In Their Own Words
23rd Regiment N.C. Infantry
(13th Regiment N.C. State Troops)
Bits of War History
Raleigh News and Observer
Sunday, April 11, 1897
Transcriber’s note: One man’s name in this article, Capt. Blacknell was spelled variously
Blacknell and Blacknall, for consistency it is here spelled Blacknell.
Upon the secession of North Carolina on May 20, 1861, the convention passed an ordinance
authorizing the raising and equipping of ten regiments of infantry, to be designated “State
Troops”. The said regiments would be numbered from one to ten inclusive in the order of their
organization. The enlistment in the same was for the duration of the war. Subsequently, the
raising of other regiments, as volunteers for the term of twelve months was authorized, these
to be, in like manner, numbered from one up in the order of their organization. This distinction
between “State Troops” and volunteers was kept up until the re-organization under the General
Conscript Act went into effect on May 17, 1862 when the order of numbering the regiments
was changed by adding the volunteer regiments as originally numbered to the “State Troops”
by which the First Regiment of Volunteers became the 11th, and the others, in like manner,
ten numbers beyond those they first bore. The re-arrangements and changes made the old
13th, the 23rd.
Under the ordinances referred to, ten companies from the following counties viz.: Richmond,
Anson, Montgomery, Mecklenburg, Lincoln, Gaston, Catawba and three from Granville were
entered in the official records of the adjutant general at Raleigh as the 13th Regiment of
The several companies were ordered to rendezvous at Garysburg, Northampton Co., and the
line officers there directed to hole elections on Wednesday, July 10, 1861. At the election,
so held, John F. Hoke of Lincoln, at the time being adjutant general of the state, was elected
colonel; John W. Leak of Richmond was elected lieutenant colonel; and David H. Christie at
that time of Granville Co., but originally from Virginia, was elected major; Isaac J. Young of
Granville was elected first adjutant of the regiment.
During the war, the office of colonel of the regiment was succeeded to, respectively, by D.H.
Christie, commissioned May 10, 1862; Charles C. Blacknell, Aug. 15, 1863; William S. Davis
of Warren, a transfer from the 12th N.C., who was commissioned in October of 1864.
That of lieutenant colonel was succeeded to by Robert D. Johnston of Lincoln, commissioned
in May of 1862 who was promoted to brigadier general in July of 1863.
That of major by Ed. J. Christian of Montgomery in May of 1862 and Charles C. Blacknell in
May of 1862—more than a year before he became colonel of the regiment.
The office of adjutant, subsequent to original organization was held respectively by Vines E.
Turner of Granville, commissioned in May of 1862; James French of Yadkin in June of 1863;
Thomas F. Powell of Richmond, in July of 1863; and by Lawrence T. Everitt of Richmond in
May of 1864.
The first quartermaster of the regiment was Edwin G. Cheatham of Granville, commissioned
in July of 1861; succeeded by W.I. Everett of Richmond in the spring of 1862; by Vines E.
Turner in June of 1863.
The first commissary was James F. Johnston of Lincoln. The first chaplain was Theophilus
W. Moore, a Methodist, of Person, who was later in the war succeeded by Rev. Barry, a
Baptist of Lincoln.
The names of Robert J. Hicks of Granville, surgeon; Dr. Caldwell of Mecklenburg, assistant
surgeon; William F. Gill of Granville, sergeant major; complete as far as we know, accurately,
the field and staff of the regiment.
The companies of the regiment and their chiefs were as follows:
Company A, Captain William F. Marilee, Anson
Company B, Captain George W. Seagle of Lincoln
Company C, Captain C.J. Cochran of Montgomery
Company D, Captain Louis H. Webb of Richmond
Company E, Captain James H. Horner of Granville
Company F, Captain M.F. McCorkle, Catawba
Company G, Captain Charles C. Blacknell, Granville
Company H, Captain E.M. Farris, Gaston
Company I, Captain Rufus Amis, Granville
Company K, Captain Robert D. Johnston, Lincoln
On Wednesday, July 17, 1861, Col. Hoke, with seven companies of the regiment, left the
“camp of instruction” at Garysburg for Virginia, leaving three companies viz: C. D. and H,
behind because of sickness (measles) among the men. These seven companies left
Manassas Junction on the 21st July while the battle was raging but took no part therein as
they were not ordered to the field. On the 5th August, the three remaining companies
under the command of Major Christie broke camp at Garysburg after several days delay
at Richmond, for want of transport, they reached their destination and joined the regiment
which was then in quarters in Camp Wigfall near the late battlefield.
For several weeks they encamped at this place and the regiment suffered exceedingly from
sickness. By the surgeons’ statement, sick call at one time numbered 240 while 57 cases
were typhoid fever.
From camp to camp, the command was moved until it went into winter quarters on Bull Run
in December, where it remained with only such changes in position as the exigencies of the
situation in outpost and picket duty required until the 18th March, 1862.
Meantime, the regiment had been incorporated into a brigade with the 5th N.C.S.T., Col.
Duncan K. McRae; 20th Georgia, Col. Smith; 24th Virginia, Col. Jubal A. Early; and the 38th
Virginia of which brigade Col. Early, being the ranking officer was place in command.
In the fall and winter of 1861, numerous changes in the officers of the regiment had taken place
which perhaps it is not material to know in detail. The winter was a severe one and great was
the mortality among the troops from pneumonia, typhoid fever and other diseases.
