The Bloodiest Day

September 17, 1862The Battle of Sharpsburg- known as The single bloodiest day in the Civil War. The 6th North Carolina was there!

Author at Dunker church in 2007

The 6th North Carolina State Troops arrived in Sharpsburg on September 15, tired and hungry, after spending the previous day fighting to block the Federal army from passing through Boonesborough Gap, and then acting as a rear guard as the Confederates consolidated at Sharpsburg.  Law’s brigade was posted on the Hagarstown Pike with their right posted at the Dunker Church and the line extended along the turnpike. The other regiments in Law’s 1474 man brigade were the 4th Alabama, the 2nd Mississippi and the 11th Mississippi.1 Regimental strengths for the Sixth NC at this battle are not easily found, but in discussing this with my colleague and fellow researcher, Randall Garrison, we guesstimate their strength to be around 400.

They crossed the high wooden fences bordering the Hagarstown pike and entered a field adjacent to Miller’s cornfield. This is where they fought….and died. By mid morning it was over. They were recalled to the woods around the Dunker church and waited in readiness under a heavy bombardment of cannon fire for a call to action that never came.

Various casualty records can be found, all with slightly different numbers but they are all in the same ballpark. Iobst, in “The Bloody Sixth“, referred to a casualty report in the October 8, 1862 “Hillsborough Reporter” of  8 Killed and 105 Wounded for a total of 113 Casualties. Contrast this with John Micheal Priest’s figures from the Official Records of 6 Killed and 94 wounded, although  Col. Laws report2 in the O.R.’s states 8 killed and 117 wounded. I found a casualty list for the 6th North Carolina in the Wednesday, Oct. 1, 1862 “North Carolina Standard” that I used as the basis for my research, which agrees with Iobst’s figures of 8 Killed and 105 Wounded, but after going through the rosters I found that even these figures don’t  match. My research has identified 12 killed.

Of the nearly 4,000 deaths resulting from that horrific battle, at least 12 men from the 6th North Carolina State troops (“The Bloody Sixth”) made the ultimate Sacrifice that day 150 years ago.

They have not been forgotten:

6th NCST Roster of  Killed from the battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland

as reported in the 7-31-1861 North Carolina standard and verified against North Carolina Troops Roster (Jordon), Bloody Sixth Roster (Manarin), The O.R’s and Compiled Service Records and transcribed by Historian Rick Walton, I am including the 12 members of the 6th Killed in action below. (use scroll at bottom to see entire table)

Co Rank Name in Newspaper Name on roster County enlisted Age enlisted Date enlisted Occupation Resided
C Captain Capt Lowrie Lowrie, Houston B. unknown 22 5/16/1861 unknown unknown
C Sergeant Serg’t. M Markham Markham, Matthew Orange 25 5/1/1861 unknown Orange
D Corporal Corp’l A L Poteet Poteet, Alburto L. Mecklenburg 41 5/28/1861 unknown Burke
D Private G Stanford Stanford, John J. Alamance 33 6/27/1861 Farmer Burke
D Private Henry Roseman Roseman, Henry Alamance 25 6/15/1861 unknown unknown
D Private L L Hank Houk, Lawson L. Mecklenburg 19 5/281861 unknown unknown
D Private <not listed> Branch, Martin J. Alamance 22 6/27/1861 unknown Burke
E Sergeant Serg’t P A Erwin Erwin, Isaac Mecklenburg 30 5/28/1861 Farmer Yancey
G Private Thos Cress Cress, Thomas Mecklenburg 25 5/29/1861 Farmer Rowan
H Corporal Corp’l J B Walker Walker, James B. Caswell 21 6/6/1861 Farmer Caswell
H Private J T Wren Wren, John T. Caswell 24 6/10/1861 unknown unknown
K Private David Hatchell Hatchell, David Wake ? 9/1/1861 Unknown Unknown

1. Priest, John Michael, Antietam: The Soldiers Battle, White Maine Publishing Company, Shippensburg, PA, Pg 323.

2 O. R., Series 1, Volume XIX/1, Pg. 811

Meet a 50 year Veteran

John Hutton, showing his 1962 Centennial Medal at the 150th Anniversary.

