The Sixth at Manassas

Copyright (C) 2016 by Frederick Walton

Here is an account of the 6th North Carolina State Troops and their participation in the first battle of Manassas on Sunday, July 21, 1861. This was written by Captain Benjamin Franklin White and published in “Histories of the several regiments and battalions from North Carolina, in the great war 1861-’65: Volume 5“. Edited by Chief Justice Walter Clark of the North Carolina Supreme Court, a Confederate veteran, and first published in 1901, today it is a valuable resource for North Carolina historians who generally refer to the 5 volume set simply as “Clark’s”.


[581] original Page numbers

Sixth Regiment [North Carolina State Troops] at Manassas
21 July, 1861
By B. F. White, Captain1

The main facts related by Major A. C. Avery (Vol. 1 of this work, pp. 240-349)2 in reference to the part the Sixth Regiment took in the first battle of Manassas are correct, but owing to his absence through sickness from the regiment when all points of the battle were discussed and the field visited and reports made to the commission sent out by Governor Clark, he has fallen into some errors. He fails to state that the Sixth Regiment halted for some time in front of the Lewis House, and that while here. Colonel Fisher rode forward to ascertain at what point to lead forward his regiment, at this juncture Lieutenant-Colonel Lightfoot requested Major R. F. Webb to ask, for him, the privilege of putting the regiment into line of battle, as Colonel Fisher had not drilled the regiment and was incompetent to do it, and further that Colonel Fisher and himself were not on good terms. (This request Colonel Fisher refused.) Colonel Lightfoot’s conduct towards Colonel Fisher had been such as to create an estrangement and their relations were very far from cordial.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 11.03.37 AM

The Lewis House, Portici, “Headquarters of Gen. Jos. E. Johnston, during the battle of the 1st Bull Run” LOC LC-DIG-ppmsca-20479

    On Colonel Fisher’s return, the regiment was moved several hundred yards and drawn up at a right angle from its former position. Avery states that this was our first position. After remaining here for some time a few shells from the enemy’s battery passed over our heads. One passed through our ranks as it bounded on the ground ; the men opened ranks and as it did not burst no one was hurt. Immediately after this we were ordered forward, marching in file, turned a little to the left, passed down a hill through a wood. On emerging from the woods into an old sedge field, [582] we crossed a branch (which I think was called Drake’s branch)3 While making this move quite a number of Louisianians and a part of a Mississippi Regiment in disorder, passed up a hill to the rear

    Here the Sixth Regiment halted for a short time. Then the regiment leaded for a point in the rear of where Colonel Bartow fell. When approaching near that point a courier or mounted officer called to Colonel Fisher not to go in that direction, for his regiment would be cut up by the Yankee cavalry. Thereupon the regiment was turned abruptly to the left, crossing an old worm fence, and passing behind a dense pine thicket immediately in the rear of the Fourth Alabama, Second Mississippi and two companies of the Eleventh Mississippi.


Old road at Manassas battlefield running behind Confederate lines Copyright (C) 2005 Frederick Walton Photography

On reaching an old road the regiment turned to the right and passed along a thick copse of wood on the left and soon emerged from the pines opposite the Mississippi troops. When the right of the Sixth Regiment got opposite the left of the Mississippi Regiment, I heard distinctly one of our field officers call to Colonel Fisher, “Colonel, turn the head of your regiment this way.” To this Colonel Fisher paid no attention whatever, but passed on into an angle formed by the Yankees in the Sudley road and the New York Zouaves marching to turn our left flank. When the left of company F, (third company in regiment), commanded by First Lieutenant Carter, came opposite the Mississippi
regiment, one of our field officers called out, “Halt.” Carter repeated the command, then “Right face4.” Colonel Fisher, who was but a short distance away, called out sharply, “Who in the hell gave that command? I am Colonel of this regiment; follow me.”

Captain Robert F Carter co F

1st Lt. Robert F. Carter, Co. F, courtesy of descendant Dan Morrow

    Lieutenant Carter gave the command, “Left face, forward, march.” No other company up to this time either halted or right faced. Company F immediately followed the two companies in its front. Lightfoot remarked, “Did any body ever see the like.” Soon after this we were fired upon at an angle from our left, the balls passing mostly over our heads, only one man in our company being hit. He was shot in the head. The second and third volley came low. About this time Colonel Lightfoot came through the left of company F [583] and was slightly wounded, but this did not interfere with his locomotion, calling out as he left, ”Boys, take care of yourselves,” and to their discredit or discretion, many took his advice and emulated his example, but did not stop till they reached Manassas, five miles away.

