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CLARK NC: 18th 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.


On the 13th [of June 1864] the Eighteenth [North Carolina] had a skirmish near Riddle’s shop. Night put a stop to it. On the 20th we crossed James river, and on the 22nd about three miles beyond Petersburg had a sharp fight with the enemy who was trying to reach the Weldon railroad. On the 23rd Barry was sent to relieve Mahone’s brigade, and it was not out of range when the enemy advanced. Though the artillery and musketry firing was very heavy for a while, it did not return to give us the help we so sorely needed.

On 2 July [1864] the brigade was ordered to the north side of the James river and made a hard, hot march to Deep Bottom, where we had skirmishing almost daily till the 28th. At Gravely Hill there was a hot engagement [on July 28, 1864]. A few days afterward Colonel Barry was wounded by a sharpshooter whilst on a reconnoitering tour, and Colonel W. W. Barber, of the Twenty-seventh [sic, William M. Barbour of the 37th North Carolina] commanded the brigade until the battle of Euzzell’s [Fussell’s] Mill, 16 August [1864]. General Wright’s Georgia brigade was deployed to hold a line, whilst Anderson was taking another position. The enemy advancing in heavy force captured Wright’s thin line, and reinforced their attacking party with negro troops to hold it.

General Lee was on the field and ordered Lane’s brigade, under Barber, to the retaking of the work, which was done handsomely.

It was our first encounter with negro troops, and there were blue-black birds lying on that battle field. Colonel Barber was wounded, and Colonel [William H. A.] Spe[e]r, of the Twenty-eighth [North Carolina], succeeded to the command. We recrossed the James and were placed on the right of the line near Battery 45, and were used to reinforce the cavalry, and retake positions that the “critter” companies would retire from. Brigadier-General [James] Conn[e]r succeeded Colonel Spe[e]r in the command of the brigade by order of General Lee, a few days before the battle of Reams station, on 25 August, 1864. [Union Second Corps commander] General [Winfield Scott] Hancock, who we had, on previous occasions, found to be a good soldier, and determined fighter, held a strong position on the railroad against the attacks made upon him, and was much encouraged by the previous success that day, that he would hold the railroad.

Cooke’s, MacRae’s and Lane’s North Carolina Brigades were selected to make the final attack. It was expecting much of them to make the assault where greater numbers had been repulsed, but that expectation was realized to the fullest extent.

Elated by their victories, neither Hancock nor his men thought of leaving those breastworks till the “Tar Heels” were crossing them, and Hancock left his coat tail in the hands of James W. Atkinson, the gallant color bearer of the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment, and some 2,000 of his command as prisoners.

We thus more than evened up his captures from the Eighteenth [North Carolina] and Twenty-eighth [North Carolina], and Johnson’s division at Spottsylvania Court House 12 May, 1864.1

The Eighteenth was in the thick woods on the left, and had a hard time in getting through the abatis on that part of the line.

On the 29th [of August 1864], four days after, General Lee wrote Governor Vance: “I have been frequently called upon to mention the services of North Carolina soldiers in this army, but their gallantry and conduct were never more deserving the admiration than in the engagement at Reams Station on the 25th instant. The brigades of Generals Cooke, MacRae and Lane, the last under the temporary 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.”

A few days afterward, in an address at Charlotte, N. C, President Davis said, among other complimentary things, of North Carolina: “Her sons were foremost in the first battle of the war, Great Bethel, and they were foremost in the last fight, near Petersburg, Reams Station.”

We returned to Battery 45 at Petersburg and were again foot cavalry reinforcements, to the critter cavalry, in resisting the extension lines of the enemy to our right.

On 7 September [1864] a brisk fight was had with the infantry and artillery at the Davis House.2

On the 30th [of September 1864] we again passed through Petersburg to go over the James, but before reaching it were recalled and found the enemy at the Jones house, not far from our camp.

They were quickly put to flight, leaving many prisoners in our hands. We camped upon the field that night. On 1 October [1864] we found the enemy at the Pegram House, as if they had come to stay in that neighborhood. A repetition of the experience of the 30th caused them to retire for a time.

The repeated efforts of Grant to extend his left, brought troops to our right. We returned to Battery 45, and were comparatively free from similar expeditions during the next few months. On 8 December we went to Jarratt’s Station where the Yankees were in force in possession of the Weldon road. They evacuated with little fighting. Again, we went to Stony Creek further down the road. On each of these days the weather was very cold, and ours was not a pleasure trip. We were glad to return to our winter quarters near Forty-five and Fort Gregg.

After the battle of Spottsylvania, Major Thos. J. Wooten, of the Eighteenth [North Carolina], was in command of the sharpshooters of Lane’s brigade and made an enviable reputation during the campaign. Around Petersburg he was a terror to the enemy’s picket lines, and had a reputation in both armies.

Wooten’s “seine-haulings” were proverbial, and he was liberally used by division, corps and army headquarters for ascertaining the enemy’s lines or movements. His method was to reconnoiter, during the day, the lines to be gone through that night and at such hour as would suit his purpose would approach “in twos” with his select men, sufficiently near to make a dash at them. At a signal the column would go through the line with as little noise as possible, halt, face out, and each rank swing around right and left, taking the skirmish line in the rear, capturing the men with the minimum of danger to his command. His success was phenomenal, and he received the commendation of Generals Lee and Hill in congratulatory orders.

