by Frederick E. Walton, 6th N. C. S.T. Historian (C) 2017
Setting the stage
Following the battle of Fredericksburg In December 1862, Law’s Brigade and the Sixth North Carolina State Troops went into camp near Hamilton’s crossing, south of Fredericksburg. On January 19, 1861, they were transferred along with the 54th and 57th Regiments N. C. Troops to General Robert F. Hoke’s brigade. Hoke’s new “North Carolina” brigade consisted of the 6th Regiment N.C. State Troops, 21st Regiment N.C. Troops (11th Regiment N. C. Volunteers), 54th Regiment N. C. Troops, 57th Regiment N. C. Troops, and the 1st Battalion N. C. Sharpshooters. The newcomers had to march 20 muddy miles to join Hoke’s Brigade, camped further south of Hamilton’s Crossing near Port Royal, Va., where they remained on picket duty for the remainder of the winter of 1862-1863.1
On March 3, 1863 the regiment took another long march back to their old campground near Hamiltons Crossing where they continued picketing along the Rappahannock keeping an eye on the Federal troops on the other side.2
The Battle of Chancellorsville
On April 28, 1863, word came that the enemy was finally on the move. Federal troops under General Hooker were advancing up the Rappahannock to get behind the Confederate position at Fredericksburg. Across the river from their position the Federals were preparing to cross in force. Sergeant B. Y. Malone recorded the excitement in his journal:
“ The morning of the 28 befour I got up I herd a horse come threw the camp in a full lope and it was not meney minutes untell the man come back and sais Boys you had better get up we will have a fight hear to reckly and I comenced geting up and befour I got my close on they comenced beating the long roal and and it was not but a minnet or too until I herd the Adgertent hollow fall in with armes the Reg. then was formed and marched to the Battel field the Yankies comenced crossing the river befour day and by day they had right smart force over the pickets fought sum on the 29 and a good deel of canonading was don and it raind sum in the eavning” 3
The Battle of Chancellorsville had begun, but instead of moving westward with the rest of Lee’s Confederates, the 6th N. C. State troops were posted at a critical junction, miles away, tasked with keeping the Federal’s in check. Lee had entrusted General Early with this important task. They were not part of Stonewall’s grand flank attack at Chancellorsville that swept the Yankees back across the Rappohannock, but that didn’t mean they weren’t engaged with the enemy. General Early’s Corps, including Hoke’s brigade, had their own fight, starting near the familiar battleground of Hamilton’s Crossing and Deep Run.
On a very foggy May 1st, the regiment was sent out on picket duty early in the morning and, according to private Malone, found themselves within 500 yards of “a very strong line of Scirmishers “ when the fog lifted “we cood see a great meney Yankees on the other side of the river but we couldent tell how meney was on this side”. Two divisions, from the I and VI corps, making up the Federal left wing, had crossed the Rappahannock river to threaten the Confederate picket line. They were sent to stage a demonstration in an attempt to deceive Lee about the real location of the attack. Lee quickly rearranged his troops to counter the threats on two fronts. That evening the Sixth N. C. “could hear very hevy canonading up the river” recorded Malone “It is repoted that our men and the Yankees was a fyting at Keleys Foad” What they were hearing was what we traditionally call the battle of Chancellorsville, far from the fighting they were about to commence in their section of the long Confederate line.4
The Sixth North Carolina and Hoke’s Brigade fell back to the safety of their breastworks the next morning May 2nd. Around 10 am two Confederate batteries opened on the Federals, drawing counter battery fire. They “ kept up about a hour but no damedge don as I have herd of”, eyewitness Malone reported. General Lee had suggested to General Early that he use his long range artillery to feel out the enemies strength. Further away, cannonading could still be heard near Kelly’s ford. Colonel R. H. Chilton of General Lee’s staff arrived with verbal orders directing General Early to Chancellorsville. Chilton had misunderstood Lee’s instructions. Lee wanted Early to come to Chancellorsville only if the Federals in his front appeared to be moving toward Chancellorsville. Chilton ordered them there immediately. Sergeant Malone describes the ensuing confusion as the Yankee’s feint continued:
“ about 5 o’clock in the eavning we could see the Yankees a marchen up on the other side of the river by regiments and most all went back from on this Side of the river and General Earley thought that they was all a going back and taken all of his men but a Louisiana Bregaid and started to reinforce General Lea And about the time we had gone 6 miles they come orders that the Yankees was atvancen again whar we had left And then we had to turn back and march all the way back about 10 o’clock in the nite. And the next morning which was the 3 day [May 3, 1863] our men comenced Buming [bombing] the Yankees and they returned the fyer and ther was right smart canonading and picketing don untell about 12 o’clock and then for sum cause we was all ordered to fall back about a half of a mile to our last breast works but as soon as dark come we marched about 2 miles up the River .”5
Early had ordered his division back to Fredericksburg to hold the line with two other brigades and a portion of the reserve artillery. Hoke’s brigade was placed in line at Deep run on the right of Early’s line, below Fredericksburg, near where the Sixth had fought the December before.
