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
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
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
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 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
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
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
Transcribed by Christine Spencer, June 2008
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