CLARK NC: 26th North Carolina at the Siege of Petersburg

   

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CLARK NC: 26th North Carolina at the Siege of Petersburg

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt comes from Walter Clark’s five volume Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, published in 1901.  The reference work provides mini regimental histories written mostly by men representing each unit, with gaps filled in by editor Clark.  These histories often provide a surprising amount of detail on the Siege of Petersburg.

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BRIGADIER-GENERAL WM. MACRAE.

On his recovery from the wound received at Bristoe Station, General Kirkland was in command of the brigade until he was again wounded on 2 June, 1864, when Colonel Wm. MacRae, of the Fifteenth North Carolina Regiment, of Cooke’s Brigade, was made Brigadier-General, and assigned to the command of Kirkland’s Brigade 27 June, 1864. General MacRae is thus spoken of by officers of the regiment:

“General MacRae soon won the confidence and admiration of the brigade, both officers and men. His voice was like that of a woman; he was small in person, and quick in action. To him history has never done justice. He could place his command in position quicker and infuse more of his fighting qualities into his men, than any officer I ever saw. His presence with his troops seemed to dispel all fear, and to inspire every one with a desire for the fray. The brigade remained under his command until the surrender.”

Another officer thus writes:

“General MacRae assigned to the brigade changed the physical expression of the whole command in less than two weeks, and gave the men infinite faith in him and themselves, which was never lost, not even when they grounded arms at Appomattox.”

FROM THE WILDERNESS TO RICHMOND.

On all the line from the Wilderness to Richmond and Petersburg, General Lee acted on the defensive. He suffered the enemy to attack him, and in every instance the result proved the wisdom of his doing so. General Lee had not a man to lose unnecessarily. There were no reserves for him to call upon to fill his depleted ranks. Not so his adversary. As a matter of historical interest, I will quote briefly from some of General Grant’s dispatches to General Halleck at Washington, D. C., giving the losses in his army on this march to Richmond:

“4 May, 1864: The crossing of the Rapidan effected. Forty-eight hours will now demonstrate whether the enemy intend giving battle this side of Richmond.” It has been shown that in less than twelve hours from the date of this dispatch Lee had inflicted a severe repulse upon Grant’s army.

“6 May, 11:30 a. m. : We have been engaged with the enemy in full force since early yesterday. I think all things are progressing favorably. Our loss to this time I do not think exceeds eight thousand.

“7 May, 10 a. m. : Our losses to this time in killed, wounded and prisoners will not exceed twelve thousand.

“11 May, 1864 : We have lost up to this time, eleven general officers, killed, wounded and missing, and probably twenty thousand men.

“26 May, 1864: Lee’s army is really whipped. The prisoners we now take show it, and the action of his army shows it unmistakably. A battle with them outside of their intrenchments cannot be had. Our men feel that they have gained the morale over the enemy and attack with confidence.” A few days later. General Grant’s tone is different.

“5 June, 1864: Without a greater sacrifice of human life than I am willing to make, all cannot be accomplished that I had designed. I have, therefore, resolved upon the following plan : Move to the south side of James river.”

It is now well known that so disheartened was the army of the Potomac by its fearful losses in killed, wounded and missing from the crossing of the Rapidan to and including the battle of Cold Harbor, June 1-3, 1864 (the official reports make this loss over forty thousand), that at the latter battle the soldiers refused to obey the orders to attack the Confederate lines. (In this last battle the Federals lost over ten thousand), and General Grant in his testimony before the Congressional Committee investigating the cause of the failure at the Mine explosion (at Petersburg 30 July, 1864) gave it as one of the explanations for the failure, the detail of white troops rather than Ferrero’s Division of negroes, to make the assault, the white troops being demoralized from their life in the trenches and losses in battle.

From Spottsylvania Court House to the North Anna, at Hanover Junction, Cold Harbor, on the lines between Richmond and Petersburg, the Twenty-sixth [North Carolina] was always prompt to respond to all orders. General Grant, like Wm. Taylor’s snake, would “wire in and wire out, and frequently left us still in doubt, whether he was coming in or going out.”

 

INCIDENTS OF THIS CAMPAIGN.

On two occasions while on the picket line between Spottsylvania Court House and Richmond, Colonel [John R.] Lane‘s life was probably saved by the vigilance of his men.

On one occasion Private Laban Ellis, of Company E, seeing a Federal soldier taking aim at the Colonel, fired so quick that his ball struck the Federal’s gun as it went off and knocked it from his shoulder, whereupon the latter surrendered and said to Colonel Lane: “Your man saved you.” On another occasion, as Colonel Lane, with Ira Nall, also of Company E, were making a reconnoissance of the ground in their front, Nall spied a man a few feet away with his gun leveled upon the Colonel. Without taking time to raise his gun to his shoulder, Nall fired and brought the Federal down, killing him.