On the morning of May 3, while General Lee was engaging Hooker at Chancellorsville, General Early was informed that the Federals had crossed the river at Fredericksburg. General Sedgwick, commanding the Federal forces around Fredericksburg, advanced beyond the town, attacking and capturing Marye’s Hill in a desperate fight. Since Sedgwick’s force appeared to be poised to strike the right of Lee’s line near Chancellorsville Hoke’s Brigade was rushed forward to block this threat. Captain Neil W. Ray described the movement:
“Our brigade was commanded by General Hoke, and we were at once moved from our position below Deep Run, so as to attack the enemy, who was then on the hills south of the town. [Marye’s heights] The conflict was sharp, but short., and the enemy was soon on the retreat. In this fight. General Hoke was wounded. By the next morning Hooker and his army were again on the north side of the Rappahannock.” 6
General Lee personally joined General Early near Hoke’s line to discuss the impending attack. Captain York, commanding Co. I of the 6th N. C. S. T. recalled that all the marching and countermarching of the previous two days had caused the men to become demoralized and lose confidence in their officers. The appearance of Lee in their midst helped them regain confidence and commence readiness for the upcoming attack. Word went down the line that “All is right, Uncle Robert is here. We will whip them.”7
Later that afternoon, General Early watched as Hoke’s and Hay’s brigades, on the Confederate right, pushed north, with vigor, across Hazel run, down into the little creek valley and up the other side to emerge on the Plank road, blocking the Federals from Fredericksburg and sweeping them back, a moment he later termed “a splendid sight”.8
Then, disaster struck as Colonel Hoke was shot from his horse when he reached the Plank road. A Minnie ball broke his shoulder bone causing him to be unseated from his horse, falling heavily to the ground.9
Colonel Isaac E. Avery, as the senior commander, ascended to command of the brigade. Hoke had been instructed to wheel his brigade to the left, when he reached the Plank road, to straighten his line and maintain contact with Hays on his right. Avery, not having been informed, led his eager troops forward, entering a patch of woods and collided into Hays’ troops pouring forward, entangling the two brigades. As the confused mass pushed ahead they were counter attacked by a concealed 6th Vermont, who was lying in wait beyond the crest of a hill and rose to fire a well timed volley into the surprised Confederates. As darkness fell, the Federal troops withdrew toward the river to regroup, eventually being ordered back across, frustrating Early’s hope of dispatching the enemy with their back to the river.10
The price was extremely high. Casualties for the 6th North Carolina State Troops were 29; eight killed and twenty-one wounded11 including:
- Cornelius Mebane, the regimental adjutant.
- Captain Guess of Company C
- Captain Vincent of Company K
- Lieutenant John S. Lockhart of Company B was badly wounded in the foot.
(for complete casualty list see https://ncara.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/remembering-the-battle-of-chancellorsville-150-years-ago-today-2/)
Private John Henry Marcom of Company C (listed as Markham in the roster), was honored by a sad epitaph in the June 10th, 1863 Hillsborough Recorder:
“The deceased was not only endeared to his company, but also to the entire Regiment. He was a faithful soldier, and although he has been numbered with the gallant dead of the noted 6th, his comrades will ever remember him.”
