The Forgotten Sons: North Carolinians in the Union Army


A Thesis Presented to The Graduate School of
Appalachian State University In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts


Glenda Hicks





In the Beginning, An Invasion
The Making of a Regiment
The Baptism of Fire (1862)

Miscellaneous Hard Luck and D. H. Hill
(January - April, 1863)
The Travels of Company L (May 1863 - January 1864)


Creation of the Black North Carolina Regiments
The Thirty-fifth in Florida (1864)
The Thirty-Sixth (1864)
The Thirty-Seventh (1864)


Organization and Early Service
In Cumberland Gap and North Carolina
(June, 1864 - January, 1865)


In the Shadow of Death
The Clouds Lift


Eastern Soldiers are Left Behind
The Colored Troops



In its pride in the Confederate soldiers from the state, North Carolina has largely overlooked the more than eight thousand men who represented her with eight regiments, and who fought on the Northern side. When these Tar Reels have been remembered, they have not been remembered well. Though they cannot begin to compare in numbers with the native sons who wore the gray, the state's Union soldiers are too numerous to be discounted. Yet most North Carolinians are unaware they ever existed. It was in recognition of this fact that The Forgotten Sons was written. The author has tried to show something of the organization and participation in the war of the four White and four Negro regiments. An attempt has also been made to present a glimpse of their character and attitudes in general.

Most of the information contained in this study came from the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Other primary sources include newspapers contemporary with the Civil War, and books by authors who lived during the period and who wrote of personal experiences which they recalled.

Secondary sources used include periodicals, books which present the Civil War as a whole, or as it happened in the state, and a study of a particular military campaign.

Under the protection of the United States Army, which occupied a part of North Carolina's coast from August, 1861, until the end of the war, the First North Carolina Union Volunteer Regiment was mustered in from June, 1862, to January, 1863. The Second North Carolina was assembled from November, 1863, to February, 1864. Personnel for all the White regiments were drawn from among Unionists, some of whom were deserters from the Confederate Army. Both the First and Second Regiments did their fighting on the state's eastern edge, helping to hold that which the United States Army had conquered. The area was subjected to periodic raids by smaller Confederate forces and two serious attempts by the Confederacy to rid the coast of Union soldiers. For those who had deserted the rebel army it was a risky occupation. Capture meant probable execution, a penalty which was suffered by a number of Union volunteers.

There was no friendly military force located in Western North Carolina to help dissenters from secession. But mid-way in the war the United States Army controlled a goodly portion of East Tennessee, many of whose citizens had always been Unionists. Moving west across the mountain trails into more friendly territory, Western North Carolinians went to fight for their chosen cause. The Second North Carolina Mounted Infantry was recruited from October to December, 1863. The Third Mounted Infantry was organized in February of 1864 and never stopped growing until the end of the war. The Carolina horsemen guarded the mountain passes, raided rebel towns, and helped to protect the rear of Stoneman's Cavalry in 1865.

The remaining four regiments of Tar Heels in the Union army consisted of the First, Second, and Third North Carolina Colored Infantry Regiments, organized from June through August, 1863, and the First North Carolina Colored Heavy Artillery which was created in February, 1864. Never leaving the coastal area, the Artillery Regiment later became the Fourteenth United States Colored Heavy Artillery. All of the Colored troops enlisted on the Union-held coast, to which thousands of slaves fled, seeking the sanctuary of freedom. All three Colored infantry regiments served in the Carolinas and Virginia. Eventually the First North Carolina was sent to Florida and renamed the Thirty-fifth United States Colored Troops. The Second and Third Infantry, redesignated the Thirty-sixth and Thirty-seventh United States Colored Troops, respectively, found a home in Virginia where they served in prisons as guards and on the battle lines. The men of the Thirty-fifth finished the war near Charleston, South Carolina, and those of the Thirty-sixth in Virginia. The soldiers of the Thirty-seventh, which was removed from the Old Dominion to take part in the expedition to Fort Fisher in January of 1865, completed their service in North Carolina.

The Union volunteers contributed to the United States war effort by releasing northern soldiers for duty elsewhere, and by undermining morale among the people of the state. Tar Heel soldiers in blue were average men with average values who, in the degeneration of war, suffered at the hands of others and caused others to suffer at their hands. As a part of the state's heritage they deserve a place in its history.


