The 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops spent its first two years in North and South Carolina. During that period, the regiment was engaged in only two major fights. In 1864, the Fifty-First transferred to Virginia and was involved in five battles brought on by the Union’s final drive on Richmond. The unit transferred back to North Carolina at the end of 1864. Back home, the 51st North Carolina tangled with the Yankees in the final battles of the war. The Tar Heel soldiers fought bravely in all of their battles. (Click on the headings below to read a full description of each battle.)
Fought on December 17, 1862. This was the 51st North Carolina’s first taste of combat. The unit was driven from the field early in the engagement. The soldiers returned later in the day to make an ill-advised charge against the rear guard of the withdrawing Union force. They were driven from the field again.
On July 18, 1863, the Union army assaulted Battery Wagner on Morris Island at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. The 51st North Carolina, making up roughly half of the Confederate garrison, fought stubbornly. The Yankees were repulsed with heavy losses. After the battle, the Fifty-First was complimented for its “efficiency and gallantry.”
On May 9, 1864, the 51st North Carolina skirmished with Union infantry near the railroad bridge crossing Swift Creek. A newspaper article, published a few days later, claimed that two companies of the Fifty-First routed a New Hampshire regiment that night. The newspaper was wrong.
The 51st North Carolina transferred to Virginia in early 1864. That May, Union General Benjamin “Beast” Butler launched his Bermuda Hundred Campaign, threatening Petersburg and Richmond. On May 16, as Butler’s army prepared to advance on Richmond, the Confederates launched a major attack at Drewry’s Bluff. The Fifty-First made a glorious charge during the battle, driving the enemy out of their entrenchments. The regiment suffered heavy casualties.
The Fifty-First Regiment moved north of the James River on May 31, 1864. That day, the unit engaged in a heated fight with Union cavalry. The next day, the 51st North Carolina was almost surrounded during a Union assault on the Confederate works near Cold Harbor. The regiment fought its way to safety but lost over 100 men captured.
After Cold Harbor, the Union Army moved operations to the south side of the James River, near Petersburg. The 51st North Carolina was moved to the Petersburg defenses. On July 16, a major Yankee assault managed to overrun the trenches immediately to the right of the 51st Regiment’s sector. Five companies of the Fifty-First assisted in a counterattack that drove the Federals out of the Confederate lines.
On August 18, 1864, Union forces seized the railroad line at Globe Tavern, south of Petersburg. The next day, the Confederates counterattacked. The 51st North Carolina was part of the Rebel forces trying to drive the Federals away from the railway. The battle was a confusing melee fought over several miles. The number of Yankee prisoners captured by the Fifty-First that day numbered more than the manpower of the regiment.
Union troops captured Fort Harrison on September 29, 1864. The fort was a critical link in the Richmond defenses. General Robert E. Lee wanted the fort back. The next day, the 51st North Carolina charged 400 yards over open ground. The regiment was slaughtered. Many men were pinned down by the furious fire of the Yankee defenders. The soldiers who could not sneak away were captured.
The 51st North Carolina returned to North Carolina at the end of December 1864. Not long after the regiment’s return, Wilmington fell to the Union. The Fifty-First then became part of General Joseph Johnston’s army trying to halt Sherman’s advance into North Carolina. From March 8 through 10, the regiment was engaged in the Battle of Soutwest Creek.
On March 19 and 20 the Fifty-Firt North Carolina fought in the Battle of Bentonville. This engagement was the last battle fought in the East. Not long after the battle, Johnston surrendered his army, ending the war.
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