The old camps were abandoned on the 8th March, 1862 ad at daylight the regiment moved out,
throwing away tents and camp equipment; sum total of the first day’s march was a mile and a
half from the starting point, progress being checked by confusion of orders. Early was made
acting major general in command of the 4th Division. Not until sunset of the 9th did the grand
columns move again, reaching Manassas Junction that night.
An immense amount of property was destroyed as the army, commanded by General Joseph E.
Johnston, was to change base to the peninsula. A very carnival, restrained to some extent by the
power of military discipline, reigned that night at the Junction. The soldiers got rich with plunder;
depots of supplies and the express office were filled and barrels of whiskey opened at the head,
poured their contents in streams upon the ground. A rough soldier was observed with six canteens
around his neck, as if he “wept such waste to see”, actually wading in a puddle of the stuff while in
a ditty, tuneless but gay, he whistled his regrets over departed spirits.
The army at Manassas, numbering less than 50,000, was confronted by a host of more than 100,000.
General McClellan fell upon the expedient of transferring his troops by way of the Potomac and
Chesapeake Bay to Yorktown, anticipating and easy victory over the small army of Magruder. This
move on the part of McClellan, though conducted in great secrecy, was not long hidden from the
eagle eye of Johnston; hence the retreat from Manassas and his resolve to reinforce Magruder and
take command of the entire force at Yorktown.
With the other commands of the regiment reaching Yorktown on the 8th April, 1862, a stop being
made on the south side of the Rappahannock, of several weeks duration, to await the full
development of McClellan’s plans. At Yorktown, the trying duty of service in the trenches began.
On the 17th, after nine days behind the breast works, the boys had their first exposure to cannon
fire and bomb shells. The picket line was situated between opposing batteries, three quarters of
a mile apart and more than one shell exploded in an uncomfortable proximity to them.
When the first shot was fired, directly at the position occupied by the 23rd Regiment, this writer
was on duty in the rifle pits as a sergeant in command, some 200 yards in front of the breastworks.
Well I remember the sensation produced by that first shell that fanned the cheeks of the innocent
braves who occupied those rifle pits and particularly the moving effect wrought upon a certain
tongue tied individual whose deportment now as contracted with previous pretension presented a
striking consistency with the spirit of the ancient ballad:
“Naught to him possesses greater charms
Upon a Sunday or holiday
Than a snug chat of war and war’s alarm,
While people fight at Turkey far away.”
With a precipitate bound, the tongue tied warrior made tracks for the breastworks, exclaiming in
answer to threats of court martial “dam ‘fi come here to be hulled out this way when I cannot see
who is ashootin’ at me”. Using the term “hulled” instead of shelled as synonyms although he hardly
thought so at the time. At a period a little later in the service, such conduct would have been severely
punished. But if “damned ‘fi” ever got more than a sharp reprimand for not immediately returning to his
post, we were not informed of it. He was killed at Gettysburg.
The term of service at Yorktown was not all irksome nor was it marked by occasional diversions from
the treadmill routine of duty. About the quaint old town were many points of interest that awakened
patriotic contemplation. Soldiers would, as relaxation from duty, repair to the spot, marked by a
marble slab, half mile from town, where Cornwallis gave up his sword to Washington; and, standing
on that consecrated ground, they would breathe of the prayer that American’s second revolution, as
did the first, would have a happy ending.
On the night of the 3rd May, Yorktown was evacuated. Twelve miles out in the suburbs of the ancient
town of Williamsburg, the battle of the 5th May occurred, rendered necessary by the too eager pursuit
of the enemy, from a point on the road several miles beyond the town towards Richmond. Early’s
brigade—now composed of the 5th and 23rd N.C., 24th Virginia and 2nd Florida battalions—was
ordered back to aid Longstreet in resisting the further attack.
At the moment of our reaching the field, the bloody drama was going on in full view of the town.
Much was said at the time, and afterwards, of the part the 23rd Regiment took in that battle. The
writer can only give facts from a personal point of view as recalled by him; a private in the ranks,
conscious, too, of a liability to err in an understanding of the facts.
The design was a charge by Early’s brigade against a strong position of Hancock’s brigade on the
enemy’s right. When drawn up in line for the forward movement, General Early rode the length of
the brigade using in that find toned voice of his, something like the words: “Boys, you must do your
The line had steadily advanced 100 yards or more when a body of thick forest trees and undergrowth
confronted the 23rd, into which the regiment marched, the line at once becoming irregular and more
or less jumbled by reason of the natural obstacles to its progress.
At this moment, General D.H. Hill appeared, mounted, in our front, and saying sharply to the men,
now confused in ranks, and each one commanding his comrades, “Hush your infernal noise”. In an
instant, the right wing of the brigade, having greatly the advantage of ground in marching, as we
believe, and thus coming first in view of the enemy battery, received their galling fire and were hurled
back by a fury of shot and shell irresistible by mortal force. The 5th N.C. made a gallant but fruitless
charge, losing many valuable lives and the 23rd did not support it at the critical moment. That moment
was the briefest possible span—like a sea wave against a sea wall, the charge bounding back instantly.
Col. D.K. McRae, of the 5th N.C., alleges that the 23rd was inexcusably derelict in duty and that its
column halted the regiment, in those words, without authority. Col. Hoke, on the contrary,
maintained that General Early “gave the order to halt”. Whether the command of “halt” or “lie down”
was given to the 23rd, a second sooner than the batteries opening on the assaulting columns,
would be hard to tell For the action of the 23rd in halting and lying down appeared to be about the
same moment a portion of the assaulting force was rushing pell mell back upon its lines in the
woods. It was all the work of a few minutes and the brigade, chagrined at defeat and mourning the
loss of many gallant spirits, fell back in order.
