‘Roughs’ In Last Charge At Appomattox
By George W. McCoy
The broad-shouldered Rough and Ready Guards of Buncombe and their young captain, Zebulon Baird Vance, started to war together in the Spring of 1861. Not many months passed, however, before their paths took different directions – the Guardsmen to serve under Lee and Jackson in Virginia, Vance to lead the people of North Carolina in an hour of supreme testing and sacrifice.
This is the story of the Rough and Ready Guards and of the captains who commanded them.
Standing in bold relief against the mountain skyline are two mental pictures of the man who was to become the great Vance. The first is in his familiar role as an eloquent, moving orator. The other is that of a solitary horseman, paused in Beaucatcher Gap in the mountain that overlooks Asheville from the east.
Often quoted is an excerpt from a speech made by Vance before an audience of Union veterans in 1886 in Boston, Mass.
"…when Fort Sumter was fired upon, immediately followed by Mr. Lincoln’s call for ‘volunteers’ to suppress the insurrection, the whole situation was changed instantly. The Union men had every prop knocked out from under them, and by stress of their own position were plunged into the secession movement. For myself, I will say that I was canvassing for the Union with all my strength; I was addressing a large and excited crowd, large numbers of whom were armed, and literally had my arm extended upward in pleading for peace and the Union of our Fathers, when the telegraphic news was announced of the firing on Sumter and the President’s call for 75,000 volunteers. When my hand came down from that impassioned gesticulation, it fell slowly and sadly by the side of a Secessionist. I immediately, with altered voice and manner, called upon the assembled multitude to volunteer not to fight against but for South Carolina.
"I said, ‘If war must come I preferred to be with my own people. If we had to shed blood I preferred to shed Northern rather than Southern blood. If we had to slay I had rather slay strangers than my own kindred and neighbors; and that it was better, whether right or wrong, that communities and states should get together and face the horrors of war in a body – sharing a common fate, rather than endure the unspeakable calamities of internecine strife.’"
Zeb Vance, the young Congressman, had made his choice in that April, 1861 speech at Marshall in Madison County where the unfolding war years were to bring the internecine strife he abhorred. The 30-year-old Asheville lawyer and political leader had been a strong pleader for the Union and for peace, though he, at the same time, voiced warnings against an attempt to coerce the Southern states by force of arms.
There was much excitement among the people when Vance returned that night from Marshall to Asheville. The sword had been drawn and the people in big majority were voicing their concern and strong opposition to the President’s call for troops. A swift change in sentiment had been wrought in the mountain community. There were exceptions, but generally there had been no close affinity for the secession cause. Now there was determined support for the move to raise troops to protect and defend the South. Asheville was to be the stronghold of Southern sentiment in the North Carolina mountains though a minority clung to their old views – they were for the Union, come high water or the angry roar of cannon. A minor percentage was to serve in the Union armies, including Col. George W. Kirk’s Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment that participated in Stoneman’s raid.
First To Leave
The first company to leave Asheville for service in the Confederate cause was the Buncombe Riflemen commanded by Capt. W. W. McDowell. After a colorful and spirited farewell ceremony on April 18, 1861, the Riflemen marched out of the mountains to win fame, as part of the First North Carolina Regiment of Volunteers, at Bethel in Virginia on June 10, the first pitched battle of the war.
The second company to leave Asheville was the Rough and Ready Guards. The members were recruited from the homes of Asheville and the county by Zeb Vance in the Spring of ’61. The date of organization is listed as May 3. Captain Vance’s older brother, Robert Brank Vance, who was to be a Confederate brigadier general, described the scene as the Rough and Ready Guards left Asheville for the Camp of instruction at Garysburg in Northampton County by way of Morganton, Statesville and Raleigh:
"The day that the ‘Rough and Ready Guards’ left Asheville was a memorable one. The streets were crowded with people, friends and admirers of the company who had come to see the gallant boys turn their faces eastward. The stirring notes of drums and fifes, the waving of flags, the thrilling and patriotic echoes of ‘Dixie’, and shouts of the people and the tears of the bystanders, as they looked on faces never, in all probability, to be seen again on earth, made it indeed a scene long to be remembered."
After the moving farewell ceremony, the "Roughs" (as they were often called) moved down South Main Street (the present Biltmore Avenue) to the Swannanoa River where they turned east via the flats of the north bank, "followed for miles by weeping women and loving friends."
The scene was one of contrast – the sadness of farewell amidst great natural beauty. Along the Swannanoa the birch and other water-loving plants grew out over the stream to form at places almost tunnel-like canopies through which softly flowed the mountain-born waters of the rugged and great Craggies – high mountains covered with virgin forests and known for their beautiful laurels and rhododendrons. There many of the Guardsmen had hunted and developed their keenness as riflemen in the natural deer parks and black bearlands.
General Vance in Clement Dowd’s "Life of Vance" said the Guards camped the first night at West’s Old Field, "the rendezvous of the company in the annual reunions of the survivors." (This place of post-war rendezvous is on the north side of U.S. 70 in the cove where Bull Mountain Road takes off up Haw Creek Valley and crosses the Great Craggies into Reems Creek Valley. To the veterans, it was known as Camp Ray, the property having been deeded in 1907 by Mark L. Reed, Sr., to "the J. M. Ray Camp of United Confederate Veterans, Company K, Eleventh North Carolina Volunteers, and Company F, Fourteenth North Carolina Volunteers." At the time of conveyance, the land was known as Hall Field and embraced "the Hall Spring and all contiguous land within one-half mile in circumference from said spring.)