“The brigade lost a total of 35 killed and 195 wounded for a grand total of 230. Early’s division suffered a total of 136 killed, 838 wounded, and 500 missing; the total loss was 1,474 men who could not easily be replaced because most of them were veteran soldiers.”12
Sergeant B. Y. Malone described his own injuries as well as that of some of his comrades:
“I was slitley wounded above the eye with a peas of a Bumb non was kild in our company. Lieutenant Walker was slitley wounded in the side. I. R. Allred was wounded in the arm hat to have it cut off. I. E. Calmond was slitley wounded in the arm. I. L. Evins had his finger shot off”.13
North Carolina Surgeon General Edward Warren wrote:
“ A great number of our soldiers have been killed and wounded; for, as usual, North Carolina bore the brunt of the fight. You may rest assured that every attention shall be given them–that each one shall be visited and cared for to the extent of his necessities. I am resolved that they shall all feel that their state has a personal interest in them. I find it unnecessary to visit the army as all the wounded are being forwarded to this city.”
This was followed by a more solemn note:
“Dr. Grissom returned to day in charge of six hundred wounded men.”
The most serious loss to the Sixth North Carolina and Hoke’s brigade was General Hoke himself who was shot from his horse while leading a charge. A minie ball shattered his shoulder bone near the shoulder joint. Surgeons wanted to amputate but Hoke adamantly refused. His recuperation would take most of the summer.14
A far more devastating blow to the Confederate cause occurred by the accidental shooting of Stonewall Jackson. As the Confederates were sweeping the surprised Federals from the field in Chancellorsville, Jackson was cut down by his own troops in the shadowy darkness of the scrub forest between the two armies. Lee sadly wrote to Jackson, when hearing of this tragedy armies. Lee sadly wrote to Jackson, when hearing of this tragedy
“Could I have directed events, I should have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead”
Following the defeat of the Federals at Chancellorsville and Salem Church, the Army of Northern Virginia returned to the Fredericksburg line. After Jackson’s death, Lee reorganized his army into three corps. Hoke’s brigade, Now commanded by Colonel Avery remained in Early’s division, which was assigned to Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell’s corps.
Colonel Avery, being senior colonel of the brigade, was automatically placed in the position of brigade commander, but without the corresponding rank of Brigadier General. Lt. Colonel Robert Webb, recently recovered from his Sharpsburg wound was given command of the Sixth. He was later promoted to full colonel on July 2, 1863.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (70 vols. in 128; Washington, 1880–1901), Ser. I, Vol. XXII, XXXIII Conf. Corr., etc, #4, Special Order No. 19, Jan 19, 1863.
Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of North Carolina, record group 109, NARA 270, Roll 0158, Record of Events, Company I, 6th North Carolina State Troops, March 1 to May 11, 1863
- Malone, Bartlett Yancey. Whipt ‘em Everytime. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991.
- Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991; “Sixth Regiment” by Neill W. Ray.
- Gallagher, Garry.Chancellorsville,The Battle and its Aftermath. Chapel Hill, N. C., UNC Press, 1996, 51-52
- Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1999, 415.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (70 vols. in 128; Washington, 1880–1901), Ser. I, Vol. XXV, pg 808.
- Iobst, Robert W. The Bloody Sixth.Gaithersburg, Md: Olde Soldier Books (reprint), 1965, pg 120; Other Casualty records compiled from various sources including the O. R.’s, Iobst, N. C. Troops and various newspaper listings.
Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991.
Iobst, Robert W. The Bloody Sixth.Gaithersburg, Md: Olde Soldier Books (reprint), 1965.
Jordon, Weymouth t. (Editor). North Carolina Troops, 1861-65, Raleigh, NC: NC Department of Archives and History, 1981.
Malone, Bartlett Yancey. Whipt ‘em Everytime. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991.
Stackpole, Edward J. Chancellorsville, Lee’s Greatest Battle.Harrisburg, Pa: Stackpole Books,1988.