CLARK NC: 42nd 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.
The Confederate line of battle [at Cold Harbor] was held until 12 June , when the enemy moved in the direction of the Chickahominy. A few hours later the Confederates abandoned their trenches, and, crossing the Chickahominy, marched by the shortest route to New Market Heights, near Malvern Hill. After resting there a day and no enemy appearing, the James was crossed on a pontoon bridge below Drewry’s Bluff. By a forced march the troops were hurried to Petersburg, arriving there at 2 a. m. 17 June , and taking position east of the Hare House. A line of rifle pits was completed and this constituted the only defense of the city against the invaders. The Confederates [defending Petersburg] now numbered about 12,000 men fit for duty. Next day General Burnside’s Corps came up and increased the Federal force [attacking Petersburg] to 65,000.
General [Winfield Scott] Hancock, as ranking officer, had assumed command of the Federals. He threw his entire army in line of battle [on June 17, 1864], charging the thin line of the Confederates, and after hard and stubborn fighting he succeeded in breaking through the lines of Wise’s Legion, which was completely exhausted. They had fought for two days without sleep or rest, and, now overpowered, fell back.
At this moment Ransom’s Brigade came up and drove the Federals back over the works, thus re-establishing the broken lines. Two charges were made by the Federals, but repulsed. Warren’s Corps (Federal) about this time arrived, increasing the enemy’s force very largely. As yet General Beauregard had sent no relief to the Confederates, and this was indeed a trying condition of affairs. But the thorough discipline and unwavering courage of the men were almost unconquerable.
General Beauregard’s engineers had selected a shorter and better line of defense of the city (Petersburg), as the Confederate force was not sufficient to hold the old and longer line. The picket line was put under the command of Major T. J. Brown, who was instructed to hold the old line of defense until the army could take position in the new line in front of the city. This he did, the move beginning about midnight and being completed at daybreak [of June 18, 1864], when the picket line was withdrawn. As they fell back, they were constantly skirmishing with the enemy. During the morning the Federals attacked in solid columns, about 100 yards apart, advancing in the open field. The Confederates had only one line of battle to withstand their repeated attacks. The Forty-second [North Carolina] held a high position on the brow of a hill alongside of the artillery and received the constant fire of the enemy’s artillery and infantry. At this time their loss was quite heavy.
Very fortunately General Longstreet’s Corps came up to the relief of the Confederates, reducing the great odds against them.
General Grant, defeated in his attempts to capture Petersburg by fighting, began to starve out the Confederates by his overwhelming numbers of troops. The hardships through which the men had to pass were far greater and more disastrous than the battles they had fought. It was simply awful.
The Confederate line of battle was enfiladed on the flank by a direct fire of the enemy. Shells were falling all around constantly. The troops were on picket duty or defending the breastworks every night. There was no shelter from heat or cold, except an oilcloth stretched on four upright sticks. The graveyard was in the rear and the dead were buried daily. There were no arrangements for cooking on the line and all food was cooked and brought from the rear, or eaten raw. On this line the regiment spent nearly four months, alternating weekly with Colquitt’s Brigade, in order that the men might rest and wash their clothes.
The duty of the Forty-second [North Carolina] was to defend the salient on Hare’s Hill—the most difficult and dangerous position on the entire line. It was exposed to the constant fire of the mortars, with no chance to retaliate. Their endurance was most severely tried, but they displayed the fortitude so characteristic of the North Carolina troops, for they never faltered nor wavered. At this point Captain Spencer [J.] Hanes received a severe wound, which afterwards caused his death. Lieutenant [Edward A.] Rusher was mortally wounded. The loss in the regiment was very heavy.
About two days before the “Crater” explosion [July 28 1864], the regiment was on the exact spot, defending that portion of the line. On the day it occurred (30 July) it had been ordered to this point again, but the order was countermanded before the position could be taken. At the time of the explosion, it was on the left (at Hare’s Hill) repulsing the charges of the Federals, and, being in a position to enfilade their line, a deadly fire of rifle balls was poured into them by us.
In October  the regiment was sent north of the James to aid in the reduction of Fort Harrison, but was not ordered into action. It was then placed on the lines on the Darbytown road, where it constructed winter quarters and enjoyed a much needed rest. There were several skirmishes, but no serious fighting done.
While in camp on the Darbytown road, the regiment received a well-deserved compliment. General Gracie, of Alabama, had been killed at Petersburg and it was decided to inter his remains in Hollywood Cemetery at Richmond. General R. E. Lee sent a request to General Longstreet for the best drilled regiment in his corps to perform the last sad military honors at the funeral of the dead hero. The Forty-second North Carolina was detailed for this purpose. Under their brave leader, with the Eutaw band of Charleston, S. C, the regiment set out for Richmond. General Kirkland went with Colonel Brown, as the regiment belonged to Kirkland’s Brigade. The movements and evolutions of the Forty-second were pronounced faultless—proving its superiority on parade as it had done in line of battle. The congratulations and praise of military men in the city were generously bestowed, some saying that it was the best drilled regiment ever seen in Richmond.
23 December, 1864, the regiment was ordered to Wilmington, N. C, and the men were packed in box cars with the thermometer at zero. They kept from freezing by building fires in the centres of the cars and closing the doors, compelled to endure the smoke in order to keep warm.
Wilmington was reached on the 24th.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: A portion of the article which does not pertain to the Siege of Petersburg has been omitted.]
Such are some of the facts in regard to one of the best regiments ever sent forth by the South and never did the world see finer soldiers than the Confederate army. Without clothing, food and ammunition—but with gallant leaders and brave hearts, they kept at bay an overwhelming foe until crushed.
