Battle of Big Bethel - Claim As First Land Battle of The American Civil War

Claim As First Land Battle of The American Civil War

Big Bethel was one of the first Civil War land battles both in present-day Virginia and in the war after the bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter. Although arguments have been made that either the Battle of Philippi, on June 3, 1861, in present-day West Virginia (then part of Virginia) or the Battle of Big Bethel was the first land battle of the entire war, the Battle of Fairfax Court House (June 1861) took place in Fairfax County, Virginia on June 1, 1861, two days earlier than the Battle of Philippi and nine days before the Battle of Big Bethel. Historian David J. Eicher discounts both the Battle of Fairfax Court House and the Battle of Philippi as "mere skirmishes" (despite his characterization of the former engagement as "ostensibly the first land battle of the war") and says the first "real land battle of the conflict" was the Battle of Big Bethel, although after a brief summary of the Battle of Big Bethel he characterizes the early Civil War engagements without apparent distinction as "these first minor skirmishes." The Baltimore riot of April 19, 1861 might also be considered a small Civil War battle, with several killed and wounded on each side, but the Confederate side in the affair was a civilian mob, not an organized military force like the force the mob attacked, which was several companies of the 6th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (3 Month Militia). Civilian mobs also were engaged with military forces in two similar riots in St. Louis in the early days of the war after the surrender of Fort Sumter. Compared to the large battles to come, all the engagements before the Battle of First Bull Run (Battle of First Manassas) are fairly characterized as mere skirmishes.

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