North Carolina Regimental Designations

Probably the most confusing thing I encountered while researching The Honor of the State was the way North Carolina designated its regiments as they entered service. After sifting through lots of conflicting accounts, I finally figured out what really happened. It’s actually not that complicated until you try to explain it. Here goes.

When North Carolina began preparing for war, the General Assembly authorized the governor to accept into service 20,000 volunteers. At the same time, the legislature provided for the raising of a corps of 10,000 State Troops. The corps would consist of eight infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment and a regiment of artillery and engineers.

Colonel John Hoke was responsible for the state’s militia units. He was given the task of equipping, training, and assigning the volunteers companies that were streaming into Raleigh. As companies presented themselves for service, Hoke consolidated them into 1,000-man (more or less) regiments and sent them off to war. Hoke numbered his regiments sequentially, starting with the First North Carolina.

North Carolina’s governor appointed Colonel James Martin to organize the corps of State Troops. Martin energetically set about his task. He, too, numbered his regiments sequentially starting with the First North Carolina. You can see a potential problem in the making.

The State kept the two types of units separate by designating Hoke’s troops as North Carolina Volunteers. Martin’s regiments were designated as North Carolina State Troops. This cleared up any confusion within the state’s military administration. But it drove the Confederate War Department crazy as they tried to figure out which First North Carolina was which.

In July 1861, Hoke left his position to command the 13th North Carolina Volunteers. Both sets of regiments, State Troops and Volunteers, were put under Martin’s command. Martin, tired of the complaints from Richmond, decided to renumber the Volunteer regiments. There were ten regiments of State Troops, so renumbering the volunteers was simple; just add ten to the regiments’ current designations.

The ten regiments of State Troops would retain their designations as 1st through 10th North Carolina State Troops. The volunteer regiments, once renumbered, would be called North Carolina Troops (no “State” in the title). Thus, the 1st Regiment North Carolina Volunteers would become the 11th Regiment North Carolina Troops, the 2nd Volunteers would become the 12th North Carolina, and so on. Simple, right?

The volunteer units were pissed, especially the First Volunteers, which had distinguished itself in the fighting at Big Bethel. When Martin issued the order for renumbering the volunteer regiments, the First refused to comply. The regiment drafted a resolution stating that they would never surrender their name just for the convenience of a few office clerks.

Martin was stuck. Fortunately, the First Volunteers mustered out as a unit a couple of months later. Two days after that, the Confederate War Department issued Special Orders No. 222. The order redesignated the North Carolina units in service with the Confederate Army as the First through Twenty-Fifth North Carolina Volunteers. They finally had the numbers straight, but there remained the minor issue of North Carolina State Troops, North Carolina Troops, and North Carolina Volunteers (in the Confederate Army). No one seemed to care by that point.

The First Volunteers, once it reorganized, became the 11th Regiment North Carolina Troops and was later allowed to call itself the Bethel Regiment. The remaining volunteer regiments continued to call themselves by their original designations until they reorganized at the end of their twelve-month enlistments. All the confusion was cleared up. Except for the Ninth Volunteers.

The Ninth North Carolina Volunteers never mustered into service due to some irregularities in the officer elections. As a result, when the volunteer regiments were renumbered, there was no 19th Regiment North Carolina Troops. The Ninth would have become the Nineteenth. But the State needed the open number because they had raised an additional regiment of cavalry for the State Troops. This regiment, the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry, became the 19th Regiment North Carolina State Troops.

Did I mention that the State Troops didn’t distinguish between branches of service? Thus, the 1st North Carolina Cavalry was designated the Ninth Regiment North Carolina State Troops, and the 1st North Carolina Artillery was designated as the 10th Regiment NCST. The 2nd Cavalry, as mentioned earlier, was officially named the 19th Regiment NCST. Subsequent units, whether infantry, cavalry, or artillery, were assigned the next available number.

Battalions introduced even more confusion. As the war progressed, small commands were reorganized into new regiments as manpower dwindled. An example of this later confusion is Cantwell’s Company, Wilmington Railroad Guards.

Cantwell’s Company was organized on January 25, 1862.  This unit was one of four companies responsible for guarding the railroad junctions and bridges in eastern North Carolina.  On May 19, 1863, the four railroad guard companies were consolidated into the 13th Battalion North Carolina Infantry (not to be confused with the 13th Regiment North Carolina Troops or the 13th Battalion North Carolina Artillery).  Cantwell’s Company was designated as Company D of the new battalion.

On October 9, 1863, the 13th Battalion North Carolina Infantry was merged with the 8th Battalion North Carolina Partisan Rangers to form the 66th Regiment North Carolina Troops.  The six companies of the 8th Battalion made up Companies A through F of the new regiment.  The 13th Battalion formed the last four companies, with Cantwell’s Company (Company D, 13th Battalion) being designated as Company K, 66th Regiment North Carolina Troops.

When John Cantwell began forming the 51st North Carolina, forty-one men from his company of railroad guards transferred to the new regiment.  Their service records in North Carolina Troops state that they transferred from the 13th Battalion.  The 13th Battalion had yet to be created when the men followed Cantwell to the 51st Regiment. A soldier who enlisted in Cantwell’s Railroad Guards could later serve in Company D of the 13th Battalion North Carolina Infantry and then in Company K of the 66th Regiment North Carolina Troops without ever transferring to another unit.

In summary, North Carolina raised eleven regiments of State Troops: the 1st through 10th and the 19th. All the other regiments were North Carolina Troops. When researching an ancestor’s military service, search for the NCST or NCT units, and don’t worry too much about “volunteers,” “cavalry,” and “artillery.”

Copyright © 2021/2022 by Kirk Ward. All rights reserved.