“Hey Rick, I got something to show you.”  John Hutton had followed me through the shadowy gloom of our bivouac as the setting sun extinguished the last rays of light. I had just arrived and was setting my gear down. I was anxious to get settled in but it was already too dark to put my tent up and I knew John was a treasure trove of interesting facts and artifacts.

He held a small object clutched in his hand. As I got closer, the last rays of light glinted off  something metal.

“They gave us these when we came up here in ’62” said John placing it in my hand. It was a medal, suspended from a blue and gray ribbon.

On the front of the Medal was a picture labeled “Historic Dunker Church”. Ironically, this is where the 6th North Carolina and Law’s brigade happened to be posted during the battle. Around the outer edge were inscribed the words “Battle of Antietam” and “September 17, 1862”

Front of 50 year old medal John Hutton received at the 100th anniversary of the battle of Sharpsburg in 1962

Rear of 50 year old medal John Hutton received at the 100th anniversary of the battle of Sharpsburg in 1962

On the reverse side the words “Re-enactment Participant, September 15-16-17, 1962″were inscribed. Around the outer edge it said “Battle of Antietam” and “Antietam National Battlefield Site”

I had never seen anything like this before. It is a unique memento and especially memorable to have the actual recipient share it with me half a century after relieving it. Sadly I will not be able to show my momento of the 150th reenactment battle of Sharpsburg to anyone, now or 50 years from now, because we didn’t receive anything for our $35 registration fee.

In 1962 14 year old John Hutton was a member of the North Carolina sponsored reenactment group, the 6th North Carolina State troops. During the centennial he got to travel to, and fight on, a number of historic Civil war battlefield including the one at Sharpsburg. Today it is unthinkable to fight on the actual battlefield.

After his Centennial experience John served his country on the real battlefields in far off Vietnam. I have a great deal of respect for Viet Nam Vets and Appreciate John’s Service.When reenacting came back into vogue, John picked up where he left off and has been reenacting with the Sixth NCST since before I joined in 1994.

John is connected to a number of Historic North Carolina families and had Ancestors that were members of the 6th NCST, but what I admire most about John is his devotion to reenacting and the friends he has made over the last half century. I can recall standing next to John on the Battle line when I was a private. As we marched to battlefields across far flung reenactments, commemorating the 130th, 135th, 140th and 145th anniversaries, John would always be calling out to passing troops, whether Confederate or Yankee…”Hey Sammy, give ’em hell”, or “hey Al, hows it going?” and they would yell right back “”Hey John, good to see you!”

It is an honor to serve with John and I hope he keeps bringing out those mementos for us to see, even if it only by the flickering light of a campfire.

Saturdays Reenactment at 150th Anniversary of Sharpsburg

“You have got to be kidding!”  said a surprised reenactor trying to cook his breakfast over a smoky fire. It was about 6:45 and barely light enough to see. I had just informed the men to get ready for drill.

Sgt William O’Quinn and Lt. Walton on the reneactment battlefield of Sharpsburg at sunrise on Sept. 8, 2012

The bugles, fifes and drums had blared reveille in the darkness just before 6 AM. I stretched myself and checked to see what might have seized up after a night sleeping on the hard ground. I found myself surprisingly limber as I sat up and put my wool blanket aside. I had laid down on top of the blanket to have a little cushion between me and the ground, but sometime during the night I must have gotten chilly and pulled my blanket over me. I stumbled through the dark camp as men were getting dressed, starting fires or just trying to grab a few more minutes of shut-eye. I found the First Sergeant and we compared rosters to make sure all the men were accounted for on the morning report he had to get over to headquarters. The Captain stopped by to inform me that we would be drilling this lovely morning and to have the men formed on the street by 7:30. There had been speculation that we might be skipping drill, but who were we kidding? In 1862 Confederate Soldiers drilled two, three and four times a day. Drill, drill and more drill they complained in letters home, but their lives depended on it, so they learned to drill with precision and pride. Reenactors typically drill once or twice during each reenactment, not counting using our practiced skills to maneuver on the field while in “battle”. Like all good soldiers, we complain about it, but we know it is important so we can look sharp in the eyes of the public and our peers. There are units out there that never drill…and it shows! We DON’T want to be like them!

