CLARK NC: 3rd North Carolina Cavalry 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.
A few weeks later, 21 June, 1864, the [3rd North Carolina Cavalry] regiment lost Colonel [John A.] Baker by capture. He was considerably in advance of the regiment, with but one or two men. It is thus told by the enemy:
“June 21, 1864, 5:10 p. m.
“Theo. Lyman to Major-General Meade:
“I have just been to meet General Barlow. About a mile from the railroad (W[ilmington]. & W[eldon]. and Petersburg) he engaged dismounted cavalry and two guns; took the Colonel of the Third North Carolina Cavalry, who thinks Early is behind on the railroad.”1
During the month of August  the reorganization of the field officers took place, as heretofore referred to, and Major Roger Moore (promoted later to Lieutenant-Colonel) was left in command. The regiment was now in the brigade of General Rufus Barringer, where it remained for the rest of the war. It was in the division of General W. H. F. Lee, under command of General Wade Hampton, commanding the corps of cavalry.
It participated in the brilliant attack on the enemy at Reams’ Station, 25 August, 1864. From General Hampton’s report the following is taken:
“General Barringer, whom I had sent with his brigade to the east of the railroad, reported that he had met a strong force of infantry with cavalry. I ordered him to picket the road strongly and join me with his command at Malone’s Crossing. * * * Colonel Roberts, with his regiment, charged here one line of the rifle-pits, carrying it handsomely and capturing from sixty to seventy-five prisoners. * * * He struck the rear of the enemy, with Barringer’s Brigade in the center of his force. Under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry the line advanced steadily, driving the enemy into his works. Here he made a stubborn stand, and for a few moments checked our advance, but the spirit of the men was so fine that they charged the breast-works with the utmost gallantry, carried them and captured the force holding them. This ended the fighting, my men having been engaged twelve hours. We captured 781 prisoners, 25 commissioned officers, buried 143 of the enemy and brought off 66 of their wounded. Our loss was: Total killed, 16; wounded, 75; missing, 3. Of these Barringer had 10 killed, 50 wounded, 1 missing.
* * * General Barringer commanded Lee’s Division to my satisfaction, while his brigade commanders, Colonel Davis and Colonel Cheek, performed their parts well.”
The following letter from General Lee to Governor Vance, in reference to this gallant achievement, will live in history as one of the fairest laurels ever won by sons of the Old North State. Under date of 29 August, 1864, he writes:
“I have frequently been called upon to mention the services of 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, McRae 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. On the same occasion the brigade of General Barringer bore a conspicuous part in the operations of the cavalry, which were not less distinguished for boldness and efficiency than those of the infantry.
“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 intrusted to their hands.
“I am with great respect, your obedient servant,
“R. E. Lee,
“His Excellency, Z. B. Vance, Governor of North Carolina.”
The dark and gloomy winter, the last of the war, was approaching. The regiment was now to endure the most extreme hardships of a soldier’s life in cold, fatigue, hunger, pain and anxiety. As the lines drew closer and forage became scarcer, the horses perished and the few must do the work of many. The middle of November found the Forty-first [aka 3rd North Carolina Cavalry], in Barringer’s Brigade, encamped near Gladcross’ mill, four miles southwest of Petersburg, on the Boydton road. Constant encounters took place on a small scale, and on 9 December in an action near Belfield, the enemy was handsomely driven back. General Hampton says in his subsequent report (21 January, 1865):
“The cavalry of the enemy which we met was driven in rapidly with loss and in confusion, and the infantry of the rear guard was gallantly charged. * * *
“The pursuit on our part continued during the remainder of the day, the enemy blockading the road, destroying the bridges and only fighting at the obstacles he had placed in the road. At Moore’s Mill we drove him from the bridge, and pushing on, we soon met some cavalry, charging and dispersing them.
“The leading squadron of the Third North Carolina (Forty-first) dashed into the main body of the enemy, who were found preparing to go into camp. Finding their whole force there I withdrew to Moore’s Mill, two miles back, to bivouac. From this point I notified General Hill of the position of the enemy. * * * My officers and men behaved admirably—losses small—250 to 350 prisoners taken.2 On 1 March, 1865, the official report showed 78 officers and 1,298 men present for duty in Barringer’s Brigade, and the fact that this number is actually more than one-third of the total cavalry of Lee’s army, which was reported at 3,761, is a proud evidence of the devotion to duty of these gallant men in the darkest hours. On 27 March  the Brigade was at Stony Creek.
