The 17th Regiment by Wilson G. Lamb

    In Their Own Words
    The 17th Regiment
    Wilson G. Lamb
    Raleigh News and Observer
    July 28, 1895
    Transcriber’s Note:  In the below article, there is an individual by the name of 
    L.A. C-o-t-t-e-n.  Every attempt to spell this correctly was changed automatically 
    by the Word software to “Cotton”.  Also, two various spellings occur throughout the 
    article either Drewry’s or Drury’s Bluff.
    With the exception of two companies garrisoning Fort Barlow on Roanoke Island, 
    the 17th Regiment was captured at Fort Hatteras on the 27th August, 1861 by the 
    United States naval and land forces, commanded respectively by Commodore 
    Stringham and General B.F. Butler.  The 17th Regiment was officered as follows:
    Colonel, W.F. Martin
    Lt. Col. George W. Johnston
    Major Henry A. Gilliam
    Adjutant Gilbert Elliott
    Quartermaster John S. Daney
    Commissary L.D. Starke
    Surgeon Wyatt M. Brown
    Fort Clark, commanded by Captain John C. Lamb, a mile up the beach, and Fort 
    Hatteras, near the inlet, under the immediate command of Col. Martin, constituted 
    the defenses of Hatteras Inlet.  The garrison, numbering less than 1,000, was 
    attacked by the overwhelming land and naval forces, and after an heroic defense, 
    surrendered as prisoners of war.  Shortly thereafter, the enemy, under General 
    Burnside, moved upon Roanoke Island.  The two companies constituting the 
    balance of the 7th Regiment garrisoned at Fort Bartow and, under the splendid 
    leadership of Capt. Fearing and Lt. C.G. Elliott, the latter so greatly distinguished 
    afterwards as Adjutant General to Generals Martin and Kirkland, succeeded by 
    the accurate fire of their guns in keeping back the Federal fleet, and only 
    surrendered after the landing of the Federal troops upon another part of the island, 
    pushing back the Confederates under Col. Shaw and completely flanking the fort.  
    I am indebted to Capt. C.G. Elliott for an incident of this battle which is worthy of 
    being preserved.  He writes:
    “During the bombardment of Fort Bartow, a cannon shot cut down the flag staff.  
    Instantly, Lt. Thomas H. Gilliam sprang upon the parapet, amid the storm of shot 
    and shell, and firmly planted the beautiful silk color of the John Harvey Guards 
    which waxed until the order to retire was received.”  An historical parallel to the 
    brave act of Sergeant Jasper at Fort Moultrie.
    Thus the whole regiment in these two engagements became prisoners of war.  
    After being exchanged, the 7th Regiment (as it was first called) was re-organized 
    at Camp Mangum and became the 17th N.C.T.
    The organization was as follows:
    Col. W.F. Martin
    Lt. Col. John C. Lamb
    Major Thomas H. Sharp
    Adjutant Gilbert Elliott
    Sergeant Major Wilson G. Lamb
    A.Q.M. John S. Dancy
    Commissary L.D. Starle
    Surgeon R.K. Speed
    Company A, Captain William Biggs
    Company B, Captain James J. Leigh
    Company C, Captain William B. Wise
    Company D, Captain J.M.C. Luke
    Company E, Captain John L. Swain
    Company F, Captain George B. Daniel
    Company G, Captain Thomas J. Norman
    Company H, Captain Stewart J. Johnson
    Company I, Captain A.J.M. Whitehead
    Company K, Captain Howard Wiswall
    Company L, Captain Lucius J. Johnson
    The adjutant of the regiment, Gilbert Elliott, was detailed and under his 
    supervision the iron clad ram “Albemarle” which contributed so largely to the 
    capture of Plymouth, was constructed.  Lt. M.A. Cotton and Wilson G. Lamb 
    filled his place as adjutant of the regiment.  The 17th was assigned to service 
    in eastern North Carolina and performed picket duty watching the enemy at 
    Newbern, Washington and Plymouth.  In December, 1862, a detachment from 
    the regiment with a squadron of cavalry from Col. Evans’ regiment and Moore’s 
    Battery, all under Lt. Col. Lamb, captured Plymouth.  Another detachment drove 
    the enemy from Washington, N.C.  Many minor raids and surprises of enemy’s 
    outposts cleverly managed by Capt. William Biggs, Lts. Hardison, Grimes, 
    Cotton and others gave indication of what might be expected by the regiment 
    when it should have the opportunity of displaying its fighting qualities.
