THE FORGOTTEN SONS:
NORTH CAROLINIANS IN THE UNION ARMY
FROM CONTRABAND INTO SOLDIERS
Creation of the Black North Carolina Regiments
North Carolina slaves were no different from others throughout the South during the Civil War. To them the location of blue soldiers meant the end of the rainbow. When Burnside took Roanoke Island in early 1862, they flocked to him undeterred by the waters of the sound. By the time the flowers, trees, and birds began trying to heal the battlefields, the island was overflowing with men, women, and children seeking to maintain their newly found freedom. 1 As was shown in Chapter I, every Union raiding party brought back black human beings abstractly called contraband. In June of 1863 this multitude of Black North Carolinians was tapped as a source of military strength. In that month the First Regiment of North Carolina Colored troops appeared in the army records. It is listed as infantry not brigaded, under the command of Colonel James C. Beecher. At its inception the First North Carolina Colored was part of the First Division, Eighteenth Army Corps, in the Department of North Carolina, Major General John G. Foster commanding. 2
The first expedition in which the new regiment participated as soldiers began on July 3, 1863. On that day Captain H. W. Wilson took some cavalry and twenty men from the First North Carolina Colored Infantry on a bridge repairing (in Union territory) and railroad destroying (in Confederate territory) trip to Warsaw, North Carolina. Wilson did not attempt to evaluate the infantry's performance as infantry, as they were not required to do the things infantrymen usually do, but for repairing bridges and breaking railroad tracks they were most efficient. 3
By August 31, 1863, the Second and Third North Carolina Colored Regiments, commanded by Colonel Alonzo G. Draper and Captain John Wilder respectively, had a large enough membership for their names to appear in army reports. They had also, with the First Colored, been transferred to the Department of the South commanded by Brigadier General Quincy A. Gilmore. Stationed on Folly Island, they, with the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored, made up the African Brigade in a division commanded by Brigadier General Israel Vogdes. 4
The Folly Island sojourn was short and uneventful. By October 10, 1863, all three North Carolina Black Regiments were back in New Bern, and Brigadier General Edward A. Wild had been ordered there by the War Department to bring the Third Regiment up to full strength. 5 At this point the First Regiment had a total strength of one thousand and two men; while the Second was not far behind with eight hundred. 6
Edward A. Wild proved to be cold and efficient. He was given command of all colored troops in the area with headquarters at Norfolk, Virginia, to which the three North Carolina Regiments were transferred. Camps were provided for them at Portsmouth. Wild set out immediately to give his command exercise. Starting out on December 5 with portions of the First and Fifth United States Colored, the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored, and the First and Second North Carolina Colored, Wild marched to Elizabeth City. To get into town the troops had to build a bridge, the planks for which were conveniently provided by the home and barn of a Captain in the Confederate Army. After crossing the new construction, Wild and his army stayed for seven days while the men sought "recruits, contrabands' families, guerrillas, forage and firewood." At the end of their visit, as they left town, they were fired upon by a force which Wild described as guerrillas. One member of the attacking party, Daniel Bright, was captured and hanged wearing a placard which read: "This guerrilla hanged by order of Brigadier General Wild." Wild picked up other prisoners, civilians whom he believed were cooperating with the guerrillas. He gave them what he admitted was "a drumhead court-martial," burned their homes and barns, fed his men their livestock and took their families as hostages. Colonel Draper and his Second North Carolina were mounted, acting as cavalry. They rode about the countryside seeking to damage the Confederacy; while the rest of the command marched, seeking the same object. In addition to the accomplishments or depredations which have been mentioned, Wild reported that his command had "burned four guerrilla camps, took over fifty guns, one drum, together with equipments, ammunition, etc., burned over a dozen homesteads, two distilleries..., captured four large boats engaged in contraband trade, and took many horses." He also brought back to Norfolk "about 2,500" late slaves. His losses were seven killed, nine wounded, and two taken prisoner. He was content with his work and his men, saying they marched wonderfully, never grumbled, were watchful on picket, and always ready for a fight. "They are," he added, "most reliable soldiers." 7