After the men made camp for their first night out, Capt. Vance himself returned to his home in Asheville. The next morning, on horseback, he rejoined the company, riding through Beaucatcher Gap on the east side of the mountain settlement.
The scene of Vance in Beaucatcher Gap was described by his brother:
"The Captain lingered long in the gap overlooking his home and city. In the distance the French Broad rolled on with its rugged waters. Still further away old Pisgah lifted its lofty peaks above the Hominies and Pigeon rivers, and further still the Smoky range endeavored to rival Mount Mitchell in its height and in its glory.
"With a deep sigh the Captain turned away from a sight so entrancing. It reminds one of Boabdil, in the gap of the mountain overlooking the Alhambra and fair Granada, which spot has since been known as ‘The Last Sigh of the Moor.’ While not knowing, as did Boabdil, that he would never see his home again, it was highly probable that he never would be so blessed."
What were Captain Vance’s thoughts that beautiful May morning as he gazed upon his home valley where mists rose from the rivers and entwined the mountain tops? We do not know. He noted the beauty of the scene, of course. He heard the songs and morning calls of the wild birds. His thoughts, though, we may well conclude, were long and solemn. Maybe there was a fleeting reflection on the gay aspects of life in the previous ten years. Perhaps he recalled a letter he had written on Sept. 14, 1851, from the State University at Chapel Hill to his cousin, John Mitchell Davidson:
"Old Buncombe has been playing the devil, I suppose, in the way of Bloomer’s, fancy balls, duels, fighting, elections, camp meetings, Southron company, weddings, etc. I never heard the like in my life. I thought for a while that everybody was killed, every body married, everybody elected, everybody dancing in their shirt tails at fancy balls (which I suppose would expose some fancy bands sure enough) and everybody converted at C. meetings. I am missing all the fun. I reckon tho I am doing most as well down here."
Now it was a time of tumult and conflict, of great gravity and danger. The time for fun and gaiety had passed.
Perhaps Captain Vance’s thoughts were the melancholy reflections of a soldier leaving for battle. Distressed in spirit, he had made his choice to fight for his own people and his and their homelands. A sensitive, eloquent man, he had pleaded in the forum for peace and the Union. He was now taking the field.
A patriot, he loved the Republic and the independence for which his grandfather had fought at Kings Mountain and suffered with Washington at Valley Forge. Now the years of the locust had come with a rushing, mighty roar, ushering in, in the words of Zephaniah, "a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers."
After the quiet interlude passed (its poignancy remains in history’s memory), Captain Vance turned his face to the morning sun and rode down the east face of the mountain and through Haw Creek valley to rejoin his men at their camp. There the Rough and Ready Guardsmen moved out, marching to the cars at the end of the rails six miles east of Morganton. The rail ride was brief, the men going into camp near Statesville where by May 18 they received handsome new uniforms. The next day they boarded the cars for Raleigh and then moved to Camp Hill near Garysburg in Northampton County. In the camp of instruction there the Rough and Ready Guards became Company F of the 14th Regiment of North Carolina Troops. The regiment was organized early in June of 1861 under the command of Col. Junius Daniel of Halifax County, an able and energetic officer. The regiment, with men from the principal regions of the state, was representative of the people of North Carolina and their fighting qualities. Besides Buncombe, it consisted of companies from the counties of Halifax, Davidson, Anson, Cleveland, Wake, Rockingham and Stanley.
On June 11 (the day following the Battle of Bethel, where the Southern force included the Buncombe Riflemen), the 14th Regiment moved by rail into Virginia. Stationed first at Camp Bragg, Captain Vance, in a letter dated June 19, told his wife in Asheville that they were camped two miles from Suffolk and 26 miles from Newport News, where the enemy had landed a large force. He described his company’s and the regiment’s position as at a point commanding the junction of the Petersburg and Norfolk and the Roanoke and Seaboard Railroads. For a time, too, the regiment was at Camp Ellis on the edge of Suffolk.
The summer was a quiet season for the officers and men, but it provided an interval of opportunity for training that was to pay battle dividends in the rigorous years ahead when, in the words of one of its later colonels, Risden Tyler Bennett of Wadesboro, the regiment gained a reputation for "unbroken constancy, patient submission to discipline, uniform valor and good nature…"
As the summer ended, Captain Vance, on September 20, was promoted to colonel and transferred to command the 26th Regiment of North Carolina Troops – a regiment that was to win renown at Gettysburg in 1863. Vance, by then, was Governor of North Carolina. He and the Rough and Ready Guards were in service together less than five months, but the bond of affection between them was lasting and they have been remembered together in the war history of North Carolina. When Mr. and Mrs. Vance opened their summer home, Gombroon, in the North Fork section of Buncombe County in 1890, surviving member of the old company were invited to hold their annual reunion there to help celebrate the occasion. Vance himself was sometimes called "Rough and Ready." Lt. Col. James M. Ray of Asheville said that "I once heard him, when called upon for a speech simply as ‘Rough and Ready’ respond by saying ‘most awfully rough by scarcely ever ready’."
