This past Monday, I had the opportunity to speak at Wilkes Community College. The purpose of the gathering was to celebrate the release of Sharyn McCrumb's new ballad series novel, The Ballad of Tom Dooley. Sharyn and I have known each other for a over a decade, and it has been an honor to chase Confederate (and a few Union) soldiers for her.
Below, please find a portion of the talk I gave on Monday.
Surprisingly, there are more men named Thomas Dula than men by any other name in the Confederate army. I believe that these different Thomas Dulas have given other researchers pause, in trying to cipher out which Tom Dula it was that killed Laura Foster in 1866. I also have had run-ins with Thomas Dula in my own works. There was one in the 37th North Carolina Troops, and one in the 58th North Carolina Troops, both regiments I have studied and on which I've written histories. I don't recall if I ever suspected that the Thomas Dula in the 37th North Carolina was the Tom Dooley or not - that was many years and many books ago. It could be that I was not familiar enough with the story so many years ago. More likely, I probably realized that that the Thomas Dula in the 37th Regiment, a native of Caldwell County, died of wounds sustained in the battle of Gaines Mill, Virginia, in the fall of 1862, making it a bit of a strain for him to murder Laura Foster in 1866. I do have the faintest recollection of wondering how the Thomas J. Dula that enlisted in the 26th Regiment, and later transferred to the 58th North Carolina Troops, would work into my post-war chapter of the 58th North Carolina Troops as someone hung for murder. A little research showed me that this Thomas was not the right man. This Thomas enlisted in Caldwell County in March 1862 in the 26th Regiment, and transferred to Company H, 58th North Carolina Troops upon being elected Captain of Company H in May 1862. He was appointed to the rank of Major in April 1863, and transferred to the field and staff. This Thomas was wounded in the thigh during the battle of Kolb's Farm, Georgia, on June 22, 1864, and then promoted to lieutenant colonel on July 6, 1864. He resigned on August 4, 1864, after being elected solicitor of Caldwell County. Dula later moved to Wilkes County where he was a judge for many years, and buried not far from where we are today. While some solicitors and judges wind up on the wrong side of the bench, I soon learned that this Thomas Dula was not the "right" Dula.
Then there is Thomas M. Dula, from Buncombe County, a corporal in Company K, 25th North Carolina Troops. This Thomas was discharged by reason of disability in May 1862. And then we have Thomas W. Dula, a resident of Caldwell County, who at the age of 30 enlisted in Company A, 22nd North Carolina Troops. He served until March 8, 1865, just days before the war ended. This Thomas deserted and went over to the Federal lines, where on March 10, he took the Oath and was released. There is also another Thomas Dula, who at the age of 48, enlisted in the 5th Regiment, North Carolina Senior Reserves. This Thomas was classified as AWOL - absent without leave, at the end of the war.
That leaves us with just one: Thomas C. Dula. His record in the North Carolina Troops books is simple, and reads: "Resided in Wilkes County where he enlisted at the age of 17, April 24, 1862, in Company K, 42nd North Carolina Troops. Mustered in as Private. Promoted to Musician (Drummer) in January-February 1864. Present or accounted for until captured at or near Wise's Fork, North Carolina, on March 10, 1865. Confined at Point Lookout, Maryland, March 16, 1865. Released at Point Lookout on June 11, 1865, after taking the Oath of Allegiance." Someone at the North Carolina Department of Archives and History was helpful enough to add to the entry: "This soldier is the famous 'Tom Dooley' about whom the ballad entitled "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley" was written following his execution in 1866 for the murder of Laura Foster." Of course, we know that the execution did not take place in 1866.
So, let's dive a little deeper into his record, because there is more. Many people want to give Tom more credit, or even combat experience. I read, just this week, a piece online, on Wikipedia no less, that stated that Dula "suffered various injuries throughout the course of the fighting." Um, no, sorry, that is actually wrong. According to Dula's compiled service record, the teenager spent time in three different hospitals, not because of an injury, but because of a fever. He was in the Confederate States Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, in November 1862, and the Episcopal Church hospital in Williamston, North Carolina, in December 1862. He was sick in his quarters in January and February 1863, and was again reported in a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, on August 10, 1864, for an undetermined amount of time. Furthermore, a drummer boy, or musician, the position listed for Tom Dula, often times did not go into combat with the other soldiers. The regimental musicians were often detailed to the medical department as stretcher bearers once a battle began, swapping their musical instruments for canvas and wooden stretchers. Yes, they would have seen the horrors of war, the mangled bodies of friends and family, but the musicians were often behind lines, and not in the front ranks. Tom would also have experienced the boredom of camp, and by his stays in different hospitals, been susceptible to the numerous diseases that swept through the camps at different points during the war. The war undoubtedly changed Thomas Dula: how could anyone who survived those awful years not be profoundly changed?
Dula's regiment, the 42nd North Carolina Troops, started out the war as prison guards at Salisbury. The regiment was mustered into service in April 1862, and in June was transferred to Virginia, again guarding prisoners and performing garrison duty. In November, the regiment was back in North Carolina, and on November 5, skirmished for the first time with the enemy near Tarboro. Tom was in the hospital at the time. Almost all of 1863 was spent in some type of garrison duty in the eastern part of North Carolina. It was not until February 2, 1864, that the regiment was involved in its first battle, albeit a small one, at Newport Barracks, North Carolina. Tom was reported as being sick in camp. In May 1864, the regiment was on its way back to Virginia, and combat. They fought at Bermuda Hundred in May 1864, Cold Harbor and Petersburg in June, and New Market Heights in October. By the end of 1864, the regiment was back in Wilmington, participating in the battles of Fort Fisher. The 42nd Regiment fought at Wise's Fork during the Confederate retreat, where Tom was captured. The fight continued at Bentonville, a last stand by the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The 42nd North Carolina Troops was surrendered on April 26, 1865, at the Bennett Place, near Durham, and disbanded on May 2, 1865 at Center Church in Randolph County, North Carolina.
So, how do we know all of this? Much of what I have told you about today comes from the 18 volume set of books entitled North Carolina Troops, released by the North Carolina Department of Archives and History. The pieces about Tom's life come from his Complied Service Records from the National Archives in Washington, D. C. Added to this are my almost 30 years of reading, researching, and writing about boys and men, just like Thomas Dula.
Thomas C. Dula was a teenager in the spring of 1862 when he voluntarily enlisted in the 42nd North Carolina Troops. He was mustered in as a private, but soon promoted to musician, a drummer. Dula would have been the soldier who sounded revile of his drum every morning to wake the men, and who kept the cadence when required to on the march. On the approach of battle, Dula would have stowed his drum with other regimental baggage to take up a stretcher, helping to carry men off the field who were too grievously wounded to transport themselves. He would have taken these men back to some field hospital in the rear. Dula would have shared in the hardships of camp, poor food, boredom, games of baseball and wrestling in camp, foot races, visits by dignitaries and people from home, church services and all night singings. Like all other soldiers, Dula would have been susceptible to the many diseases that plagued the camp. These diseases, at least three times, required stays in Confederate hospitals. And toward the end of the war, Dula himself was captured, enduring a stay in a prison camp, which were often more deadly, killing more men than the minnie ball and artillery shell of the battle field. Thomas C. Dula endured and survived all of these, only to come home and run afoul of the law.