On the last day of the year 1863 all three North Carolina Regiments were at home in Wild's African Brigade, 8 except for a detachment of the First which was left at Folly Island in the fall and was still there. 9
On February 4, 1864, the last regiment of black North Carolinians began recruitment. This was the First Regiment North Carolina Colored Heavy Artillery which had enough interested participants to be organized at New Bern and Morehead City by March. 10 The regiment got around very little. All of its traveling was done back and forth between the sub-district of Beaufort and the sub-district of New Bern. 11 About the only interesting thing that ever happened to it, if one is interested in one hundred year old gossip, is that the man who raised and commanded it until November of 1864, 12 Major Thorndike C. Jameson of the Fifth Rhode Island Artillery, was court-martialed in February of 1865 for fraudulent and dishonest conduct." Convicted, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment, fined $8,000 and dismissed from the service. 13
The First, Second, and Third North Carolina Colored Regiments could never say they joined the army and saw the world, but those who lived saw a little farther than New Bern in 1864. Early in that year they also got new titles, even the Heavy Artillery. The First, Second, and Third were respectively designated the Thirty-fifth, Thirty-sixth, and Thirty-seventh United States Colored Troops. The First North Carolina Heavy Artillery became the Fourteenth United States Colored Heavy Artillery.
The Thirty-fifth in Florida (1864)
January, 1864, found all of the Thirty-fifth united at Folly Island. 14 In February they were ordered to the District of Florida, reporting to Brigadier General T. Seymour commanding that department. 15 Many of them, however, were held at Folly Island by General Alfred Terry, commander of the Northern District, Department of the South, 16 because they had smallpox, had been exposed to the disease, or were otherwise unfit to march. 17 The Thirty-fifth went, with other Negro troops from Massachusetts and South Carolina, into a training camp commanded by Colonel Milton S. Littlefield. The camp was located about six miles from Jacksonville, which was Seymour's headquarters. 18
The Thirty-fifth could not have received much instruction before the regiment's first fight. They arrived at the camp on February 15 19 and on the twentieth started out with Seymour as part of a 5,500 man expedition to Ocean City. The object was to destroy an east-west railroad at a point near the Swannee River. They never reached the place, for at Olustee they were met and defeated by a Confederate force. The commander of the Thirty-fifth, Lieutenant Colonel William N. Reed, was mortally wounded. In addition the North Carolinians lost twenty men killed, seven officers, in addition to Reed, were wounded, one hundred twenty-three men wounded and seventy-seven missing. 20 Seymour was forced to retreat to Jacksonville. In his report Seymour wrote, "The Colored troops behaved creditably...the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts and First North Carolina like veterans. It was not in their conduct that can be found the chief cause of failure but in the...yielding of a white regiment from which there was every reason to expect noble service." 21
Seymour was replaced by Brigadier General William Birney and Colonel James C. Beecher again became commander of the Thirty-fifth. 22 The Olustee battle was the first and last bloody encounter for the Thirty-fifth, as the various commanders of the Department of Florida seemed to have an aversion to fighting, much to the disgust of Major General John G. Foster, who became commander of the Department of the South in the spring of 1864. 23 In May the Thirty-fifth did picket duty along the St. John's River. 24 In June the North Carolinians took part in an expedition to Confederate Camp Milton, which was demolished in the absence of the residents. 25 The next month four companies of the Thirty-fifth went on an expedition with Birney to South Carolina. Back in Jacksonville by July 10, the four joined the rest of the regiment in taking part in an expedition to Baldwin, Florida, on the twenty-third. The expedition remained in Baldwin until August 15, when the town was burned and abandoned. Marching to Magnolia the Thirty-fifth moved in a column led by Colonel William E. Noble of the Seventeenth Connecticut. On the way Noble's force destroyed railroad track, burned 28,000 pounds of cotton, rescued seventy-five contrabands, took horses, mules, and other property. 26