Succeeding Vance as captain of the "Roughs" was his first lieutenant, Philetus W. Roberts, later to be colonel of the regiment. Dr. J. S. T. Baird, in his Reminiscences (1905), said that "Roberts was an able young lawyer and was just entering upon a career which promised great usefulness and success when the Civil War came up, in which he sacrificed his life for his country. This writer succeeded him as clerk of the Superior Court of Buncombe in 1853. I have never known a more scrupulously honest and conscientious man in all my life."
Captain Roberts was a son of Joshua Roberts and wife, Lucinda Patton Roberts. Joshua Roberts was a lawyer, clerk of Buncombe County Superior Court, register of deeds, and one of the founders (1840) and proprietors of The Highland Messenger, Asheville’s first newspaper.
In the Autumn of 1861 the regiment moved to Fort Bee in Isle of Wight County on the James River west of Norfolk. It was inactive there during the winter except for further training and preparation for the business ahead. Monotony and boredom were relieved to an extent by religious services, horse play and other fun and such games as checkers, chess, whist, euchre and poker.
In the John Evans Brown Papers in the State Department of Archives and History at Raleigh there is a Muster Roll of Company F prepared at Fort Bee February 28, 1862. P. W. Roberts was then captain of the "Roughs" and Junius Daniel was colonel of the 14th regiment. The Roll, embracing the period from December 31, 1861, to February 28, 1862, lists 96 officers and men:
Officers: P. W. Roberts, captain; E. W. Herndon, first lieutenant; J. M. Gudger, second lieutenant; S. S. Brown, third lieutenant.
Non-commissioned officers: Frank M. Harney, first sergeant; B. A. Merrimon, second sergeant; Thomas D. Johnston, third sergeant; Thomas N. Stevens, fourth sergeant; J. M. Whitmire, fifth sergeant; I. V. Baird, first corporal; A. G. Haren, second corporal; W. B. Smith, third corporal; David M. Gudger, forth corporal.
Privates: James M. Alexander, William M. Bias, James Brittain, J. H. Brittain, Joseph R. Broadstreet, Thomas B. Brooks, C. R. P. Byers, Peter Cauble, H. W. Cauble, Thomas J. Candler, Charles Z. Candler, Elija Chambers, William H. Clarke, Columbus Cooper, W. E. Darnold, H. K. Davis, A. W. Davis, J. R. Deboard, L. A. Earwood, B. F. Fortune, James F. Fox, William C. Garrison, J. P. Gaston, A. J. Green, J. M. Green, Thomas W. Goodlake, William M. Gudger, Charles C. Gudger, John R. Harper, A. C. Hart, G. B. Helm, William J. Jones, A. H. Jones, Thomas Leaverett, Thomas M. McFee, A. H. McFee, D. W. McGalliard, J. C. Melton, J. M. Melton, E. H. Merrimon, B. W. Merrill, G. W. Murray, Thomas W. Murrell, J. I. Miller, William Murphy, W. M. Patton, Jacob E. Patton, S. E. Penland, G. N. Penland, J. C. Penland, D. M. Phelts, J. H. Pless, W. H. Porter, J. G. Porter, John R. Petillo, D. H. Reagan, James Rector, S. L. Rector, Alfred Rice, M. F. Stevens, James M. Smith, A. P. Spence, Tisdale Stepp, Jesse Stepp, R. G. Souther, Thomas Swann, Calvin Tabor, J. H. Walker, James M. Walton, A. F. Walton, J. C. F. Weaver, W. W. Weaver, N. B. Westall, W. H. Webb, Gay M. Williams, Robert Williams, Thomas B. Willson, J. H. Wise, John Wise, James J. White, George M. White, Jesse C. Whittaker, Watson G. Young.
The Muster Roll also lists three men, who enlisted May 3 in Asheville, as discharged February 18, 1862: G. N. Patton "unable to perform military service"; W. P. Craig and W. R. Powers, both by order of General Huger "to go on board the Merrimac."
Then came the Spring of 1862. The snow and ice and bitter winds gave way ironically to the soft mood of Nature, with its gentle winds and colors of green and white, pink and yellow, that provided opportunities for men to move by land and water to fight and to wound and to kill.
The South, facing great odds, braced for the shock, while the North was confident that Richmond would be captured and the war soon concluded. General George B. McClellan aimed his army up the historic Peninsula between the York and James Rivers. Doubt in Washington as to the soundness and safety of his plan gained intensity when, on March 8, the Confederate ironclad, Virginia, steamed into Hampton Roads and created havoc among the wooden Federal ships and brought consternation to many officials in the capital on the Potomac. The next day, though, the Virginia was opposed by another ironclad, the Monitor. Their battle brought no apparent result, but, overall, the effect was to neutralize the Virginia’s threat to the Union fleet and to McClellan’s Peninsula campaign.