    In 1863 the regiment was brigaded with the 42nd , 50th, and 66th regiments and 
    placed under the command of Brig. General James G. Martin and stationed at 
    Fort Branch, Kinston and Wilmington and was thoroughly drilled and disciplined 
    by that splendid organizer and disciplinarian.
    On the 2nd February, 1864, the regiment under the command of Lt. Col. Lamb, 
    with the 42nd, Col. Brown, Parris Battery of six guns and a squad of cavalry, Lt. 
    Col. Jeffords, the whole under the command of Gen. J.G. Martin, attacked the 
    enemy’s forts at Newport.  After the capture of their block house and driving in or 
    their outposts, the command moved upon their forts and entrenchments.  The 17th 
    N.C. on the right assailed their columns in splendid style and pouring over the 
    works captured their guns and barracks.  The brave Capt. Leith of Company B was 
    killed.  The enemy fled in dismay over the river and did not stop until safely under 
    the guns of Fort Macon.  Ten pieces of artillery, 78 prisoners and a large quantity 
    of stores were the fruits of this victory.  The railroad bridge was burned and the 
    railroad occupied to prevent reinforcements from Beaufort and Fort Macon being 
    sent to Newbern.  Owing to the failure of General Pickett’s command about 
    Newbern, General Martin’s troops were withdrawn the next day.  In reference to 
    this battle, I quote from the official report of the Federal General L.N. Palmer 
    commanding at Newbern under the date of Feb. 7, 1864: “Martin performed his 
    part well”.
    The great campaign of 1864 was now about to open and the desperate struggle 
    to capture the capitol of the Confederacy to begin.  Grant crossed the Rapidan 
    on the 4th of May with his army of 140,000 men and moved over land upon 
    Richmond.  Butler with 30,000 men and a large naval armament, ascended the 
    James and occupied the Bermuda Hundreds Peninsular, threatening both 
    Richmond and Petersburg.  To meet this movement, the confederate forces 
    operating in North Carolina with some from South Carolina and Georgia were 
    concentrated at Richmond and Petersburg and placed under General (name cut 
    off).  On the 11th May, the 17th, (1,100 men), (illegible word) wing of the 42nd 
    and 66th, traveled through the streets of Petersburg with their bright bayonets 
    reflecting the morning sunlight to join in the mighty struggle then impending.  
    The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff on the 17th resulted in forcing Butler back upon the 
    fortified base at Bermuda Hundreds. On the 20th the Confederates were ordered 
    to assault this line of entrenchments.  Martin’s brigade was upon the extreme 
    Confederate right (the 17th N.C. was Martin’s right regiment) so it devolved upon 
    this brigade to lead the assault.  Then its thorough drilling and discipline proved 
    of greatest value.
    Emerging from the woods into the open field, with unbroken front and without a
    halt, at double quick step, its onset was not stopped until the enemy’s works 
    were won and the Confederate banner waved in triumph over Butler’s stronghold.  
    The charge was taken up along the line with equal gallantry and success and 
    Butler’s forces were driven to shelter under the protection of their gun boats in 
    the James and Appomattox.  Thus the “bottling up of Butler” so graphically 
    detailed by General Grant, was complete.
    The regiment suffered very heavily in this assault, losing about 175 officers and 
    men killed and wounded.  The brave and youthful Lt. Col. Lamb fell mortally 
    wounded, upon the enemy’s works and died a few days thereafter.
    Our fighting commissary Capt. L.D. Starke, now of Norfolk, Va., is entitled to 
    special notice, having sent his wagons to the rear and joined the boys in the 
    front, and participated in the battle with distinguished bravery.  A more gallant 
    soldier never lived.
    By the death of Col. Lamb, Major Sharp became lieutenant colonel and Captain 
    Lucius J. Johnson, Company L, became major.  A division was created for 
    General R.F. Hoke, composed of the brigades of Martin, Colquitt, Hagood and 
    Clingman and was ordered to report to General R.E. Lee.