In November the Thirty-fifth was ordered, with other regiments in the Florida Department, to report to the headquarters of General Foster at Hilton Head, South Carolina. 27 The North Carolinians were assigned to brigade commanded by now Brigadier General Edward E. Potter. Potter's brigade as a part of the Coast Division took part in an expedition against the Charleston and Savannah railroad. On November 30, the expedition fought a Confederate force at Honey Hill near Grahamsville, South Carolina. Potter ordered the Thirty-filth into the battle, but due to a confusion of orders the regiment became disorganized and never got into the fight. The disconcerted companies of the Thirty-fifth reformed, were held in reserve and did no fighting at all. 28
The Thirty-Sixth (1864)
Early 1864 found the Thirty-sixth guarding prisoners at Point Lookout, Maryland, and going on an occasional expedition to the Virginia shore. Point Lookout was in the military district of St. Mary's, commanded by Brigadier General Edward W. Hinks. On April 12, Hinks took the Thirty-sixth and fifty cavalrymen on a steamer, protected by three gunboats, over to Virginia. They came back on the fourteenth with one hundred seventy-seven boxes of tobacco and fifty contrabands, losing no one because they were unopposed. 29
May 14, 1864, three hundred men from the Thirty-sixth set out under Colonel Alonzo G. Draper to destroy some torpedoes planted at the mouth of the Rappahannock River. They landed, went ashore, and destroyed several of the water bombs. Then walking through the woods which lined the river bank, six North Carolina soldiers, minus their officers, came upon nine Confederate cavalryman and marines. The Negro soldiers attacked immediately, killing five and capturing three while one escaped. One of the colored soldiers was killed and three wounded. Those left unhurt were about to kill the prisoners but were stopped by their sergeant, also a Negro. 30
Another example of bitterness toward Confederates manifested by the Thirty-sixth occurred a little more than a week later at Point Lookout. As the prisoners were going to dinner, a North Carolina guard began firing at one of them, inflicting a mortal wound and wounding three others in the process. 31
Perhaps the men of the Thirty-sixth needed more action. In any case they got it. From June 11 to June 21, Draper led them up and down each side of the Rappahannock with forty-nine cavalrymen. At one point they got into a successful scrap with Confederate cavalry. Draper called this action the "affair at Pierson's farm." Of the Thirty-sixth Draper said, "the gallantry of the colored troops...could not be excelled. They were so steady under fire and as accurate in their movements as if they were on drill." In addition to winning the little fracus the expedition brought back to Point Lookout three hundred seventy-five cattle, one hundred sixty horses and mules, six hundred contrabands and quantities of farm machinery. 32
In July the Thirty-sixth was sent westward to take part in the Richmond campaign. On the third they arrived at Burmuda Hundred and went into camp. 33 It was some time before the North Carolinians did any real fighting but observant generals considered them "unsteady and unreliable." For this reason Brigadier General A. Ames commanding the second division of the Eighteenth Army Corps, of which the Thirty-sixth was a part, was ordered to place among them dependable troops to restore confidence by their presence.34
If the confidence of the North Carolinians needed restoring, it was back up to par by September 29, when they took part in the action at Chapin's Farm and New Market Heights near the James River. There the Thirty-sixth ran across a stream, up a slope, and through two lines of obstructions, to drive entrenched Confederates from their fortifications. 35 As the charging Negroes neared the rebel line, a Confederate officer "leaped upon the parapet, waved his sword, and shouted, 'Hurrah, my brave men.' " Private James Gardiner of the Thirty-sixth, outran his comrades, shot, and then bayoneted the officer. 36 In the same action Corporal Miles James, one of Gardiner's regimental colleagues, had his arm shot off in the charge but continued into the fortifications, loading and firing his rifle all the way. 37 Both Gardiner 38 and James 39 were awarded the Medal of honor for their heroism.
