Two N.C. Regiments Share the Title ‘Furthest at Chickamauga’

by Peter Koch

This is the second of Private Koch’s two articles describing the participation of North Carolina units at the Battle of Chickamauga. — Editor

The North Carolina presence at the Battle of Chickamauga was slight in numeric terms. Five regiments represented the state out of almost 190 regiments and battalions of Confederate infantry and cavalry that took part in the confused and desperate battle.

Each of the infantry regiments — the 29th, 39th, 58th and 60th — as well as the 6th NC Cavalry, was composed of men from most of the mountain counties from Ashe south to Cherokee. The 6th Cavalry participated as part of Davidson’s brigade, joining in several fights on the first day and suffering a number of losses. The infantry regiments’ actions of the 19th and 20th are more fully documented.

In fact, two of the four infantry regiments lay claim to the sobriquet “furthest at Chickamauga.” Those claims are supported in part by commissioners who were appointed in 1893 by Governor Elias Carr. The commissioners consulted available records and visited the battlefield to locate the positions of each brigade. They even took along a Federal veteran who then wrote their report.

58th Regiment NCT

In the middle of 1862, North Carolina’s authorities brought together various companies to form the 58th NCT. These included the infantry portion of John Palmer’s legion and a company previously destined for the (stillborn) Zebulon B. Vance Legion. By the time the regiment arrived in eastern Tennessee, it contained 12 companies and was led by Palmer, who was a Mitchell County farmer and a native of New York. The troops missed both the invasion of Kentucky and the Battle of Murfreesboro, and they spent much of 1863 in various locations across eastern Tennessee. Supplies were obviously at a premium on their long detached service, as one of the captains was detailed to Richmond in the late summer of 1863. (Clark III, 448)

The 58th’s first skirmish took place on Sept. 11, when the 58th was still a new member of Kelly’s brigade. Colonel John Kelly was just 23 years old, the youngest brigade commander in Bragg’s army. On the 18th, the brigade camped without fires on a cornfield that was the site of another more recent skirmish. (Clark III, 449)

The first day of Chickamauga was fairly uneventful for the 58th and Kelly’s brigade. Placed in several positions throughout the day, they were subjected to long-distance shellfire that, while damaging to the nerves, did no physical harm. The 58th did assist in the capture of some Federal artillery and artillerymen. “[We] greatly hoped to get to guard them, but by the time we had exchanged a few chews of tobacco, we were ordered away.” (Clark III, 450)

The second day was destined to be different for the brigade, which was moved to a supporting position on the left side of Longstreet’s assault. For some reason, however, either Longstreet or William Preston, the division commander, kept Kelly’s brigade and another one stationary throughout the late morning attacks. Two companies of the 58th did participate in a seven-company reconnaissance of the entrenched Federal right wing. The probe, led by Lieutenant Colonel Kirby of the 58th, resulted in a bloody repulse.

Preston’s two brigades, Kelly’s and Gracie’s, finally moved forward shortly after 4 p.m. Kelly, without one of his regiments, started off with the 58th NCT, the 63rd Virginia and the 5th Kentucky in line from the right.

At first, the brigade pressed in behind Kershaw’s South Carolinians, who were by now worn down after repeated assaults on Horseshoe Ridge. Soon Kelly moved into action on the left flank of Gracie’s brigade. As the brigade ascended the open woods of Horseshoe Ridge, various stream valleys separated it into its composite regiments. Casualties mounted for all three regiments, but Kelly and his commanders pushed the men forward without stopping to shoot back.

According to Colonel Palmer, the 58th “moved with steadiness through this comparatively open space till my extreme right arrived within 10 or 12 feet of the enemy. The line of the brigade formed with the line of the enemy an angle of perhaps 22º, my right being at the angle.” (OR, 445)

Upon arriving at this close range, the Confederates opened fire on the Federals. At this point, Kelly suddenly believed that his men were shooting at fellow Confederates and sent out an order to hold fire. Palmer soon recognized this as an error, but the momentum of the attack had been lost, along with valuable time, while the men were receiving fire without returning it in an organized fashion.

“Having discovered that no friends were in advance, firing was resumed by the center and left (the right had not ceased its fire). … Two-thirds of my right flanking company, which was exposed to a most galling cross-fire from the enemy on our right and in front, had been killed and wounded.” (OR, 445)

The dead included Lieutenant Colonel Kirby, who had been shot four times. Three enlisted men, fellow sons of planters and friends of Kirby from before the war, tried to reach his body, but they were also shot down. Palmer reported later seeing the four men piled together. (Cozzens, 481)

One of these men was a remarkable individual, at least according to Company B’s Captain Isaac Bailey. “Ebbin Childs, Colonel Palmer’s orderly, whose smooth girlish face I see before me now, and whose bright sword flashed for the last time in the rays of the setting sun, as he fell within twenty steps of the enemy’s line. His beardless face ablaze with the animation of battle, and his youthful figure transformed into a hero’s statue. The dry parched earth of Snodgrass Hill was never reddened with nobler blood.” (Clark III, 453)

The right flank of the 58th melted away under fire from both front and flank. The rest of the men shot back furiously while Palmer rallied the right. The line stayed in front of the Federals for a number of minutes, but because of mounting casualties, Palmer pulled his men back part of the way down the hill.