Only four or five men in the 23rd were wounded and this by random bullets. General Joseph E.
Johnston, in a conversation with the writer several years after the war, placed the responsibility for
this charge upon General D.H. Hill. He said he did not order it made but permitted it, only, however,
after repeated requests from General Hill. The enemy seemed content to hold his own without much
further effort to advance his lies as the shades of night came on. During the night, and the early dawn
of the 6th, the grand retreat resumed.
The 6th May found the army without a mouthful to eat as the wagons had gone far ahead towards
Richmond. On the evening of the 9th, the Chickahominy was reached and here the wagons were
overtaken much to the delight of the troops. On that day, while bivouacked on the banks of the river,
the reorganization of the companies in the 23rd Regiment took place and new regimental officers
were elected as follows: Daniel H. Christie, colonel; Ed. J. Christian, former lieutenant of Company
C, major; Vines E. Turner, formerly lieutenant of Company G, adjutant.
The Battle of Seven Pines was fought on the 31st May, 1862. Here the 23rd Regiment received its
first real “baptism of fire”. The attack was made by General Johnston with a view of capturing or
destroying two divisions of the enemy which had been thrown forward to the south side of the
Chickahominy. The brunt of the fight was borne by D.H. Hill’s division to which the 23rd belonged.
Samuel Garland, Jr., of Virginia, now commanded the brigade. The four brigades of Garland, Rodes,
Anderson and Rains stormed the enemy camp and captured everything as it stood with twelve pieces
of artillery while General Casey’s headquarters and official papers fell into the hands of the brave
At this point of the attack, the victory was certainly complete and if equal progress had been made
to the right and left of the center, then might General Johnston’s anticipation have been fully realized
in the capture or destruction of the two divisions, with which purpose in view, as already indicated,
the attack had been made.
It is not our intention to attempt a studied description of any battle, nor indeed, is it essential to the
purpose and limited province of this sketch. Besides, it is a difficult matter, even from the testimony
of eye witnesses and participants and with complete data in hand, to describe the position of any
one regiment relative to that of another in battle. And again, with reference to true Confederate
soldiers, what is said of the fighting qualities and achievements of one command may be said
of another, for indeed they were “Romans all.”
We would, to compass our wishes, recall the scenes of each battle and impart to them a descriptive
glow that might in some degree at least measure with the grave reality at the time they were enacted.
Time inevitably casts a dimension over any event, however dear to the hearts its memories may be,
and we cannot hope at the best, to give those scenes more than a feeble substance of what they really
were. We would, were it practicable, to give the experiences in “words that burn” to the high born
purposes and resolves that stirred the hearts of those gallant spirits who fell in the discharge of their
At Seven Pines, the natural conditions were anything but favorable to an attack of the enemy. Heavy
rains had fallen and the earth everywhere was sloppy and boggy. On the firing of three big guns as a
signal, the line of attack moved out and across the field of wheat towards the enemy. After crossing
the field, the 23rd found in its front a swamp thick with undergrowth and tangled vines and about waist
deep in water. At this point was met the fire from the opposing batteries, supported by muskets and
many of our boys fell in the water. Some, doubtless, were drowned whose wounds were not necessarily
Beyond this swamp was encountered a network of abattis—hundreds of trees with the ends of
limbs pointed and sharpened. Here many a brave boy met his death without flinching; the right,
under Huger, the center under D.H. Hill and Longstreet and the left under G.W. Smith were
pressing steadily forward. A Northern writer, from this point of view, describes the scene thus:
“Our shots tore their ranks wide open and shattered them asunder in a manner frightful to witness
but they closed up and came on as steadily as English veterans. When they got within 400 yards,
we closed our case shot and opened on them with canister. Such destruction I never witnessed.
At each discharge great gaps were made in their ranks…..but they at once closed and came
steadily on, never halting; never wavering; right through the woods, over the fence, through the field,
right up to our guns and, sweeping everything before them, captured our artillery and cut our whole
division to pieces.”
At every other point than the center, the attack seems to have been barren of any material results.
Starting in well, yet the assault on the enemy’s left flank failed because, by reason of the swollen
conditions of eh water, General Huger was not able to move his division to the proper place. At
the same time, the difficulties that impeded the advance of General G.W. Smith were scarcely
less formidable and he failed to break the enemy’s right flank though desperate and bloody
efforts were made.
According to the plan of attack, Generals D.H. Hill and Longstreet assailed the center of the
enemy’s line of entrenchment and it was at this point—notwithstanding the boggy conditions
of the ground and the great impediment of tangled undergrowth, that the attack was successful
and the flight of the enemy continuous from one end of the line of works upon another for a
distance of two miles, when night put an end to the conflict.
Among the killed at Seven Pines was Major Edwin J. Christian, elected at the reorganization about
two weeks before; Captain C.C. Blacknell of Company G, then become major of the regiment; Isaac
J. Young, succeeding to be captain of Company G.
Major Christian was a native of Montgomery Co.—a gallant soldier, while in all relations of life he
had borne a high and honorable name.
Captain Ambrose Scarbrough of Company C, though written as among the killed in battle, fell on
the afternoon preceding while leading a reconnoitering party. A native also of Montgomery County,
his career had been alike honorable in peace and war.
The officers wounded in the battle were Lt. Col. R.D. Johnson, Captain William Johnston, Capt. I.J.