The sun was partially hidden behind gray clouds. We knew rain was in the forecast, but that was for later. Right now, the clouds gave us welcome shade  from the blazing sun and allowed us to drill in the open field without getting too overheated. We ran through the basic facings and knocked the rust off. For most of us it had been several months since we marched together, but, like riding a bicycle, it quickly comes back to you.

The 6th North Carolina State Troops on the drill field

Right face! forward MARCH! By the left flank, March! Right wheel, March! Forward, March! By company into line…

We maneuvered up and down, back and forth and were soon effortlessly drifting across the field to the Captain’s orders. All around us other companies were doing the same. Today’s reenactment battle would require us to act as skirmishers. Once we had demonstrated our comfort with the basics, we moved on to the trickier movements required for the skirmish line. This required the company to spread out at 5 pace intervals across the field, which is easy to do, but always a challenge for those in command to be heard and maintain order. As the sun rose higher in the sky and the morning hours burned away, we practiced skirmishing and began to feel quite confident… again. As with any skill, practice makes perfect.

The brigade officers and NCO’s started calling the regiments back together and we completed the mornings program by running through a number of brigade drills before finally marching back to camp.

It would soon be time for lunch. The sky was getting cloudier and our first order of business was to put up our large fly to provide shelter in case it rained. William took charge of the effort and after much discussion, because every passerby had an opinion on the best way to do this, we finally committed ourselves and began the work of stretching the canvas out and securing it. If we had four evenly spaced trees in a square or four tents poles, our job would have been simple, but we had neither. Nor did we have much rope.

Matt holding last corner, Rick holding pole while William unravels rope

We ended up tying a corner to the predominate tree, under which I had slept the night before. Since this was “my” tree, I tied the rope, but I only had a short rope tail to do this, left over from our neighbor Craig’s tent. I tied a double half hitch and gave it a good solid yank. It seemed secure. Next we stretched the opposite side to a log…which promptly moved as soon as we tied to it. We shoved it back into place and secured it, then  pondered how to attached the last corner, left hanging in thin air. I finally found a large limb, which the Captain hastened to cut to size with his trusty camp saw. He then helped us tie it to the log and then on to a further tree, stretching our canvas tightly overhead. The resulting macrame project used a lot more rope than my little half hitch and would withstand a hurricane. We finally had a home! we laid out our blankets and I sat down to eat something for lunch before it was time to couter up  and march to the battlefield.

First Call! The words jarred me awake. I had stretched out on my blanket after lunch and dozed off. Around me the men were already getting their equipment on. I stood up quickly, hitting my head on the low canvas roof I had forgotten about already. I quickly got dressed and, as is my habit, I rolled  the rest of my gear inside my ground cloth in case it rained. I looked around and no one seemed to be carrying their ponchos so I dropped mine on top of my gear. To bad I didn’t carry it with me!

Marching to the Battlefield

The usual confusion prevailed as men drifted from their camps to the streets and formed companies which were then organized into brigades. Other Brigades marched by us with flags flying and music playing. We waited for our turn and joined the long line of Confederates. There were thousands of troops on the march, the site was awesome. We entered the grassy, overgrown pasture. Tick city was my first thought, but in the end I never saw one or found any once I got home. It may have been the religious spraying of OFF provided by our thoughtful comrade Yankee Joe. We stacked arms and were dismissed to rest. I laid down in the long grass next to my friends and watched brigade after brigade march onto the field. This wasn’t a mega event by far, but it was pretty impressive seeing all these troops. Overhead the clouds played tag, showing alternating patches of blue sky and sunshine followed by more clouds. The last thought on my mind was rain as we lounged in the grass having idle conversations amongst ourselves.

Troops gathering for the battle

The calm, relaxed atmosphere suddenly evaporated as officers urgently recalled their men to the battle line. The troops scrambled to their places. We quickly took our arms and marched off down a shady wood road. We were on the way to the battle field. We were ready to fight! No matter how many times I do this, I still get butterflies in my stomach. I’m like a 10 year old playing army again. Ahead stood two staff officers directing us forward. As I passed them their walki-talki blared to life and announced “severe storms are headed your way in 15 to 20 minutes”.  That’s it, I thought, the storm would probably force them to cancel the battle. I expected to be turned back to camp at any minute, but we kept going forward. Then, through a break in the woods, I saw why. Hundreds of spectators, colorfully garbed in shiny raincoats and holding umbrellas, lined the edge of the battlefield. Like the gladiators of long ago, WE were the show and the show must go on, regardless of the weather. An image of me leaving behind my poncho suddenly appeared in my brain. Oh Crap, we were gonna get wet, I thought.

