42nd North Carolina Troops at Bentonville

Compliled by Dave Hunter

The regiment was assigned to Kirkland’s Brigade, Hoke’s Division during the Carolinas Campaign.  Our focus is normally on the NC regiments that fought in the Army of Northern Virginia,  but the 42nd NCT is not typical of those regiments.  

This regiment was organized at Salisbury in April 1862 and was used to guard Federal prisoners at the Salisbury prison.  The company was organized with men from Mecklenburg, Union, and Wilkes Counties in February and March 1862.  It joined the regiment at Salisbury and mustered in as Company K, 42nd NCT, on 26 May 1862.  

The unit then deployed to Petersburg in June 1862 to reinforce Lee’s Army , but was diverted to defend the Richmond area as an unassigned regiment until the fall of 1862.  For the remainder of 1862 and 1863 the regiment operated in southern Virginia and eastern North Carolina, including a stint at Fort Branch and as part of the Wilmington garrison.  The unit conducted a variety of local security, reconnaissance, and counter-guerilla operations and participated in some small skirmishes. By October 1863, the regiment was assigned to Martin’s Brigade, under the command of the former NC Adjutant General, James G. Martin.  In January 1864, the Regiment received a  new commander, Col. John E. Brown, who had been the Lt. Col. of the 42nd NCT since 1862.  Under Brown’s leadership, the regiment was thoroughly drilled and obtained a reputation as a well-trained and disciplined unit.  According to the regiment’s history:

His troops were drilled until they attained the utmost proficiency in the manual of arms and when ordered to execute a difficult movement at a critical moment, they never faltered nor blundered.

Also, is should be noted that Col Brown insisted  that “...in the Forty Second Regiment swearing was strictly forbidden”

The 42nd NCT saw its first major action in Maj.Gen George Pickett’s operations against New Bern in February 1864.  The brigade marched from Wilmington and captured the Federal position at Newport Barracks before returning to Wilmington.  In April 1864, the brigade returned to Virginia in time to fight in the Bermuda Hundred campaign and was then assigned to the newly formed division of Maj.Gen Robert F. Hoke.  The regiment then participated in the repulse of the Federals at Cold Harbor on 3 June.  The unit returned to Petersburg and deployed to the area of the defenses later known as Colquitt’s Salient, by the Appomattox River, alternating duties on the line with Colquitt’s Brigade.  The brigade rotated out of the position just two days before the Battle of the Crater began; the 42nd NCT had occupied the position of the line directly over the mine. The brigade moved back from reserve and defended the northern side of the crater after the explosion on 30 July.  

Grim days of trench warfare continued for the regiment until the Federal threat to Wilmington forced Lee to detach Hoke’s Division in December of 1864.  The brigade, now commanded by William Kirkland, consisted of the 17th, 42nd, and 66th NCT.  It arrived in Wilmington on midnight of 23 December and marched to Sugar Loaf . The 42nd was positioned along the ocean side of the works there to assist in the defense of Fort Fisher.  Company A was sent to Battery Anderson and later overwhelmed by a Federal landing force. By the end of the month, the brigade was withdrawn to Wilmington, and evacuated the city on 22 February with Bragg’s forces.  The 42nd NCT, less Company A,  formed the rear guard for Bragg’s retreat and skirmished with Federal cavalry during this movement.  

Hoke’s Division moved to intercepted a provisional Federal Corps moving north at Wyse’s Forks, near Kinston, on 8 March.  The brigade occupied the left of the division’s line.  After a difficult march through swamps and dense woods, the 17th and 42nd NCT attacked the Federal position from the flank and rear at 1100. After an hour and a half of combat, they had driven the Federals back and captured between 1000 to 1800 prisoners (reports vary) and four pieces of artillery.  Later Confederate attacks were unsuccessful and Hoke withdrew towards Goldsboro on 10 March.  Company K of the 42nd was particularly hard hit in these later attacks, losing 3 sergeants and 12 privates captured out of the approximately 44 officers and men engaged.  The division then moved to Smithfield to join Johnson’s forces marshalling to confront Sherman’s main advance into the state.

The regiment arrived at Bentonville on 18 March, and spent the night without fires and under orders to remain quiet.  Company K consisted of 4 officers, the First Sergeant and 24 privates (numbers approximate) On 19 March, the 42nd NCT, as part of the brigade, covered the deployment of the Johnson’s army at Bentonville. Returning to the division line of battle, near the center of the Confederate position, the brigade helped repulse the early Federal attacks, and participated in the Confederate assault on the Morgan’s division of the XIV Corps.  On 20 March, Kirkland’s Brigade successfully defended from its hasty entrenchments on the division’s right (just south of the “Devil’s Racepath”), then withdrew with the army to the north on 22 March.  Company K, 42nd NCT reported no losses at Bentonville. The brigade passed through Raleigh on 11 April, Durham on 13 April, marching on through Chapel Hill west toward High Point.  By 26 April, the 42nd NCT was with Kirkland’s Brigade at Center Church in Randolph County, three miles from High Point, where it was disbanded on 2 May.  