Young, Lt. McDonald. Lts. Luria and Knott, both of Granville County, were killed. Lt. Col. Johnston
was wounded in the arm, face and neck and had his horse killed under him, and was shot down
within fifty feet of where the breast works and artillery were.
From diverse causes, sickness mainly, the regiment was able to go into action at Seven Pines with
only 225 men, according to the statement of Capt. A.T. Cole, who commanded Company D after the
After Seven Pines, the boys went into camp near Richmond and here several weeks were passed
in drilling. The Federal line of battle stretched along the Chickahominy a distance of nine miles.
The right wing rested upon the northern banks of the stream and extending a short distance above
the village of Mechanicsville six miles from Richmond.
The fighting at Mechanicsville on the evening of the 26th June opened the ball that resulted in the
demoralization of McClellan’s forces and his rapid retreat to the shelter of his gun boats on the
James River. According to General Lee’s plan of attack, Jackson threw his force upon the right
flank of the enemy while A.P. and D.H. Hill pressed them vigorously at other points. Their breast
works were soon carried and the enemy fell back one mile to a stronger line of works from which
position D.H. Hill failed to dislodge them.
Night came on but an artillery contest was still maintained until a late hour. Next day at dawn, the
Confederates renewed the attack. After a bloody conflict of two hours, the enemy, realizing that
they mighty Stonewall had gotten in their rear, abandoned their position, destroying ammunition,
etc., and fell back to a stronger line of works.
In fact, they had three lines of battle here, each protected by breast works extending from a point
on the left near Gaines’ Mill to a point on the right beyond Cold Harbor. In the attack of this position,
the division of D.H. Hill—to which the 23rd belonged—was the first to become engaged. When battle
became general, and the whole of Jackson’s and Longstreet’s corps had gone into action, a charge
was ordered and the first line of works was carried—then the second line and then the third line and
now McClellan’s whole army was on the wing and running for dear life. McClellan’s army fell back
on Malvern Hill, a strongly entrenched position where he managed to concentrate his forces and
post his 300 pieces of artillery.
Here again the division of D.H. Hill opened the fight by a vigorous attack upon the enemy’s right.
Through some misunderstanding, the attack upon the left was not promptly made and from the fact
the enemy drew reinforcements from their left and threw them over to the right to oppose General
Hill’s advance. The fire from the gunboats in the river at the same time was directed so as to guard
against probable approach on their left. The first line was broken and gave way before the daring
troops of Hill’s division; but, not being properly supported to meet the accumulative odds against
them, the position gained had to be abandoned.
Magruder’s attack upon the enemy’s lasted until near the close of the day, and though desperate
efforts were made at this point to break the Federal line, no material advantage was gained when
darkness closed the struggle.
The brave Confederates had been baffled but not beaten. Resting upon their arms that night, they
intended to renew the attack next morning but during the night the enemy had stolen away leaving
the dead and wounded on the field. They had sought and found protection under the powerful fleet
of gun boats at Harrison’s Landing. The greatest loss sustained by the 23rd in the seven days of
fighting was at Malvern Hill.
According to Captain Cole of Company D, the number of killed in this battle was about thirty; the
“roster” records the loss not so large; the number of wounded by Captain Cole was estimated at
about 75. The number of the regiment engaged in this closing fight was between 150 and 175,
officers and privates.
St. Major W.F. Gill of Granville was killed at Malvern Hill; Captain Cole of Company D and Lt.
Munday of Company K were wounded; Adjutant Turner of Granville was wounded in the fight at
Gaines Mill; and Captain Young of the same company was wounded at Malvern Hill.
After Malvern Hill, several weeks of quiet were passed near Richmond. No further movement was
attempted by McClellan on the Peninsula.
The next movement of the Washington government was to appoint John Pope to take command of
the army. He began his preparations of threatening Richmond from the north which change of tactics
was promptly apprehended by General Lee. Of Jackson’s flank movement by which he managed to
strike Pope at a point where he least expected it, and after a fight at Cedar Run put him to flight,
winning large trophies and capturing many prisoners, it is unnecessary to speak. This initial victory
over Pope led Washington to take measures to concentrate all available Federal force on the upper
Rappahannock with which to reinforce Pope.
Meanwhile, General Lee, leaving D.H. Hill’s division behind to watch the movements of McClellan,
marched on the 13th August with the main body of his army to Gordonsville, north of Richmond.
Hill’s command followed in the latter part of August, reaching Manassas only in time to view the
green plan strewn with blue and grey dead, the living Federals having fled in confusion to Washington.
Such was the situation which marked the result of the three days fight known as Second Manassas.
The army rested at Frederick City, Maryland from the sixth to the tenth of September. The first
engagement on Maryland soil was at South Mountain Gap on the main road from Frederick City to
Boonsborough along which the Federal army was directed to march. Here, D.H. Hill’s division, on the
14th, successfully held in check the main body of McClellan’s army, thus enabling Jackson to march
to the Virginia fight and capture Harper’s Ferry while Lee was conducting his troops preparatory to the
coming struggle at Sharpsburg.
In the action at South Mountain, known in Southern history as the Battle of Boonsborough, the 23rd
Regiment bore a prominent part and it was in this fight that General Garland—the brigade
commander—was killed. It is well to refer to the point of this battle as furnished by General D.H.
Hill to the Century Magazine in May of 1886 for facts and observations.
“In the retirement of Lee’s army from Frederick to Hagerstown and Boonsborough, my division
constituted the rear guard. It consisted of five brigades (Wise’s brigade being left behind) and after
the arrival at Boonsborough, was entrusted with guarding the wagon trains and pieces of artillery
belonging to the whole army”.
