By Michael C. Hardy
The 37th North Carolina Infantry Regiment had a tempestuous beginning.
Shortly after it was mustered into state service in November 1861, the regiment was issued flintlock muskets and blocks of
lead for its members to melt down for their bullets. From private to regimental Colonel Charles C. Lee, the men protested
the outdated weaponry. One of the newly elected officers wrote home, "We have Recd flint Lock Muskets but Lee says he will
not Lead his Men in to battle without Number One arms."
|North Carolina Civil War Map
|North Carolina Civil War Map
Sixty percent of the regiment's troops came from the mountain counties
of North Carolina; the other 40 percent came from the counties around Charlotte. Most of the men already realized that the concept of a "six-month's war" was an
illusion. When the regiment was mustered into Confederate service in January 1862, it was for three years or the duration
of war. Colonel Charles Lee was a native North Carolinian who, like his father, Colonel Stephen Lee of the 16th North Carolina, and a cousin, General Stephen Dill Lee, graduated from West Point
(class of '56). Charles had previously served with future generals Daniel Harvey Hill and James H. Lane in the 1st North Carolina Volunteers, which had earned the nickname the
"Bethel Regiment" for its role in the June 10, 1861, Battle of Big Bethel.
Unfortunately, the .69-caliber arms that replaced the flintlocks were
no great improvement. Originally flintlocks, they had been converted to percussion, probably comprising some of the 37,000
stands of antiquated muskets, some dating back to the War of 1812, that had been captured with the Federal arsenal in Fayetteville.
The 37th carried those arms in its first battle, at New Berne, N.C.,
on March 14, 1862. Colonel Lee had been placed in command of a demi-brigade, and Lt. Col. William M. Barbour, a Wilkesboro
lawyer, commanded the regiment at New Berne. The defenders lost the battle, however, due mostly to factors all too common
for the Confederacy. Their overall commander, Brig. Gen. Lawrence O'Bryan Branch, was given a large area to defend with too
few troops, and the Federals he faced were still flush from victory at Roanoke Island.
Soon after the battle, the 2nd North Carolina Brigade was created and
General Branch was made its commander. The brigade was composed of the 7th, 18th, 28th, 33rd and 37th North Carolina Infantry
regiments. The nephew of Governor John Branch, the brigadier had recently represented North
Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout his tenure in the Confederate Army, Branch
would carry a grudge against the service's prewar Regular Army officers, often disdainfully referring in private correspondences
to fellow generals and commanders as "West Point Lieuts." Although Branch was controversial, few observers questioned the
mettle of the fighting men in his brigade. By May 1, 1862, the brigade was on its way to central Virginia as part of the plan to increase the size of the Confederate forces in that state.
Not long after its arrival, two companies of the 37th traded in their smoothbore muskets for British-made Enfield rifle-muskets.
By late May, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac had pushed Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's
army to the eastern outskirts of Richmond. Branch's brigade,
which had been augmented with a battery of artillery, cavalry and two more infantry regiments, was deployed to guard the Virginia
Central Railroad about a dozen miles north of Richmond. In response to a report of a large Confederate concentration at Hanover
Court House, a couple of miles north of Branch's position, McClellan sent Brig. Gen. Fitz-John Porter's V Corps to investigate
on the morning of May 27.
The previous night, Companies D and E of the 37th had been sent out
to picket the Pamunkey River,
to the east. In the morning, the Federals cut off the two companies, along with the 28th North
Carolina, from the rest of Branch's force. While the 28th managed to fight its way out, most of the
men in the two 37th companies were captured. Wagons were sent out to pick up the exhausted men who did escape.
The 37th was further weakened when Company B was detailed to guard an
ammunition wagon and ambulance. Colonel Lee was once again placed in charge of two regiments, his diminished 37th and the
18th. Advancing through some woods, the 37th encountered the Federals, according to a 37th officer, "concealed behind logs,
trees and in the cut of the road way which [was] bordered by a fence...." The Federal force was vastly superior to the 37th,
but the same officer recalled that "Coln Lees men stood like victorious officers & men stood as firm as rocks within 15
or 20 paces of the Yankee line. Volley after volley of grape from their cannon & Minie Balls from there Infantry Mowed
Down our men...." After a vicious fight, the bulk of Porter's corps arrived and the Confederates retreated, leaving many of
their dead and wounded. The 37th suffered 26 killed, 61 wounded and 167 captured, about one in three men engaged that day.
Even while the battle raged north of Richmond, Branch's brigade was being assigned to a newly created division
under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill. In a letter to Branch, A.P. Hill described his command as the "Light
Division," and the 37th would spend the rest of the war as a member of that famous organization.
The regiment rendered good service during the Seven Days' battles. At
Mechanicsville, it acted as a liaison between the newly named Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee, and
the tardy Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. At Gaines' Mill, the regiment charged the Federal works several times before
the Yankees retreated from their position. On June 30 at Frayser's Farm, the 37th was once again engaged. As Colonel Lee yelled
"On, my brave boys!" he was mortally wounded by an artillery shell. When told of his death, the men of the 37th wept. William
Barbour assumed command of the regiment and was promoted to full colonel on July 1.