The position of Lee’s army is thus described by Swinton, the fairest historian on the Union side : “The right of Lee’s intrenched line running southwest from Petersburg covered Hatcher’s Run at the Boydton plank road. Thence it extended for a considerable distance westward, parallel with Hatcher’s Run, and along what is known as the White Oak road. This line directly covered Lee’s main communication by the Southside Railroad. Four miles west of the termination of this intrenched front, a detached line running also along the White Oak road covered an important strategic point, where several roads from the north and south, converged on the White Oak road, from what is known as the’ Five Forks.’”
Swinton further declares of Lee: “From his left, northeast of Richmond, to his right, southwest of Petersburg, there were thirty-five miles of breastwork, which it behooved Lee to guard, and all the force remaining to him was 37,000 muskets and a small body of broken down horses!”
As it became evident that the meagre numbers of Lee could not longer hold back the immense hosts under Grant, arrangements were quietly made looking to retreat in the only possible direction, the west.
General Fitz Lee relates that on 28 March  he was ordered from his position on the extreme left of the line north of the James to Petersburg, and to Southerland’s [sic, Sutherland’s] Station, on the Southside road, nineteen miles distant, on the 29th. There the division of General W. H. F. Lee, containing Barringer’s Brigade, joined him.
On 31 March  they attacked a very large force of the enemy’s cavalry at Five Forks, killed and wounded many, captured one hundred and drove them to within half a mile of Dinwiddie Court House. While Mumford held the front W. H. F. Lee and Rosser went to turn their flank, found a stream in the way, with strong defences, carried the defences, but with loss to Lee and Rosser—and Mumford also carried the works in his front. At Hatcher’s Run, a whole corps of Federal infantry attacked two small brigades of Confederate cavalry.3
General Fitzhugh Lee further says: “On 3 April  I protected Anderson’s rear and skirmished with the enemy’s advance to Amelia Court House.” In his language, “At another of the temporary halts upon this march, to check the enemy in the vicinity of Namozine church, that very excellent North Carolina brigade of W. H. F. Lee’s Division, suffered severely. The troops had been placed in motion again to resume the march. This brigade was the rear of the column and I was obliged to retain it in position to prevent the enemy from attacking the remainder of the command.
“While getting in motion, their rapidly arriving forces soon augmented the troops it was so gallantly holding in check, and produced a concentration impossible for it to resist. Its commander, Brigadier-General Barringer, was captured while in the steady discharge of his duties, and his loss was keenly felt by the command.”
Of this event the Federal Major-General Merritt claims (3 April): “The command moved forward at daylight and occupied the forks which the enemy had abandoned during the night. The First and Third Division (United States) cavalry marched in pursuit toward Amelia Court House. Wells’ Brigade had a spirited fight with Barringer’s Brigade of rebel cavalry, routing, dispersing or capturing the entire command, including the rebel general himself.”
This extraordinary report is more clearly, correctly defined by official returns from the commanders more closely engaged. Two entire divisions of cavalry were enveloping the retreat of the Confederates, worn out man and horse, by six day’s marching and fighting. Another and doubtless more correct report from a Federal commander is the following: “April 3, at night, went on picket at Five Cross Roads (called by the Confederates Five Forks), distance about twenty miles from Namozine church, and by the aid of Major Young, Chief of Scouts, captured and brought into our lines General Barringer and part of his staff, the regiment being detached from the brigade at the time.”
The few faithful horse that were left were invaluable in prolonging the retreat to Burkeville where Lee expected to meet the train of supplies and ammunition. That by some fatal blunder, this train had been fired and all hope of succor for the starving horses short of Lynchburg had to be abandoned, is now familiar history.
In his last report General Lee says [of the April 6, 1865 Battle of Sailor’s Creek] (Appomattox, 12 April, 1865): “After successive attacks, Anderson’s and Ewell’s Corps were captured or driven from their position. The latter general, with both of his division commanders, Kershaw and Custis Lee, and his brigadiers were taken prisoners.
