The 15th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, April 1862

Compiled by Dave Hunter 

For those that will attend the Peninsula preservation march, we have decided to attend as Company M, “The Chatham Rifles” of the 15th Regiment, NCT. Below is a some background information in the unit and a guide to our impression for this event.

The Regiment

The 15th NC, originally the 5th NC Volunteers, was organized on 11 June 1861 at Garysburg, NC. (“two miles north of Weldon”). The regiment was organized with 12 rather than 10 companies and was commanded by Col. Robert M. McKinney, formerly of the 6th NCST and an instructor under D.H Hill at the NC Military Institute. Company M, from Chatham County, enlisted at Pittsboro on 12 April 61 and moved into camp at Raleigh. On 4 June it entered State service and moved to Garysburg to join the 15th NCT. The first company commander, Ross Ihrie, was appointed Lt Col for the regiment, and was replaced by John W. Taylor on 15 June. (Note: Companies L and M would eventually be transferred to the 32nd NCT on 4 July 62)

The regiment deployed to Yorktown, Virginia, and arrived on 1 July. The regiment occupied a camp southwest of the town and began “throwing up breastworks day and night”. The regiment sent various companies out on occasional reconnaissance missions down the Peninsula. The soldiers suffered from serious outbreaks of sickness, then thought to be caused by service in swampy areas in summer, but probably due more to bad sanitation and poor water than malaria. The unit had nearly 90% of its strength on the sick list at one time in September and eventually lost “over fifteen per cent” dead/disabled to disease by April 1862. The unit was moved up the Peninsula to recover, then returned to Yorktown in October. It remained in winter quarters until February, 1862 when the unit was sent eventually to Goldsboro, NC as part of Cobb’s Brigade to reinforce L.O’B. Branch’s forces after the loss of New Bern. After the arrival of McClellan’s Federal army in the Peninsula, the brigade returned to Virginia by 15 April and went into position near Lee’s Mill along the Warwick River line, where the regiments began work to improve the defenses along its portion of the line. Cobb’s Brigade (2nd La, 11th Ga., 16th Ga., 15th NCT, Cobb’s Legion, and Troup (Ga.) Artillery) now formed part of McLaws’ 2nd Division.

The Battle at Lee’s Mill, 16 April 1862

The Confederate lines followed the Warwick River, which at its northern end had various milldams erected across it. These dams created wide ponds that acted as obstacles to Federal movement, and the river could only be crossed at the dams. Lee’s Mill was located at Dam No.1, but the 15th NC, “about 500 men”, occupied a line below the Dam, fronting the pond created by Dam No. 2. The recent heavy rains had made life particularly difficult in the Confederate trenches and artillery revetment. General Magruder described it thus:

From the 4th of April to the 3rd of May this army served almost continually without relief in the trenches…It rained almost incessantly. The trenches were filled with water. No fires could be allowed. The artillery and infantry of the enemy played upon or men day and night. The army had neither coffee, sugar or hard bread, but subsisted on flour and salt meats, and these in reduced quantities, and yet no murmurs were heard…

E. Porter Alexander added:

The trenches filled with water as fast as they could be opened and could not be drained. Yet the continual firing compelled the men to remain in them…The trenches were so hastily constructed that they barely afforded room for the line of battle to crouch in…In many places they became offensive beyond description.

The Federals mounted a “reconnaissance in force” toward Dam No. 1 on 16 April. The Vermont Brigade, five regiments strong, was sent forward to the portion of the line held by the 15th NC. Earlier that morning, around 0800, artillery fire was directed on the position at Dam No. 1. Col. McKinney formed the regiment, in line of battle, then around 1000 hrs called in a “working party of 100 men” working on rifle pits. The regiment remained on alert through the early afternoon. He then ordered the regiment to stack arms and all troops were put to work on the fortifications. Pickets occupied the rifle pits 200 yards forward of this position, along the edge of the pond.

The Federals had found that, despite the heavy rains, the pond in front of the 15th NC was no more than 4 feet deep and 150-200 yards wide. Their approach march though the pond was covered by the ‘heavy timber and thick undergrowth” in that swampy area. Under the covering fire of artillery and the other Federal infantry, four companies of the 3rd Vermont burst from the wooded area of the pond around 1500 hrs., driving in the Tar Heel pickets, and taking up position at the line of rifle pits. The 15th NC hastily formed line of battle and “advanced at a double quick and a yell” toward the Vermonters, who replied with a volley of musket fire. Col. McKinney was killed while leading the regiment forward, shot through the forehead. The regiment was thrown in “momentary confusion”. The officers rallied the companies and returned to line. A firefight ensued for nearly two hours, as the Federals were able to hold on behind the rifle pits. Before his death, Col. McKinney had sent to Brig. Gen. Cobb to assistance, since he had thought the Federals might be attacking in strength. Two companies of the 2nd La. and attacked the Vermont troops on the left, while the nearby 7th Ga., of Anderson’s Brigade, attacked from the right. This force drove back the four companies of the 3rd Vermont, who lost 83 men. At approximately 1700, three Federal regiments, the 4th , 5th ,and 6th Vermont, attacked toward “the rifle pits”, but were met with a “rapid, galling and destructive fire” at a range “not exceeding 30 yards”. Total Federal casualties were listed as between 165-183 killed and wounded.