The 37th next fought in the August Battles of Cedar Mountain and Second
Manassas. After participating in the capture of Harpers Ferry, the regiment and the rest of Hill's Light Division made the
exhausting and critical march from there to the Sharpsburg
battlefield. The 37th then took part in Hill's famous counterattack that stopped the Federal IX Corps' drive toward the rear
of Lee's army. Toward the end of the fighting, Branch was raising his field glasses to his eyes when a Federal bullet ended
his life. Colonel James H. Lane of the 28th then assumed
command of the brigade and was promoted to brigadier general.
At the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 37th was on the left of a gap in
the line created by a swamp at the base of Prospect Hill when the Federals were able to push through the gap. Colonel Barbour
reacted by refusing his three right companies and fighting fiercely until his troops ran out of ammunition and were forced
On May 2, 1863, the 37th participated in Jackson's
famous flank march at Chancellorsville. The regiment was at the front that evening as Jackson reconnoitered the Federal position beyond the lines. And the
37th would fire the first shots of the infamous volley that rippled down the line to its left and mortally wounded Jackson. The next day, the 37th suffered the most casualties of any
regiment engaged in the battle when its troops assaulted Federal entrenchments west of the Chancellor house. Barbour later
called it "the bloodiest battle that I have ever witnessed."
The rest of the regiment would soon trade their smoothbores for Enfield and Springfield rifle-muskets. The 37th's troops put their new
weapons to good use in the Gettysburg campaign. They drove
elements of the Federal cavalry off the field on July 1, and fought again on July 3 in support of Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew's
division during the grand assault commonly known as Pickett's Charge. After Gettysburg, the
37th fell back to Virginia, later fighting at Kelly's Ford
and Mine Run.
Spring 1864 brought a new campaign launched by the Army of the Potomac.
Although not heavily engaged in the Wilderness, the 37th suffered high
casualties in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. During that fight, on the morning of May 12, the brigade helped seal
the breach in the Confederate lines caused by a Union assault against the notorious Mule Shoe.
That afternoon, General Lee personally ordered a detachment of Lane's
sharpshooters, commanded by a captain in the 37th, to reconnoiter a Yankee battery that was enfilading the Confederate position.
When the sharpshooters reported back that the battery was unsupported, Lee ordered two brigades, including Lane's, to capture
it. The 37th emerged from the woods just as a division from Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's IX Corps passed on the opposite
side of the cannons. The 37th captured the battery and then slammed into the flank of the 17th Michigan and 51st Pennsylvania.
A brief melee ensued, with Lane's brigade capturing three Federal flags, two by members of the 37th. But the Federals fought
valiantly, earning three Medals of Honor during the fight and capturing Colonel Barbour.
Due to a lack of support, the Tar Heels were unable to continue the
fight. Nevertheless, the force of their attack had halted Burnside's advance. The troops of the 37th could proudly say that
they had saved the Confederate lines in the Mule Shoe.
After his capture, Colonel Barbour was taken to Old Capital prison in
Washington. On June 15, he and 49 other Confederate officers
were sent to Charleston, S.C.,
to be used as human shields by the Federal Army. Earlier, the Confederates had housed 50 Union officers in Charleston where, along with civilians, they came under fire from Federal artillery. After
three tense weeks, an exchange agreement was made and the 50 Confederate officers managed to avoid being used as shields.
Barbour was back with the 37th by the first week of August.
As the summer of 1864 wore on, the 37th was seriously engaged along
the North Anna River,
but not at Cold Harbor. On August 16, Colonel Barbour was wounded in the left leg and submitted
his resignation, but returned to his regiment before it was accepted. On September 30, at the Battle of Jones Farm, near Petersburg, he was again wounded, this time in the right hip. He was
taken to Petersburg, where he died on October 1. Command devolved
to Major Jackson L. Bost, a doctor from Union County. Bost would lead the regiment for the rest of the Petersburg campaign.
On March 24, 1865, Lane's brigade went into position as a reserve for
Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's attack on Fort Stedman.
The attack failed, and the 37th went back into the trenches near its winter quarters. On March 29, the 37th's troops were
forced to extend their intervals due to the redeployment of other brigades. The soldiers were spread so thin, according to
Maj. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox, that they were 10 feet apart from each other.
A Federal attack on the morning of April 2 overwhelmed the 37th's thinned
ranks, and during the short fight a member of the 37th Massachusetts
captured its flag. The North Carolinians scattered, some falling into the works at Fort
Gregg, where they helped halt the Federal advance and provide time for Lt. Gen. James
Longstreet to arrive from Richmond. The war was all but over
for members of the 37th. Many had been captured on April 2; many others started to work their way home. On April 12, when
the 37th stacked its rifle-muskets, only 115 officers and men were left to surrender out of the 2,000 that had served with
|1863 Virginia Civil War Battlefield Map
|1863 Virginia Civil War Map
Credits: Michael C. Hardy (Mr. Hardy's
research originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of America's Civil War and subsequently credited on the HistoryNet.com)
Meet the Author: Civil War historian Michael
C. Hardy has written for respected publications as North & South and America’s Civil War. He
frequently presents lectures and interpretive programs on Appalachia’s role in the American Civil War. Mr. Hardy
and family reside in historic and scenic western North Carolina. His works may be purchased below.