When the victory was won, the Thirty-sixth had lost twenty-one men and five officers killed, with eighty-two men wounded. 40 Chapin's Farm and New Market Heights proved to be the regiment's last bloody action, though two men were taken prisoner during the fighting at Fair Oaks and the Darbytown road, October 27-28, 1864. 41
The Thirty-Seventh (1864)
The Thirty-seventh remained near Norfolk until April, 1864, at that time becoming part of Butler's folly operating against Richmond. 42 Landing at City Point as part of Hinks' Third Division on May 5, 1864, the regiment was stationed at Fort Powhatan; moving on the thirteenth into the works at City Point. 43 On the twenty-fourth the North Carolinians were quickly dispatched to Wilson's Wharf on the James to bolster Union strength there. Fitzhugh Lee had attacked the place that afternoon, and though he was beaten off, it was feared he would return. 44 Apparently, Lee did not come back, but the Thirty-seventh remained there until the twenty-eighth of September when they moved to Harrison's landing. 45
On September 29, the Thirty-seventh took part in the divisional assault which cost the Thirty-sixth so heavily at Chapin's Farm. The Thirty-seventh did not suffer greatly, losing only one officer and three men killed and sixteen wounded. 46 In the October 27-28 action at Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road the regiment had one officer and one man wounded. 47
Before the end of 1864 the Twenty-filth Army Corps bad been organized with Major General Godfrey Weitzel commanding. The corps consisted of three divisions of colored soldiers. Brigadier General Charles J. Paine commanded the First Division of which the Thirty-seventh was a part. The Thirty-sixth belonged to the Third Division commanded by General Wild. 48
** Go to Part IV **
1 Stick, Outer Banks, p. 161.
2 OR, I, 27, pt. 3, p. 454.
3 OR, I, 27, pt. 2, p. 863.
4 OR, I, 28, pt. 2, p. 75.
5 OR, I, 29, pt. 2, p. 290.
6 OR, III, 3, p. 1115.
7 OR, I, 29, pt. 2, pp. 911-918.
8 Ibid., p. 619.
9 OR, I, 28, pt. 2, p. 138.
10 Manarin, Guide, Sec. 3, p. 2.
11 OR, I, 40, pt. 2, p. 557. OR, I, 40, pt. 2, p. 793.
12 OR, I, 42, pt. 3, p. 1129.
13 New Bern Times, February 17, 1865.
14 OR, I, 35, pt. 1, p. 465.
15 Ibid., p. 32.
16 Ibid., p. 465.
17 Ibid., pp. 480, 481.
18 Ibid., p. 482.
20 Ibid., p. 298.
21 Ibid., p. 88.
22 OR, I, 35, pt 20 p. 78.
23 OR, I, 35, pt 1, p. 431.
24 OR, I, 35, pt 2, p. 95.
25 OR, I, 35, pt. 1, pp. 402-403.
26 Ibid., p. 37.
27 OR, I, 44, p. 567.
28 OR, I, 44, pp. 425-427.
29 OR, I, 33, pp. 268-269.
30 OR, I, 37, pt. 1, p. 71.
31 OR, I, 36, pt. 3, p. 175.
32 OR, I, 37, pt. 1, p. 163-167.
33 OR, I, 40, I, pt. 2, p. 615.
34 OR, I, 42, pt. 2, p. 417.
35 John W. Blassingame, "The Freedom Fighters," Negro History Bulletin, (February, 1965), p. 106, hereinafter cited as Blassingame, "Freedom Fighters."
36 OR, I, 42, pt. 1, pp. 819, 820.
37 Blassingame, "Freedom Fighters," p. 106.
38 OR, I, 42, pt. 1, pp. 819,820.
39 Blassingame, "Freedom Fighters," p. 106.
40 OR, I, 42, pt. 1, pp. 819, 820.
41 Ibid., p. 151.
42 OR, I, 33, pp. 1001, 1002.
43 OR, I, 36, pt. 2, p, 165.
44 OR, I, 36, pt. 3, p. 182.
45 OR, I, 42, pt. 1. p. 109.
46 Ibid., p. 136.
47 Ibid., p. 151.
48 OR, I, 42, pt. 3, p. 1126.
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