It was to save Lee’s trains and artillery that the battle was fought and not to prevent the advance
of McClellan, as was believed in the North. General Hill says:
“My divison was very small and was embarrassed with the wagon trains and artillery of the whole
army save such as Jackson had taken with him. It must be remembered that the army now before
McClellan had been constantly marching and fighting since the 25th June. The order excusing bare
foot men from marching into Maryland sent thousands to the rear. Divisions that had become
smaller then brigades were when the fighting had begun; brigades had become smaller than regiments
and regiments had become smaller than companies.”
On the morning of the 14th,General Hill had fixed his lines of battle: “The firing had aroused General
Garland and his men were under arms when he reached the pike. I explained the situation briefly to
him to sweep through the woods, reach the road and hold it at all regards, as the safety of Lee’s line
of march depended upon its being held. He went off in high spirits and I never saw him again.”
Garland’s force was five regiments of infantry and Bondurant’s battery of artillery, his infantry force
being a little less than 1,000 men, all North Carolinians. The five regiments were:
5th, placed on the right
12th, placed as a support
23rd, posted behind a low stone wall on the left of the 5th
Then came the 20th and 30th
From the nature of the ground, and the duty to be performed, the regiments were not in contact with
each other and the 30th was 25 yards to the left of the 20th.
Fifty skirmishers of the 5th N.C. soon encountered the 23rd Ohio, deployed as skirmishers under Lt.
Col. R.B. Hayes, afterwards President of the United States. The action began at 9:00 am between
Cox’s Division and Garland’s Brigade.
Lt. Col. Ruffin of the 13th N.C., later judge on the Supreme Court bench of this state, was with
General Garland when the latter received his fatal wound. Upon the fall of Garland, Col. McRae
of the 5th N.C. Regiment assumed command and ordered the two regiments on the left to close
to the right. This order was not received or found impossible of execution. The main attack was
on the 23rd N.C. behind the stone wall (Col. Blacknell, its commander, was then on sick furlough.)
General Hill said: “The Federals had a plunging fire upon this regiment (23rd) from the crest of the
hill, higher than the wall, and only about fifty yards from it.”
The 12th Ohio made a charge upon Bondurant’s Battery and drew it off, failing, however, to capture it.
The 30th Ohio advanced directly upon the stone wall in their front while a regiment moved upon the
23rd N.C. on each flank (a hot position for the 23rd). The result was, General Hill said: “Some of the
30th Ohio forced through a break in the wall and bayonets and clubbed muskets were used freely for
a few minutes. Garland’s Brigade, demoralized by his death and by the confusion, retreated behind
the mountain, leaving some 200 prisoners of the 5th, 23rd and 20th N.C. in the hands of the enemy.
The brigade was too roughly handled to be of any further use that day.”
A half hour afterwards, according to General Hill, G.B. Anderson of N.C. arrived with a “small but fine
body of men” and made an effort to rescue the ground lost by Garland’s brigade “but failed and met
a severe repulse”. The loss of Garland’s brigade is put by General Hill at killed, wounded and missing
On the 17th September, the Battle of Sharpsburg, as it is known in Southern history, was fought. Col.
D.K. McRae of the 5th N.C. was in command of the brigade. The division of D.H. Hill and Longstreet
bravely held the center and the right in this action. The 23rd Regiment here was able to muster but few
men, comparatively, many members of the regiment being barefooted and absolutely unable to keep up
with the rapid march over the rough and rocky roads. For several days, the ration supply for the boys
had been roasting ears, hardly ground at that .
At one point in the fight, the brigade wavered and it occurred through a mistake or an order from some
one unauthorized to give it. When the line was advanced and driving the enemy before it, a voice was
heard: “cease firing—you are shooting your own men”. At the same moment several hands being seen
along the line waving as if to indicate a sign for retreat. At this critical juncture, the fire of the enemy in
front increased at it the brigade moved back as a consequence. No explanation was ever known for the
mistake, ruse or whatever it was.
The loss of the regiment in the two battles at South Mountain and Sharpsburg was about 45 privates
and non commissioned officers wounded and 15 or 20 killed; and of commissioned officers from three
to six wounded, none killed. Assistant Surgeon Jordan was killed at South Mountain.
General Lee awaited a revival of the attack the next day but the enemy declined to advance and learning
that reinforcements were coming to McClellan who had been put in command again after Pope’s defeat
at Manassas, General Lee withdrew his forces and re-crossed the Potomac on the night of the 18th
September, 1862. After returning to Virginia, the army of Lee remained for some time spread out in
camp from Martinsburg to Winchester in a country noted for productive farms, and the work of
recruiting began. The effective force of the army was soon increased and the 23rd got its share by
enlistment of conscripts and return of the sick and wounded.
After resting for a period of weeks along the banks of the Opequan, the regiment moved by rapid
marches to meet the enemy at Fredericksburg. The part it took at Fredericksburg was not very
After the death of Garland, the brigade was commanded by General Alfred Iverson, a Georgian.
After the battle of Sharpsburg, and while around Fredericksburg, General Rhodes commanded the
At Chancellorsville, the regiment was on the extreme left and was conspicuous in turning the enemy’s
right and accomplished Hooker’s defeat. Its loss was heavy at Chancellorsville. Its major, C.C.