    The battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania had been fought, and Grant in 
    his turning movement had ordered Sheridan’s cavalry supported by Warren’s 
    Corps to seize the heights at New Cold Harbor.
    “Anderson came up on the first of June with Kershaw’s and Hoke’s Division and 
    attacking Sheridan drove him back towards Old Cold Harbor, and secured the 
    heights around New Cold Harbor and Gaines’ Mill, which he at once proceeded 
    to fortify.”  The importance and value of this success can only be realized when 
    it is understood that had Grant’s order been carried out the Federals would have 
    occupied the ridge, and the Confederates, instead of defending, would have been 
    compelled to assail them, inasmuch as it was the key to the Confederate capitol.
    The great and decisive Battle of Cold Harbor, on the 3rd June, followed these 
    preliminary engagements and resulted in the bloodiest repulse of the Federals 
    known in the history of the war.  The 17th was upon the right of the line, and 
    supported Grandy’s (Va.) Battery.  In the front the enemy’s dead were so thickly 
    strewn that one could have walked on their bodies the whole extent.  In this battle, 
    Lt. M.A. Cotton and Private Benjamin Andrews greatly distinguished themselves, 
    bringing into our works the flag of a New York Regiment of Tyler’s Brigade.  The 
    enemy assaulted our lines several times and during the interval between the 
    assaults, this flag was brought in and temporarily planted upon our works. This
    incident unquestionably mislead the brave Hancock, who in his official report of 
    the battle claimed that his troops had carried our line, “having seen through his 
    field glasses the stars and stripes floating from the enemy’s works”.
    After the Battle of Cold Harbor General Grant transferred his army to the south 
    bank of the Appomattox and attempted a coup d’etat at Petersburg.
    General Lee on the 14th moved Hoke’s division near Drury’s Bluff in order that it 
    might be in a position to act as a reserve for his army or go to the support of 
    General Beauregard at Petersburg.  The Federals under General Smith had 
    advanced to within a few miles of Petersburg and had swept away all of our forces 
    in their front and the city was in imminent danger of capture. The brigades of 
    Hagood and Colquitt had been sent forward by rail and Martin with Clingman was 
    pressing forward by forced marches and arrived after midnight of the 15th and 
    commenced to entrench.
    The Confederates now numbered about 10,000 men behind their hastily entrenched 
    line.  The Federal General Smith had been reinforced by Burnside’s Corps which 
    came up at noon and raised the Federal forces to 66,000.
    The morning of the 16th was spent in skirmishing and artillery fire.  In the afternoon 
    General Hancock, now in command of the Federals, assaulted with all his forces 
    and just at sunset broke through General Wise’s line, whose troops went streaming 
    to the rear.  These brave men had fought unceasingly for two days and were much 
    exhausted and only yielded when completely overwhelmed.  
    As many of the men of our division as could be spared were hastily gathered from
    various points on the line and with the remnant of Wise’s brigade  being organized
    in a compact body were hurled upon the victorious Federals—the right wing of 
    the 17th joining in the attack.  The Federals were driven out and our line re-established.  
    Warren’s Corps had now come up, which increased the Federal army to four corps—
    numbering 90,000—and no reinforcements had reached General Beauregard from 
    General Lee.
    The battle re-opened on the 17th at noon.  Three times were the Federals repulsed 
    but as often resumed the offensive.  At dusk on the extreme right our lines were 
    again broken and partially restored by the timely arrival of Gracie’s brigade, the 
    conflict raging until 11:00.  During these engagements Beauregard’s engineers 
    had been at work selecting a line nearer the city—shorter and stronger, being the 
    line held during the siege.  After midnight our troops were withdrawn to this new 
    line.  Our skirmishers being left in the old works with the instructions to delay the 
    advance of the enemy in order to give us as much time as possible for our troops 
    to fortify the new line.  The writer of this had the honor of commanding the 
    skirmishers of his regiment and can testify to their brave determined resistance 
    in connection with other commands, which results in keeping back the enemy 
    until 3:00 p.m. of that day (the 18th).
