Chaos in Command: More Information

I know, I know! I keep posting on this topic. But I found more information in the Clingman Papers about the Fifty-First’s command debacle in 1863.

Summary of the Situation in January 1863

On January 6, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel William Allen, commanding the 51st North Carolina, submitted his resignation [the letter is dated January 5]. The same day, he was granted a leave of absence and went home to await the outcome of his resignation. On January 7, Major Hector McKethan, the only field officer on duty with the 51st North Carolina, assumed command of the regiment.

The posts listed below provide details of the events that led to McKethan commanding the Fifty-First:

Although official records list McKethan’s promotion to colonel as January 19, 1863, it took several months for the major to receive his new rank.

Timeline of McKethan’s Promotion

January 6th: Major McKethan writes to General Clingman, recommending two men to command the Fifty-First, Lt. Col. Devane of the 61st North Carolina and an unnamed individual. “Col. Allen informs me that he will tender his resignation today – in that event you will oblige me by taking no official notice of the papers I handed you [charges and specifications against Allen]. I would suggest also that the good of the service would be promoted by an early reply from the war department as I wish the vacancy filled in the way I mentioned to you and as early as possible. In addition to the name mentioned yesterday I would also name Lt. Col. W. S. Devane of the 61st and would be glad to know if either of these gentlemen would accept the position if appointed. The company officers would no doubt recommend me for the position but I prefer either of those named.”

January 12: The company officers do indeed recommend McKethan. The entire group signs a petition asking General Clingman to promote the major to colonel.

January 19: The War Department accepts Lt. Col. Allen’s resignation, leaving Major McKethan officially in command of the regiment.

January 26: General Whiting, commanding the Wilmington defenses, writes to General Clingman and recommends “Major Jackson of the regular army” for command of the 51st North Carolina. Jackson is a West Point graduate and a very brave, experienced, and skillful officer. Whiting asks Clingman to poll the regiment’s officers and men and determine whether they would accept Major Jackson’s appointment.

January 29: General James Martin, North Carolina’s Adjutant General, notifies General Clingman that Governor Vance has a preferred candidate for the colonelcy of the 51st North Carolina. Vance wants to appoint Captain Alex Moore, 10th Regiment, as colonel of the Fifty-First, and the governor will promote Major McKethan to Lieutenant Colonel. The letter courteously asks Clingman to poll the regiment’s officers and see if they would accept Vance’s plan.

January 30: Major McKethan sends a letter concerning his application for promotion to colonel to Captain Edward White, Clingman’s Adjutant. General Clingman had told the major that he would endorse and forward the application to Governor Vance immediately.

February 10: Major McKethan sends a “paper” to Clingman’s AAG requesting that the AAG put the paper in the mail bound for Raleigh, ASAP. “I am heartily tired of the subject,” writes McKethan, “and would be glad to have it settled. I know what the good of the Regmt and the service requires and if there is any responsibility to be assumed am ready to take it so far as I have stated verbally and by letter.”

April 4: McKethan, at James Island near Charleston, sends a letter to Captain White and signs the letter “H McKethan, Col 51 Reg NCT.” The major has received his promotion, effective to January 19, sometime before this date.

Lieutenant Colonel Hobson and Major McDonald

Lieutenant Colonel Allen’s resignation left two vacancies in the 51st North Carolina’s field officers (Colonel Cantwell’s position was still open when Allen resigned). Once McKethan was chosen to fill the rank of colonel, the regiment had to appoint a lieutenant colonel and a major.

January 15: Three days after endorsing McKethan for colonel, 27 of the company officers submit a second petition, recommending Captain George Sloan of Company I for lieutenant colonel and Captain Willian Norment, Company F, for major. This second petition is not signed by Captains George Walker (Co. A), Caleb Hobson (Co. B), or James McDonald (Co. D), all of whom are senior in rank, by date of commission, to Sloan and Norment. Regulations require promotions by seniority, putting Walker in line for lieutenant colonel and Hobson for major. Major McKethan endorses the petition and forwards it to General Clingman. “Captains Sloan and Norment are two of the best officers in the Reg and have been in service since the war began as Com officers – have ever shown themselves prompt & efficient and have the entire confidence of the Reg.”

January 30: In his letter to Captain White (see previous section), Major McKethan includes Captain Hobson’s application for promotion to major (apparently Clingman ignored the second petition from the company officers). Hobson’s application, addressed to North Carolina’s Adjutant General, states, “I being entitled to promotion have the honor to apply through you for my appointment as Major of 51 Reg NCT.” McKethan is unable to forward Captain Walker’s application for promotion to lieutenant colonel because Walker is absent without leave. McKethan feels “that such conduct deserves punishment rather than promotion.”