It is a well known fact that North Carolina contributed more men to the Confederate Army than any one of her sister states. It is not so well known that eight regiments of Union soldiers also bore her name. The material presented in the following pages is designed to enumerate those regiments and tell something of their composition, movements, trials, and successes. A1though individuals are dealt with only in relation to the military organizations, or the Unionist sentiment which fostered them, it is also hoped that some insight may be provided into the reasons these men dissented from the policy of their state's government.

It should be stated that this paper does not include all the Tar Heels who served in the Union army. Many left the state before the loyal regiments were conceived, to become soldiers of the states in the North. Neither were all who served in the North Carolina regiments natives of the state, though most were.

A disproportionate amount of space is devoted to the First and Second North Carolina Infantry. This fact is attributed to their being organized before the Negro troops or those in the Western part of the state. Also the activities of the two regiments were confined to a smaller area, making their movements easier to follow.

The reader will note a discrepancy regarding the terms, "general orders," and "general order." The plural refers to a headquarters communication which contains several directions and/or announcements, while the singular denotes only one directive or announcement.

I wish to thank the several persons among my friends and colleagues who have provided leads to sources of information dealing with my chosen subject. Special thanks is extended to Dr. Ina Van Noppen for her guidance in the preparation of this paper and for her tolerance of a most imperfect and tardy student. I am also grateful to my sister, Doris, for the hours she spent patiently typing.


When the guns fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, precipitating a bloody conflict between a newly formed nation determined to live and another nation just as determined not to be dismembered, North Carolina was still a part of the Federal Union. Shortly before Beauregard's artillery fired upon the flag he and many others had until recently served, the majority of the people in the Tar Heel state had voted not to hold a convention to even discuss secession. Most North Carolinians disapproved of Abraham Lincoln but they also disapproved of the Southern demagogues upon whose agitation the Confederacy was founded. The people of the state did not want to secede but their economy and their culture were Southern. If it came to war, most citizens felt, North Carolina must go with the cotton states.

Between the secession of South Carolina and Lincoln's call for troops the people of North Carolina had walked a tightrope of unresolved crisis. Suddenly, it was over. Feeling that they had been forced to choose, most North Carolinians must have felt relieved when after an agonizing period of indecision, a stand was finally taken. The convention which finally voted the state out of the Union was a mere formality. Unity was the watchword of the hour as hitherto staunch Unionists sadly turned into secessionists. One such man, John A. Gilmer, of Guilford County pronounced the words which the state leadership believed to be true, when he said, "We are all one now." 1 Doubtless Mr. Gilmer's statement reflected a statewide sentiment. On the eve of civil war North Carolina was probably more united than it had been, or would be again, for a very long time.

But John A. Gilmer should not have said "all." It was neither customary nor legal in those days to count Negroes, whether slave or free, as citizens or even as persons. This was unfortunate for in the next four years it was learned that these beings could march, charge, and fire guns. In the next four years at least 5,034 2 North Carolina Negroes, organized into four regiments, bearing the name of their native state, did all in their power to make the North victorious and gain freedom for their race.

In making his all inclusive statement Gilmer also overlooked two other types which would be found in the state. Because the Guilford Unionist and his friends lost their Unionism he presumed that all others of like mind had lost theirs too. This conviction proved to be untrue. Several thousand White North Carolinians wore the Union blue. Of these some never switched their allegiance to the Confederacy while others did, only to become disenchanted and return to the United States' fold. About half joined regiments of other states becoming lost among the names of those with whom they served. The others, numbering at least 3,156, 3 were organized into four regiments of North Carolina Union Volunteers. To their fellow citizens they were cowardly traitors and in most North Carolina history books they never existed, or if they did, it was only in small numbers. After one hundred and three years perhaps it is time for North Carolinians to take a new and unprejudiced look at the approximately eight thousand whose eight regimental banners read, "North Carolina."

** Go to PART II **


1 John G. Barrett, Civil War in North Carolina, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963), p. 17.

2 U. S. War Department, The War of Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1927), Series III, Volume 4, pp. 1268-1270.

3 Ibid.

Thanks to Glenda Hicks for sharing her work and to Bob Parrish for his valuable assistance in preparing these materials.

Copyright 1998-2004

Return to Regimental Histories Page

Return to NCUV Home Page