Highly Recommended Reading: The
Thirty-seventh North Carolina Troops: Tar Heels in the Army of Northern Virginia, by Michael C. Hardy. Description: It vividly reflects the unit’s four years’ service, told largely
in the soldiers’ own words. Drawn from letters, diaries, and postwar articles and interviews, this history of the 37th
North Carolina follows the unit from its organization in November 1861 until its surrender at Appomattox. Continued below...
The book includes photographs of the key players in the 37th’s story as well as maps illustrating
the unit’s position at several engagements. Appendices include a complete roster of the unit and a listing of individuals
buried in large sites such as prison cemeteries. (Great for genealogy, too.) A bibliography and index are also included.
Reading: Confederate Military
History Of North Carolina: North Carolina
In The Civil War, 1861-1865. Description: The author, Prof. D. H. Hill,
Jr., was the son of Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey Hill (North Carolina
produced only two lieutenant generals and it was the second highest rank in the army) and his mother was the sister to General
“Stonewall” Jackson’s wife. In Confederate Military History Of North
Carolina, Hill discusses North Carolina’s massive task of preparing and mobilizing for the conflict; the
many regiments and battalions recruited from the Old North State; as well as the state's numerous contributions during
the war. Continued below...
During Hill's Tar Heel State
study, the reader begins with interesting and thought-provoking statistical data regarding the 125,000 "Old North State"
soldiers that fought during the course of the war and the 40,000 that perished. Hill advances with the Tar Heels to the first
battle at Bethel, through numerous bloody campaigns and battles--including North
Carolina’s contributions at the "High Watermark" at Gettysburg--and concludes
with Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
Editor's Choice: The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns. Review: The
Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns is the most successful public-television miniseries in American history. The 11-hour Civil War didn't just captivate a nation,
reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. When
people describe documentaries using the "Ken Burns approach," its style is understood: voice-over narrators reading letters
and documents dramatically and stating the writer's name at their conclusion, fresh live footage of places juxtaposed with
still images (photographs, paintings, maps, prints), anecdotal interviews, and romantic musical scores taken from the era
he depicts. Continued below...
The Civil War uses all of these devices to evoke atmosphere and resurrect an event that many knew
only from stale history books. While Burns is a historian, a researcher, and a documentarian, he's above all a gifted storyteller,
and it's his narrative powers that give this chronicle its beauty, overwhelming emotion, and devastating horror. Using the
words of old letters, eloquently read by a variety of celebrities, the stories of historians like Shelby Foote and rare, stained
photos, Burns allows us not only to relearn and finally understand our history, but also to feel and experience it. "Hailed
as a film masterpiece and landmark in historical storytelling." "[S]hould be a requirement for every
Gone with the Wind (Four-Disc Collector's Edition)
1939 (1941) Description: First off, if you're a GWTW fanatic, you must buy this four-disc collection. But then again, you
probably don't need to read this to make that decision. For the rest of us, know that the kitchen-sink approach has been established
here with two full discs of extras. Continued below…
The film's restoration under Warner's
brilliant Ultra-Resolution process is the major contribution to the set. However, the bare-bones version released years ago
isn't bad and the film still doesn't pop off the screen as do films from the headier days of Technicolor (like the earlier
Ultra-Resolution DVD release of Meet Me in St. Louis). That said, the set is worthy of the most popular movie ever made. Rudy
Behlmer's feature-length commentary is dry but an exhaustive reference guide to the entire history of the film. Need more?
There's the excellent full-length documentary The Making of a Legend (1989) narrated by Christopher Plummer, plus two hour-long
older biographies on the two main stars. There are many new vignettes on the rest of the cast, all narrated by Plummer (a
nice touch to tie everything together). The new 30-minute interview/reminisce with Oliva de Havilland will be interesting
to older fans, but tiresome for the younger set. The usual sort of trailers and premiere footage is here along with a curious
short ("The Old South," directed by Fred Zinnemann) that was produced to help introduce the world to the history of the South.
Recommended Reading: The Civil War in North Carolina.
Description: Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought in North Carolina during the Civil War, and the campaigns and battles themselves were crucial
in the grand strategy of the conflict and involved some of the most famous generals of the war. Continued below...
John Barrett presents the complete story of military engagements across the state, including the classical
pitched battle of Bentonville--involving Generals Johnston and Sherman--the siege of Fort Fisher,
the amphibious campaigns on the coast, and cavalry sweeps such as General Stoneman's Raid. Also available in hardcover:
The Civil War in North Carolina.