At an armistice to bury the dead, the Federals were curious to see “Major Hooten,” as they called him. Viewed in his Confederate garb, which was not very elaborate, his appearance was not “as striking as an army with banners” and when pointed out to a lot of officers and men, a significant smile passed ’round the group, which found expression in the exclamation of an impressible Teuton, “Mine, Got ! ! ! Is dot ze man what makes us skeert, like Stonewall Shackson? Heh!!!”

There was a generous rivalry among the regiments of the brigade, in keeping their quota of this corps to the highest efficiency and it was deemed an honor to secure a detail to fill a vacancy in it. Several of its members refused to accept promotion to lieutenant, and return to their companies to command them.

The story of Petersburg will never be written; volumes would be required to contain it, and even those who went through the trying ordeal, can not recall a satisfactory outline of the weird and graphic occurrences of that stormy period.

The Eighteenth [North Carolina] was not often in the sapping and mining portion of the lines and was not so particularly attracted by its experience as to wish to take up its abode in the Blandford portion of the army.3 During the month of September [1864] when it was necessary to draw the troops from about the Crater to resist an attack near the Appomattox, we were hurriedly brought from Battery 45 to support “Long Tom” about 200 yards to the right. There was no time to go in the covered way, and the brigade was marched in, on an open high ridge. It now appears wonderful that we were not swept off the earth.

We were not in the trenches long, when “Long Tom” opened on the Supply train that arrived on Grant’s military railroad, and it was but a short time before the sand-bag embrazures and the embankments around “Long Tom” needed reconstruction.

It was not difficult for us to learn the devices constructed for protection, from the accurate fire of the enemy at close range, and when the mortars rained down their shot from the sky we found the holes and could do the gopher act with the facility of trained residents.

The scene at night was beautiful in the extreme, but there was an element of unattractiveness about it, that caused us to yield readily to the desire of any others to see the sights from that view point, and we invariably retired at first opportunity, to position where the lines were further apart.

When Gordon attacked Fort Steadman [sic, Stedman] 25 March [1865], we were massed near by, but did not become actively engaged. Gordon carried the fort, but could not hold it, without very great sacrifice of men. His loss was greater than his captures, and Lee had no men to spare.

On the night of 27 May [sic, March 27, 1865], Major [Thomas J.] Wooten, with the sharpshooter corps of Wilcox’s division, broke the Yankee lines, and captured and held the strong position of McIlwaine’s hill all the next day. Wooten and [William S.] Dunl[o]p (McGowan) pulled the seine, and Scales’ and Thomas’ corps helped to hold the ground. The audacity of the proceeding was their security, as the Yankees had lots of men close by, who appeared to fear that a trap was laid for them. The concentration of troops on Hatcher’s Run and Five Forks necessitated the stretching of the Confederate lines and the men of Lane’s Brigade were some twenty feet apart in the trenches, beyond the Jones house, when the final attack was made before day on the morning of 2 April [1865]. Our thin line could make but feeble resistance to the Sixth corps hurled against us. We detained them, however, till the lines were broken beyond us, and fell back towards Fort Gregg, making a stand on the Dinwiddie plank road.

It was after sunrise that General A. P. Hill was seen coming from the direction of his headquarters on the Cox road, near the Appomattox. The crowd that I was with made every effort to stop him. Seeing no indication of halting, I ran out towards the direction he was going, and though some 50 yards distant, shouted to him that our line was broken and that the enemy’s skirmishers were on the plank road beyond the creek. Answering back, that he was aware there was danger, but must get to his right, he disappeared around a hill, down a valley leading to a crossing on the creek. A volley as of a dozen guns was heard in that direction, his horse ran back in a few minutes without him and we knew that our gallant commander was off duty forever. His staff and attendants, who were following him, caught his horse. His body was recovered and carried to the rear.

The statement that one of his staff, or couriers, caught him as he fell, is without foundation, a loving fabrication of the devotional kind. They would have been with him, if they could, but having the fleetest horse, he was far in advance, and I was doubtless the last Confederate spoken to by him. In the discharge of his duty, as he saw it, he rode into the jaws of death, and the army lost one of its most valuable officers.

Lane and Thomas’ brigades formed near the Plank road and repulsed the enemy in several advances. Wilcox ordered the troops on the Petersburg side of the break back to a line of small forts outside of the main works at Battery 45.

When we got to Fort Gregg we found some artillerists in it and Lane’s North Carolina brigade furnished the greater part of the garrison. Thomas’ Georgia and Harris’ Mississippi brigades the balance. Generals Wilcox and Lane were in it, when I left by permission of the latter to go to our winter quarters near by to get our records.

The Sixth corps had been reinforced by the Twenty-fourth, Gibbon’s corps, and the advance was made on Gregg before I could return.

