Saturday, July 05, 2008

18th NCT cursed?

I’ve spent the past couple of days trying to get caught up on my magazine reading, which I have neglected in my efforts to finish the Mitchell County book. A couple of things have caught my attention.

In the current issue of America’s Civil War, Stephen Lunsford of Alabama writes in, commenting about an article written by Ernest B. Furgurson on Jackson’s mortal wounding at Chancellorsville. "Was the 18th North Carolina cursed after mortally wounding Jackson on May 2, 1863?" Lunsford writes. "The day after Jackson was shot, the 18th North Carolina fought units of the Union XII Corps south of the Plank Road. The regiment’s commander, Colonel Thomas J. Purdie, was killed; Lt. Col. Forney George was wounded, and Corporal Owen Eakins, the color bearer, was killed and his flag captured by the 7th New Jersey. Overall the 18th North Carolina lost 34 killed, 99 wounded, and 21 missing... At Gettysburg, the regiment lost 88 of 346 men. At the Wilderness, a year after Chancellorsville on the same ground, the 18th North Carolina was routed south of the Plank Road. On April 2, 1865, the unit was hit hard by the Federal assault that broke the lines at Petersburg. The 18th was forced to withdraw, and the regimental colors fell to the 40th New Jersey. The regiment surrendered a week later at Appomattox Court House with 93 men under Major Thomas Wooten."

Does the 18th North Carolina deserve the bad reputation with which it has been labeled?

First, the 18th NCT was not responsible for the wounding of Jackson. It was dark. Jackson had ridden out about the time that the regiment had gone into line to the north of the Plank Road. They did not know he and his staff were there. The Tar Heels of Lane’s brigade could hear the Federals working, building breastworks not far away. There was a lot of firing going on, both small arms and artillery, by both sides. The woods were smoking, the vegetation thick, and the debris of battle littered the woods. This debris undoubtably included dead and wounded Federal cavalrymen and horses from a failed attack earlier that afternoon. The Tar Heels of the 18th NCT certainly had those dead troopers on their minds.

There was firing on the right. Fellow Tar Heels in the 37th North Carolina fired first on Jackson’s party, killing at least one and wounding a couple. This drove Jackson and his party across the Plank Road and in front of the 18th NCT. The men of the 18th NCT could hear the horses in the woods, trying to navigate in the darkness. No one had told the 18th NCT that Jackson was there, and as his party neared their lines, they opened fire, wounding Jackson and others. If it was anybody’s fault, it was Jackson’s. And as much as I like Jackson, and admire his abilities as a battlefield commander, it was a foolish thing for him to scout ahead of those lines, in the dark, on May 2, 1863.

Was the 18th NCT hard pressed on May 3 at Chancellorsville? Sure. According to another source, losses for the five brigades under Lane’s commander were thus:

7th NCST, 49 k, 143 w, 18 m(missing)
18th NCT 30 k, 95, w, and 27m
28th NCT 14 k, 91 w, 2 m
33rd NCT 32 k, 98 w, 67 m
37th NCT 36 k, 194 w, 8 m

As far as Mr. Lunsford’s other thoughts, yes, the regiment was again hard pressed, this time losing more men than any other regiment in Lane’s brigade, However, compared to the action seen by others, like Pettigrew’s brigade, well, the 169 men lost by the 18th NCT is a small loss in comparison.

Yes, the 18th NCT was routed at the Wilderness, along with a lot of other regiments. Mr. Lunsford fails to mention that a week or so later, the 18th NCT captured the flag of 19th New York Light Artillery at Spotsylvania Court House. The 18th NCT was a part of a charge, largely involving Lane’s brigade, that stopped Burnside’s IX Corps. Had Burnside not stopped, he likely would have crushed the Confederate defenders along one side of the Mule Shoe (actually just a little lower along the line).

At Petersburg on April 2, the 18th NCT’s section of line had been so depleted of men that the ones left were on average 10 feet apart when the Federals attacked. With so few defenders, collapse of the line was all but a forgone conclusion.

I think that the 93 men who surrendered with Wooten on April 9, 1865, are more of a testament to the hard-fighting 18th NCT, than a curse for shooting Jackson.


Jubilo said...

Dear Sir ,
I read your post with interest ! I have read that a Major Barry of the 18th ordered the firing and also many years ago read an article in which Lt. George Corbett of the 18th ordered the firing . I have always wondered if the latter is a relative. What are your thoughts , sir ?
Thank you.
David Corbett

Michael Hardy said...

Drop me a line at and tell me a little about your family.