61st Regiment North Carolina Infantry

Contributed by: Sammy Pierce

61st Regiment, North Carolina Infantry 

61st Infantry Regiment was organized at Wilmington, North Carolina, in August, 1862. 
Men of this unit were recruited in the counties of Sampson, New Hanover, Beaufort, 
Craven, Chatham, Lenoir, Wilson, Martin, Ashe, Alleghany, and Jones. Assigned to 
General Clingman's Brigade, it marched to the Kinston area and saw its first action. 
The unit was then sent to Charleston, served on James, Morris, and Sullivan's Islands, 
and took an active part in the fight at Battery Wagner. Later it was ordered to Virginia 
and here fought at Drewy's Bluff and Cold Harbor, then endured the hardships of the 
Petersburg siege south and north of the James River. Returning to North Carolina,
 the 61st was prominent in the Battle of Bentonville. While in the Charleston area, 
July 10 to September 6, 1863, the regiment lost 6 killed, 35 wounded, and 76 
missing and in September totalled 331 men. Few surrendered with the Army of 
Tennessee in April, 1865. The field officers were Colonels William S. Davane and 
James D. Radcliffe, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Mallett, and Major Henry Harding. 

1. Regimental History; battles involving the 61st NC Inf up through the capture of 
approximately 200 soldiers at Battery Wagner:  

Battle at New Berne, North Carolina on 14 March 1862

Battle at Kinston, North Carolina on 13 December 1862

Battle at Kinston, North Carolina on 14 December 1862

Battle at Kinston, North Carolina on 10 March 1863

Battle at Fort Fisher, North Carolina on 15 May 1863

Battle at Warsaw Railroad on 03 July 1863

Battle at Wilmington & Weldon Railroad on 04 July 1863

Battle at James Island, South Carolina on 16 July 1863

Battle at Fort Wagner, South Carolina on 29 July 1863

Battle at Morris Island, South Carolina on 29 July 1863

Battle at Fort Wagner, South Carolina on 30 July 1863

Battle at Morris Island, South Carolina on 30 July 1863

Battle at Charleston, South Carolina on 31 July 1863

Battle on 05 August 1863

Battle at Charleston, South Carolina on 08 August 1863

Battle at Charleston, South Carolina on 15 August 1863

Battle at Morris Island, South Carolina on 21 August 1863

Battle at Fort Wagner, South Carolina on 22 August 1863

Battle at Morris Island, South Carolina on 22 August 1863

Battle at Morris Island, South Carolina on 25 August 1863

Battle at Morris Island, South Carolina on 26 August 1863


2.       Siege of Battery Wagner, Morris Island, SC:

In early 1863, Union forces determined to take Fort Sumter and threaten 
Charleston, SC.  Confederates maintained forts on several islands near Fort 
Sumter to protect its flanks; Morris Island where the 61st NC Inf  was assigned 
was south of Fort Sumter.   This synopsis of actions involving Fort Sumter and 
Charleston in 1863 will focus on Morris Island and Fort Wagner {also called 
Battery Wagner}.  Morris Island was 3 3/4 miles long, 25-1,000 yards wide and 
comprised approximately 400 acres.  Confederates built Fort Wagner on the 
northern portion of Morris Island.  It was 1,390 yards from Fort Sumter; 6,616 
yards from the nearest point in Charleston.  Whereas Fort Sumter was built of 
brick, Fort Wagner was built completely of sand.  Just beyond Fort Wagner, 
Battery Gregg was located on the northern extremity of Morris Island known as 
Cumming's Point.  The entrance to the inner Charleston harbor was flanked by 
Sullivan's Island on the north and Morris Island on the south.  Morris Island was 
separated from the mainland by a salt marsh that flooded at high tide.  (pp. 14-15)  

Union operations with attempts to capture Fort Wagner and destroy Fort Sumter 
began in earnest in April 1863.  The objective of the Union was to destroy Fort 
Sumter and open the entrance to the Charleton inner harbor to their iron-clad fleet.  
Fort Wagner was initially not seen as important; it was regarded merely as an outpost 
of Fort Sumter.   The first engagement was an iron-clad attack led by Admiral Dupont 
against Fort Sumter on 7 April... from this date, fighting took place almost daily, 
usually as artillery exchanges, until Fort Wagner was abandoned in September.   
(pp. 15-17)