The Confederate ironclad was formerly the 40-gun Federal frigate, the Merrimac. In the spring of 1861, Union forces set fire to and sank several war vessels in the Gosport Navy Yard on the Elizabeth River, Virginia, before abandoning the place. In June the Confederates raised the Merrimac, rebuilt it as an ironclad and renamed it the Virginia (though it is usually known by its original name.)
Asheville and Buncombe had a particular as well as general interest in the fierce fight between the Virginia and the Monitor. The Virginia’s crew included Riley Powers and, presumably, W. P. Craig, both of Buncombe County. Powers, said John Preston Arthur in his "Western North Carolina – A History," saw the Virginia launched and he witnessed her destruction by the Confederates themselves when Norfolk was evacuated, May 9, 1862.
The 14th Regiment was for a while engaged in the defense of Yorktown when McClellan laid siege to it as he moved in ponderous fashion up the Peninsula.
On April 25-26, the Regiment was reorganized. Captain Roberts of Company F (the Rough and Ready Guards) became its colonel as successor to Colonel Daniel who was transferred to command the 45th North Carolina Regiment. James M. Gudger of Asheville was promoted from first lieutenant to captain of Company F. Of him Col. Bennett was to write years after the war:
"Captain Gudger…was fearfully wounded and entitled to a discharge on account of the disability, but held on to his boys until the war was fought out. There was no man in the army of the South of his rank who was more reliable as an officer and soldier."
The highly respected Colonel Roberts was to lead his Regiment but a short time. He commanded it as it participated in the Battle of Williamsburg, May 5, where "every man behaved admirably." Then came the big Battle of Seven Pines, or Fair Oaks, May 31-June 1, along the Chickahominy River, six miles east of Richmond. The sluggish little stream was bordered by swamps. Col. Roberts became ill, taking to his bed with a malignant fever. He died in Richmond July 5. Col.. Bennett, in an eloquent tribute to him in his 19th century prose, wrote:
"Impelled by a deep sense of loyalty to my friend, Philetus Walcott Roberts, I pause to pay tribute to the assemblage of qualities which adorned his life and made him the admiration of neighbors. A lawyer by profession, he entered the military service of the Confederate States as lieutenant of the Rough and Ready Guards which Zebulon B. Vance commanded until his promotion to the colonelcy of the 26th N. C. Troops.
"The admirable virtues of Mr. Roberts found surety in his promotion to the head of the company in which position he showed the qualities of a virtuous commandant endowed with every gift essential to success. At the reorganization of his company and regiment (the 14th N. C.) he was promoted to the headship of the regiment while James M. Gudger, ‘the quaint and judicious,’ cast his lot with the neighbor boys and stripped to the girdle for the conflict.
"Col. Roberts carried his family life into the barracks at Fort Bee. A constant student of Hardee’s Tactics, with faculties of a highly receptive turn, he was an ornament to his promotion, a Christian in his walk, example and service without guile…Cantoned along the Chickahominy River the dear man was seized with a malignant fever indigenous to those parts…Col. Roberts was carried to Richmond. The chamber where he met his fate witnessed a delicacy and refinement of manner which impressed all who hung upon his words. The privilege of the conflict which shook the arsenal and fulminated Greece was denied him. He passed with sword and buckler in readiness forever."
Among Col. Roberts’ survivors was a daughter. He and his wife had named her Bethel because she was born June 10, 1861, the day of the Battle of Bethel. Bethel Roberts became Mrs. E. S. Clayton of Asheville.
Another loss of an able field officer of the 14th Regiment was the assistant quartermaster, William Caleb Brown, law partner of Zeb Vance before the war. He had marched with Vance when the Rough and Ready Guards moved out from Asheville in the Spring of ’61. Captain Brown also contracted disease in the dreary swamps of the Chickahominy and died in Richmond July 6. Also in the Guards had been the captain’s younger brother, Samuel Smith Brown, who was third lieutenant of the company when he died February 18, 1862, at Fort Bee, Va. The Browns who died in service were brothers of John Evans Brown of Buncombe, who, after success as a Forty-Niner in California’s gold fields, migrated first to Australia and then to New Zealand where he raised sheep on an extensive scale, was elected to Parliament and was a distinguished Minister of Education. Returning to Asheville after an absence of 30 years, he built a home atop Beaucatcher Mountain and named it Zealandia.
After Col. Roberts was stricken, the temporary acting head of the regiment was Capt. William A. Johnston of Halifax County, commanding officer of Company A. He led the regiment in the Seven Days battles about Richmond ending July 1 at bloody Malvern Hill. It was in Anderson’s brigade of D. H. Hill’s division. The brigade suffered severely in the attack and Anderson was wounded.
Among the casualties was Second Lieut. Thomas Dillard Johnston of Company F, who was critically wounded. His father, William Johnston of Asheville, went to Richmond and brought his son home (a brick residence at the corner of Church Street and Patton Avenue on the site later occupied by the Drhumor or Wachovia Bank and Trust Co. Building).
Lieut. Johnston, a native of Waynesville in Haywood County, had just obtained his law license when he enlisted in the Rough and Ready Guards in the Spring of ’61. He earned promotion to sergeant and to second lieutenant. After his recovery from his wounds, he returned to the army and served as quartermaster to Col. W. C. Walker’s battalion and Capt. J. T. Levy’s battery of artillery, gaining the rank of captain. After the war he served as mayor of Asheville, in the Legislature and in the U. S. Congress. In 1888 he was the donor of the site for the Federal Building and Post Office in what is now Asheville’s Prichard Park. He was known for his integrity and benefactions, aiding in the education of a number of young men.
