Most folks in North Carolina who are interested in the war have heard of the Robnett brothers. There were four brothers, all from Alexander County, who served in Company G of the 37th North Carolina Troops. All enlisted on October 9, 1861. Three of the four-- Joel, John, and William-- were killed on May 27, 1862, at the battle of Hanover Court House, Virginia.
A lesser known story is that of the Key family of Surry County. On May 4, 1861, two weeks before North Carolina voted to leave the Union, the Surry Regulators were organized in Surry County. Richard E. Reeves was elected Captain. On September 21, 1861, the Regulators became Company A of the 28th North Carolina Troops. Marvin V. Key was one of those original volunteers who enlisted in May 4. He was 18 years old.
Company A received an influx of new recruits in March 1862. They included Marvin’s brother James, age 26, and a cousin, R. J. Key. James was married and had two small children at home. Nothing else is known about R. J. Another brother, Andrew J., would join the regiment (at the age of 17) in October 1864. James and R. J. made their way to the regiment, then stationed around Kinston. There would be six men with the Key surname in Company A.
In early May 1862, the 28th North Carolina, along with the other regiments of Branch’s brigade, was transferred to Gordonsville, Virginia. Later that month, the brigade was moved to Hanover Court House. On May 27, 1862, Federal commander George B. McClellan decided to clear out the Confederates in Hanover County, opening the way for Irvin B. McDowell’s First Corps, at Fredericksburg, to rejoin the rest of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan chose Fitz John Porter’s Fifth Corps for the job.
About mid-morning on May 27, 1862, General Branch learned that a group of Federals was crossing the Pamukey River near Hanovertown. Branch, believing the Federal party to be small in number, sent the 28th North Carolina to reinforce the pickets he had posted the night before and to captured this small party of Federals. When the 28th North Carolina got into position, the men discovered the Federals were coming up the road they had just crossed. The regiment reversed itself and slammed into the 25th New York, killing many and taking 70 prisoners. The 28th North Carolina was then attacked by Dan Butterfield’s brigade and forced to retreat. Somewhere during the action, probably around the Kinney Farm House, Marvin, James, and their cousins R. J., were killed.
Neither the bodies of the Robnett family, nor of the Key family, were ever identified. They were buried on the field, and later, most likely, removed to Hollywood Cemetery after the war.
So not only did sad news go to the Robnett family in Alexander County, but also to the Key family in Surry County.