Point of Attack from Woodline by the 6th NCST at Manassas Battlefield Park Copyright (C) 2005 Frederick Walton Photography

Point of Attack from Woodline by the 6th NCST at Manassas Battlefield Park Copyright (C) 2005 Frederick Walton Photography

Company F faced to the rear and made a left wheel until they came on a line somewhat in advance of the Mississippians and opened fire upon a section of Sherman’s battery5 and two howitzers commanded by Captain Ricketts. About this time Companies A, E, F and D got considerably mixed up. I was much employed in driving home with a stone the balls for our Irish comrades. I was often called to, “Lieutenant, take this stone and drive me ball drown.” The kick of the gun was similar to that of a mule, and the report was not much less than a rifled 4-pounder.6 


Gen. O.B. Wilcox
Digital ID: (digital file from original neg.) cwpbh 00963

    About this juncture a Federal officer rode up to us waving his hat and calling, “For God’s sake stop ; you are firing on your friends.” On discovering his mistake he attempted to ride away. As he passed the left of the Mississippians he reeled and fell. He and his horse were both captured. This officer turned out to be Wilcox, who afterwards became a Major-General. Colonel Liddell, of the Eleventh Mississippi, got his horse and rode him for many a day.

2 gun section of Griffins Battery at Manassas Battlefield Park, located near where the guns attacked by the 6th NCST were Located

Two gun section of Griffin’s Battery at Manassas Battlefield Park, located near where the guns attacked by the 6th NCST were located Copyright (C) 2005 Frederick Walton Photography

    About this time the charge was made upon the battery. On reaching the battery I found all the horses killed. The two guns, 40-pounder brass howitzers, were unlimbered, but not trained upon our regiment, but rather pointing in the direction of the Second Mississippi. Our line passed the battery and on approaching the old Sudley road, were subjected to a heavy fire from Yankees stationed in the road, and also from the New York Zouaves on our left.

The Flagpole at the Manassas Battlefield Park Visitors Center Marks the approximate spot where Colonel Fisher Fell. Copyright (C) 2005 Frederick Walton Photography

The Flagpole at the Manassas Battlefield Park Visitors Center Marks the approximate spot where Colonel Fisher Fell. Copyright (C) 2005 Frederick Walton Photography

    In coming out of the fight I passed down the line of the Zouaves. Whether Colonel Fisher was killed by the Yankees charging from the Sudley road, or the Zouaves on our right, or from scattering shots from our own men, will never be known.

    Colonel Isaac E. Avery informed us that Captain Ricketts, in a conversation with his brother, Col. Waightstill Avery, informed him that ”the position of Fisher’s Regiment was such [584] that he supposed them to be a support for his battery; ” that had he a minute’s time longer, that he would have swept the whole head of our column down; that all of his men were either killed or wounded. This was the turning point in the battle. In falling back we passed directly in front of the Zouaves and were subjected to a heavy fire, the balls passing mostly over our heads, doing us little damage.
    Our line passed the battery and on approaching the old Sudley road were subjected to a heavy fire from the enemy stationed in it and also a flank fire from the New York Zouaves on our left, we were compelled to retreat. On leaving the field we passed through the line of Kirby Smith’s men, who were coming up as a support. On reaching the battery they found the dead and wounded Yankees lying around and honestly supposed that they did it. I passed a Virginia Colonel who I was told was Colonel Fletcher or Colonel Kemper. On getting back to the branch at the foot of the hill and edge of the woods the scattered men of the Sixth were formed into line and marched forward to the left of Kirby Smith’s command and led to the rear of one of our batteries, which did fine execution on the retreating columns of the enemy. We pursued the enemy as far as the stone house. There was still firing to the east. Here we were halted and addressed by President Davis, who told us of the glorious victory we had won. On the roll being called there were found to be present one hundred and twenty-five (125) men of the Sixth Regiment7. Twenty-five of these were from Company F.

The Stone house seen from the top of Henry Hill Copyright (C)2006 Frederick Walton Photography

The Stone house seen from the top of Henry Hill Copyright (C)2006 Frederick Walton Photography

Captain James Craige, whose company (G) was near the left of the regiment, was leading up his company in file, when he received a fire from an advancing column from the Sudley road, ten of his men fell dead in a bunch8, being only two less than one-half of the number killed in the regiment. Two-thirds of the regiment was blanketed by the three or four forward companies and the left companies took very little part in the fight simply from the position of the regiment and conduct of Lieutenant-Colonel Lightfoot. I have passed over the ground four times that the Sixth Regiment passed over in going into action. There was not at that [585] time, forty years ago, a gully which a man on horseback could not easily have crossed. The two guns brought over the Sudley road to the front of the Henry House were never fired from that position, not because of the nature of the ground, but simply because the battery was disabled, the men being either killed or wounded.