A touching incident of William Johnston’s trip to Richmond to bring home his wounded son was the plea of Wesley Hicks, Negro, who was ill, that he be brought home, too. Hicks, who went out as soldier Johnson’s body servant, became the Rough and Ready Guards’ cook and forager. The elder Johnston, moved by his plea, brought him home, too, and he was carefully nursed back to health in the Johnston home. Hicks was among those present when the Rough and Ready Guards held their reunion in 1890 at Senator and Mrs. Vance’s Gombroon and all present had their picture made together.
After Malvern Hill, the 14th Regiment welcomed its new and third regular colonel: Risden Tyler Bennett of Wadesboro, Anson County. He received his colonel’s commission July 5. Of him, Brig.-Gen. William R. Cox wrote years later: he "was of imposing presence, strong individuality, and an able commander. His voice was clear and sonorous and there was no mistaking or disobeying his commands."
The Summer of ’62 were days of high tide for the Confederacy. There was hope for success for the new nation when General Lee gathered his forces and moved northward in August, aiming for Pennsylvania. Assigned to watch General McDowell’s corps at Fredericksburg, the 14th Regiment took no part in the second battle of Manassas August 30, but it was with Lee’s force when, close to Washington, it crossed the Potomac into Maryland September 5 and reached Frederick. Anxiety afflicted Washington, with McClellan assigned to stop the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee, Jackson and Longstreet.
From Frederick, Lee moved west, intending to reach Pennsylvania via the valley route west of South Mountain. Boldly dividing his army, he sent Jackson to capture the garrisons at Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg to assure his line of supply through Shenandoah Valley. Jackson was then to rejoin Lee at Boonsboro at the western base of South Mountain.
With Jackson away and Longstreet moving to Hagerstown, the gaps through South Mountain were not heavily guarded as McClellan moved up. Lee sent D. H. Hill’s North Carolina division from Boonsboro to the gaps. This relatively small force (that included the 14th Regiment in Anderson’s Brigade) performed a remarkable feat in delaying for a day nearly half of McClellan’s army. This tough resistance on Sept. 14 enabled Lee to consolidate his forces for battle. (The Rough and Ready Guards doubtless found the hill and valley country more to their liking, a relief from the flats and swamps of the Peninsula.)
The night of September 14 Lee’s forces moved to the west of Antietam Creek and formed a line along the low hills in and near Sharpsburg. There Lee awaited the slow McClellan as his large army moved through the passes.
The battle of Sharpsburg (or Antietam), described as the bloodiest single day’s fighting of the war, caused the 14th Regiment to suffer its "first great baptism of blood." Its position (with Anderson’s Brigade and D. H. Hill’s division) was in the center along a sunken road that was to be known ever after as the Bloody Lane. This road, along the "reverse slope of a long ridge," was the scene of terrible fighting and the mortality rate was high. One of the Federals’ assaulting columns was Meagher’s New York Brigade that was to win distinction for its charge at Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg. At the Bloody Lane, this brigade charged and, after a desperate encounter with Anderson’s North Carolina Brigade – the fighting was at 30 paces apart – was obliged to withdraw.
After long hours, Union troops gained a lodgment to the right of the brigade’s line where they enfiladed the sunken road, forcing the Confederates to retire. Col. Bennett, in command of the brigade after General Anderson was wounded fatally, managed to extricate his men from a difficult situation and they passed some distance to the Federal front and left. Col. E. A. Osborne, in his account of the history of the Fourth Regiment, relates that Colonel Bennett, "finding a piece of artillery which had been abandoned…manned it and opened fire upon the enemy’s line." The men who manned the gun were Lieutenant Frank M. Harney of Company F, Buncombe; Capt. Thomas B. Beal and Sgt. P. D. Weaver of Company I, Davidson County, all of the 14th Regiment.
Walter Clark, writing of Sharpsburg, said "Anderson’s brigade had made the name of the ‘Bloody Lane’ forever famous. Its position thrust out in front resembled that of the ‘Bloody Angle’ at Spottsylvania later. It was overwhelmed by Richardson’s division…It’s loss was great, but the fame of its deeds that day will abide with North Carolina forevermore."
The redoubtable Col. Bennett, writing years later of the great battle, said:
"Nature was in her most peaceful mood; the Autumn sun without caprice. It would be difficult for any true soldier to name a day in his battle experiences which he enjoyed more than the day at Sharpsburg. It was splendid."
From the point of view of a great spectacle, it was. The Colonel’s zeal and ardor expressed the excitement of battle, the elan of Confederate officers and soldiers. The years may have drawn a veil over the Colonel’s memory of Sharpsburg as a day of gehenna in the fields and on the slopes along Antietam Creek. It was a day of great and awful violence, a day of carnage as well as a day of great bravery and valor among the troops of both sides.
The day after the battle Lee remained in position. Then, at night, he moved back into Virginia. He had repulsed McClellan’s much larger army, but there was no invasion of Pennsylvania that Autumn.