It would be impossible to state in detail all the engagements in which the regiment participated along this line. General Grant attempted to go around us, over us, and under us (explosion of the mine, 30 June [sic, July], 1864), but was foiled in every attempt. Two of the most brilliant victories in which MacRae’s Brigade played a conspicuous part were the engagements at Davis House, 19 August, and Reams Station, 25 August, 1864. In General Lee’s reports of these actions, he thus writes 20 August, 1864: “General Hill attacked the enemy (Fifth Corps) yesterday afternoon at Davis House, three miles from Petersburg, on Weldon Railroad, defeated him and captured about 2,700 prisoners, including one Brigadier-General, and several field officers.”

26 August, 1864: “General A. P. Hill attacked the enemy in his entrenchments at Reams Station yesterday evening and at the second assault, carried his entire line. Cooke’s, MacRae’s and Lane’s Brigades (under General Connor), and Pegram’s artillery, composed the assaulting column. Hill captured nine pieces of artillery, twelve colors, 2,150 prisoners, 3,100 stand of small arms and 32 horses.”

So altogether creditable was the conduct of these three North Carolina Brigades as to call forth from General Lee a letter to Governor Vance, dated 29 August, 1864, in which he says: “I have frequently been called upon to mention the services of the North Carolina soldiers in this army, but their gallantry and conduct were never more deserving of admiration than in the engagement at Reams Station, on the 25th instant. The brigades of Generals Cooke, MacRae and Lane, the last under the command of General Connor, advanced through a thick abatis of felled trees under a heavy fire of musketry and artillery and carried the enemy’s works ‘with a steady courage that elicited the warm commendation of their corps and division commanders, and the admiration of the army. If the men who remain in North Carolina share the spirit of those they have sent to the field, as I doubt not they do, her defense may be securely entrusted in their hands.”

INCIDENTS IN THE BATTLE [OF REAM’S STATION] MAJOR GENERAL HETH A JOINT COLOR BEARER.

The troops selected to carry the enemy’s works in the early part of the fight having been repeatedly driven back, Heth’s Division was ordered to their assistance. The division was drawn up in line of battle with the skirmishers in front.

Lieutenant D[uncan]. C. Waddell, of Company G, Eleventh North Carolina Regiment, relates this incident to the writer. Lieutenant Waddell was in command of the skirmishers on that part of the line. Major-General [Henry] Heth walked out to his line and ordered him to send a man back to the main line and bring a regimental flag. The messenger returned with the color-bearer of the Twenty-sixth Regiment. General Heth demanded the flag. The color-bearer refused to give it up, saying: “General, tell me where you want the flag to go and I will take it. I won’t surrender up my colors.” The General again made the demand, and was met by the same refusal, when taking the color-bearer by the arm, he said: “Come on then, we will carry the colors together.” Then giving the signal to charge by waving the flag to the right and the left, the whole line with a yell, started for the enemy’s works. The abatis protecting the enemy’s lines was interlaced with wire in places, but charging through and over and around it all, the Confederate line rushed up to the works, and General Heth, and his co-color-bearer, planted the flag on the entrenchments behind which lay the enemy, most of whom thereupon surrendered. Thomas Minton, of Company C, from Wilkes County, was the name of this gallant color-bearer. He was subsequently killed with his colors in the action near Burgess Mill [aka Boydton Plank Road], 27 October, 1864. This gallant soldier was also wounded at Gettysburg.

This courageous assault was necessarily attended with considerable loss in killed and wounded. Colonel [John R.] Lane was again so unfortunate as to be wounded. He was struck by a piece of shell in the left breast just over the heart, fracturing two ribs and breaking one and tearing open the flesh to the bones, making a fearful wound six inches long and three wide, from which it was thought he would surely die. But about the first of November he was again back with his command ready for duty.

Among the other officers of the Twenty-sixth Regiment killed in these almost daily engagements with the enemy, was Captain Henry C. Albright, of Company G. He fell mortally wounded at the head of his company in repulsing an attack on the Vaughn Roads, 29 September, 1864 [aka part of the Battle of Peebles Farm]. It would seem he had a presentment of his death. Captain Albright had been in every engagement and battle in which his regiment participated from New Bern, up to that day, and escaped from even a slight wound. On the day he was wounded he remarked to a friend: “Oh, how I dread this day.” He was carried to the Winder hospital, insisting that he be placed in the ward where his soldier boys were, rather than in the Officer’s hospital. He lingered until 21 October, 1864. He was carried home and buried in his family grave yard at Pleasant Hill, Chatham County. A handsome monument marks the spot.

