Virginia, York County and Hampton,
June 10, 1861
The Federals’ control of Fort Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James Rivers enabled them to occupy Hampton and Newport News. In order to block Union access up the peninsula from this stronghold, the Confederates dug a mile-long line of entrenchments north of Marsh Creek (now Brick Kiln Creek) near the village of Big Bethel. These were held by 1,200 troops commanded by CS Colonels John B. Magruder and Daniel Harvey Hill. A redoubt south of their line protected a bridge over the stream leading into the Confederate center.
On June 10 US Brigadier General Ebenezer W. Pierce led two infantry columns totaling 3,500 men from Hampton and Newport News to attack the Confederates at Big Bethel. The two columns were to join at the Big Bethel Road, just south of Little Bethel. However, the 7th New York mistook the 3rd New York, clad in gray uniforms, for the enemy. They thought the Confederates were behind as well as in front of them and opened fire. By the time Pierce sorted out his lines and was able to attack, he had lost the advantage of surprise.
While Pierce positioned his artillery opposite the Confederate redoubt covering the bridge, he sent US Major Theodore Winthrop downstream to cross a ford across Marsh Creek and maneuver around the enemy. He engaged the enemy left but deployed his troops piecemeal. The Confederates repulsed the attack, killed Winthrop, and forced the Federals to retreat to Hampton after only an hour of battle.
Estimated Casualties: 76 US, 8 CS