After General Anderson’s death, Col. Bryan Grimes of the Fourth North Carolina regiment was in charge of the brigade until February 1863, when it came under the command of Brig.-Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur, an able and distinguished officer under whose leadership it reached still greater heights of efficiency and achievement. The ranks were refilled between Sharpsburg and the first battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. The 14th Regiment (and the brigade) took part in the latter battle too, but the role played was one of support on the right side of the line and casualties were few.
In the trying winter of 1862-63, the 14th Regiment was in camp and did picket duty along the frozen Rappahannock. With the coming of the Spring of ’63 the spirit and confidence of the men were high.
Then came orders for Stonewall Jackson’s corps – the divisions of A. P. Hill, of D. H. Hill commanded by Robert Emmett Rodes, and of Trimble, commanded by Colston – to march swiftly from Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville. Leading that march was the 14th North Carolina Regiment under Col. Bennett. There was pride among the men in being chosen to set the marching pace of a corps known for its swift movements.
Success came to Southern arms in the battle of Chancellorsville, May 1-4, through the brilliantly conceived and executed flank attack by Jackson on General Hooker’s right. Jackson’s three divisions began their flanking march early on the morning of May 2, traveling along country roads through heavily wooded land. Advancing at a swinging pace, by 5 p.m. they were in battle formation, with Rodes’ division, which included Ramseur’s brigade of the Second, Fourth, 14th, and 30th North Carolina regiments, in front. Colston was next in line and A. H. Hill third.
With a rush and rebel yells, the Southern force advanced through tangled vines and undergrowth and under great trees – the observant Bennett noted a turkey-gobbler rise in distracted flight – and hit the Federal 11th Corps under Howard, forcing it into retreat. That night, in the hour of victory, Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded. It was a loss beyond reckoning.
That the Rough and Ready Guards played a stout part in the march and the attack is evident from a letter written May 8, 1863, by their Capt. James M. Gudger to the Rev. W. T. Atkin, publisher of The Asheville News:
"Dear Sir: For the satisfaction of the friends of my company, you are very respectfully asked by the Company to give a place in your journal to the appended list of casualties in the R. and R. G.’s during the battle of Chancellorsville on May 3rd, 1863. It is known that on the 3rd of May 1861, the Roughs, one hundred strong, left the streets of our beautiful little village to meet the enemy, and on the day of our second anniversary we were drawn up in line numbering twenty-four war tried men.
"Killed: Sergt. W. H. Porter
"Wounded: First Lieut. F. M. Harney, slightly in thigh; 2nd Lieut. G. W. Murray, slightly in thigh; 3rd Lieut. G. W. Williams, severely in temple; Sergt. J. M. Whitmire, slightly in leg; Corp. M. M. Murphy, slightly in hip.
"Privates C. Cooper, severely in leg; (R.?) Freeman (Montgomery County?), thigh shot off; A. P. Green, slightly in head; Wm. Patton, severely in leg; Z. Poe, slightly in arm; T. B. Wilson, arm off at shoulder; J. J. White, slightly in arm and side; Robt. Williams, severely in leg.
"Killed one, wounded 13, total 14.
"I will not here enumerate the many scenes through which we were called upon to pass, nor is it necessary to say that the Roughs stood well. Let the list above speak for them. I cannot forbear, however, to remark that I am proud of being at the head of such a company. I think a more gallant regiment than the 14th never fired a gun, and a more gallant company is not in it than the Roughs. Not a man flinched, though we were exposed for two hours and fifteen minutes to the most galling of fires from a heavy battery and in line of musketry. We have driven ‘Fighting Joe’ back and sent him over the river whence he came, but in doing so we regret the loss of our Stonewall and A. P. Hill, both wounded. I would give you the incidents so far as they fell under my limited observations, but presuming you will get them from a clearer head, I have the honor to be your humble servant.
"P.S. – It is due Lieuts. Harney and Murray and Sergt. Whitmire to say that they remained on the field despite the earnest entreaty of their captain to retire. Many a soldier will see home and friends whose wounds are no worse than these three men still on duty."
On June 3, a month after Chancellorsville, the patched-up "Roughs" were again on the move, marching, with the regiment, from the Rappahannock northward in Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. Again the regiment had the honor of spearheading the advance of Jackson’s old Second Corps under Ewell. It was the leading regiment on foot to enter Martinsburg, W. Va., though Jenkins’ cavalry had gone ahead a bit.
Col. Bennett described "stirring scenes" as he and the regiment entered Martinsburg. On horseback, he was suddenly confronted by a young woman who seized the reins and told him of the oppression endured by the citizens. A Dutch woman, in another scene, drew a paddling stick on Capt. John C. Gorman of the Second Regiment’s Company B, from Wilson County, declaring that "you eats up everything; the Union soldiers fetch in something and you scoundrels wastes it." The brawny woman had the captain in a quandary, but resourceful Lt. Harney, of the "Roughs" of Buncombe, was equal to the occasion. The lieutenant, who had helped in handling the artillery piece at a critical moment at Sharpsburg, "told the woman, with affected severity, if she did not behave herself, he would pull every hair out of her head." The words had their effect; Capt. Gorman was "rescued."