Craig and William getting soaked during the downpour

The line of marched stopped. We were in our position at the edged of the battlefield. In the distance a cannon roared…or was it thunder? It was thunder. The cannons were directly in front of us and they were quickly being covered to protect them from the pending rain. A flash caught my eye. Someone snapping a picture? No, it was lightning. The men nervously joked about the four foot long musket “lightning rods” they all carried. Overhead the trees started whipping around as a heavy wind blew leaves and hats indiscriminately across the field behind us. With a roar, the sky opened and rain drops as big a Minnie balls pelted us from above. The wind whipped the rain in our faces and we could do nothing but stand there.

Federal Skirmishers appearing out of the mist at the 150th anniversary Battle of Sharpsburg on Sept. 8, 2012

The shady lane offered little protection and there was no where else to go, so we stood quietly in our ranks and got quickly drenched.  Water overflowed from hat brims and cascaded in waterfalls. evrything in my haversack was sodden. After the heavy downpour had efficiently done its job in soaking us, It settled into a steady, gentle rain. My garden would have loved this, but I was dripping and ready to go home! Fat raindrops kept falling from the leaves overhead, but outside the treeline the rain had tapered off and a heavy fog rolled in. The artillery men had uncovered their guns and were loading them. In the distance, a line of ghostly looking enemy skirmishers appeared on the ridge, well hidden by the rolling mists.

BOOM! We all jumped and turned to see a cloud of smoke surrounding a nearby Cannon that had fired and caught us off guard. BOOM!, BOOM! roared two more cannons. The battle was on and wet or not, we would soon be called on to push back the enemy.

Members of the 6th North Carolina state troops deployed as Skirmishers at the 150th anniversary Battle of Sharpsburg on Sept. 8, 2012

Our own officers demanded our attention and formed us back into our battle line. We surged forward through the underbrush and  advanced through the cheering cannon crews across the wet field. The cannon smoke hung in the damp air mixing with the floating mist. The acrid black powder smoke stuck our eyes and throats. Whatever was beyond the rise was obscured from our view. Our battle line marched on until we came to the far edge of the field. We deployed as skirmishers and cautiously entered a a copse of trees still dripping from the rain. The ground rose in front of us as and huge slabs of wet gray rock punctured the surface at odd angles, giving the skirmishers good cover. We continued our advance. Suddenly the mist cleared and we could see long lines of blue troops packed along the distant edge of the field. Their skirmishers appeared in front of us and opened fire. The crackle of muskets interrupted the worried shouts of officers trying to move us into position. We held the high ground and had a good selection of trees and rocks to hide behind as we started to return fire. As we moved through the woods we stumbled across spectators in lawn chairs. Up until that moment, the urgency of battle made it all seem very real, but it vanished after that. From my position as a file closer I spotted the Federals starting to turn our flank and warned the other officers. The Brigade started to withdraw and we found ourselves in front of the cannons again, but, this time,  blocking their shot. We quickly got out of the way and ended the battle with a final ear splitting BOOM!

Fresh troops rushed past us into the fray as we  realigned ourselves and marched to the rear. We stood back at the first staging area as hundreds of fresh troops poured in waiting their turn to fight. The battle field was so small that they had to rotate us out to give others a chance, and the battle was over for us.

The only casualty was my soul…the soul of my shoe that is. I’m not sure what caused it to give way, because they aren’t that old. The long wet grass had managed to slide between the soul and upper and nearly tripped me as I was marching, pulling the soul away. I was forced to flap my way back to camp.

