Formation of the 51st North Carolina

Wilmington Journal, March 6, 1862

Forming Up

The 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops mustered into State service on April 23, 1862.[i]  By that date, nine companies were assigned to the regiment, with a tenth company joining on the 10th of May.  These companies were raised in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina.  Six counties provided more than 85% of the regiment’s soldiers: Columbus, Cumberland, Duplin, New Hanover, Robeson, and Sampson.  The entire regiment enlisted for the duration of the war.[ii]

The 51st Regiment held field officer elections on the 30th of April. John Cantwell won election to colonel.  William A. Allen (captain of Company C) became lieutenant colonel, and Hector McKethan (captain of Company I) was elected major.  Colonel Cantwell immediately appointed nine soldiers to his staff.  The 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops was now officially organized and ready to begin its service in defense of the State.

Company A

On January 31, 1862 George F. Walker wrote, “Seeing the condition of our country and the great danger our coastwise states are in, I offer, under the late Confederate act to make a Company of State Troops, for the protection of our Coast.”  Walker, a New Hanover County farmer, was appointed a captain of State Troops a week later.  He began recruiting a company of infantry immediately.[iii]

By mid-April, Walker had enlisted thirty-eight soldiers in the company.  On April 13, an additional twenty-six soldiers transferred to Walker’s company from Cantwell’s Railroad Guards.  On April 19, Captain Walker’s company was mustered into State service, and a few days later, it was designated as Company A of the newly-formed 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops.

Company B

The State appointed Caleb B. Hobson* to the rank of captain on February 10, 1862.  Hobson, a successful merchant in Warsaw, had previously served as a second lieutenant in the 26th Militia.  He began raising a company of volunteers in Duplin and Sampson counties.  He dubbed his company the “Warsaw Sampsons.”

The company was mustered into service on the 2nd of April.  At the time of mustering into State service, the Warsaw Sampsons numbered seventy-eight men.  Thirty-nine of the new recruits hailed from Duplin County.  Another thirty men were residents of Sampson County when they enlisted.  The company was assigned as Company B, 51st Regiment on April 13, 1862.

Company C

William A. Allen was a former state representative and a prominent attorney in Kenansville.  In February, 1862 he and fellow attorney Samuel Stanford decided to raise an infantry company.  The two men had served together previously in the Duplin Rifles (1st Company C, 12th Regiment North Carolina Troops).  Allen received an appointment as captain on February 11, 1862, and Stanford was appointed first lieutenant on the same day.  They named their company the “Duplin Stars.”

The company was mustered into State service on April 8 and assigned as Company C of the 51st Regiment.  At assignment to the regiment, the company contained seventy men.  Another twenty-eight soldiers joined the company during the next two months.

During regimental organization on April 30, Captain Allen was elected lieutenant colonel and transferred to regimental staff.  First Lieutenant Stanford was promoted to captain and assumed command of the company.

Company D

In late February 1862, Captain James R. McDonald began recruiting men for his infantry company, the “Scotch Tigers.”  McDonald, a Fayetteville merchant, had served in Company F of the First Regiment North Carolina Volunteers in 1861.  On February 22, 1862, he received his captain’s appointment from the State.  He began enlisting men in Robeson County as soon as he was appointed.

McDonald enrolled enough men to form a company within six weeks of his appointment to captain.  The “Tigers” assembled in Fayetteville on April 7, each man carrying a blanket and an extra set of clothes.  The company left Fayetteville, bound for Raleigh, the next day.[iv]

The company was mustered into service on April 14 in at Camp Mangum near Raleigh. Immediately after mustering in, McDonald’s company was assigned to the 51st North Carolina as Company D.  At the time that the Scotch Tigers received their assignment to the 51st Regiment, seventy-seven soldiers were on the company’s roster.  Thirty-six more men enlisted on April 26, 1862.

Company E

The “Clay Valley Rangers” was organized as an infantry company in Robeson County on February 28, 1862.  On that date, seventy-three men, all from Robeson County, enlisted.  The company elected officers during organization.  Willis P. Moore, a 32-year-old farmer, was elected captain.  The company added one more Robeson County man before heading to Camp Holmes in Wilmington.

On April 10, the Clay Valley Rangers were mustered into State service and assigned to the 51st Regiment as Company E.  By the end of May, fifty more men had travelled to Wilmington and joined E Company.  All but two of those later recruits were from Robeson County.

Company F

The “Ashpole True Boys,” like the Clay Valley Rangers, organized as a company in Robeson County.  Seventy-seven Robeson County men enlisted in Lumberton on March 10, 1862.  The company elected Dr. Alfred P. Walter as captain.  Soon after organization, the company moved to Wilmington.  It was mustered into service and assigned to the 51st Regiment as Company F on April 21, 1862.