Union naval forces were under the command of Rear Admiral Dahlgren; Union Army 
forces were under the command of Brigadier General Q. A. Gillmore.  The total number 
of Union army forces was approximately 11,000.  (p. 8)  Confederate Army forces 
defending Charleston were under the command of General Pierre G.T. Beauregard...  
(pp. 15-17)  According to Confederate records:  "The forces holding these works and 
the north end of Morris Island during the fifty-eight days' siege varied from 1,000 to 
1,200 men..."  (p. 92)

When the Union realized Fort Wagner was a major impediment to the destruction of 
Fort Sumter, they resolved to take it with combined army and navy attacks.  The first 
major attack occurred 11 Jul...cost the Union 97 men killed before Fort Wagner and 
119 men taken prisoner; Confederate losses were 6 killed and 6 wounded.  (pp. 73-74)

Several subsequent attacks failed, including the attack led by the 54th Massachusetts 
black troops 18 Jul 1863 made famous in the movie "Glory"...Senior Union officers killed 
during the failed 18 Jul attacks included Brigadier General George C. Strong, Colonel 
R. G. Shaw (commander of the 54th Massachusetts), Colonel John R. Chatfield and 
Colonel Haldiment S. Putnam. (pp. 15-17)  

Even though Union forces failed to carry Fort Wagner, they did gain and hold the 
southern portion of Morris Island.  They converted this area into a defensive line 
(called a "parallel"--across the the width of the island) , named it Battery Reynolds 
and brought in 8 siege and field guns, 10 siege mortars and 3 Requia rifle batteries.  
The first parallel of Union defensive lines was completed by 23 Jul 1863.   (pp. 15-17)

Union forces immediately established a second parallel.. built by "sapping" (digging 
fortifications), but transportation and labor to locate and mount gun carriages in the 
second parallel could only be accomplished at night due to sharpshooter fire from 
Fort Wagner.   "Breaching batteries" consisting of three 30-pounder Parrott rifles 
and one Wiand field gun from the second parallel were directed against Fort Wagner
 ... the first parallel was armed with two 200-pounder Parrott rifles and two 80-pounder 
Whitworth rifles.  Firing against Fort Sumter and Battery Wagner from Morris Island 
began 26 Jul 1863 and continued daily until Fort Sumter was reduced and Fort Wagner 
was abandoned by Confederate forces in September.  (p. 18)

After completion of the second parallel, the Union set up a battery in the salt marsh 
between the island and the mainland...called Marsh Battery, but the soldiers referred 
to it as "Swamp Angel"...sole purpose of Marsh Battery was to shell Charleston... 
the Union report conceded "No military results of great value were ever expected 
from the firing."  (p. 30)

A third parallel was begun 9 Aug 1863..would have to create additional parallels 
before they could move on the fort.  (p. 20)

A heavy bombardment of Fort Sumter was planned 17-23 Aug 1863 that included 
Union navy forces under Rear Admiral Dahlgren.  Brigadier General Q. A. Gillmore 
submitted a letter 16 Aug 1863 to Maj General Henry Halleck, General-In-Chief, 
USA: "...Two monitors with one rifled gun each are expected to co-operate with me 
against Sumter, at a distance of about 2,000 yards.  The others [ships] will remain 
abreast of Fort Wagner, to keep down its fire."  Also on 16 Aug 1863 Brigadier 
General Gillmore posted Special Orders #481, HQ Dept of the South, In the Field, 
Morris Island, S.C. directing fire for the planned bombardment [by this time, additional 
artillery had been moved into the three parallels on Morris Island]:

..."Fourth.  Battery Kearny, First Lieutenant S. S. Atwell, Seventh Connecticut 
Volunteers Infantry, commanding, comprising three 30-pounder Parrott rifles and 
three Coehorn mortars.  The guns will operate against Battery Gregg with shot and 
shell, unless otherwise directed, and the mortars against Fort Wagner, exploding the 
shell just over the fort"..."Sixth.  Battery Reynolds, Captain A. E. Greene, Third Rhode 
Island Volunteer Artillery, commanding, comprising five 10-inch siege mortars, against 
Fort Wagner, exploding the shells just before striking"..."Eighth.  Battery Hays, Captain 
R. G. Shaw, Third Rhode Island Volunteer Artillery, commanding...seven 30-pounder 
Parrott rifles against Fort Wagner...".