The 15th North Carolina had fought its first battle, losing 12 killed and 31wounded. The regiment reorganized “for the war” on 2-3 May, now commanded by Col. Henry Dowd. The regiment withdrew from the Warwick River line on the night of 3-4 May as part of the rear guard, marching back through the Williamsburg defenses, to New Kent Court House.

Impression Guidance

The 15th NCT was one of the early regiments to be deployed to Virginia, and would have been armed, clothed and equipped with those items available in the state during the first few months of the war and later with CS issue items. Basically, if you don’t have NC/CS issue items, then do without. State ordnance records show that the unit was armed with “altered muskets” or “muskets”. Company M was issued “muskets”. One frock coat identified to a 15th NCT soldier has survived, but the dates of use are not known. Several images of soldiers of the 15th have survived. There are no common items in these images except the use of a dark forage cap with a convex visor, similar to that seen in other NC images.

Of note is an image of Pvt. Stanley M. Riggsbee of the Chatham Rifles, who was wounded at Dam No. 1 (ST&V, p. 295, 5.3.1) He is wearing the forage cap mentioned above, with what appears to be an 8-pointed star in the center of the crown. He wearing a light colored (gray?) overshirt with a dark -colored placket, band collar, and left pocket trim. Over this he appears to be wearing a civilian coat with a flat, open collar, the collar being darker than the coat. Buttonholes on the lapel may indicate that this is an overcoat. Pvt. W.H.H. Guthrie, Company H, is shown wearing the dark forage cap with an unidentified item on the center of the crown. He is clothed in a dark sack coat (not an NC issue) or frock coat and light-colored trousers. He is armed with a M1816 musket, converted to percussion, and a small pistol in his belt. (ST&V, p. 38, 2.35).

All items should be appropriate to an early 1862 NC Confederate regiment. Based on the descriptions of the conditions and duties, the soldiers of the 15th NC would appear muddy/dirtier than “usual”. While their uniforms were, no doubt, becoming worn from hard service in the trenches, there are no accounts of the regiment being ragged, barefooted, etc.

Hat/Cap: NC kepi, NC forage cap with convex visor, military or civilian felt hat.

Shirt: NC issue or civilian. No overshirts as outer garments.

Coat: NC issue uniform coat, single breasted frock coat with NC buttons. NC uniform coats should be unlined, as initial issue to the regiment was complete before the “winterization” program commenced in fall, 1861, when coats in stock were taken out and had a lining added. NC issue and Richmond Type I jackets may be used, but they are discouraged. NO type II/III, Tait, other styles of CS issue clothing.

Trousers: NC or Richmond Depot styles

Shoes: CS. English and US styles OK, but discouraged.

Socks: wool or cotton

Drawers: flannel or cotton

Overcoat: NC or early CS issue only.

Weapon:  M1842, M1816 percussion conversion or flintlock., with appropriate bayonet

Ammunition: wrappers should be Richmond/1861 for cal..69 or unmarked

Cartridge Box/Sling: NC or CS

Cap Box:  NC or CS

Bayonet Scabbard: CS, US pattern OK if no rivets present.

Waist Belt: NC roller buckle, CS frame, forked tongue, plain brass rectangular belt plate on black leather belt. (no English, white web, etc.)

Knapsack: CS “Kibbler” style or blanket rolls.

Oilcloth: NC, CS oilcloth

Blanket: plain wool military style, CS, early NC issue, civilian blankets, quilts, coverlets, carpet blankets.

Canteen: CS tin drum

Haversack: NC or CS issue, plain white cotton styles. “Bailey” style discouraged, but OK to replace Federal. No carpetbags, ticking stripes, etc.

Mess Equipment:  the usual items, but no US canteen half plates.

Rations: salt pork or beef, flour, cornmeal. Limit your amount of coffee, sugar, dried fruit, fresh vegetables and meats.

Federal issue UWE: None, except as noted. Prior to 16 April 62, the 15th NC had no opportunity to obtain any Federal equipment or weapons, so do not use any Federal issue weapons, equipment or uniform parts at this event. Shoes, unmarked/no plate cartridge boxes, and bayonet scabbards with no rivets can be used, but are not recommended. M1858 Canteens are completely wrong, but for basic safety bring it, if it is the only one you have. Rubber blankets are not correct, either, but if monsoons appear imminent, roll it up inside your blanket.

Imported UWE: Also, this is pretty early for English import items and should be avoided. P-53 Enfields can be used, but are discouraged. English shoes can be used , but are discouraged. As this is an early war event, the NC-issue blanket is not appropriate. If you have no alternative, you’ll have to use it…or do without. Please roll it up with the “NC” inside. Avoid Isaac and Campbell knapsacks for this event.

Civilian Items: Blankets, quilts, coverlets, carpet blankets are permitted, as these items were collected during the winter of 1861-62 by the State for issue to NC troops. Avoid civilian coats and trousers, but a few “homemade” military items are acceptable. Let’s not overdo this aspect.


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