Benjamin F. Butler portrait

Following the federal defeat at the Battle of Battle of Big Bethel, Congress criticized Brigadier General Benjamin F. Butler for not personally leading the Union forces, nearly costing him Senate confirmation of his pending appointment to major general. [Wikimedia Commons]

Battle of Big Bethel Facts

June 10, 1861

Key facts about the Battle of Big Bethel, which many historians consider to be the first major land engagement of the American Civil War.

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Date:

  • June 10, 1861

Location:

  • Southern end of the Virginia Peninsula

Campaign:

  • Blockade of the Chesapeake Bay

Principal Union commander:

  • Brigadier General Ebenezer W. Peirce

Principal Confederate commander:

  • Colonel John B. Magruder

Union forces engaged:

  • Pierce’s Brigade (Fort Monroe garrison)

Confederate forces engaged:

  • Hills’ Command (Hampton Division)

Number of Union soldiers engaged:

  • Roughly 3,500

Number of Confederate soldiers engaged

  • Roughly 1,400

Estimated Union Casualties:

  • 76 (18 killed, 53 wounded, and 5 missing)

Estimated Confederate Casualties:

  • 8 (1 killed and 7 wounded)

Result:

  • Confederate victory

Significance:

  • The lone Confederate soldier killed at the Battle of Big Bethel was Private Henry Lawson Wyatt, of North Carolina, who has the unenviable distinction of being the first Confederate enlisted man to be killed during the Civil War.
  • Congress criticized Brigadier General Benjamin F. Butler for not personally leading the Union forces at the Battle of Big Bethel, nearly costing him Senate confirmation of his pending appointment to major general.
  • Despite the defeat at the Battle of Big Bethel, the Union maintained its foothold at Fort Monroe, which was destined to be the only U.S. military installation in Virginia to remain in federal control throughout the Civil War.
  • First major land engagement in Virginia.
  • Many historians consider the Battle of Big Bethel to be the first major land engagement of the Civil War.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Battle of Big Bethel Facts
  • Coverage June 10, 1861
  • Author
  • Keywords battle of big bethel, 1861
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 1, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 2, 2021
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