“Gordon, who all the morning aided by General W. H. F. Lee’s cavalry, had checked the advance of the enemy on the road from Amelia Springs, and protected the trains, because exposed to his combined assaults, which he bravely resisted and twice repulsed; but the cavalry having been withdrawn to another part of the line of march and the enemy massing heavily on his front and both flanks, renewed the attack about 6 p. m., and drove him from the field in much confusion.”
Some of the cavalry escaped with Rosser before the end, but in the Providence of God the close of the great struggle had come. At the actual surrender, the whole division of General W. H. F. Lee numbered but 298 men and officers, of which Barringer’s Brigade had 2 officers and 21 men, total 23, for parole. A few had escaped ; most of them had been taken, man by man, dismounted from horses which hunger, disease and wounds rendered incapable of supporting their starving but dauntless riders.
This narrative does not purport to be a complete history of the varied experiences of the Forty-first North Carolina Troops [aka 3rd North Carolina Cavalry], but is simply offered as a contribution towards an account of the various marches and battles that illustrate its eventful career.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: A portion of this article which does not pertain to the Siege of Petersburg has been omitted.]
It has been deemed better to recite the history of the Third [North Carolina] Cavalry from official sources, rather than to attempt to revive the fading scenes of memory after so many years, especially as the following circumstances will explain the separation from my beloved comrades, so keenly felt by the writer.
When the regiment was on duty near Yellow Tavern, Va., 27 June, 1864, I was sent as Orderly Sergeant in charge of a party to secure forage. The wagons were only partially loaded when the enemy suddenly firing upon us, in the middle of a wheat field, brought on a regular engagement of both cavalry and infantry.4 I was shot in the right arm and sent to the hospital at Petersburg. The result was a long period of suffering and inability for service. T[homas]. B. Slade was then promoted to Orderly Sergeant. In January, 1865, I was detailed as unfit for active service and ordered to report to Captain Crenshaw at Magnolia. Subsequently, being in the retreat of Johns[t]on’s army before the greatly superior forces of [William T.] Sherman, my military service was closed near New Salem, N. C, when the surrender of General Johnston near Greensboro, put an end to operations in North Carolina.
Many men of distinction in our beloved State are to-day proud of their membership in the old Third [North Carolina] Cavalry, and others have passed away in the fullness of years. Among those still living is a gallant young private of Company K, known throughout the country now, Julian S. Carr, commander of the State Veterans’ Association, and who has been one of the most generous and devoted friends of Confederate veterans.
It has been said, “To have fought in the cavalry under Hampton is to be more than a Knight of the Garter.” Let me add—to have been praised by Lee, is to have been honored by the greatest hero of the world.
Raleigh, N. C,
9 April, 1901.5
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This fight was the June 21, 1864 Skirmish at Davis Farm, south of Petersburg. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Barringer’s Cavalry Brigade, other cavalry in Hampton’s Cavalry Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, and parts of A. P. Hill’s Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia were sent in pursuit of Gouverneur Warren’s Stony Creek Raid of December 7-12, 1864. Warren and his Fifth Corps, along with supporting forces, were turned back at Belfield on December 9, 1864. From that point forward Warren was returning to his lines while the Confederates strove in vain to cut off and capture a portion or all of his forces. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This last sentence seems to refer to a portion of the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, but I am not positive. It makes little sense to throw this sentence into this narrative unless it pertains to the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry. Barringer’s Brigade and Beale’s Brigade were on the Confederate right at Five Forks, south of Hatcher’s Run, on April 1, but they were attacked by Union Cavalry. If anyone can guarantee or refute my interpretation of this passage, I’d love to hear from you. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I am completely unsure which skirmish this might be. The compiled service records for the author, Joshua Hill, show that he was indeed wounded on June 27, 1864, so the fight definitely took place that day. I have no other reports of a small fight on June 27, 1864. Many of these men were recalling events from decades earlier, often without the use of the Official Records or Confederate Records from the pages of Confederate Veteran or the Southern Historical Society Papers. If anyone knows which fight this might be, please Contact Me. ↩
- Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 779-787 ↩