Blacknell, was wounded here and fell into the hands of the enemy and was confined in the Old Capitol
prison in Washington but was exchanged in time to return to the army before Gettysburg. The loss
in the 23rd at Chancellorsville was officially reported by General Rhodes as 173 killed, wounded and
missing. Among the killed was Captain Jas. S. Knight of Rockingham, Richmond County.
In the Gettysburg campaign, no part of the army acted a more important part than did the 23rd N.C.
It was engaged in the fight the first day at Gettysburg in which the brigade lost 55% in killed and
wounded. The loss in this regiment was so great the first day that it could not be taken into action
as a regiment on the succeeding day. The regiment was left without a commissioned officer, all
being among the killed and wounded and there remained but one non commissioned officer and 16
privates. The colonel, D.H. Christie, was mortally wounded. Lt. Col. R.D. Jordan was badly wounded
through the lower jaw and neck. Captain Baskerville of Company G was killed on the field. Major
Blacknell on the first day of Gettysburg was disabled by a ball that entered his mouth, knocking out
several teeth and passing back through the neck. On the retreat to Virginia, he was captured, his
terrible wound forcing him to stop to rest at a farm house. Colonels Christie and Johnston were
also captured in an ambush but were rescued by Confederate cavalry and taken to Williamsport.
The former died on the way to Winchester. Blacknell managed to escape from his captors but was
taken again the next morning to Fort McHenry where, with other officers, he was forced to draw lots
for the fate of being shot in retaliation for a Federal major shot in Richmond. Major Blacknell drew
the unlucky number and was condemned to execution but for some reason was spared, then
transferred to Johnson Island where he spent the winter, returning to his home in March of 1864.
Against remonstrance’s from his family and friends—although a wreck now of his former self, by
reason of wounds and hardships, he rejoined his regiment in time to go with Early on his great
march to Washington. By the way, it is said that Melville Holmes of Col. Blacknell’s old company
in the 23rd was killed at a point nearer to Washington then any other Confederate who fell during the
Colonel Blacknell received his death wound at the Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864.
Having his foot shattered by a ball from a cavalryman’s carbine, amputation failed to arrest the
gangrene that set in and he died on October 4—being ministered to by the good ladies of Winchester.
After Gettysburg, the remainder of the brigade which was then almost without a single field officer,
refused longer to serve under Iverson and Lt. Col. R.D. Johnston was made brigadier general.
Iverson was removed and Lt. Col. Robert D. Johnston of Lincoln Co., N.C. was place in command
of the brigade, the division being commanded by Rodes. General Lee soon fell back into Virginia.
In operations at Valiersville and near Brandy Station in the Fall of 1863, the regiment sustained loss
but not heavy. In barracks at Hanover during the winter of 1863/64, the regiment may be said to have
had a really good time as did the entire brigade. So, at the opening of the campaign of 1864, the
regiment and the entire brigade appeared well recruited for duty, well equipped and in good fighting
trim generally. Governor Vance in a speech to the army said the boys looked like they had “corn to
The remarks of General Vance suggested the most striking contrast as between the appearance
of the troops then and the woe begone plight on the return from the fatal field at Gettysburg. It was
somewhat like it was when the fight first opened at Chancellorsville, barring the fact that he regiment
did not number so many men. It entered the fight at Chancellorsville in first rate trim numbering
somewhere between 300 and 400 men rank and file. It lost good officers there in the deaths of
Captain Knight of Company D and Hedspeth of Company K besides from 50 to 60 privates and two
commanding officers killed and from 125 to 150 wounded as estimated by Captain Cole, formerly
of Company D, although the roster’s report does not exceed 50 killed and 70 wounded.
It was with a force much reduced that the regiment entered the fight at the first day of Gettysburg.
It must have been a small command at that battle although it exhibited the nerve and endurance of
a host. Adjutant Junius French was killed there and also William H. Johnston of Company K while
the roster puts the killed of privates and NCO’s at 55 and 89 wounded and 53 captured and missing.
Among the wounded and captured of the 23rd was Captain H.G. Turner of Company H, since the war
a distinguished member of Congress from Georgia. He is a native of Granville and a brother of
Adjutant Vines E. Turner.
It is well authorized that only one officer and not exceeding twenty men of the regiment escaped
death, wounds or captured. It was about the 7th May, 1864 that the brigade, after a season of
recruitment in the vicinity of Hanover and Taylorsville, received orders to rejoin the army at the
Wilderness near Spottsylvania Court House. General Grant was now in command on the other side.
The regiment had a part in the Battle of the Wilderness.
Brigadier Bushrod Johnston joined his command on the Rappahannock just before the Battle of Mine
Run and participated in that fight although the brigade was not actively engaged as it was a mere
skirmish. The brigade reached the army from Hanover just before the Battle of the Wilderness. It
participated in the engagements with Gordon’s Brigade, turning the right flank of the Federal line.
The brigade, in making the flank attack, penetrated to the rear of the enemy with some 300 or 400
men but it was recalled and escaped through the line and took part in the bloody action of the next
At Spottsylvania Court House, the brigade was held in reserve to support any point of attack along
the right. In the morning, the line occupied by Daniel’s and Dale’s brigades was assailed and they
were driven from their breast works. Johnston’s brigade re-carried the works, and re-established the
line. This was done in the presence of General Robert E. Lee, the troops refused to make the charge
until General Lee withdrew from the field, he then being in an exposed position.
After the re-capture of the line of breast works, the brigade was again withdrawn, occupying its
position of reserve until the line held by Major General Edward Johnson was carried by the enemy.
