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.