He was succeeded by First Lieutenant A[lston]. R. Johnson, who was such a martinet that the boys called him “Bob Ransom.” Few companies in the Confederate army had better officers than Company G. Lieutenant-Colonel James T. Adams was now in command of the Twenty-sixth, and remained so until Colonel Lane returned to duty as stated above.

Heth’s Division being on the extreme right of the Confederate line defending Petersburg, were among the troops first to be called upon to resist any flank movement on the part of General Grant; and there was fighting almost daily along their front and flank.

At Burgess Mills [aka Boydton Plank Road], 27 October, 1864, where Hancock lost 1,482 in killed and wounded; on Warren’s expedition with the Fifth Corps to destroy Weldon bridge when he was met and driven back at Belfield 7-12 December, 1864 [aka Warren’s Stony Creek Raid]; in the severe engagements at Hatcher’s Run, 5-6 February, 1865, with Warren’s Corps (Fifth) and Gregg’s Division of cavalry, in which Warren admits a loss of 1,376 killed and wounded and missing; in all these actions MacRae’s Brigade was actively engaged and maintained its high prestige to the end. Of the suffering borne without murmuring, and fortitude displayed by these heroic soldiers, when every one realized the cause was lost and the end must soon come, I quote from General Lee’s report of this Hatcher Run fight, dated 8 February, 1865: “Yesterday, the most inclement day of the winter, the troops had to be retained in line of battle, having been in the same condition the two previous days and nights. I regret to be obliged to state that under these circumstances, heightened by the assault and the fire of the enemy, some of the men were suffering from reduced rations and scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail and sleet. I have directed Colonel Cole, chief commissary, who reports that he has not a pound of meal at his disposal, to visit Richmond and see if something cannot be done. If some change is not made, and the Commissary Department not reorganized, I apprehend dire results. The physical strength of the men, their courage, services, must fail under this treatment. Our cavalry has to be dispersed for the want of forage. I had to bring Wm. H. F. Lee’s Division forty miles Sunday night to get him in position.” President Davis endorses this report as follows: “This is too sad to be patiently considered, and cannot have occurred without criminal neglect or gross incapacity. Let supplies be had by purchase or borrowing, or other possible mode.”

 

APPOMATTOX, 9 APRIL, 1865.

On 28 March, 1865, General Fitzhugh Lee was ordered to move his division of cavalry, then on the extreme left of the Confederate lines in front of Richmond on the north side of the James river, to Sutherland’s Station on the south side of the railroad, 19 miles from Petersburg, which he reached on the 29th, and next day marched towards Dinwiddie Court House, via Five Forks.

On 29 March, 1865, General Lee advises Secretary of War, General John C. Breckenridge, that “the enemy have crossed Hatcher’s Run with a large force of cavalry and infantry and artillery.”

On 1 April “that General Pickett, with three of his own and two of General Johnson’s (Bushrod) Brigades, supported the cavalry under General Fitz. Lee, at Five Forks; that General Pickett forced his way to within less than a mile of Dinwiddie Court House, but later a large force, believed to be the Fifth Corps (Warren’s), with other troops, turned Pickett’s left and drove him back on the White Oak Road and separated him from General Fitz. Lee, who was compelled to fall back across Hatcher’s Run; General Pickett’s present position not known.”

On 1 April, Longstreet was ordered with two of his divisions to the south side, and General W. S. Pendleton, chief of Artillery, was ordered at 8 p. m. to withdraw all his guns, which he in his report says, “was accomplished with great success, only sixty-one guns and thirteen caisons of the 250 field pieces belonging to the army on the lines near Richmond and Petersburg remained behind.”

On 2 April (received at 10:40 a. m.) General Lee dispatches President Davis: “I see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here till night.” Later on same day (received at 7 p. m.): “It is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight, or run the risk of being cut off in the morning.”

General E. S. Ewell in his report, says: “At 10 a. m. Sunday (2 April, 1865), received message to return to the city of Richmond, and on doing so received the order for the evacuation and to destroy the stores that could not be moved. A mob of both sexes and all colors soon collected, and about 3 a. m. (3 April) they set fire to some buildings on Gary street, and began to plunder the city. I then ordered all my staff and couriers to scour the streets and sent word to General Kershaw, whose command was garrisoning Fort Gilmer, on the lines north of Richmond, to hurry his leading regiment into town. By daylight the riot was subdued, but many buildings which I had carefully directed should be spared, had been fired by the mob. By 7 a. m. the last troops had reached the south side, and Mayo’s and the railroad bridges were on fire. I am convinced the burning of Richmond was the work of incendiaries.”