Johnston’s Brigade was then ordered to re-take that line of works. The enemy had crossed over
where the Stonewall Brigade had been located and after penetrating 200 yards inside the Confederate
line, with three lines of battle, were occupying a think piece of woods just in the rear of the Stonewall
Brigade line and the angle from which Edward Johnson’s division had been driven.
The brigade made a charge in the woods and was confronted with three lines of battle, not more than
50 yards apart and there could not have been less than 5,000 men in the three lines. The insufficient
number of men to meet such a force was so apparent that when the brigade struck the enemy’s first
line, an officer from the New York regiment dashed out and demanded the surrender of the brigade
and he was immediately shot down and another came up to the brigade with a like command only
to share the same fate.
Instead of surrendering, an officer of the command seized the colors of the 23rd Regiment and the
brigade was ordered to charge. They charged, driving back the enemy’s line and passed on,
entering the angle of eth breast works, out of which they drove the enemy and re-captured that part
of the line. The whole Confederate line was then restored by the aid of other troops.
General Johnston, while making observations from the top of the breastworks in the angle, was
shot in the head and carried from the field. In the charge to re-establish General Lee’s line at the
point known as the salient, Col. Garrett of the 23rd was killed. Col. W.S. Davis of the 12th N.C.,
was placed in temporary command of the 23rd at this time.
We would mention that Corp. E.S. Hart of Company D was a flag bearer of the 23rd at Spottsylvania
as he had been in previous engagements. In the hands of Hart, while he was able to be “on his pegs”,
the flag was never lowered except once and that was when he was knocked down with the breech of
a gun by a Federal.
The second Cold Harbor battle was not participated in by the 23rd but about this time it, with
the brigade, was detached from Lee’s army and sent into the valley under Early to meet Hunter.
Captain Frank Bennett of Anson County was acting colonel of the regiment and in that campaign
the command was spoken of as “Bennett and his invincible.”
It has been impossible, and will be, to report accurately the loss of the regiment in the campaign
just closed or in that new just opening before our command. The career of Robert D. Johnston’s
brigade, in the brilliant campaign with Early, is but a history of the 23rd Regiment, which constantly
shared its fortunes.
The next fighting done by the brigade was as part of Early’s command in that great march on
Washington City. The brigade was in all the battles of that command and made the flank
movement with Gordon’s Division at Bell Grove and Cedar Creek. In this battle, it had a hand to
hand conflict with the 6th Army Corps. It captured, with the aid of Battle’s Brigade of Alabama,
six pieces of artillery which were gallantly defended by the artillerymen who died at their posts
rather than surrender.
The brigade was ordered to take a position in front of Middlesburg where it remained during the
day, skirmishing with cavalry in the front. That evening, General Sheridan having taken command
of the Federal troops, made his attack on the left flank of the Confederate line.
The brigade was in a position to see the line as it broke first at the point held by Gordon’s brigade
and then at that held by Ramseur’s brigade. Those brigades retired from the field in great confusion.
Johnston’s brigade was the only organized body that retired from the presence of the enemy with
its line unbroken, halting and firing repeatedly as they were pressed upon, being the only organized
force then of the Confederate army.
After falling back near Cedar Creek, General Pegram sent an order to Johnston to “cross the
bridge” and follow the road to Strasburg. General Johnston sent a message to him that it would
be impossible to cross the bridge as the breast works built by the enemy commanded the bridge
completely and that the enemy would occupy them before he (Johnston) could cross; but that he
could cross below and preserve his brigade intact.
A second staff officer from Pegram commanded Johnston to bring his brigade across the bridge
just under the command of those breast works which, in the meantime, had become occupied
by the enemy and thus while the brigade was attempting to cross the bridge, a hot fire was
poured into their line from the breast works. Being totally unprotected and at the mercy of the
enemy, the brigade fell into confusion and retreated under cover of darkness.
On the retreat up the valley, the brigade was covering the rear followed by Sheridan’s cavalry, in
the flush of victory and determined to put the Confederates to route, if possible. Thus was the
commencement from morning to night followed and harried by a persistent foe; when the
retreating columns, attenuated as it was, had reached a point near Mt. Jackson, General
Johnston was ordered to face about and hold the enemy in check. He formed a line of battle,
threw out his skirmishers and had one of the hottest fights in which the brigade was engaged
on the skirmish line. The enemy was defeated and driven back.
It was on the 19th that September, 1864, when Col. Blacknell of the 23rd got his death wound,
that Johnston’s brigade won distinguished colors. General Bradley T. Johnson, a brilliant soldier
and writer of Maryland, gave a graphic account of that day’s battle through the newspaper. We
give an extract from his report of Sheridan’s advance on that day:
“By daylight, the 19th September, a scared cavalryman of my own command nearly rode over
me as I slept on the grass and reported that the Yankees were advancing with a heavy force of
infantry, artillery and cavalry up the Berryville Road……..Johnston and I were responsible for
keeping Sheridan out of Winchester and protecting the Confederate line of retreat and
communications up the valley. In two minutes the command was mounted and moved at a trot,
crossing the fields to the Berryville Road and Johnston’s assistance. There was not a fence nor
a tree nor bush to obscure the view. We could see the crest of a hill covered with a cloud of
cavalry and in front of them—500 yards in front—was a thin, grey line moving off in retreat
solidly and in perfect coolness and self possession…….A regiment of cavalry would deploy
into line and their bugles would sound the charge and they would swoop down on the thin grey
line of North Carolina. The instant the Yank bugles sounded, North Carolina (Johnston’s brigade)
would halt, face by the rear rank, wait until the horses got within 100 yards and then fire as
deliberately and coolly as if firing volleys of brigade drill. The cavalry would break and scamper
back and North Carolina would ‘about face’ and continue her march in retreat as solemnly and
with as much dignity as if marching in review. But we got there just in time—that is, to engage
cavalry with cavalry and hold Sheridan in check until Johnston had got back to the rest of the
infantry and formed a line at right angles with the pike west of Winchester.”