January 31: Major McKethan sends another letter to Captain White. In the letter, McKethan explains why the 51st Regiment’s officers do not want Captain Walker promoted to lieutenant colonel. Captain Walker had a troublesome relationship with Colonel Cantwell from the date of the regiment’s organization. Cantwell accused Walker of making a “false muster,” preferred charges against the captain, and placed him under arrest. In addition to Walker’s issues with the former commander, the captain “is odious to most of the officers and men of the Reg and has the confidence of neither.” Regarding Captain Hobson, McKethan states he has “no military qualifications and the company officers of the Reg object to his promotion with the same unanimity they do to Capt Walker.”

February 3: Hobson writes a letter to General Samuel Cooper, Adjutant General and Inspector General of the Confederate Army. “I being entitled to promotion, have the honor to apply through you for my rights and appointment unless I am found to be incompetent by an examining Board, which I am willing to go before at any time.” Major McKethan endorses the letter with, “Capt Hobson is the 2nd Sen Capt of this Regiment.” The fact that Hobson does not mention which rank he is entitled to implies that the decision to exclude Captain Walker may have already been made.

February 14: The War Department in Richmond returns McKethan’s letter of the 31st with the endorsement, “The 51st N. C. Regt. is some of those regiments organized under State authority. The Governor claims the right to appoint the officers.”

April 4: McKethan has been promoted to Colonel by this date and now he wants Governor Vance to hurry up and appoint a lieutenant colonel and a major. “I have acted alone since Jan. 6th and see no sufficient reason for further delay.” In a letter to Captain White, McKethan requests that General Clingman write the governor and urge him to make the appointments. The new colonel cautions that if Captain Walker is appointed lieutenant colonel, the men of the regiment will not submit to his promotion “a single day.” McKethan suggests that the four or five candidates vying for promotion go before an examining board, and the two men who perform best before the board should be promoted. As long as the governor delays the promotions, he will be annoyed by these types of communications and McKethan is “determined not to write or forward another paper on the subject.”

April 9: Hobson requisitions feed for his horse as lieutenant colonel. Apparently, Captain Hobson has been told he is the Fifty-First’s new lieutenant colonel, but his promotion is not official yet. (Hobson’s effective date of rank, once he was formally promoted, was April 9, 1863.)

April 22: Hobson sends a note to Captain White informing him that he, Hobson, is “willing to comply with the condition of my appointment at any time.” He signs the note, “C. B. Hobson, Lt. Col.” He has still not been officially promoted.

April 30: General Clingman is notified that the examining board has approved Captain Hobson for promotion to lieutenant colonel. Clingman is requested to submit an official statement containing the name of the former lieutenant colonel, how the position became vacant (death or resignation), and the date the vacancy came open. Clingman’s statement will be forwarded with the examining board’s report to headquarters, which will then issue the order to promote Hobson.

May 1: Clingman’s Brigade has been ordered back to Wilmington. AAG Mallery King forwards the report of the examining board to Clingman and tells him to present it to General Whiting in Wilmington for further action.

May 27: Hobson is promoted before this date. He sends a letter (as Lt. Col.) to Clingman’s Adjutant asking about the promotion of Hector McEachern of Company D. McEachern was elected 3rd Lieutenant on April 23 but has yet received his appointment from the governor. Hobson conjectures that the reason for the delay was because Captain McDonald of the same company has not received his commission as major. McDonald failed to appear before the examining board. “The Major is willing to go before the Board at any time,” writes Hobson.

Because of Hobson’s letter, it’s hard to determine exactly when McDonald was promoted to major. On the March/April 1863 muster rolls, he is listed as the regiment’s major with an effective date of April 9. Even if McDonald hadn’t received his commission, he was still acting as the regiment’s major since April. It appears that Governor Vance promoted Hobson and McDonald on April 9th, contingent on the two officers passing review by a promotion board. Both of the men assumed their new positions immediately.

Captain George Walker

May 14: Captain George Walker submits his resignation with no reason given for resigning his commission.

May 30: Captain Walker’s resignation is accepted by the War Department (Special Orders No. 129).

June 5: General Clingman orders Colonel McKethan to “at once enroll Capt. G. F. Walker…in such company as he may select.” There is no record of Walker enlisting, and he was likely exempted from service.


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