The other two regiments’ assaults also petered out at about the same time. Thus, by 5 p.m., Kelly’s brigade was below the crest of the ridge trading shots through the smoke and twilight with Federals who were clinging to the ridge top. For the next hour, much of the fighting shifted down the ridge to the left (attacks in which the 39th NCT took part).

Around 6 p.m., Kelly again tried to take his objective: “I determined to attempt to dislodge [the enemy] by assault, and for this purpose transferred the Fifty-eighth North Carolina from the right to the left of my line and moved forward, swinging somewhat to the right.” (OR, 441)

The 58th moved upward again in an attempt to flank the Federal hilltop position. At some point during the advance, the regiment was stalled by a spoiling charge from the remains of the 21st Ohio. This attack and a lack of ammunition forced the 58th to ground in the gathering gloom.

Kelly started his regiments forward again, this time in conjunction with Trigg’s late-arriving brigade. This move was not yet fully coordinated when Kelly was suddenly called away to meet with the division commander. Palmer assumed command of the brigade’s advance, but in the confusion, the 58th stayed put. “Several hundred Federals, most of whom were out of ammunition, surrendered to Trigg and the 63rd Virginia and 5th Kentucky shortly thereafter. To Palmer’s dismay and mortification, the 58th was excluded from the spoils of victory — prisoners, [5] battle flags, and weapons.” (Jordan, 223)

A Federal officer later wrote that the “shades of the evening were gathering, and in the ravines a fleecy fog was just beginning to rise. … The roar of the day’s long combat had about ceased, and a palpitating silence, surcharged with dreadful chances, hung over all the field. … The men lay down, almost without a word, and let the chill influence of the awful quiet about them work upon them.” (Cozzens, 487)

That night, after suffering casualties of more than 50 percent, the 58th bivouacked on top of Horseshoe Ridge. (Clark III, 435) General Preston, impressed by the actions of Kelly’s brigade, later presented eight Colt’s revolving rifles to the brigade, two each to the color guards of the 5th and 63rd. Four of the rifles were given to the color guard of the 58th NCT.

60th Regiment NCT

The 60th NCT was conceived in early 1862 as a local-defense battalion. The first six companies were drawn from Buncombe County, and soon these troops marched up the Buncombe Turnpike to train at Warm Springs (present-day Hot Springs). But by fall, the battalion had been moved to a new camp at Greeneville, Tenn., and in October, the 60th mustered into active service.

Conditions for all of the North Carolina regiments in eastern Tennessee can likely be summed up by the various adventurously spelled comments of John Reese (Company F) who wrote in September 1862. “[L]iving on wheat Bread don’t A gree with mee.” “Rite smart of sickness hear[.] [T]hair has Binn 2 died hear … [and] at noxvill [at] the ganeril hoerspitle … [t]ha[y] air diing 10 ten pur day.” (Jordan XIV, 426)

A participant in both days’ fighting at Murfreesboro, the 60th lost 76 men killed or wounded and more than 30 captured. It fought this battle as a portion of what became Stovall’s brigade. Throughout the summer of 1863, the 60th joined in the attempts to relieve Vicksburg. September found it maneuvering through Georgia.

Stovall’s brigade did not see any action on the first day of Chickamauga, although it moved late in the afternoon and into the evening toward the right flank of the Confederate Army. According to Stovall, “[w]e formed line of battle at sunrise, this division being on the extreme right of the army, my brigade being in the center of the division between the brigades of Brigadier-Generals Adams and Helm, respectively. Skirmishers (25 men from each regiment) were immediately deployed. … Between 9 and 10 o’clock my brigade was ordered to advance.” (OR, 231)

The division pressed forward from east to west, crossing into fields just south of the present-day NPS Visitor Center. Stovall and Adams met light resistance as they advanced beyond the La Fayette road, old U.S. 27, while Helms’ brigade foundered against multiple Federal lines supported by log breastworks.

Breckinridge and his commanders determined that the advance by Stovall and Adams had overlapped the left flank of the Federal line. According to D.H. Hill, “[u]pon the repulse of Helm’s Brigade General Breckinridge had proposed, and I had cordially approved, a change of front of his two right brigades so as to swing round on the flank and rear of the Yankee position.” (OR, 142)

At about 11 a.m., these two brigades now faced due south to commence an attack that, had it succeeded, would have crushed multiple Federal brigades. James Weaver of the 60th later reported:

[W]e changed front by filing to the right, and facing by the rear rank were hurriedly marched in the direction of said fire. Having approached to within 400 yards of enemy’s line, we received a heavy fire from the front and from there advanced through a brisk fire to within 200 yards of the enemy’s line, where we were halted and returned the enemy’s fire. At this place and time Lieutenant-Colonel Ray, commanding regiment, was wounded and left the field. After a sharp engagement for twenty minutes, the Florida regiment on our left was forced back by what I have understood to have been a flank movement of the enemy on their left, of which movement I was ignorant, and held my men firm. However, in a short time the Forty-seventh Georgia, being hotly pressed on my right, was forced to retire, which left me no alternative but to withdraw my men or be captured. (OR, 238-9)

Stovall’s brigade drove deeply into the Federal lines, causing great confusion. The 60th had plowed through several regiments, advancing almost half a mile. They reached the edge of the Kelly field and remained there, trading fire with a succession of Federals, including the 2nd Minnesota and the 87th Indiana, until forced back by threats to their flanks. The brigade retreated backward in some confusion. Followed by Adams’ brigade, they were moved further back to reorganize and replenish their cartridge boxes.