Between the exhilarating fight and the march back to camp we had begun to dry out from the rain. We would have enjoyed fighting longer but with our camp in sight we were happy to be back home…until we got to our tents. It seemed the wind and storm has passed through our camp with a vengeance. Tents we leaning or toppled. Blankets and knapsacks were soaked and my corner of the tent had ripped loose, exposing me and my messmates to the elements. My fate could have been worse but I had wrapped my blankets in the ground cloth so only the edges got wet, Matt’s blankets got wet on one end, but William’s entire kit was under a large puddle of water that had funneled into his once cozy quarters. To say this was disheartening would be an understatement.

William refastened the corner. I think my knot tying skills will be forever questionable, even though I think the rope was defective! The only thing to do was to stoke the fire and  dry the blankets. The sky still looked questionable as we stood surrounding the fire holding blankets and jackets close the the licking yellow flames, hoping they would not errupt in flames. I started thinking about the Confederate soldiers who fought here in 1862. It had rained prior to the battle. I realized how easy we have it compared to them. They  surely spent many wet nights wrapped in wet blankets, too tired to care, after fighting or marching all day. At least we had a fire and if absolutely necessary, we had any number of dry tents we could double up in. My overheated hands brought me back to the present. The fire was hot and my blanket had dried to at least damp. I felt and smelled like a smoked ham.

I wasn’t happy about my shoe either. It was aggravating to flap around. I don’t remember when or where I got these brogans, but it didn’t seem that long ago. I was hoping I could get them repaired and worried that they would be permanently damaged if I kept walking On them. I was dreading the evening battle.

Yankee Joe talked me into walking up to the sutlers where he introduced me to several friends who he thought could help. While walking around I was pleased to see the friendly faces of two of my old comrades from the 150th NYSVI. We stopped and exchanged pleasantries, but I was on a mission to get my shoe repaired. In the end the shoe was too wet and muddy to make a temporary fix.  I wasn’t in the mood the spend $100 or more on a new pair or to continue shopping. My stomach started grumbling from the smells of food cooking on sutler row. I was still damp and suddenly very tired. I flapped back to camp ready to cook supper.

More rain was forecast, canceling the evening battle.  I was relieved to hear this news. The bodies around the fire had thinned out and the other half of the men had headed up to the sutlers. I had brought some smoked turkey sausage, a pepper from my garden and an onion. I chopped up the pepper and onion and put them in the frying pan with a little oil. I raked a pile of glowing coals to the edge of the fire and spread them out until I had set my “stove” to medium. I rested the frying pan on the coals and started to gently cook the onions and peppers. The smell drew a few of my comrades. Unfortunately I had brought only a small amount and didn’t have any extra to share. I sliced the single sausage and dropped it in the hot pan. the coals had cooled a little so I raked some fresh coals under the pan to renew the heat. I covered the pan with my tin plate to keep the moisture in and the ashes out.  It didn’t take long to heat the sausage. I settled myself near the fire to eat supper, finishing my masterpiece with a few squirts to Texas Pete. Bon Appétit!

Private Hinnant made an appearance (strictly for medicinal purposes since we had gotten soaking wet and wanted to avoid a chill)

I was finishing the final morsels as the men started returning from the sutlers. The camp was dark and damp, but the fire cast a cheery glow.The quiet satisfaction of a full days activities counterbalanced the disappointment of the rain, broken footware and collapsed tents. Private Hinnant made an appearance and tin cups appeared from every corner of camp, bringing us together, even if only for a few moments. Jeff introduced us to an African nectar, which was quickly shared amongst the empty cups. We chatted around the campfire briefly, but people started drifting off to their tents or other fires. I stretched out on my blanket and my eyelids were getting heavy as I listened to a nearby conversation. I was wavering in and out, adding a comment here and there before finally drifting off to dreamland ending my first day on the reenactment battlefield to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Sharpsburg.

Next: A 50 year veteran

Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Sharpsburg

Is it the Battle of Antietam or The Battle of Sharpsburg? They refer to the same terrible battle fought on September 17, 1862 and often referred to as the the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. How you refer to this battle may indicate your loyalties. Southerners refer to it as Sharpsburg, after the town near where it was fought. Northerners  refer to it as the battle of Antietam after the creek that separated the armies at the center of the battlefield. Since the Yankee’s won the war, lots of history books refer to it that way too. (To the victor goes the spoils). With about 23,000 casualties between the two armies, there was no victor on this battlefield. Historians generally consider the battle a draw, although many arguments exist that McClellan lost his opportunity to wipe out the Confederate army and end the war. On the other hand, General Lee, with a smaller force, used gutsy tactics and aggressive action to save his army from annihilation. No matter what you call it, I’m glad that you are commemorating the 150th anniversary of this seminal battle and mourn the flower of youth that perished from both sides of the conflict.

