Commemorate the 157th Anniversary of Civil War’s First Land Battle on Saturday, June 9

Join the Bethel Chapter 185, UDC as they commemorate the 157th Anniversary of the Battle of Big Bethel on Saturday, June 9 at 10:00 a.m. with keynote speaker Michael Cobb. Big Bethel Battlefield is located at 123 Saunders Road, Hampton, VA 23666. Admission is free. Lawnchairs are encouraged.

The Battle of Big Bethel was the first land battle of the Civil War in present-day Virginia. During the spring of 1861, Federal officials took steps to secure Fort Monroe, which occupied a strategically vital position at the mouths of the Chesapeake Bay and the James River. West of the fort, the river and roads provided access to Richmond, the Confederate capital. President Abraham Lincoln appointed Gen. Benjamin F. Butler to command at Fort Monroe and to control the lower Peninsula.

On June 6, 1861, Col. John B. Magruder led 1,500 men from Yorktown, about fifteen
miles southeast, to block key roads and isolate the fort. To protect Fort Monroe, Butler decided to drive off the Confederates. At night on June 9, Gen. Ebenezer W. Pierce led seven infantry regiments (4,400 men of the 4th Massachusetts, 1st Vermont, and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 7th New York) toward Big Bethel, as well as several guns of the 2nd U.S. Artillery. Two Federal columns collided in the darkness and fired at each other. At 8 A.M., the expedition clashed with Confederate pickets. The shooting alerted Magruder, who prepared for an attack.

While virtually a minor skirmish in comparison to the later vicious battles that epitomized the conflict, Big Bethel was the first time that Union and Confederate soldiers stood up and engaged each other in open combat. Fought along the crossing of the northwest branch of the Back River (also called Brick Kiln Creek), Big Bethel resulted in the death of the first West Point graduate, Lt. John Toomer Greble of the 2nd US Artillery, and the first Confederate infantryman, Pvt. Henry Lawson Wyatt of the 1st North Carolina Volunteer Infantry.

For more information, dial 757-727-8311.