Author standing at the Magnum sign, notice the flagpole at the Visitors Center behind me. Copyright (C) 2006 Frederick Walton Photography

Author standing at the Mangum sign, notice the flagpole at the Visitors Center, behind me, where Col. Fisher fell. Copyright (C) 2006 Frederick Walton Photography

   I am of the opinion that Colonel Fisher, Lieutenant Magnum and others were killed by our troops over on the old Sudley road and not by the enemy9. Where the Sixth Regiment fought is free from gullies or steep hillsides. At the time of the battle all that ground was in virgin forest, piney old field and sedge, except where we joined in the flank movement.
On the evening of the battle I heard Colonel Fletcher, of Virginia, boasting of the capture of the battery by his regiment. I told him how it was done, but he would not stand
corrected. The Virginians still claim the honors, I believe.

B. F. White.
Mebane, N. C. ,
31 December, 1901.

Note —A very interesting account of the Sixth at Manassas is also
given by Gen. Clingman in this vol. at p. 29, ante.—Ed.


[1] Clark’s “Histories of the several regiments and battalions from North Carolina, in the great war 1861-’65: Volume 5” has been digitized by The North Carolina State Archives and is available at

[2] Clark’s “Histories of the several regiments and battalions from North Carolina, in the great war 1861-’65: Volume 1” has been digitized by The North Carolina State Archives and is available at

[3] I have been unable to identify a stream on the Manassas battlefield called Drake’s Branch. (There is a town in Charlotte County, Va. called “Drake’s Branch” but this would not be relevant.) This may have been a local nickname, but in studying period maps of the battle field I do not find this reference. I believe he may be referring to “Hokum’s Branch”, a tributary of the Bull Run which lies between the Lewis House (Portici) and their position in front of Griffin’s Guns. This branch also forks off into a couple of smaller unnamed branches that may have crossed their path.

[4] When a Column is marching by the left flank, as these troops were, the command right face, would have placed them in a two rank battle front facing the right, or in this case the enemy on their right. This is actually a proper reaction to a halt, however,  a company  commander should not assume the Colonel’s intention, but should have waited for the command.

[5] Although most of the early accounts of this battle call this battery “Sherman’s” it was, in fact, Griffin’s Battery.

[6] YIKES! what a dangerous practice! when a muzzle loaded black powder rifle is fired several times the interior of the barrel gets fouled making it very difficult to drive the lead mini ball home with a ramrod. Hitting the ramrod with a stone is one way to accomplish this, but considering that the explosive black powder is already at the bottom if the barrel, a spark could result in a deadly accident.

[7] There are several number’s floating around, but the guesstimates for the Regiments strength at Manassas range from the 600’s to the 800’s.

[8] A review of the regimental Roster shows 8 killed and 6 wounded, of which 2 were severely wounded, one of these dying as a result of the wound. The regimental losses were 16 Killed, 57 Wounded, 1 Missing for a total of 74 Casualties, reported in the 7-31-1861 North Carolina standard taken from Lt CoL Lightfoot’s official report and verified against North Carolina Troops Roster (Jordon) & Bloody Sixth Roster (Manarin).
by Rick Walton 7/18/2006. Click here and go to bottom of page for details

[9] In Major A. C. Avery’s article “additional Sketch of the Sixth Regiment” in Volume 1 of “Clark’s Regimentals” (page 346) he writes: “For many years the writer [A. C. Avery] shared in the opinion generally entertained by the soldiers of the Sixth, who participated in the fight, that the men who fired upon us, and caused us to fall back, were Confederates ; but the story was not credited by the general officers, who could locate none of our troops in the skirt of woods referred to…When General Sherman wrote his memoirs it appeared from his report that a Massachusetts regiment in his brigade wore a gray uniform, and were mistaken by Confederates for their own men. He describes their position as that of the soldiers who occupied the woods to the left and front of the Sixth. The account given by General Sherman is the solution of what before had seemed an inexplicable mystery. We were fired upon by a regiment of the enemy, and not by Confederates.”


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