The 6th North Carolina State Troops at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Sharpsburg

Members of the 6th North Carolina state troops traveled to the reenactment battlefield near Boonesoro, Maryland from across eastern North Carolina and Virginia. The 350 mile journey took us a little more than 7 hours to drive. Crawling the last 50 miles or so through rush hour Washington traffic on the interstate reminded me of the resistance provided by Confederates troops blocking the mountain passes prior to the main battle. This must be how the Federal army felt…knowing they had someplace to be, but obsticles in your path are slowing you down. Finally clear of traffic, we hurried along the narrow, winding mountain roads for the final 20 miles or so. We watched the late summer sun sink behind the horizon, as our spirits also sank, knowing we had missed dinner with our comrades and would be forced to set up camp in the dark, never a fun experience.

We easily found the battle field thanks to “Penney”, Matt Holder’s British accented Garmin navigator, and quickly got registered. I am grateful to Matt for driving me and William to the event and back home, even after working all morning before we left.

We drove into camp to unload our minimal gear with our headlights supplementing the fading twilight and were directed to General Stepps HQ camp. Parking the truck close by we got out and stretched our cramped legs before plunging into the dark shadows under the forested glens to look for our camp. The first fire we approached was no one we recognized and they didn’t know where the 6th NCST was either. “Try over there” replied three or four lounging Confederates, their arms pointing in every direction of the compass.

Pushing through the underbrush we stumbled into a small clearing full of glistening white A-frames set up in orderly rows filling the space in every direction. So much for “campaign style” camping! There were more A-frames in any one of the rows than exist amongst the entire Carolina legion, so we knew this was not the right place. Walking along the rough logging road we soon saw our truck in the distance, having circumnavigated the woods but still not seeing anyone we knew. We had just about given up hope when we spied Colonel Roberts in the deepening shadows and he was kind enough to direct us to our nearby camp. We had nearly parked in front of it and had passed it by without noticing the naturally camouflaged entrance.

The camp was well hidden, close to the water buffaloes and latrines, nicely groomed by the labor of our earlier arriving  comrades and fully populated with their dog tents and shebangs. Most of our company had gone to eat supper. A few souls had stayed behind and gave us a cheerful greeting and hearty welcome. There were not many spots available so we choose a large empty area in the center of camp. It was too late to do more than throw down our knapsacks. We would hang our fly tomorrow in the light. The weather forecast was  favorable and the still air inside the sheltering woods was a little warm and humid, but a breath of air occasionally waved the leaves, promising a cooler respite during the night.

There was no Campfire so we ate an unplanned for cold supper by flickering lantern light. I had eaten a late lunch and made a supper out of the crackers I had brought for snacks. Just as I was laying out my wool blanket on top of my poncho, the rest of the company started filtering in and the next 30 minutes were spent greeting old comrades. Without a central campfire to draw us together, everyone drifted off either to an early sleep or to sit in the shadows in little knots visiting amongst themselves. The long ride to Maryland and the long walk back to camp from the parking lot was enough to wear me out and I soon found myself half listening to the comrades who were gathered around our lantern before dozing off to a sound sleep.

Coming Next- Saturdays Battle.

Carrying the Colors

Members of the 6th North Carolina State Troops, Co. I will be traveling from throughout North Carolina and Virginia to Sharpsburg , Md. this weekend. We will be participating in the 150th anniversary reenactment of the battle of Sharpsburg. For many members this is a return trip, having visited 5 years ago for the 145th anniversary. Some have even attended as far back as the 130, 135th and 140th anniversaries.

We have been informed that we will be the color company for the Carolina Legion, which prompted me the wonder about the flag. What colors did the 6th North Carolina wave above them on that warm September day as they traveled back and forth across Millers bloody cornfield in Sharpsburg?