    Fortunately, about this time, Field’s and Kershaw’s Divisions of General Lee’s 
    army arrived which swelled the Confederate forces to 20,000 against 90,000 of 
    the enemy’s.
    About 3:00 p.m. a general and final assault was given.  It was urged with as 
    great pertinacity and was resisted with equal determination as those preceding.  
    Before dark, it ended in a complete repulse of the Federals along the whole of 
    our front.  In these series of engagements, the regiment lost many of its most 
    valued officers and brave men.  Lts. Perry, Hobbs, Pope and others were among 
    the killed.
    The writer would desire to appear not ungrateful to his comrade and friend, Lt. 
    W.J. Hardison (now sheriff of Martin County) and at the risk of being personal, 
    wishes to place on record the act of his brave friend, who, at the risk of his own 
    life, sprang over our battlements during the enemy’s last assault and bore his 
    wounded friend in his arms to safety behind them.
    I am indebted to General Hagood’s recent address for much information as to 
    data, etc., of these battles and not with pleasure his closing words:  “I have 
    told the story of Petersburg without comment. The narrative itself is an immortelle 
    and I reverently lay lit upon the tom of Beauregard, the soldier.”
    Foiled in his attempt to carry Petersburg by storm, General grant now laid siege 
    to the city.  I cannot better describe the hardships endured by the brave soldiers
    than to make extracts fro the recent address of Captain Elliott.
    “At the beginning of the siege, June 20th, the report of Martin’s brigade occupying 
    Colquitt’s salient showed 2,200 for duty.  In September, when they were relieved, 
    the total force was 700, nothing but living skeletons.  Occupying the sharp salient,
    the work was enfiladed on both flanks by direct fire and the mortar shells came 
    incessantly down from above.  Every man was detailed every night either to go 
    on guard duty or to labor with pick and spade repairing works knocked down 
    during the day.  There was no shelter that summer from sun or rain.  No food 
    cold be cooked there but the scanty provisions were brought in bags on the 
    shoulders of men from the cook yard some miles distant.  The rations consisted 
    of one pound of pork and three pounds of meal for three days—no coffee, no sugar, 
    no vegetables, no grog, no tobacco, nothing but the bread and meat.  No wonder 
    that the list of officers was reduced to three captains and a few lieutenants with 
    but one staff officer (spared through God’s mercy), to this brigade of 700 skeletons.  
    But every feeble body contained an unbroken spirit and after the fall months later 
    came those who had not fallen into their graves or been disabled, returned to their 
    colors and saw them wave in victory in their last fight at Bentonsville.”
    In July, their beloved Brigade Commander Martin was transferred to North Carolina 
    and General Kirkland became his successor.  General Martin was greatly beloved 
    by his soldiers.  They had the most unbounded confidence in his military skill and 
    admiration for his personal bravery illustrated on every battlefield where they had 
    followed him.  In October, the brigade was sent to the Richmond front and 
    participated in the minor engagements of Henrico Court House, Charles City Road 
    and others, maintaining its high reputation for bravery.
    Advices having reached General Lee of the preparation by the Federals of a land 
    and naval expedition for the capture of Fort Fisher, Hoke’s division was sent to its
    relief.  The 17th and parts of the 42nd and 66th Regiments were the advance of 
    the division and reached Wilmington at 1:00 a.m. on December 24th, and, after 
    being lunched at the depot by the patriotic ladies of that city, took up the line of
    march for Fort Fisher, the 17th bivouacking there on the night of the same day.  
    The enemy having effected a landing at Fort Gatling on the ocean side, the 
    regiment was withdrawn from Fort Fisher on the morning of the 25th and moving 
    down the military road were ordered to attack Butler’s troops.  Norman’s company 
    in front, supported by the balance of the regiment, deployed as skirmishers, 
    assailed the enemy.  General Kirkland in his official report said:
    “Lt. Col. Sharp, 17th N.C., pressed close upon and drove their skirmish line 
    back upon their main body, which was covered by the guns of at least thirty 
    men of war lying broadside to the beach.  Capt. Norman, Company G, deserves 
    special notice.”
    A lieutenant and ten men were captured.  The regiment lost three men killed 
    and twenty wounded in this engagement.
