Roswell Farnham to [C. H.] Harding

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Copy.Camp Butler, Newport News, Va.Saturday June 15th, 1861Friend Harding:

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You have probably by this time read a great variety of accounts of the battle of Great Bethel. You will probably never hear all the facts, or rather nine truths of what you do hear will not be fact. The newspaper accounts that we have seen here thus far have not come within gun shot of the truth. All sorts of absurd mistakes are made. From the N. York papers you would suppose that Col. Bendix had command of the detachment that went from this post. They fall into the mistake by supposing that a Lieut. Col. cannot rank a Col., not knowing that Lieut. Col. Washburn is acting as Col. and that he in fact had the command of the expedition from here. Col. Bendix had but three companies and they were stationed at the fork of the road and made the fatal mistake of firing into their friends - tho' perhaps Bendix and his men are not to be too much blamed for that.

Among other little items I saw that one man was wounded with a bayonet! The fact is there was no bayonet fighting, and none of our men came near enough to the enemy to be bayoneted, unless the enemy had guns from four to six rods long. Our boys engaged them nearer them any body else, for we were not more than four or five rods off. You will see that the

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New York papers ignore our fighting at all. The fact is while we were fighting the other regiments were with drawing from the field, and we were so far to the right (our right) that we were lost sight of. We could not see one of the other regiments, nor were we in the least sustained. When the order to retreat came, the wonder is that we were not all cut off, for the enemy had already outflanked us on our right, instead of our outflanking them, and gave us a peppering of grape and canister as we withdrew. It is well they did not follow us at once, for if they had, we should have been in danger of being entirely cut off. The only reason they did not, is because we had poured such a storm of lead upon them for the few moments we were engaged that they did not dare to. When we got out of the woods the whole army was in full retreat. Whose fault was this? You will ask. The papers have got one thing right. They blame Gen. Pierce, and he is the man on whose shoulders a great portion of the blame should rest. Who is Gen. Pierce? Where did he come from? I never heard of him before. He did not seem to know any thing. When officers came to him for orders his reply was, "Act your own judgement, gentlemen." The papers say that Butler cursed him to his face. I presume he did.

I am writing this letter on the supposition that you had read the account of the battle I wrote my wife. Can you imagine what a labor we performed that day on four crackers, or on average? Col. Phelps says that in all his experience in Mexico and elsewhere he never performed and he doesnt remember every hearing such a march, so long

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and desperate a fight, and such a retreat on the amount of food we had.


The above rough map will perhaps give you some little idea of the position of matters during the fight at Great Bethel. You will see that we formed the left wing at the beginning of the battle, but that when we came in contact with the enemy, it was at the extreme right. We had five companies from our Regt. but only then were ordered to march, Bradford, Woodstock and Northfield. The other two men ordered to remain in their position. Some of the Mass. Companies were with us, and on the road thro' the woods we picked up a few Dutchmen. We were half an hour in getting into a good place - or rather in

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getting far enough to the right. The woods between the Zouaves & the point of attack are much more extensive than they appear in the sketch, and we came out twice before we had got far enough. Fortunately, we fell upon the trench and that run in the right direction and afforded us a good deal of protection. When we came into the vicinity of the entrenchment, we had to run up a steep bank to get sight of the enemy. They were posted in a sort of trench in advance of their works. The most that we could see was their heads, while they could have full sight at us. But we soon made it so hot for them that they did not want to get sight very often. We certainly sent some to their account. The number of the enemy had been variously estimated at from 500 to 6000. Whatever it was, if we had been well backed, and had we received the order to do what many of the boys were ready to do, when we got to the top of the bank, that is rush right along, we should have taken the place at once, and history would have had no occasion to blush at the blunders of political generals. We feel that as a company and officers of a company we have done our duty, and the Bradford has no occasion to be ashamed of us - further than that I have nothing to say. Few men know how terrible a thing a battle is, and the man is worse than foolish who places himself where he may have charge of a battalion, in a fight, without experience. Remember me to all and write soon.

Yours &c.Roswell Farnham