SKU: A01658 Category:


Description: Colonel Frederick Townsend’s 12-page letter (June 12, 1861, Camp Hamilton) to Brigade Inspector, Major R. A. Peirce is a first-hand account of their regiments’ line of attack and subsequent retreat at the Battle of Big Bethel for which Brig. General Ebenezer W. Peirce was mostly blamed.

The letter begins, “I have the honor to report for the information of Brig. Genl. Peirce, that on the evening of Sunday June 9th I received orders from him to have my command in readiness with one day’s rations to move that night to form part of a column to be composed of two regiments from Newport News and Col Druyea and my own, intended to make a reconnaissance in force toward Yorktown.” On the way toward Hampton, they are attacked by friendly fire (Col. Bendix’s regiment) that kills one and wounds several privates and officers, inadvertently revealing their position to the enemy: “the concerted sign of a white badge upon [their] left arms,” and a “thoroughly military” maneuver to draw out the enemy revealed “that the enemy [were] their friends . . .”

Further on at Big Bethel, they encounter the enemy and Townsend is ordered to “send out skirmishes to ascertain the strength of the [enemy] . . . to draw out the enemy’s fire, which duty they gallantly performed.” Their efforts are unsuccessful as the enemy “had been strongly reinforced . . .  an effort to take the battery then was useless, besides a company of [his] regiment was separated from the regiment. . .” They retire and retreat when he sees “the enemy outflanking [them].” Townsend diplomatically refrains from “speaking of the movements of the other corps excepting as immediately connected with [his]” as “it were especially gratuitous in-as-much as the General (Peirce) was upon the field and directed the movements of the various commands in person.” The letter is signed “I am respectfully/Your Obedient Servant/ Frederick Townsend/Col. 3rd Rgt.”

Twelve handwritten pages on both sides of approx. 8” x 5” white laid and plain paper.

 Frederick Townsend (1825-1897) founded the 3rd New York Infantry Regiment and served with the US Army 18th and 9th Infantry Regiments. He also served three terms as the Adjutant General of New York from 1857-61 and in 1880.

 Ebenezer W. Peirce (1822-1902) was a brigadier general in the Massachusetts Militia and a Col. of the 29th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1861-1864; he was in direct command of the Union forces at Battle of Big Bethel (Battle of Bethel Church) and largely blamed for the regiments’ failure.

This letter is a lengthy and wonderfully detailed account of one of the earliest land battles of the Civil War. It took place on the Virginia Peninsula near Newport News on June 10th, 1861. The Union forces suffered 76 casualties, the Confederates 8 casualties.

Item #A01658

Condition: Mailing fold lines otherwise very good condition.