From Martinsburg, the 14th Regiment pushed on to wade the Potomac and to wait at Williamsport while troops in the rear closed up. Glenn Tucker, in his book, "High Tide at Gettysburg," credits "Buncombe County’s hard-hitting Rough and Ready Guards" with being the first to cross the Potomac in this invasion of the North.
From Williamsport, the 14th Regiment, as part of Ramseur’s brigade of Rodes’ division, marched on to Hagerstown and as far north as Carlisle, 20 miles from Harrisburg. William L. Saunders of North Carolina, in an historical sketch, noted that, when many of the men of North Carolina followed Lee into Maryland and Pennsylvania, they traveled the Shenandoah and Cumberland Valleys, the route taken by their ancestors in migrating south a century or more before.
From Carlisle, the regiment, with Rodes’ division, moved back for the concentration of Lee’s forces and the unplanned meeting of two great armies at Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. The division reached the battlefield about 2 p.m. on July 1, a hot sultry day. Ewell, on their arrival, threw the divisions of Rodes and Early against the flank of Howard’s 11th Corps and drove it into and through the town. This was the same Federal corps that Rodes’ division hit in the big flanking movement at Chancellorsville.
The 14th Regiment, with the other three regiments of Ramseur’s brigade, found, upon reaching the battlefield in the march from Carlisle, that Federal troops were behind a strong stone wall. It was against these that the brigade charged, drove out its enemy and captured many prisoners. The Federals in Ramseur’s front, it appeared, could reach Gettysburg only along an unfinished railroad or the Cashtown Pike. Ramseur ordered up a battery which shelled the Federals as they retreated along the rail line. Said Col. Bennett: "I could almost hear their bones crunch under the shot and shell." They were pursued into Gettysburg itself by Ramseur’s men.
The sharpshooters of the 14th Regiment, in this pursuit, were under the command of the courageous Lt. Harney of the "Roughs." Col. Bennett reported that the lieutenant himself captured with his own hand the colors of the 68th Michigan Regiment and sent the flag to President Davis with his last breath. The lieutenant was mortally wounded in the abdomen.
The first day of the battle gave the 14th Regiment its opportunity and it took advantage of it. The brigade was with Rodes when his division occupied Oak Hill after breaking the Union line. On the second day the regiment moved out and occupied a road leading south of the town. There it was exposed to sharpshooters and suffered casualties. The wounded included Col. Bennett.
On this second day, the brigade was in the advance to the stone wall on Cemetery Hill (as distinguished from Cemetery Ridge, the object of the great assault on the third day). Breaking an infantry line, the Southerners got in among the Northern guns on the hill. Ramseur asked to be permitted to push ahead and secure the position. However, it was getting dark, a Union brigade came up and Ramseur was ordered to fall back from a position of great tactical value.
On the third day – that of the Pickett-Pettigrew charge – the Ramseur and Doles brigades were at the far left of the Confederate position, having been assigned to hold Gettysburg, and did not see any major action.
After Lee’s army retreated through Maryland into Virginia, the 14th was in no major action the rest of the year, though at Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan it was seriously pressed by Meade’s forces. In winter quarters south of the Rapidan, the regiment engaged in timber cutting for plank roads. Under the direction of regimental chaplain W. C. Power, volunteers built a chapel of slabs set upright and covered with planks. Known as the "House in the Woods," it was consecrated on a Sunday. The tedium of life in winter quarters was broken by prayer services, snow-ball fights, weapon polishing and picket duty. The 14th regiment escaped the contagion of the serious number of army desertions the winter of 1863-64 and, in fact, was called upon to aid in checking defections.
In the spring, Governor Vance visited the Army of Northern Virginia, made hopeful, spirited speeches, and on one occasion he was the dinner guest of his old regiment, the 14th. Warmly affectionate were the greetings of Vance and his old "Roughs."
After Grant took command of Union forces on March 9, 1864, the nature of the war in Virginia changed to a ruthless pounding aimed at attrition of Lee’s army. In the gloomy Wilderness, May 5-7, Grant, finding he could not go through the Southern army, decided on sidling, flanking movements to the left. In this battle, the "Roughs" took part in the regiment’s and brigade’s long, fast march to hit Burnside’s troops and save Humphrey’s Mississippi brigade from encirclement.
At Spottsylvania, May 12, a memorable day, Ramseur’s brigade advanced, driving the blue-clad soldiers from a first line of breastworks and then rushing to a second, stronger line. When the 14th regiment, on the left, reached the near side of the works, the situation of its fellow-regiment, the 30th North Carolina, on the right, became grave. Going to the rescue the 14th drove into traverses and ousted the Federals at the point of the bayonet.
Col. Bennett reported that, when his regiment was rushing the second line of works, Tisdale Stepp of Buncombe’s "Roughs" was in the front rank singing "The Bonnie Blue Flag" when he was shot and killed "by an awkward soldier in our rear ranks." In the fighting on this day Capt. Gudger of the "Roughs" was wounded.
When Ramseur became a major general after Spottsylvania, the brigade welcomed its third and last commander, the valiant Brig-Gen. William R. Cox of Raleigh. It later became known as the Anderson-Ramseur-Cox brigade, consisting of the Second, Fourth, 14th, and 30th North Carolina regiments until May 12, 1864, when the remnants of the First and Third regiments were transferred to it from George H. Steuart’s brigade.