    Before the arrival of the balance of our division, Butler had re-embarked his troops 
    and thus ended the powder ship fiasco and the military career of this beast and 
    modern Falstaff—he being relieved by General Grant.
    The ease with which this land and naval attack was repulsed undoubtedly created 
    in the mind of General Bragg and undue feeling of security.  Not anticipating a 
    renewal of the attack on Fisher, unfortunately the division was withdrawn to 
    On the afternoon of the 14th January, whilst the regiments of the division were 
    on dress parade in Wilmington, the enemy had reappeared before Fort Fisher 
    and were landing their forces, and before the division could be transported to 
    Sugar Loaf, the bulk of the Federal forces had landed and , pushing that night 
    across the peninsula, constructed a line of field works from the ocean to Cape 
    Fear, thus cutting off all land communication between Hoke’s division and Fort 
    Fisher.  This line of works was held by a division commanded by General Paine 
    and another brigade commanded by General Joseph C. Abbott, who afterward 
    misrepresented North Carolina in the United State Senate.
    At 4:00 on the afternoon of the 15th, the skirmishers of Kirkland’s Brigade, which 
    was on the left of our line, under the command of Lt. Lamb, was ordered to drive 
    back the enemy’s pickets to enable Generals Bragg and Hoke to make a 
    reconnaissance of the enemy’s position.  The effort was only partially successful, 
    owing to several of the enemy’s shops which were lying close to the enemy’s 
    shore, having opened a terrible enfilading fire upon our skirmishers as soon as 
    they appeared on the open sand beach; but further to the right, where the small 
    undergrowth was, there was some protection and the enemy’s skirmish line was 
    driven in and their rifle pits occupied, giving opportunity for an examination of the 
    enemy’s position.  The writer recalls the calm and heroic bearing of the modest 
    and gallant Hoke who withdrew from the reconnaissance with two bullet holes 
    through his coat.  For reasons satisfactory, I presume, to our commanders, no 
    assault was made, notwithstanding at this moment the enemy had withdrawn 
    Abbott’s Brigade and a portion of Wright’s brigade to join in the assault upon Fort 
    Fisher, which was then in progress.
    The troops at the time in our front did not number more than 2,500, defending a 
    line of a mile in extent. That evening Fort Fisher, after a most gallant defense, 
    surrendered and the last port of the Confederacy was closed forever.
    Several small engagements ascending closely to the dignity of battles followed 
    the fall of Fort Fisher, in all of which the enemy were repulsed.  The rapid advance 
    of Sherman from the south made the evacuation of Wilmington a mere question 
    of time and on the 22nd February Kirkland’s brigade, forming the rear guard of our 
    army, marched sadly and leisurely through the streets of our “City by the Sea”
     and Wilmington passed under Federal control.
    Continuing our retreat up the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, the army, after 
    crossing the North River, halted for the night.  The enemy’s cavalry pursued up to 
    this point, and attempted by sudden dash to prevent the burning of the bridge over 
    the railroad.  They were promptly encountered by our rear guard under the brave 
    Captain C.G. Elliott and were repulsed, sustaining heavy loss.  The next day the 
    march was resumed and without further fighting the army reached Goldsboro a 
    few days thereafter.
    And now the closing scenes of the bloody drama of the Civil War was to enacted 
    upon the soil of North Carolina.  Goldsboro became the objective point of three 
    armies.  Sherman with 70,000 men was advancing northward.  Schofield with his 
    army corps of 21,000 raised the Federal forces to 30,000 at Wilmington’ and Cox’s 
    division arriving at Newbern increased Palmer’s command to 15,000.  These different 
    armies aggregating 115,000 men, if allowed to concentrate, would make short work 
    of the Confederate forces whose total, including the remnants of Hood’s army, did 
    not reach 20,000 men.
    The hope of successful resistance was indeed forlorn and the only chance of any 
    success was to fight these armies separately.