I have been researching the 6th North Carolina state troops for nearly 20 years and have focused on their flags during the last decade, documenting my findings whenever I stumble across something, which isn’t as often as one might like. The problem with Civil war era flags is that they don’t seem to be mentioned too much, unless they are captured or have some special place of honor. Otherwise they are ordinary “tools” which are needed to get the job done as much as rifles or swords.

Imagine a researcher from the next century trying to document the model cell phone or laptop we carried.  Sure, everyone knows we carried them, but in those few important documents that survive, who has bothered to identify what phone they have or where they got it or exactly when they carried which specific model? That is the dilemma I face trying to document the colors of the 6th NCST. Flags are too ordinary.

Regarding the flag they used at Sharpsburg… I’m not coming up with too much, but I have a theory.

Captain Neill W Ray

You may be familiar with Captain Neill W. Ray’s sketch of the Sixth Regiment contained in Clark’s North Carolina troops.

If you haven’t read it lately, take a minute to read Captain Ray’s description of the 6th NCST at Sharpsburg, it’s very interesting and informative reading. In addition to some very specific details about where the 6th NCST was and when and what they did in the fight, Ray says (directly to you and me!)

If the future historian will study the battle of Sharpsburg…he will be forced to conclude that it should be considered one of the most noted battles of the war…

In this regard he was correct, since this battle has come to be known as the bloodiest single day.

At the end of his overall sketch of the 6th NCST he talks about the regimental flag [What we call the “Fisher Flag”].

“…a beautiful silken bannerit was highly prized; It waved over the regiment at …First Manassas…and at Gettysburg. It was not always used in battle, especially after battle flags had been distributed to the army.”

 Since Ray wrote such detail and felt so strongly about the importance of the battle of

6th N. C. S.T Regimental Flag
(“Fisher” Flag )

Sharpsburg and then went on to describe the Fisher flag in detail, I believe that if this flag had flown in this battle he would have specifically mentioned it. Therefore I conclude that they most likely carried a battle flag rather than the Fisher Flag.

But which battle flag? That’s the million dollar question.

If we assume the 6th NCST was issued a first issue flag in 1861, when it was available, it may have been lost when some of their stored baggage fell behind enemy lines and was captured in the spring of ’62. To my knowledge this flag was never claimed as being captured and I have never really found evidence that they actually either had it or lost it. It’s possible it was never issued since the 6th was already mustered and in the field before the design was even approved!

So did they have a first issue flag or not?

If it was issued and they carried  it during the marches and battles of the peninsula Campaign in the spring of ’62, It may  have become so worn (they were made of fragile silk) after being in the field that It had to be replaced with a second issue (bunting) flag which became available early in 1862.

An important clue is the July 25, 1862 general order 88 issued by the General Whiting which directs:

“The regiments of the five brigades of this division now present will have inscribed on their battle flag the names, “Seven Pines, Gaines farm & Malvern Hill.” In addition to the above the regts of the Texas Brigade, The Hampton Legion & the 6th N. C. will have the word Eltham’s landing out on their colors & all the regiments of the 3d. Brigade including the Legion the word Manassas.”

I have never really found evidence that they actually were issued a second issue flag either, but it would seem improbable that the regiment would disregard a general order and one that would bring honor and fame to their regiment. Since we know of two late war 6th NCST, non-honor marked battle flags at the NC museum of history, It seems logical that there is at least one “Missing” Flag…with battle honors.

I have recently learned that the Gettysburg museum is displaying a second issue 6th NCST flag with battle honors that was carried into battle at Gettysburg. I am working with the curator to identify the provenance. If this is indeed the 6th North Carolina State troops flag (or might it belong to the 6th NC Volunteers which is really the 16th NCT), then it may also be the one they used at Sharpsburg!

What happened to the flags carried by the 6th North Carolina State Troops between 1861 and 1863 are a mystery I am always on the lookout to solve. My guess is that they probably carried a second issue (orange border) battle flag at sharpsburg, but there is little evidence to prove or disprove it.  That is the flag we will be carrying this weekend. If someone could conclusively tell us why a second issue flag is WRONG for the 6th NCST in Sept of 1862 I would gladly acknowledge the error in exchange for this intelligence!

Oh and if you’re reading this from phone is a Samsung M220, ancient even in 2012 but good enough for me.