CLARK NC: 37th North Carolina at the Siege of Petersburg

   

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in Clark's North Carolina Regiments

Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2CLARK NC: 37th 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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From 27 May to 1 June [1864] the [37th North Carolina] regiment was continually marching and skirmishing, losing seven or eight men. Officer wounded: Lieutenant A. F. Yandle, of Company I, on 3 June. As all official records of losses sustained after 3 June were destroyed, no further attempt will be made to give minute descriptions of the movements of the regiment, but simply state it sustained its good name to the end. At Frizzell’s [sic, Fussell’s] Mill [on August 16, 1864], Deep Bottom [aka Gravel Hill on July 28, 1864] and on the Weldon road, it fought bravely and was in the grand charge made by the three veteran North Carolina brigades 25 August [1864] on Hancock’s entrenched position at Reams’ Station. The Thirty-seventh [North Carolina] always contended that it was one of the first regiments that carried the entrenchments. The next real engagement was at Jones’ Farm [on September 30, 1864], where we lost our beloved Colonel, W[illia]m. M. Barber [aka Barbour], who fell while talking to the writer of this sketch, just before our lines advanced. We advanced and drove the enemy over a mile back when night put an end to the battle. It was a bloody affair, but little mention has ever been made of it as few troops were engaged; it took place on 30 September, 1864. The next day, 1 October [1864], the brigade advanced with Major Wooten’s Corps of sharpshooters [of Lane’s Brigade] in front. Major [Thomas J.] Wooten [of the 18th NC] managed in some way to slip past and capture about 300 prisoners, we took possession of the enemy’s breastworks and held them all day, but were subjected to an annoying skirmish fire; the Thirty-seventh had several men killed by them. During the action on 30 September the regiment behaved most beautifully, not once halting until ordered to do so at night. About the middle of November [1864] the regiment, with the brigade, built little shanties in rear of the works near the Jones House to make themselves as comfortable as possible through the winter, a strong picket line being kept in front day and night. On 8 December [1864] the regiment marched with the brigade, to Jarrett’s Station to meet a demonstration of the enemy in that direction, but returned without a battle. This march was one of the most trying the regiment ever experienced. It snowed and rained and sleeted the whole time, the ground being so slick after the sleet that it was impossible, almost, to stand. Men could often be seen marching on the sleety ground with no shoes on. On the night of 24 March, 1865, Lane’s Brigade moved through Petersburg and took position to support Gordon in his attack on Hare’s Hill [on March 25, 1865]. We were not engaged, but the position held by the Thirty-seventh [North Carolina] subjected it to a merciless artillery fire for several hours. We returned to our position and the next day [March 26, 1865] our skirmish line having been taken General Lane was ordered to re-establish it. We did so about daylight the next morning [March 27, 1865], having one officer, Lieutenant Brown, and several men of the Thirty-seventh wounded. On 1 April [1865] the troops on our right were withdrawn and sent to Five Forks. To fill the gap made vacant by their withdrawal the brigade was deployed in skirmish line ten paces apart behind the works; just as day was breaking on 2 April [1865] our poor, little weak line, was assaulted by three lines of battle. After a stubborn resistance, we were overpowered and our lines taken, the regiment losing five officers, Captains W[illiam]. T. Nicholson, [Daniel L.] Hudson and [John B.] Pett[e]y, Lieutenants [Felix] Tankersley and Ross. The line was forced back to Fort Gregg [on April 2, 1865]; a part of the Thirty-seventh, with other troops, undertook to defend the fort. It made a splendid defence, but after hours of hard fighting it yielded to overwhelming numbers and all were captured. That night the regiment fell back with General Lee’s army and surrendered with it at Appomattox under the command of Major Jackson L. Bost.

Thus closed the career of one of the most gallant regiments that left the State of North Carolina, or any other State, for the scene of war. Organized by one of the finest officers of the State and brought up to that high standard of discipline necessary in all organized bodies, she maintained it to the last. Always ready, never murmuring, she covered herself with glory upon upwards of one hundred bloody battlefields.

When the lines were broken on the morning of 2 April [1865], the brave senior Captain of the regiment, W[illiam]. T. Nicholson, was killed. He had been with the regiment from the beginning and had participated in thirty odd battles. The writer, who as First Lieutenant, would have succeeded to the Captaincy, was captured. He received a scalp wound, the muzzle of the gun being in such close proximity to his head as to blow powder into his face, nearly destroying his eyes and knocking him senseless upon the ground. Of course he was captured and reaching the enemy’s lines, he found many of his friends there who had been captured at the same time. The wound proved to be of small consequence and his friends set themselves to work picking the powder from his face, which they succeeded in doing very nicely. The prisoners were then sent to City Point and from there to Washington. The next day a train load of officers was started for Johnson’s island, when near Harrisburg, Pa., in the dead hours of the night, the writer jumped from the window of the car while it was running at the rate of forty miles an hour. Why he did not break his neck, the Lord only knows, but he was not even hurt, except a few scratches on the forehead where it plowed in the sand. Fortunately for him, he had on a suit of clothes made of an old gray shawl, such as the students at Chapel Hill wore before the war, cutting off the brass buttons from the coat and vest and substituting wooden pegs, he was in perfect disguise and passed as a laborer, working a day or so at one place, then moving farther south, until he reached Baltimore, thence by steamer to Richmond, but too late to do any more fighting for General Lee had surrendered. He procured a parole and started for his home in Halifax County, N. C.; when near Garysburg, in Northampton County, he met a regiment of negro soldiers who had gone from Norfolk to Weldon to put telegraph wires in fix, or rather to escort the telegraph men; about a dozen stragglers stopped him and robbed him of the money he had made in Pennsylvania and Maryland; then one concluded to kill him, leveled his gun and pulled trigger, but one of his companions knocked his gun up just at that instant, the ball passing over the writer’s head, again blowing his face full of powder. They then left him to his fate. This was the last gun the writer ever heard fired by a Yankee soldier.

[SOPO Editor’s Note: A portion of this article does not pertain directly to the Siege of Petersburg and has been removed.]

General James H. Lane, our Brigade commander, was all that a true soldier could be upon a battlefield. Nothing could excite him and when he put his troops in battle he always went with them. Always enjoying good health and miraculously escaping a mortal wound, he kept close with his brigade and passed through as many battles as any person in the Confederate army, dearly beloved by his entire brigade.

It is with much diffidence that I submit this sketch, for I feel as if I have not done justice to the grand old regiment. I now place my humble wreath of immortelles at the shrine of the noble men who composed the gallant old Thirty-seventh.

Octavius A. Wiggins.

Wilmington, 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. 669-671, 674

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