The Finest Battle of Big Bethel Letter that we know of - 8 Pages in Ink Written by Captain John Frederick Pierson, 1st N.Y. Infantry
These 8 pages are long 8 x 10 ½ inch blue stationery pages written in nice dark ink… easily read. Condition is good with a couple edge issues. Pierson who quickly rose to the rank of Colonel and by the end of the war, a Brevet Brigadier General was a well-educated, detailed writer… again, the best account we have seen on the battle of Big Bethel.

Here are some of the great lines:

• “I have lately passed through very exciting and dangerous times. I have smelled gun powder. I have been in an engagement. I have seen men shot down to the right and left of me and thank God, I am alive and have you to write to.”

• “I will premise my brief story by saying that Yorktown is but 20 miles from here where the Rebels are strongly enforced, that our scouting parties and theirs are continually coming in contact, that about 15 miles from here the Rebels have a strong embankment or rather Fort, with they say 30 rifled cannon, and that this fortification directly faces the road to Yorktown and commands the only bridge over York River.”

• “…we crossed the river at Hampton in barges (the bridge had been burnt down by the enemy), and commenced our march towards Yorktown. We passed about five miles out the smoking and charred remains of a noble mansion that the Zouaves who had marched on the night before had just burnt down, as from it they had been fired on. It was a sickening sight.”

• ”Col. Townsend who told us that while they were marching up the road the night before, ahead of them deployed from the woods, a Regiment which commenced to fire upon them. This fire they returned and for about 20 minutes a fierce encounter ensued, and then it was found out that the attacking party was the 7th Regiment. Col. Bendix, Germans, who had taken Townsend's Regiment for Secessionists. A number were killed and wounded, and for some time afterwards, I saw the poor wounded soldiers laid out along the grass, and in the bottom of the wagons.”

• “After marching some 13 miles without stopping once, and part of the way on a double quick, we commenced to hear the distant reports of artillery, and soon an Aid passed us on horseback, saying that we must make haste, that General Pierce feared he might not be able to hold his position till we arrived. "Double Quick" passed along the Ranks, and as we advanced the booming of cannon, and the sharper but more continued and uncertain report of musketry became more and more distinct.”

• “Soon we came in sight of the fight. At every report, smoke in masses arose from the tops of trees, and curled up into the air. Advancing straight up the road, the Colonel issued orders to flank right or left, come into line by column of Companies, and charge bayonets, not firing a piece until the order was given. I made a short speech to my men, commended myself most fervently to the care of God, and was ready to go in. On we went when pop went a cannon, but about 300 yards ahead of us, down we all fell upon our faces, and like hail the canister & shot passed over our heads and tore through the trees by our side. Up we sprung, ran a few yards, when boom came another report. One ball striking a branch of a tree directly over the heads of my Company, cut it in two, and down it came, the size of a good tree.”

• “I hollered "stand from under" and jumping up we just escaped from beneath it. Soon the shot, canister, shell & grape were flying around us, and all about us. We were in the center of the road leading direct to the Rebels' trenches, and but 3 or four hundred yards distant, and their pieces swept the road completely.”

• “We fell to one side in the cover of some trees, and to do so I stepped over a hand torn off a little above the wrist and the fingers extended, all around knapsacks, canteens, equipments, pistols, etc. were loosely scattered and missiles were dealing destruction & death everywhere.”

• “The Colonel went to Gen. Pierce and asked for orders. "Deploy your men in the most advanced position" was the order he got, and so he commanded us to march directly across the enemy's fire and up a road, running parallel to the Rebels' entrenchments, and but a short musket, short distance to the close proximity that we were in to the enemy's guns. I attribute the safety of most all of us for their shot mostly passed over us. Advancing up the road in line of battle, out by the right flank, we were obliged to fall upon our faces many times to avoid the shot.”

• “The Company just ahead of me had their 1st Sergeant shot down. The ball passed the officer leading and striking him (the 1st Sergeant) just behind the shoulder passed through him and he fell upon his face. Just as I was passing over his body, and looking sadly upon the fearful hole made by the missile, a shell whizzed a foot or less from me and ahead and striking the fence, made a hole through it as large as my fist and continued its course. Several struck at my feet and behind me, a cannon shot (a round shot), took off the entire leg of another of our men.”

• “Down we fell upon our faces the moment we had all entered the road, and then pulling down a rail fence in front of us, we made a slight breastworks and lay behind it. The orders were given to charge the Batteries by bayonet, and again we arose and were ready to advance and would have done so, though probably every man of us had been killed when the order was countermanded, and we lay upon the ground again. For one hour and forty minutes we lay thus, directly in from of the Batteries, and shot and shell flying over us.”

• “Looking across the orchard that lay between us and the Enemy's breastworks, I could see among the bushes the Secessionists with their straw hats & summer clothing moving occasionally their pieces.”

• “I forgot to state that the Zouaves (two Companies of them) had a little before made an assault and had repeated it twice, but were every time repulsed. Many of their number were killed and wounded. The dead bodies of several lay close to me and never will I forget the awful, the terrifying spectacle. He lay beneath an apple tree, his face up, lips set, eyes protruding, and a terrible wound in his side. It was fearful.”

• “Another Zouave already badly wounded was leaning, gasping on his musket, behind a barn, when a ball passing through both sides of the building struck him in the breast and he fell down dead.”

• “One of our men struck in the back by a shell in the woods, threw up both hands and cried "Oh, Col. Allen, kill me, kill me," and then burst into fearful shouts of "Doctor, Doctor," till the whole woods resounded with the echo and hardly could the roar of the artillery and the din of the battle drown the agonized shrieks of the poor fellow.”

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