[SOPO Editor’s Note: Several items not pertaining to Petersburg have been omitted here.]

In these last days of the war, the Twenty-sixth Regiment sustained severe losses in killed and wounded. Lieutenant J[ohn]. W. Richardson was killed at Reams Station, and at Five Forks (1 April, 1865) Captain Thomas Lilly, who had succeeded Captain J[ohn]. C. McLauchlin as Captain of Company K, and been put in command of the brigade sharpshooters, was killed. He was one of the best officers in the regiment. Colonel Lane, during the winter of 1864-5, suffered much from his wounds, especially the one in the neck and face, and about the middle of March went to the hospital at Salisbury for treatment. He was there when General Lee surrendered, and on 2 May, 1865, was paroled at Greensboro, N. C, with Johnston’s army.

Lieutenant-Colonel Adams took command of the regiment after Colonel Lane went to the hospital, and except a few days on the retreat when he was temporarily in command of the brigade, was with his regiment. In his absence Captain T. J. Cureton, of Company B, commanded the Twenty-sixth, and surrendered the regiment at Appomattox. Lieutenant-Colonel Adams, however, signing the paroles.

NUMBERS PAROLED AT APPOMATTOX.

On 1 March, 1865, the Brigade Inspector reported the strength of MacRae’s Brigade, present and effective for the field:

Officers 55

Enlisted men 1,119

Total .- 1,174

 

The capitulation rolls at Appomattox showed:

Enlisted Officers. Men.

Heth’s Division.

Major-General Harry Heth and Staff 15 …

John E. Cooke’s Brigade 7O 490

Joseph R. Davis’ Brigade 21 54

Wm. MacRae’s Brigade 42 400

Wm. McCounel’s (formerly Archer’s and Thomas’) ” 54 426

 

The rolls for the entire army surrendered by General Lee:

Enlisted Officers. Men.

General Headquarters 69 212

Infantry 2,235 20,114

Cavalry 134 1,425

Artillery 184 2,392

Miscellaneous 159 1,307

Total 2,781 25,450-28,231

The number surrendered by the several regiments of MacRae’s Brigade:

Eleventh Regiment, commanded by Colonel Wm. J. Martin, 74 muskets.

Twenty-sixth Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. T. Adams, 120 muskets.

Forty-fourth Regiment, commanded by Major C. M. Stedman, 74 muskets.

Forty-seventh Regiment, commanded by Captain J. H. Thorpe, 72 muskets.

Fifty-second Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel E. Erson, 60 muskets.

There was but one regiment in Heth’s division that surrendered more muskets than did the Twenty-sixth, and that was the Fifteenth North Carolina Regiment, in Cooke’s Brigade, which surrendered 122 muskets. In Major Moore’s “Roster of North Carolina Troops” the aggregate of numbers enrolled in the Twenty-sixth Regiment is put down as 1,898, which is more than was enrolled in any regiment furnished the Confederate armies from North Carolina, according to said Roster.

[SOPO Editor’s Note: Several items not pertaining to Petersburg have been omitted here.]

 

DESERVING OF SPECIAL MENTION.

Lieutenant-Colonel James T. Adams. This meritorious officer rose from Second Lieutenant in Company D, from Wake County, to be Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment, and during the last days of the war was in command of the regiment and on the retreat from Petersburg, was at times in command of the brigade.

He was wounded through the hip at Malvern Hill and seriously through the shoulder at Gettysburg, and except while on furlough from wounds was never excused from duty. At Spottsylvania Court House, the brigade was ordered to drive the enemy from their position which menaced General Lee’s rear and communications with Richmond. “The enemy had made a breastwork out of a fence in a piney old field and chinked the cracks between the rails with dry pine straw. As the brigade neared them, the enemy set fire to the fence and old field which burnt rapidly. Nothing daunted, the Confederates charged through the flames and over the burning fence, and drove their opponents in discomfiture from the field.”

