Henry L. Wyatt, the “first Confederate soldier slain in battle,” died at the Battle of Big Bethel, in Virginia, on June 10, 1861. His service record confirms this, and that he was 19 years old when he enrolled as a private in Company A, 1st North Carolina Volunteers, less than two months earlier. It also includes a petition from his mother to “obtain the pay due him” of $35.63 ($922.15 in 2011 US dollars source).
William B. Taylor, a corporal in Company C, 1st N.C. Volunteers, was also at the battle. Taylor drew a descriptive and colorful “Plan of the Battle of Bethel” which is archived at the Library of Congress, and available in the Civil War Maps collection at Footnote.
In his “Topographical sketch of the Battle of Bethel, June 10th, 1861,” Taylor honored his mother by presenting the map to “Mrs. M.E. Taylor with filial respect by her son Wm. B. Taylor.” He also paid tribute to Henry L. Wyatt by marking where Wyatt was killed and noting the “Blacksmith’s shop burned by Wyatt who was killed here.”
Taylor drew Confederate and Union flags on the map depicting where each set of troops fought. He also included details of woods, breastworks, and marshes. His comments identified a howitzer that “arrived late not used” and the spot where “Col. Winthrop of the N.Y. 2d. Reg. [was] shot while standing on the fence flourishing his sword.” Winthrop, actually Major Theodore Winthrop, of the 7th New York, was one of the first Union soldiers killed in the Civil War.
William B. Taylor was initially a corporal in Company C of the 1st North Carolina Infantry. He enlisted on April 20, 1861, and mustered in on May 13, less than a month before the first battle. The 1st North Carolina later became the 11th North Carolina (Bethel Regiment) Infantry.
What was it like to head to war in 1861? Union officer Theodore Winthrop, identified in Taylor’s map above as another casualty of Big Bethel, was also a respected author. In “Our March to Washington” Winthrop relates his regiment’s trek southward in April 1861, at about the time that Wyatt and Taylor were enlisting. A few weeks later, their paths would tragically meet.