After taking part in driving back Grant’s assaulting columns at bloody Cold Harbor, June 1-3, the 14th regiment, with the brigade, was transferred to the Shenandoah Valley where General David Hunter’s large force threatened Lynchburg. In early July, General Jubal A. Early with part of Lee’s Second Corps moved down the Valley for a march toward Washington. Cox’s brigade was among Early’s units crossing the Potomac above Harper’s Ferry and it made the nearest approach to the Federal capital in that famous threat.
At the Battle of Winchester September 19, when Early was pushed back up the Valley, the 14th regiment fought spiritedly. In pursuing a Federal force, it entered a wood in front of a battery and a division. Without support, the regiment was forced into retreat. Among the prisoners taken by the Federal troops were the regiment’s commanding officer, Col. Bennett, and Second Lieutenant Gay M. Williams of the Rough and Ready Guards.
On October 19 at Cedar Creek, where Sheridan’s army was in camp and the general was returning from Washington, Early’s army attacked at dawn, surprised and routed the Federals. In the afternoon, however, Sheridan completed his famous ride from Winchester and reversed the disaster, bringing to an end the last of the great Valley campaigns. Participating in the fighting at Cedar Creek was Cox’s brigade, including the 14th regiment.
On December 3, 1864, Cox’s brigade moved to Petersburg where the men served in the trenches during months’ long siege. In the retreat, after the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, the brigade fought rear-guard actions, the 14th regiment being under the acting command of Lt-Col. William A. Johnston until he was wounded and disabled.
Lee’s weary army was hard pressed. On Thursday, April 6, Ewell’s Corps was broken up when it was assaulted from three sides. Only two corps were left, those of Lt.-Gen. John B. Gordon and Lt.-Gen. James Longstreet. On Friday, with the wagon trains stalled at Sailor’s Creek and the army in confusion, Cox’s brigade of Grimes’ division of Gordon’s corps emerged from the cover of woods and went into action. Zeb Vance, in an address, later described the situation:
"During the retreat from Petersburg to that memorable spot which witnessed the final scenes of that once splendid army of Northern Virginia, when everything was in the utmost confusion, the soldiers struggling hopelessly along, thousands deliberately leaving for their homes, and the demoralization increasing every moment, and the flushed and swarming enemy pursuing them closely, a stand was made to save the trains upon which all depended.
"Some artillery was placed in position, and General Lee, sitting on his horse on a commanding knoll, sent his staff to rally the stragglers, mixed in helpless, inextricable confusion behind a certain line, when presently an orderly column comes into view, a small but entire brigade, its commander at its head, files promptly along its appointed position. A smile of momentary joy passed over the distressed features of the general as he calls out to an aide, ‘What troops are those?’ ‘Cox’s North Carolina brigade,’ was the reply. Then it was that taking off his hat and bowing his head with goodly courtesy and kindly feeling he said: ‘God bless gallant old North Carolina!’"
There was pride in Vance’s voice as he related the story. In Cox’s brigade was the 14th regiment and his own Rough and Ready Guards, or rather, their remnant. The brigade, with order and promptness, had hastened to the rescue. The artillery and infantry fire, and with night coming on caused a temporary discontinuance of the pursuit.
On the night of April 8, the Cox brigade was at Appomattox. Just before daybreak, Grimes’ division moved forward by brigades. At the front and on the right were infantry and cavalry of the Federal army. Cox’s brigade, still contesting the field, retired slowly while the blue-clad veteran troops hastened their advance.
Facing his regiments about, Cox ordered a double-quick charge to the crest of a hill. There, giving the rebel yell, the brigade fired on the advancing and encircling Federals and then withdrew. As the brigade passed by General Gordon, he exclaimed: "Grandly and gloriously done."
This is recorded as the last charge and the last shots of the Army of Northern Virginia, providing the basis for North Carolina’s proud boast that it was "last at Appomattox."
On that day, April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant. The last volley had been fired as the war moved swiftly to its conclusion. Four years of war that began in April ended in April, in the springtime when soft breezes blew over and gentle flowers grew on Virginia’s crimson fields.
The parole list at Appomattox shows there weren’t many men left in Cox’s brigade – 61 officers and 518 men, just a little more than enough to make up half a regular sized regiment. The 14th regiment itself had seven field officers and 107 men, while its Company F, the Rough and Ready Guards of Buncombe, was reduced to seven. As published in Vol. 5 of Clark’s Histories of North Carolina regiments, the seven were: Second Lieutenant W. M. Gudger; Third Sergeant John H. Walker; Privates James T. Bird, Columbus Cooper, Ezekiel Campbell, Lemuel Jones, and John R. Patillo.
The remnants of a great army returned home. But the "day of wrath" was not ended. The years of the locust were still upon the Southern land. Though the guns were stilled at Appomattox, the returning soldiers faced years "of trouble and distress."
Catherine E. Brady
of Second Lieutenant William McRee Gudger.
Lt. Gudger was one of the remaining seven soldiers of Company F who were present at Appomattox.
July 4, 2001