We say—and we say it advisedly—that the superiors of the North Carolina troops have never lived. The watchword of the Forty-second North Carolina was “Duty,” and wherever duty called, they always responded cheerfully. Some of the characteristics of the regiment have been spoken of and before concluding this sketch, we must say something in regard to the officers.
Colonel Jno. Edmunds Brown was born in Caswell County in 1830, and was educated at Hampden-Sidney College, Va., read law under Judge Richmond Pearson and began practice at Charlotte, N. C. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Seventh North Carolina Regiment, of which he was Adjutant. He next became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Forty-second North Carolina, but was in reality Colonel of the regiment almost from its organization, though he was not commissioned as Colonel until January, 1864.
Colonel Brown possessed many of the qualities of a great soldier. His troops were drilled until they had attained the utmost proficiency in the manual of arms and when ordered to execute a difficult movement at a critical moment, they never faltered nor blundered. He demanded of his men exact obedience, and though he kept them under the strictest discipline, every man in the regiment loved him and would have followed him anywhere. But he could have accomplished comparatively little had he not had such a splendid set of men under him. He was a meek and lowly Christian—one who practiced just what he professed, and his influence in this respect was widely exerted throughout his command, for in the Forty-second Regiment swearing was strictly forbidden. Matters might be as desperate as possible as when the men were on the most strenuous duty before Petersburg. He believed fully in what a recent commander said in battle, “Don’t swear, boys, but fight!” and fight the Forty-second did! After the war he successfully resumed the practice of law at Charlotte.
Colonel Brown was the second of three brothers, the eldest of whom was Dr. W[illiam]. C. Brown, the Surgeon of the regiment. Capable and skilful, he performed his duties well, many times exposing his life for the men. When a large part of the regiment was sick with measles at Petersburg, he attended them day and night. So great was the strain and exposure that his health was wrecked, and he died in Davie County before the close of the war.
The third brother, T[homas]. J. Brown, was Major of the Forty-second and the writer of this sketch.
Lieutenant-Colonel C[harles]. W. Bradshaw made a capable and brave officer. Charlotte, N. C, is his home.
Adjutant W[illiam]. H. H. Gregory made an excellent officer.
Company A—Captain J. H. Koontz, a good officer, and after the war was a successful farmer ; Lieutenant Jos. Conrad became a mechanic; Lieutenants Siceloff and Sink engaged in farming.
Company B—Captain W. H. Crawford, an efficient officer, was a farmer, and served as a member of the Legislature for years; Captain J. R. Crawford, a courageous and capable officer, is a successful farmer; Lieutenant A. D. Wright, a printer and farmer; Lieutenant R. W. Price has been a successful business man in Salisbury, N. C.; Lieutenant J. F. Dodson a very successful farmer, has served in the Legislature twice.
Company C—Captain J. A. Howell, a gallant officer, was killed at Cold Harbor; Captain K. A. Carter, a successful merchant at Concord ; Lieutenant S. D. Mann became a merchant.
Company D—Captain E. E. Crawford, a most capable officer, engaged in business in Salisbury and Winston ; he is a very enthusiastic veteran and an excellent citizen; Lieutenant L. W. Crawford, a fine officer, went to the University of Virginia after the war. He is a member of W. N. C. Conference and editor of the Christian Advocate. He has received the degrees of Doctor of Divinity. Lieutenant H. L. Gill, a successful merchant in Iredell County.
Company E—Captain Spencer J. Hanes was an efficient and brave officer, a successful farmer and tanner. He was a splendid citizen and died a few years after the war from wounds received in battle. Lieutenant W. J. Ellis, a gallant soldier, has been a tobacco manufacturer and assistant postmaster in Winston. Lieutenant J. H. Peebles became a fanner. Lieutenant J. V. Brock was a brave officer, a sterling man. He was a farmer, as was also Lieutenant B. T. Naylor.
Company F—Captain Wiley A. Clement, a fine officer and did his duty well. He became a merchant and farmer. He lived in Mocksville. Lieutenant Jno. H. Clement, a courageous and capable officer, became a farmer. He has occupied a prominent position in Davie County, having served in the State Senate for a number of terms. Lieutenant C. C. Sanford is a successful merchant in Mocksville and a most excellent citizen. Lieutenant W. H. Bailey also became a merchant in Davie County.
Company G—Captain Blackwelder, a brave officer, was a successful farmer. Lieutenant A. Leazer, an efficient officer, is one of the most prominent men of his section of the State. He has served in the Legislature, and as superintendent of the State Penitentiary.
Company H—Captain Hatsell, Lieutenants Huneycutt, Mann, and Turner all became farmers.
Company I—Captain T. W. Redwine became a commercial salesman. Lieutenant H. M. Alford was a successful physician in Greensboro, N. C. Lieutenants Harris and Redwine both farmers.
Company K—Captain J. Y. Bryce, a prominent citizen of Charlotte. Captain S. B. Alexander, a gallant officer, is one of the most prominent men engaged in farming in the State. He has served in the State Senate and for two terms represented the Sixth Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He is the father of the famous Mecklenburg “no fence” and “good roads” laws. Lieutenant B. F. Wilson, a splendid officer, was an excellent man. Lieutenant A. M. Rhyne became a tinner. Lieutenant W. J. Williford was a farmer. Lieutenant J. H. Wilson still resides at Charlotte.
Winston, N. C,
26 April, 1901.1
- Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 799-802, 804-807 ↩