” accessed January 24, 2022, https://rocklandroom.omeka.net/items/show/21.