Monday, February 19, 2018

Who shot Jackson?

Ok. That one is pretty easy. Almost everyone agrees it was the 18th North Carolina Troops who shot Jackson. It was not their fault: it was dark; Jackson should not have been out in front of his men that close to the front lines, etc., etc. Scott Ellis recently asked me a much harder question: what company of the 18th North Carolina shot Jackson? We don't actually know, which leads to a much harder, technical question: how were companies deployed in a line within a regiment?

Image result for illustration from Hardee's Light infantry
from Hardee's Light Infantry Tactics (1861). 

Some basics: A standard infantry regiment during the war was composed of ten companies. Each company was composed of 100 men, at least early in the war. By mid-1863, it was probably half that. Each company, once a regiment was created, was given a letter designation - A through K, skipping the letter J because it looked too much like the letter I. Traditionally, when ten independent companies were gathered at a training camp, they were given permission to form a regiment and elect their colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major. Then the independent companies were given letter designations. It would be nice to assume that Company A was the oldest company in the regiment, Company B the second oldest, etc., but that does not appear to be true. In looking at three regiments, the 16th North Carolina, 26th North Carolina, and 37th North Carolina, the companies are not lettered chronologically. It is possible that the Company lettering was based upon when they received permission to organize from the governor. (That would take more research to prove.)

We could then assume that Company A would be the first company in line, followed by Company B, Company C, etc. But that's not the way the period manuals laid out the regiment. The very first paragraph in the 1861 edition of Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics... by W. J. Hardee reads: "A regiment is composed of ten companies, which will habitually be posted from right to left, in the following order: first, sixth, fourth, ninth, third, eighth, fifth, tenth, seventh, second, according to the rank of captains." (5) The last little phrase "according to the rank of captains" is what makes this confusing.

Going back to the 37th NC, the regimental line, based upon the seniority of the captains, should look like this on November 20, 1861 (this is from the right): A, E, C, G, K, H, D, I, F, B. That changes on November 21. Capt. William M. Barber (Company F) is promoted to lieutenant colonel and Capt. John G. Bryan (Company G) is elected major. Their successors are now the junior captains in the regiment. 1st Lt. James Reed replaces Captain Bryan, and Pvt. Charles N. Hickerson replaces Captain Barber. Since Hickerson is elected from the ranks, he is the junior captain of all the company commanders in the 37th NC. Now the companies are in line, from the right: A, E, C, G, K, I, D, F, H, B. Usually, the companies on the far right and far left are designated flank companies, or skirmish companies. At times, they are armed with rifles, while the rest of the companies are armed with smoothbore muskets.

Now, this raises a serious question that I have never been able to answer. During the war, when captain turnover was frequent, did the companies change position in the line? I could see this in the old US Army, prior to war. Companies were rarely together to begin with, often stationed at various posts some distance away. Looking at the 37th NC on May 1, 1863, right before the battle of Chancellorsville, the companies should be, from the right, A, E, H, I, D, G, F, K, B, C. And even this may not be right. Captain John Hartzog of Company A was originally elected as captain on August 27, 1861. He resigned and went home on July 15, 1862, but was re-appointed as captain of Company A on February 9, 1863. Does his previous rank come into play?

The reason I use the 37th NC for an example is this: I actually have a listing of companies in line. Noah Collins, in his post-war writings, lays out the company line in late 1861 (from the left): D, B, E, C, K, I, H, G, A, F. As you can see this is nothing like how it should be, according to the rank of the captains.

Along those lines, has anyone ever seen another account of a Confederate regiment where the companies were designated in line? I've been reading letters, diaries, and regimental histories, and I don't recall seeing this any other place.

So, to go back to Scott Ellis's question, no, I don't know which company of the 18th NC shot Jackson. I'm not sure we will ever know the answer to that question. 


Jubilo said...

Dear Sir,
I'll have to check if I can but I remember reading an article (Civil War Illustrated perhaps), that stated A Major Barry and Lt. George Corbett. That information would identify the company.

Jubilo said...

Company E