Company G

The State appointed James W. Lippitt, a Wilmington druggist, as a captain on March 14, 1862.  At the time, Lippitt was helping Colonel John Cantwell raise a new regiment for State service.  With his appointment in hand, Lippitt began recruiting men for an infantry company that would become part of the new regiment.

Captain Lippitt organized the company in Wilmington.  As a result, 70% of the recruits came from New Hanover County.  The remaining men enlisted in Columbus and Brunswick Counties and were assigned to Lippitt’s company when they arrived in Wilmington for duty.

Lippitt’s company organized on April 1, 1862 and was mustered into service.  Upon organization, the company numbered eighty-five men, including its captain.  Lippitt’s Company was later assigned as Company G, 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops.

Company H

On March 7, 1862, the “Columbus Light Infantry,” fifty-seven Columbus County men, was formed in Wilmington.  Ten days later, the company elected its officers.  The men elected a young minister, twenty-four-year-old John R. Kelly, as their captain.  Between the company’s organization and its mustering into State service, the Columbus Light Infantry added another thirty-two soldiers, thirty of whom were also Columbus County men.

The Columbus Light Infantry was mustered into State service on April 3, 1862.  Not long after, the unit was assigned to the 51st North Carolina as Company H.  Through the remainder of April and all of May, recruits continued to arrive in Wilmington.  All but two of the 126 men who joined the company before June 1862 were from Columbus County.

Company I

On March 19, 1862 four Cumberland County men received officer’s appointments from the State.  The men, Hector McKethan, George Sloan, Joseph McArthur, and William McKenzie, began raising a company of infantry in Fayetteville a week later.  McKethan was a member of a prominent Fayetteville family engaged in manufacturing carriages.  He had served previously as Third Lieutenant of Company H, First North Carolina Volunteers.  McKethan held the rank of captain in the new company, while the other three men filled out the junior officer ranks.

By April 20, the four officers had recruited enough men to form a company.  That evening, Captain McKethan’s father hosted a banquet for the men and presented each with an oil cloth cape.[v]  At one o’clock the next afternoon, the soldiers of the company assembled at the Farmer’s Hall in Fayetteville.  Each man was carrying his new cape, blankets, an extra set of underclothes, and a day’s worth of food.  A couple of hours later, the company boarded a steamer for Wilmington.[vi]

McKethan’s company was mustered into service at Wilmington on April 23, 1862 and assigned to the 51stRegiment as Company I.  At the time of muster, the company had eighty men plus the four commissioned officers.  Sixty-three of the men were from Cumberland County, and another twenty lived in neighboring Sampson County.

During the 51st Regiment’s organization, Captain McKethan was elected major and transferred to regimental staff.  First Lieutenant Sloan, who had served with McKethan in the First Regiment North Carolina Volunteers, was promoted to captain of the company.

Company K

The “Confederate Stars” was an infantry company raised by Joseph B. Underwood in Sampson County.  Twenty-four-year-old Underwood, a self-styled “gentleman,” received his captain’s appointment on March 3, 1862.  He began recruiting men for his company as soon as he received his appointment from the State.  Private William Murphy of the Warsaw Sampsons received a first lieutenant’s appointment from the State and transferred to the Confederate Stars to help Underwood raise his company.

On May 10 the Confederate Stars were mustered into service at Camp Holmes, near Wilmington.  At the time of muster, the company contained seventy-two men.  All but six of the enlistees were from Sampson County.  The unit was assigned as Company K of the 51stRegiment.

Ready to Fight

By June 1, 1862 the 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops had enrolled 1,047 men, although thirty-five of the recruits were no longer on duty with the regiment.  Another 383 men would join the unit before the end of the war.  Replacements would trickle in over the next two–and-a-half years, but the number of new recruits would fall well short of replacing the large numbers of men who left service due to combat and disease.

The regiment was quartered at one of the camps around Wilmington.  The regimental staff was in place.  The troops had been provisioned and were now working light details and drilling occasionally.  The regiment’s complement on June 1, 1862 was 1,012 officers and men, all eager to enter the war.


* Hobson was a Quaker from Yadkin County.  After moving to Warsaw, he married a Baptist, and adopted his wife’s religion. (“Letter from Duplin County,” The Observer (Raleigh) 12 Apr. 1878).


[i] Wilmington Journal 6 May 1862.

[ii] “North Carolina Brigades,” Fayetteville Observer 2 Apr. 1863.

[iii] Wilmington Journal 6 Feb. 1862.

[iv] Fayetteville Observer 7 Apr. 1862 and 14 Apr. 1862.

[v] Wilmington Journal 1 May 1862.

[vi] Fayetteville Observer 14 Apr. 1862.

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