The near success by the 60th and the rest of Stovall and Adams’ brigades is best summarized by Breckenridge in his after-action report. “A good supporting line to my division at this moment would probably have produced decisive results. As it was, the engagement on our right had inflicted on the enemy heavy losses and compelled him to weaken other parts of his line to hold his vital point.” (OR, 200)

Around 4 p.m., after about an hour’s delay, the brigade again moved forward to support Breckinridge’s final assault on the Federal left flank, just to the north of the Kelly field. Some reports suggest that this movement occurred at sunset, possibly because the day was so smoky that sunset arrived prematurely. Stovall’s men moved forward to attack the same area from which they had been forced back around midday. The brigade pressed through the woods, over lines of breastworks, and on to the La Fayette road, scattering Federals off into the gloom. The brigade now secured its position and settled into a victorious night on the battlefield.

Furthest at Chickamauga

As was stated earlier, in 1893, Governor Elias Carr appointed a commission to investigate North Carolina’s service at Chickamauga. This action was undertaken in conjunction with moves by veteran’s groups to establish the nation’s first battlefield park in the Chattanooga area. A Congressional bill established the park in 1890, and various organizations began placing monuments about the battlefield shortly thereafter. Carr’s commission located a number of sites of significance and placed oak markers on them. These were later replaced with marble markers.

The commission also verified claims of the significance of North Carolina’s regimental actions. The 58th and the 60th were both given credit for having advanced the furthest in their respective attacks at Chickamauga. During Breckinridge’s afternoon attack, the 60th was judged to have, “reached the furthest point attained by Confederate State Troops in that famous charge.” (Clark V, 172)

The 58th’s claim rests on its first advance up Horseshoe Ridge. The veterans who participated in the commission, three of whom were former members of the 58th, claim that they attained a spot just a few yards from the highest point of Snodgrass Hill. “[A]fter the fullest discussion, careful examination of printed and verbal testimony, inspection and measurement of the ground, the point where the topmost wave of the tide of Southern battle broke nearer than any other to the unbroken lines of Thomas’ defense, was agreed by us all to have been reached by the Fifty-eighth North Carolina Infantry.” (Clark V, 172)

The commission also found evidence of significant participation by the 6th NC Cavalry and 39th NCT. The 6th joined in the first advances and retreats of the battle as instigated by General Forrest. Through discussions with veterans, the 6th was found to have held the honorable position of the right flank regiment of Davidson’s brigade, the first brigade in action on September 19th. The 39th led Longstreet’s attack on the second day of fighting and captured at least nine cannon in its remarkable advance through the Dyer field.

Whatever they wore and however they felt about serving in the Army of Tennessee, men from North Carolina played a distinguished role at the Battle of Chickamauga. Their conduct contributed greatly to the Confederate victory, although the four infantry regiments suffered more than 400 killed or wounded.


The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I Vol. XXX: Part 2. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1890. (Referred to herein as “OR.”)

Clark, Walter, ed. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65 Vol. III. Goldsboro, N.C.: Nash Brothers, Book and Job Printers, 1901.

Clark, Walter, ed. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65 Vol. V. Goldsboro, N.C.: Nash Brothers, Book and Job Printers, 1901.

Cozzens, Peter. This Terrible Sound. Urbana, Ill.: University of Chicago, 1992.

Jordan, Weymouth T. Jr. North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster Vol. XIV. Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1998.

Mast, Greg. State Troops and Volunteers. Raleigh, N.C.: Division of Archives and History, 1995.

Woodworth, Steven E. Chickamauga: A Battlefield Guide. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

58th NCT, Kelly’s Brigade,

Preston’s Division, Buckner’s Corps

Co. A

“Mitchell Rangers”


Mitchell Co.


Yancey Co.


Watauga Co.


Caldwell Co.


McDowell Co.


Yancey Co.


Caldwell Co.


“Watauga Troopers”


Mitchell Co.


Ashe Co.


Watauga & Ashe Co.

57 k, 117 w, 1 c (Jordan, 224)

60th NCT, Stovall’s Brigade,

Breckinridge’s Div, D. H. Hill’s Corps

Co. A

Buncombe Co.


Madison Co.


Buncombe Co.


“Henderson Rangers”


“Buncombe Farmers”


Buncombe Co.


Polk Co.


Cocke Co. TN


“French Broad Guards”


Buncombe Co.

18 k, 28 w, 14 c out of 150 (Jordan, 450)

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