During the holidays I was given a new book — always a treat — in the form of “Tight Ranks: The Fighting Record of the 34th North Carolina Infantry in the Civil War, a History and Roster” by Donald Hazelwood.
The author, a West Virginia resident, became interested in the 34th North Carolina because of an ancestor who died while serving in this regiment. Hazelwood was recently honored by the North Carolina Society of Historians with the 2019 History Book Award for his book.
Hazelwood’s 443-page paperback volume, his first book, shows serious research into his subject and includes a number of photographs of the men in the 34th, some taken during the war and others made later. Besides the usual official sources, Hazelwood has incorporated numerous excerpts from the men’s letters and diaries into the text, revealing day-to-day life in the Confederate military.
On paper, Civil War infantry regiments, both Union and Rebel, were usually composed of 10 companies of about 100 men each, headed by a captain, for a total of a little more than 1,000 men per regiment, counting the regimental band — which doubled as stretcher-bearers — and regimental staff, which included surgeons, chaplains and their assistants, and enlisted men who served as teamsters, butchers, etc. The regiment was led by a colonel, who was assisted by a lieutenant colonel and two majors. The company captains were assisted by a number of lieutenants.
The bulk of the regiment was composed of privates, although there were some enlisted men who served as non-commissioned officers: the sergeants and corporals.
During the Civil War, North Carolina furnished 69 infantry regiments, eight cavalry regiments, and three artillery regiments — some 155,000 men — to the Confederate cause, more men than from any other Southern state. Serving in state were also militia units, home guards, local defense troops and a variety of other organizations.
Furthermore, it has been estimated that some 49,000 North Carolinians, pro-Union citizens, former slaves and Confederates who switched sides, fought for the Union.
The 34th North Carolina was made up of companies from the western part of North Carolina and formed at High Point in October of 1861. In the 34th was a company from Ashe County, three companies from Rutherford County, a company from Lincoln County, two companies from Cleveland County, a company from Mecklenburg, a company from Montgomery County and one from Rowan County, which included a number of Iredell County men. Colonel William Lee J. Lowrance, who was from the Mooresville/Prospect Presbyterian Church area, led the regiment — then part of Pender’s Brigade — in the famous “Pickett’s Charge” on the third day of the battle, July 3, 1863.
During the time of its existence, about 1,500 men served in the 34th N.C. at one time or another. The 34th fought in some of the fiercest fighting in the Eastern Theater of the war, having fought in the well-known battles of Gaines’s Mill, Second Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and numerous lesser-known engagements.
At Gettysburg, the 34th suffered heavy losses, losing a third of the 304 men who went into the battle.
The remnants of the 34th were with General Robert E. Lee when he surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. Only 166 men remained of the regiment to surrender.
As Hazelwood states in his preface, “Everyone has their opinion of what place the Confederate soldier has in history. Our aim here is merely to show that they were human beings. They were someone’s son, father, husband, or sweetheart who found themselves caught up in the most perilous time in America’s history and were forced to make choices that none of us today would ever want to make.”
In regard to how many of the 34th’s men came from slave-holding families, Hazelwood made an interesting discovery: “In each company of this regiment, however, the percentage of slaveholders is far lower than their respective county averages ... In the 34th North Carolina, the percentage of slaveholders was roughly 12%, half the overall averages (for their counties of origin). Of the 136 men who lived in slave-holding households, half held three or less, and 35 had only one. Though they lived in counties that had substantial slave populations, the 34th N.C. was dominated by non-slave holders.”
R&L readers with ancestors from the above-mentioned counties may well find their relatives mentioned in Hazelwood’s book. Readers will also gain an appreciation of the hardships men on both sides endured during this greatest American tragedy.
The traditional figure that 40,000 North Carolinians died wearing Confederate gray has recently been challenged, suggesting 33,000 to 35,000 to be a more accurate figure, to which 2,000 deceased North Carolinians who wore Union blue should be added. These numbers do not include those who were blinded, deafened, lost arms, legs and in other ways were disabled for the remainder of their lives, nor does it include those who died shortly after arriving back home in a debilitated condition from sickness, malnutrition, etc.
President Abraham Lincoln, in his remarks made at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, referred to “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here. …” I, personally, have always believed Lincoln was referring here to both those who wore the blue uniform and those who wore the gray uniform.
The book is available through Amazon.com and through eBay. It is a sobering, eye-opening read.