During this time Confederates moved 240 yards in front of Fort Wagner where a ridge 
afforded good cover.  Union forces assaulted this forward position 21 Aug, but were 
repulsed.  Following their repulse, Union forces began a fourth parallel that was located 
only 100 yards in front of the forward Confederate line.  They brought in light mortars 
and navy howitzers that, along with other mortars from the rear parallels, they directed 
against the Confederate line of entrenchments.  (p. 24)  The 61st NC Inf was located in 
these forward Confederate entrenchments.  Another assault by Union forces against the 
forward position on 25 Aug failed.  General Beauregard's recount of the 25 Aug attack 
stated "...success crowned the efforts of the brave men of the Sixty-first North Carolina 
and Fifty-fourth Georgia Regiments who constituted the advanced pickets and reserve."  
(pp. 395-396)

However, the 61st NC Inf, under the command Colonel W. S. Devane, was not to be so 
lucky the following day.  They were supposed to be relieved from the forward duty by the 
8th NC Inf that night, but the planned relief was too late.  According to Beauregard:  "At 
5 o'clock in the evening, the enemy concentrated his fire on our rifle-pits in front of Battery 
Wagner.  Between 7 and 8 p.m. the rifle-pits were carried by an overwhelming force, who 
also succeeded in capturing 76 out of 89 men of the Sixty-first North Carolina Volunteers, 
who formed the picket."  (p. 85)  The Union assault was led by Brigadier General Terry 
with a Division of approximately 4,000 men.  (p. 24)  {John  Pierce was listed as missing 
in action against the enemy on 26 Aug, so he must have been one of the 76 captured.}   

With Fort Sumter rendered harmless, the Union now concentrated all their forces and 
firepower against Fort Wagner--Confederate forces there were now surrounded... (pp. 26-28)  
The men in Fort Wagner were about to receive a terrible pounding as all Union assets were 
going to be directed against them... final operations against Fort Wagner began the morning 
of 5 Sep.  During 5-6 Sep, 17 siege and Coehorn mortars dropped their shells unceasingly 
into Fort Wagner during a 42 hour heavy bombardment.  They were augmented by 9 rifled 
guns from the parallels.  In addition, during the day the New Ironsides "... with astonishing 
regularity and precision, kept a constant stream of shells from her eight-gun broadside 
ricocheting over the water against the parapet of Wagner, whence, rebounding upward, 
they dropped nearly vertically, exploding in or over the work and searching every part of it."  
The Union army increased pressure on Fort Wagner by engaging in around-the-clock 
operation...made possible by using Calcium lights {flares} that "turned night into day, 
throwing our men into obscurity, while they brilliantly illuminated every object in front and 
brought the minutest detail of the fort in sharp relief."   122,230 pounds of artillery shells 
were expended against Fort Wagner during this bombardment.  Under the heavy artillery 
fire, Union sappers were able to extend their trenches up to the walls of Fort Wagner.  
(pp. 26-28)

The Union planned another assault on 7 Sep to be led by Brigadier General Terry.  (p. 28)  
Beauregard ordered evacuation of Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg before it was overrun...
Confederates began abandoning the fort about midnight of 6 Sep 1863.  Their withdrawal 
went well, but approximately 70 men were intercepted and captured on the beach, thus 
ending Confederate defense of Fort Wagner.  (pp. 26-28)

The official records include a Union assessment of this campaign.  Their opinion was 
that Fort Wagner was "a striking example of the injudicious location of an outwork."  
Once their forces occupied the southern part of Morris Island, their artillery could easily 
fire over Fort Wagner and reach their primary target, Fort Sumter.  Fort Wagner was 
located to protect the flank of Fort Sumter and to catch any Union navy vessel attempting 
to enter Charleston harbor in a crossfire.  This could have been accomplished by building 
Fort Wagner at the far, southern end of Morris Island.  If they had done this, any army 
landing on the northern end of Morris Island would also have been caught in a crossfire.  
In addition, two conditions favored the Union: "Overpowering mortar fire opposed by weak 
fire from Confederates and flank fire from James Island and the fleet.  The only defense 
against the Navy was torpedo mines."  (p. 36)  (According to General Beauregard's report, 
Battery Wagner had been located by General Pemberton and he, Beauregard, had 
personally located Battery Gregg.)  (p. 58)

Source:   "The War of the Rebellion, A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union 
and Confederate Armies;" Prepared Under the Direction of the Secretary of War, by the 
late Lieutenant Colonel Robert N. Scott, Third U.S. Artillery, Pursuant to Acts of Congress;  
Series I--Volume XXVIII--In Two Parts; Part I--Reports; Washington, Government Printing 
Office; 1890.

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