At Hancock’s defeat at Burgess’ Mill, on the Boydton plank road south of Petersburg, 27 October, 1864, Lieutenant-Colonel Adams in command of the regiment, acted with such conspicuous gallantry as to call forth the warm commendation of his brigade commander, General William MacRae. The brigade with other troops were ordered to dislodge Hancock, who had cut through the Confederate lines. The brigade charged the enemy in its front, drove him from his position, capturing a battery. The troops on our left failed to carry the lines in their front and the Federals closed in behind MacRae’s Brigade and completely cut them off from their friends. The brigade reformed, about faced and charged, forcing their way through and in a hand to hand fight captured a battery and carried it out with them. In this action, the color-bearer of the Twenty-sixth Regiment was either shot down in the charge or got beyond eyesight in the dense swamp and undergrowth through which the men charged, and after it was over, the order was given to fall in on the colors of the Forty-fourth [North Carolina] Regiment. Colonel Adams, who had lingered behind to see what had become of his color-bearer, ran out between the lines, and thinking his men a little downcast at losing their colors, he jumped up on a stump and called out, “Twenty-sixth, rally on your commander. He is here if his colors are lost.” The men responded with a cheer.

At the brilliant victory of Reams’ Station, after Colonel Lane was wounded, Lieutenant-Colonel Adams took command and was ever thereafter present with his regiment until its surrender at Appomattox, where he signed the paroles of his command.

Since the war Colonel Adams has resided in Wake County, a prosperous man in his business, respected and esteemed by all.

[SOPO Editor’s Note: Several items not pertaining to Petersburg have been omitted here.]

Captain Thomas J. Cureton, Company B. This officer succeeded to the command of Company B on the death of the gallant Captain William Wilson, killed on the first day’s fight at Gettysburg.

Lieutenant Cureton was himself wounded on the third day in the shoulder, but declined to leave the field, and assisted in reforming the brigade as its shattered remnants recoiled from the assault on Cemetery Heights.

Captain [Thomas J.] Cureton was again wounded at Hanover Junction on 23 May, 1864, while in command of the skirmish line, but returned to duty in December, 1864, and remained with his regiment until the close, and much of the time was in command of it on the retreat to Appomattox, when Colonel Adams was in command of the brigade.

Before the war. Captain Cureton was a farmer, living in Union County, N. C. His grandfather owned the property in the Waxhaw settlement, North Carolina, where Andrew Jackson was born, and where Captain Cureton’s father was born. Since the war, Captain Cureton has resided in Charlotte, N. C, and Fort Mills, S. C, engaged in business as a cotton merchant, and now lives at Windsor, S. C.

[SOPO Editor’s Note: Several items not pertaining to Petersburg have been omitted here.]

 

THE END.

There is not a statement contained in this history that has not been obtained from official records, or from those who were actors in the events narrated. The mere recital of the story without embellishment is glory enough. Probably it will be vouchsafed to no soldiers in the future to suffer such a loss in open battle as the Twenty-sixth sustained at Gettysburg. There is no record in the past of such sustained heroism on a field of battle. Such being the case, it was meet and proper that the facts should be set out in detail, that honor should be given where honor was due. Such heroism as the Confederate soldier displayed cannot be in vain. Some good to the world must come from such sacrifice.

Nothing less than sublime confidence in the Justice of the Cause could inspire humanity to such deeds of glory, such endurance, such patriotism, and I close this history, paying this tribute to the private Confederate soldier, quoting the words of another:

“Let it be remembered there are other reasons than money or patriotism which induce men to risk life and limb in war. There is the love of glory and the expectation of honorable recognition ; but the private in the ranks expects neither ; his identity is merged in that of his regiment; to him, the regiment and its name is everything ; he does not expect to see his own name appear upon the page of history, and is content with the proper recognition of the old command in which he fought. But he is jealous of the record of his regiment and demands credit for every shot it faced and every grave it filled.

“The bloody laurels for which a regiment contends will always be awarded to the one with the longest roll of honor. Scars are the true evidence of wounds, and regimental scars can be seen only in the record of the casualties.” “The men of the Twenty-sixth Regiment would dress on their colors in spite of the world.”

In the preparation of this sketch, great assistance has been furnished by many of my surviving comrades and especially acknowledgment is due to Captain W. H. S. Burgwyn, Thirty-fifth North Carolina Troops, the brother of our lamented Colonel Harry Burgwyn. Captain Burgwyn is the historian of the Thirty-fifth Regiment, in which he served with great honor, and also of Clingman’s Brigade, in which he later served with distinction as a staff officer. In the late Spanish War (1898) he showed he retained the military instincts of his family by again entering the service as Colonel of the Second North Carolina Regiment.

George C. Underwood.

Marley’s Mills, N. C.,
9 April, 1901.1

Source/Notes:

  1. Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 385-397, 402-404, 411-412, 415-416,  422-423

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