Being in entirely open country, everything that was going on could be seen for miles around;
and Bradley Johnston says in conclusion: “There were 45,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry in
the open fields against 8,500 infantry and 3,000 mounted gun men. The thing began at daylight
and kept on until dark when, flanked and warn out, Early retreated to escape being surrounded.
This is the story (given only in part here) of the thin grey line of North Carolina and the cavalry
charge, a feat of arms before which that of Sir Colin Campbell fades into insignificance.”
The brigade had a severe fight at Monocacy River near Frederick City in entering Maryland.
Captain W.C. Wall, commanding Company F, was severely wounded in this fight. General
Gordon’s division crossed the river and attacked the line of battle in the flank. Johnston’s
brigade was ordered to capture a block house on the other side of the Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad. A considerable number of the enemy were in the railroad cut and perfectly protected.
The brigade charged across the railroad on the bridge under a raking fire from a heavy battery
on the other side of the river. Seeing that it would not carry the block house in that way, a
company of soldiers passed under the culvert and opened fire on the enemy in the railroad
cut from the flank, drew them out of the railroad cut and captured the block house.
When the first attempt to take the block house, made by Col. Blacknell with the 23rd
Regiment, had failed, by reason of an enfilade fire from a line of battle behind the railroad,
which caused the regiment to fall back, General Johnston sent a message to Col. Davis to
take the 12th Regiment and capture it. Col. Davis says: “General Johnston was not in a
very good humor and I was suffering (sick) so that I could hardly walk. However, I went
forward to the ravine (not knowing the cause of the falling back of the 23rd) and here halted
and had picked men as videttes to reconnoiter and see all they could. Finding out about the
line of battle behind the railroad, I sent General Johnston a message that if I advanced I would
expose my men to an enfilade fire and that if he would dislodge the line of battle behind the
railroad I could take the house without loss of men. I never heard from General Johnston.
In the meantime, the fight was going on, on the other side between Wallace (of Ben Hur
fame) and Gordon. Three lines of battle engaged Gordon’s one and now, Wallace began
to retreat. His men on our side then had to cross over quickly or be taken. I moved forward
and as we struck the bridge on our side, the enemy was clearing it on the other. The retreat
and pursuit began which continued for about two miles. We then advanced as far as Blair’s
farm in full view of Washington City but soon deemed it wise to come back to Virginia.”
Of course, the operations in the Valley under Early, already given, were subsequent to the
action and events recorded immediately above. In the valley campaign, the brigade was
transferred to Ramseur’s Division. At his death, General John Pender succeeded to the
command of the division.
Almost simultaneous with the transfer of Sheridan from the Valley to Grant’s line near
Petersburg, Early’s command returned to the aid of Lee, at least the greater part of it.
Picket duty on Hatcher’s Run during the greater part of the winter was onerous and severe.
The 23rd took an active part in the fight at Hatcher’s Run, Captain Peace of Granville, being
its commander. It was in this action that General J. Pegram was killed and Captain Frank
Bennett of Anson, former commander of the 23rd, lost an arm, at the time being in
command of the brigade skirmishers. The division was afterwards commanded by General
Walker. Johnston’s was one of the attacking brigades that carried the enemy’s line of
breast works at the Battle of Hare’s Hill, in which action General Johnston was so injured
by a fall in the breast works, spraining an ankle, that he was carried from the field.
At dawn on the 9th April, the scene of a bloody midnight skirmish was passed. Gordon’s
command, of which the 23rd Regiment was a part, moved with spirit against a body of
infantry which after a volley, fell back and once more the “Rebel Yell” of victory cheered on
our brave boys. But suddenly and strangely a halt was ordered and the command marched
from vigorous pursuit in the direction of the town. The whole army was massing in the vicinity
of the court house and there are Federal riding in the midst of the Confederates while on the
neighboring hills and passing swiftly to the right go hundreds of Federal cavalry, frantic with
business. Weeping soldiers proclaim the surrender of Lee’s army.
Dr. R.J. Hicks, now of Warrenton, Virginia, who was a faithful surgeon to the 23rd all
through the war, says of this regiment: “It did as much hard service, fought in as many
battles, was as constant in performance of duty as any other regiment in the army. And
at Appomattox, it surrendered about as many men as any regiment in the army.”
By the Appomattox “parole list”, taken from the last volume of the “Rebellion Records”,
it is shown that Johnston’s brigade, at the surrender, numbered 463 men, rank and file.
At the time the brigade was commanded by Col. J.W. Lea.
We close this paper with the addition of the following statistics taken from the source
above indicated with reference to the North Carolina soldiers surrendered at Appomattox:
Total: 42 regiments and one battalion of infantry
5 regiments and one battalion of cavalry
5 battalions of artillery
That all the above should have numbered only 5,022 rank and file at the surrender, says
the Wilmington Messenger, shows the wear and tear North Carolina troops had sustained.
First and last, by muster rolls, these commands had contained over 100,000 men.
July 1, 1895
Rockingham, North Carolina
Transcribed by Christine Spencer, September 2008
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