In the spring of 1861, a scant month after Southern forces had fired on Fort Sumter to open the War Between the States, General Benjamin F. Butler was sent to reinforce the garrison at Fort Monroe, Virginia. As part of his effort to hold the area for the Union, Butler ordered General E.W. Pierce to attack a Confederate outpost at Big Bethel Church, eight miles north of Hampton. Pierce made his first move in the early morning hours of June 10, sending the 5th New York (also known as Duryea's Zouaves) to occupy a critical bridge on the road between Hampton and Big Bethel.

Pierce's attack was poorly planned and even more poorly executed. Confusion reigned, as six Federal regiments in two columns approached a crossroads from different directions and fired into each other by mistake (two were killed and 21 wounded). Confederate forces (including the 1st North Carolina under Colonel D.H. Hill, Stonewall Jackson's brother-in-law) carried the day and thus laid claim to victory in the first major land battle of the War.

This poem appeared in The Poughkeepsie Telegram on July 30, 1861, accompanied by the following text: "The writer of the following lines has a son in Duryea's Regiment of Zouaves. He was in the action at Great Bethel - the disastrous termination of which engagement seems to be universally laid to the imbecility if not cowardice, of Brig. Gen. Pierce."

Thanks to Joel Craig of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, Company A, for bringing this poem to my attention.

"The Zouaves at Bethel"