With Butler at Fortress Munroe, was young Theodore Winthrop, who, when his regiment was no longer needed at Washington, had offered to join Butler's regiment and go to Fortress Munroe.
From one of these Contrabands, Winthrop had learned that about two thousand Confederates had encamped at two churches called "Little Bethel" and "Big Bethel."
Butler and Winthrop at once began to plan an attack upon these Confederates. Their plan was this; the troops were to be divided into two bodies and fall upon the Rebels at Little Bethel, close around them, and prevent their getting to their companions at Big Bethel.
The two lines marched out quietly in the darkness, and came upon Little Bethel as they had planned. But here a terrible mistake took place. Just as these two lines met near the church they fired into each other's ranks, each thinking the other line the enemy. A scene of confusion followed and before orders could be given, the soldiers at Little Bethel had fled to those at Big Bethel, and together they were ready to rain down their hot fire upon the Union ranks. A quick hard fight, followed; and Winthrop himself, while mounted on a log to cheer his men, was shot dead.
Again there was mourning throughout the North that so promising a young officer should have fallen. The names of Ellsworth and Winthrop have always been held in respect; and for many a day were household words; until the time came when officers and men fell so thick and fast they could hardly be named or numbered, and their losses were known only in the hearts of their own friends, and in their own homes.