Monday, February 05, 2007

Will the first real KIA please stand up

For decades, we as North Carolinians have been proud of the fact the first soldier killed in battle was fighting in a North Carolina regiment. Henry Lawson Wyatt was a Virginia native, but was living in Edgecombe County when the war broke out. The 19-year-old Wyatt volunteered to serve in Company A, 1st North Carolina Volunteers. On June 10, 1861, he was killed at the battle of Big Bethel Church, Virginia. Wyatt was heralded as a hero and given a hero’s burial in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. His tombstone reads "In Memory of the First Confederate Soldier Who Was Killed in Action..."

Wyatt was further memorialized in 1912 by a monument on the grounds of the capital in Raleigh. The monument is a large bronze of Wyatt with musket in hand, moving toward the battle. This monument also states that Wyatt was the "First Confederate Soldier to Fall in Battle in the War Between the States."

It would seem that Wyatt’s claim is now being challenged. In the November - December 2006 issue of Confederate Veteran (which I confess, I’m just now beginning to get time to read) Robert E. Reyes writes that William R. Clark was "The first Confederate soldier killed in the War Between the States."

Reyes writes that Clark "had been recruited in Baltimore by Artillery Captain William Dorsey Pender, CSA, and that he had signed enlistment papers and accepted a bounty and was awaiting transportation" Before he could get transferred south, Clark was one of the men killed on April 19, 1861, in the draft riots in Baltimore, where a mob attacked elements of the 6th Massachusetts Volunteers. The Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, reported on Saturday, April 20, 1861, that William Clark – age 20 years was instantly killed at the corner of Pratt and South Streets by a Minnie ball which entered on the right side of the eye and passing through the head came out the other side. He had recently enlisted in the Southern Confederate Army and expected to have left in a few days."

Reyes then goes on to write that he had taken "a query on William R. Clark as being officially in the Confederate States Regular Army.... to the US Army Center of Military History at Fort McNair...." and also "to the Museum of the Confederacy Library in Richmond, Virginia" "Both institutions came to the same conclusion that he was in the Confederate States of America Regular Army."

While Mr. Reyes has done a good job with his research, I for one still have numerous questions. Who was William R. Clark? Where was he from? Who were his parents? What was his job? On what date did he sign those papers? Had he been properly mustered into Confederate service? Signing enlistments papers does not mean that a he had been properly mustered into service. Also, the distinction between the two men may also lie in the fact that Wyatt was killed in battle, while Clark was killed in act of civil disobedience, flinging rocks at Union soldiers. Does this lessen his sacrifice, or does it just make it a different kind of sacrifice?

I guess I’m just not quite ready to give up on Henry Wyatt.


Terry Klima said...

It seems to me as though you are grasping at straws. If Mr. Clark enlisted in Confederate service, and was killed by Federal troops, he qualifies as the first Confederate soldier killed. The War of Northern Aggression is justifiably referred to as the 2nd War of American Independence. In the first war of Independence, no one questioned the military status of a combatant. In fact, many of the early deaths were civilians. The fact that he enlisted in Confederate service, and was awaiting transport, is an even more compelling reason. For the sake of historical accuracy, there were no draft riots in Baltimore. Marylanders were protesting the invasion of the South by troops from Massachusetts, responding to Lincoln's call

Steve Lusk said...

And then there's Captain John Q. Marr of the 17th Virginia, killed in a skirmish with federal troops at Fairfax Court House on June 1, 1861, nine days before Watt.
I don't think you're grasping at straws at all -- Marr and Watt were killed in uniform, fighting as part of an organized unit, while Clark was simply participating in a riot while off duty.
Another possible first Confederate killed is Stephen (or Christian?) Roberts, a "captain" of a self-raised secessionist home guard in what is now West Virginia, killed by Federals on May 28, 1861. As with Clark, however, I think the honor of being the frist Confederate soldier killed in action should go to someone who was serving on active duty with an organized unit at the time of his death. Marr makes that cut, as does Wyatt nine days later; Clark and Roberts do not.

John Bieniarz said...

Terry Kilma is grasping at straws. No where, is the Civil War, or the War of the Rebellion, called by name "War of Northern Aggression," except by Confederates, who lost the war they started, and mostly by current sympathizers. There can be no "invasion" of the south, because "the south" was part of the United States, and had no legal standing to succeed from the Union. All troops, representing the legal entity of of the Federal Government of the United States, had the authority to go wherever directed by the legally recognized government, including, Maryland. All that said, Clark enlisted in the South Carolina artillery. Only when he was mustered in, would he be considered a member of the unit. He would then take the oath, and be on the pay books. Only when a soldier was mustered in, could he be mustered out, or individually discharged from the service. You can't be "discharged" from enlisting papers.