    The column under General Cox, advancing from Newbern, was encountered near 
    Wise’s Forks on the 8th March by Hoke’s Division, reinforced by the 67th and 68th 
    North Carolina, and the Junior and Senior reserves.  Leaving at midnight their 
    entrenchments along the line of a creek, Kirkland’s Hagood’s and Colquitt’s 
    brigades under the guide of Col. Nethercutt of the 66th N.C. (who was familiar with 
    the country) found themselves at day down on the flank and rear of the enemy and 
    forming line of battle in echelon of brigades, Kirkland’s leading, burst upon the 
    surprised enemy and drove them in rapid flight to the rear, capturing 1,000 prisoners 
    and four pieces of artillery. The enemy had been driven nearly a mile when Palmer’s 
    division appeared upon our right flank.  The 17th was on our extreme right and its 
    advance having thus become arrested, immediately changed front to meet the enemy 
    and not knowing their forces, boldly charged the division and drove back that part of 
    it in our front, wounding their commander, General Palmer.  Finding itself overlapped 
    right and left, it deployed as skirmishers with both wings and refused, and held the 
    position until reinforcements were brought up under the personal command of 
    General Hoke, and thus had the honor of preventing the flanking of our army.
    Later a congratulatory order from General Kirkland was read to the regiment on 
    dress parade at Goldsboro complimenting it on the splendid achievement.
    The enemy proceeded to fortify their position and on the 10th, General Bragg sought
     to employ the same strategy in again attacking the enemy.  It was contemplated 
    by reconnaissance in force to develop the enemy’s extreme left and renew our 
    turning movement of two days before.  Kirkland’s brigade was assigned this duty, 
    supported  by the other brigades of the division.  
    Our skirmishers were thrown out, supported by the brigade, and engaging the 
    enemy’s pickets, drove them rapidly before us.  The enemy’s works were developed 
    and, not knowing that it was intended that we should not assault, rushed upon the 
    works under the heaviest fire which we had ever received.  Notwithstanding the 
    brigade had lost one half of 
    Its number, it reached the abattis and slashing and held its position until ordered 
    to withdraw.
    In this assault the heroic Captain Elliott added another gem to the diadem of his 
    military fame.  The gallant Lt. Grimes, distinguished in many battles, had been 
    desperately wounded and became a prisoner.  This is the only battle in which the 
    regiment was ever repulsed, and even here felt that if it had received support its 
    colors would have been planted upon the enemy’s works.  
    Sherman having reached Averasboro, it became necessary to concentrate all 
    available troops in his front and Hoke’s Division was withdrawn and sent by rail to 
    Smithfield depot and marched thence via Smithfield to Bentonsville.  The army of 
    General Sherman was moving from Averasboro to Goldsboro upon two roads 
    running parallel and about ten miles apart.  Our division swelled our army to about 
    15,000 men against Sherman’s 70,000. 
    On the morning of the 19th Jefferson C. Davis’ and Slocum’s Corps, numbering 
    about 35,000 men, were attacked by our troops and driven back a considerable 
    distance, three guns and nine hundred prisoners falling into our hands.
    The other corps of Sherman’s army came up and were thrown on our left flank 
    which had become much advanced in the battle of the previous day.  In consequence 
    of this movement it became necessary to change the position of our army.  The 
    brigade of Kirkland deployed as skirmishers, held the enemy in check while the 
    entire army changed front, and thereafter occupied a position in the center and 
    joined in the repulse of the many and furious charges of the Federals.  
    In this battle, Captain William Biggs, Company A, was greatly distinguished for 
    his intrepid bravery. The brigade received the special commendations of General 
    Jos. E. Johnson for its valued services in this engagement.
    Thus closes the volume of the bloody record of the 17th North Carolina troops and 
    heir brave companions of associated commands.
    The army was withdrawn, retiring through Raleigh and Chapel Hill and was 
    surrendered to General Sherman at Centre Church, Randolph County, at the final 
    Supplementing this record, it would not be amiss to state that the flag of the 17th 
    N.C.T., saved at the surrender by Private Abel Thomas, of Company A, was unfurled 
    at the unveiling of the confederate monument at Raleigh on the 20th May, 1895, and 
    beneath its tattered and bullet-riddled folds the veteran survivors marched to do honor
    to their heroic comrades.
    Wilson G. Lamb
    Company F
    17th N.C.T.
    Transcribed by Christine Spencer, June 2008

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