I was glad to be on the outside. The fighting was desperate. Repulsed, the enemy reinforced and returned with several lines, enveloping the fort, they filled the moat and climbed the parapet, fighting their way inside. Getting inside, the fighting was hand to hand, till those not killed were overpowered.

Lieutenant William O. Robinson, Company B, Eighteenth [North Carolina] Regiment, and Color Sergeant James W. Atkinson, Thirty-third North Carolina, escaped after the fighting with clubbed muskets ceased, and always speak of it as a scene of indescribable horror.

After the surrender of Gregg the other forts were evacuated, and the main line at Battery 45, and the dam on the creek occupied. This was held till night, and Petersburg was behind us in the morning.

The march to Appomattox Court House was a succession of privations and hardships scarcely credible by those who have not had actual army experiences.

The supply trains that were to have been stopped at Burkeville and Amelia Court House, passed on, and were captured. That country could not subsist the army, and men and animals suffered for food. We were formed in line of battle several times and had some casualties at High Bridge and near Jetersville.

On the morning of 9 April [1865], whilst the Eighteenth [North Carolina] was forming line of battle, on a ridge to the left of the road before getting to the branch near Appomattox Court House, Grant’s officer, bearing dispatches to Lee, passed through its lines and found Lee a few hundred yards in our rear on the road we had just left.

Firing was then going on beyond the court house by General Grimes’ North Carolinians. We were marched to a near by woods and sadly, sorrowfully stacked arms. All was over.

The limits of this paper prevent the mention of the many meritorious officers and men composing this regiment, of whom I could not speak in too high terms. The valor of its men, and its services is attested by its casualties on the field of battle, from New Bern to Gettysburg, and then to Appomattox Court House, where its last act was getting ready for battle.

Wm. H. McLaurin,

Adjutant Eighteenth N[orth]. C[arolina]. T[roops].

Laurinburg, N. C.,

9 April, 1901.4




Crossing the James river at Drewry’s Bluff, we were among the first troops to reach Petersburg.

It would be impossible to give anything like an accurate account of our every day’s work — fighting, marching and building works around Petersburg. Suffice it to say that the Eighteenth North Carolina Regiment was always at the front, and always did its whole duty. We were ordered to cross the James river at Drewry’s Bluff again, and on the march thither for the first time, at “Deep Bottom,” we encountered the colored troops, who first drove a brigade on our right out of the works, which we in turn retook, and held them until ordered elsewhere.

Marching to Petersburg via Drewry’s Bluff, we were stationed below and to the right of Battery No. 45, and remained until our brigade was sent to assist in an attack on Reams Station. There we supported the brigades of Generals Cooke, MacRae and others, and being well supported, we charged the enemy’s lines, took nine of his guns, two thousand prisoners, besides wagons, ambulances, etc. It was a desperate fight, but the result added to the fame of the North Carolina soldier, of which their descendants may, for all time to come, be proud.

Events in rapid succession crowded upon each other. The end was rapidly approaching. We went back to Battery No. 45.

At Jones’ Farm on 30 September, 1864, we had a severe fight, and lost from our regiment some of its bravest and best. Our regiment was now reduced to a mere “skeleton” or handful of its former strength. Starting out with eleven hundred men, we were now reduced to one hundred or less. The death of every comrade was now indeed a serious loss. Our entire brigade was hardly now in numbers, as much as half our original regimental muster roll.

We remained in the trenches at Petersburg until we took our last march in the Spring following towards Appomattox. As we passed through Petersburg [on April 2, 1865] the sidewalks of the city were filled with weeping women and children, lamenting the fate which they knew daylight would bring upon them. In our army they had centred their hopes, and with our departure they well knew their last earthly refuge and hope were gone, and for many days and nights thereafter the wailings and lamentations of these helpless women and children rang in the Southern soldier’s ear as he “plodded his weary way” to the place where the Southern flag was to be furled forever. The march from Petersburg began 2 April, and ended at Appomattox 9 April, 1865.

Twenty-eight thousand bleeding, half -starved and foot-sore soldiers stood there on that eventful 9 April, 1865, with folded arms, as General Lee rode down our lines and “bade us adieu forever.”

Thomas H. Sutton.

Private Company I.

Fayetteville, N. C,

April 9, 1901.5



  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: “Allegheny” Johnson’s Second Corps division was nearly wiped out at the famous and bloody Mule Shoe salient at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, 1864.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: There was a skirmish at the Davis House on August 31, 1864 per the Official Records.  Major Thomas J. Wooten and his sharpshooters of Lane’s Brigade made a successful dash on the enemy, capturing a portion of the picket line at the Davis House, on what seems to be a separate occasion.  The Official Records contain official notices of Wooten’s exploits dated September 7 and 9, 1864.  I’m not positive Wooten’s “seine-hauling” occurred on September 7, 1864.  If you have any detail which sheds light on this confusion, please Contact us.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: The lines east of Petersburg were extremely close together, so close that both sides worried about attempts to blow up forts and other entrenchments in that area.  Blandford Cemetery was located behind the Confederate lines in this area, directly behind “The Crater” and what had been Elliott’s Salient.
  4. Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 56-63
  5. Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 75-77
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