Portraying the 42nd NCT

The appearance of the 42nd NCT at Bentonville would show the effects of hard campaigning.  The regiment moved from the Petersburg defenses directly to the works at Sugar Loaf, then on the move from late January through early March.  We have not located much information on the supply situation within the Brigade or Regiment.  Eric Cleveland was able to see the September/October 1864 muster rolls for several of the companies and all noted that the company records/books were left behind at Weldon “by order of Gen’l Martin” when the brigade deployed to Virginia in 1864.  He did locate the returns from one brigade inspection conducted on 30 October 1864, which showed that the brigade was in need of clothing and that the overall condition of the clothing in use was rated “poor”.  The brigade was armed with “rifles .58 caliber” and the only accouterment missing in any quantity was bayonet scabbards.

Inspection of Hoke's Division, Kirkland's Brigade, October 30th 1864

(Consisted of 3 Regiments, 31 Companies, 1 General Officer, 8 General Staff Officers, 90 Officers, and 1336 Enlisted Men)

Rifles  .58 Caliber
Cartridges   40 rounds per man

“Clothing, Camp, and Garrison Equipment Deficient”

(although not specified on the form, “deficient” was probably both missing and unserviceable items, as determined by the inspector)

Cartridge boxes 18
Caps 22
Bayonet Scabbards 171
Shoulder Belts 77
Waist Belts 25
Overcoats 1325
Coats 662
Trowsers 671
Shirts 615
Drawers 320
Shoes 538
Hats 00
Stockings 1202
Blankets 694
Haversacks 878
Knapsacks 237
Canteens 592
Tents 250
Axes 95
Spades 75
Camp Kettles 180
Mess pans 455

Condition of clothing: “poor”.
Soldiers reported as being well disciplined, with soldierly bearing, etc.

The 42nd NCT would probably have been well supplied with NC issue clothing through spring of 1864, since it was easily reached by rail while at Kinston, Wilmington, and Petersburg.  Once on campaign in Virginia in 1864, continuous movement, battles, and duty in the Petersburg trenches would quickly wear out existing clothing and equipment.  The arrival of clothing from the State would have slowed down but some soldiers may have received clothing and equipment from the Richmond depots as the situation permitted.  Most of the those wounded in Virginia from Company K did not return to the company prior to Bentonville, so hospital issues of CS clothing would have been negligible.  Participation in successful actions at Bermuda Hundred, Cold Harbor, and later at Wyse’s Forks would have given the soldiers an opportunity to obtain some Federal items from these battlefields.  We have no information on what clothing or equipment may have been obtained while in the Wilmington area.  Based on what would logically have been available to the soldiers of the regiment, here is a guide to what we should wear and use at Bentonville.
Portraying the 42nd NCT

Jacket: NC issue, Tait, RD Type III
Trousers:  NC Issue, CS
Shirt:  NC, CS/English, Civilian
Shoes:  CS, English, captured US
Hat/Cap: appropriate to ANV, 1864

Weapon:  M1861, Richmond, and P1853 rifle muskets, with Bayonets. Sling optional, but appropriate to weapon.  No cal..69 muskets, M1841 or Lorenz rifles.
Cartridge Box:  CS, captured US
Cap Box:  CS, captured US
Bayonet scabbard:  CS, captured US
Waist belt:  CS frame, forked tongue, painted canvas with iron roller buckle

Canteen:  CS tin or wooden drum, captured US
Haversack:  CS or captured US
Knapsack:  CS, English, or captured US
Blanket: NC, CS or captured US
Oilcloth:  CS or captured US rubber blanket/poncho, US Shelter Half
Mess equipment: appropriate to NC troops on campaign in 1865

Personal items: appropriate to NC soldiers on campaign in 1865.  

Ammunition:  Unmarked or Richmond Arsenal stamped cartridge packets. There are no surviving packages or wrappers from the Fayetteville Arsenal.  

Rations: The usual corn meal and salt pork, small amounts of fresh beef, rice, potatoes and dried fruit.  Any hardtack taken from the Federals at Wyse’s Forks would have probably been consumed well before Bentonville, so don’t bring any captured crackers.

Civilian clothing and captured  Federal items:  Homemade jeans trousers, shirts, socks are acceptable on a few, but nothing fancy.   Hoke’s Division was in and around Wilmington about two months.  While the availability of civilian or “private purchase” items might have been better due to the items run through the blockade into the port, high prices would have severely limited the average soldier’s ability to purchase them.  The locals in and around Wilmington, facing an uncertain future, may have been reluctant to part with their goods.  “Boxes from home”, in this case from Mecklenburg, Union and Wilkes counties, would have been problematical after the move to Virginia in 1864.  Transportation problems and shortages on the home front would hinder families trying to send items to soldiers in the regiment. Captured items should be limited as well; not every soldier captured a complete set of Federal accouterments at Wyse’s Forks; same for individual equipment.  Limit other uniform items to shoes and a few trousers.  (...and remember that Alfred May was not in the 42nd  NCT!).

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