Rufus Barringer's 1st North Carolina Cavalry Regiment troopers were representative of these legions of common soldiers. Their interesting story is one that deserves to be told. Occasionally their lives were spiced with glimpses of the greats such as Lee, Jackson, or Stuart. Mostly, however, their story is one of hunger, boredom, fatigue, loneliness, and, in far too many cases, death.
ln his own time and place Barringer was a leading citizen. Although
not as well known now as he was then, he nevertheless, rubbed shoulders
with those whose names are more familiar to us. His own deeds and those
of the men in his command provide a good illustration of the life of a confederate
In 1861 Rufus Barringer was a successful lawyer in Concord North Carolina. He came from a family of influence in the state, but was not well known beyond it. Daniel Moreau Barringer, his older brother, also a lawyer, enjoyed a successful practice and also served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. At one time he was appointed as minister to Spain by President Zachary Taylor.
Rufus followed a similar path, first serving two terms in the North Carolina State Assembly and also as a presidential elector during the crucial 1860 election.
Captain Barringer's family was fairly typical of his times. It consisted of his second wife, Mrs. Rosalie chunn Barringer (his first wife, Mrs. Eugenia Morrison Barringer, having died of typhoid fever in 1858), and his two small children by the first marriage, Paul and Anna.
It is interesting to note that two of Mrs. Eugenia Morrison Barringer's sisters also married men who would later become General officers in the Confederate Army. Anna Morrison was the wife of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and her sister Isabella married Daniel Harvey Hill who afterwards attained the rank of Major General.
Like many others, Rufus Barringer was a unionist at heart, but when his home state of North Carolina seceded on May 20, 1861, he went with her. This is a curious concept to modern Americans, but in those times people considered themselves citizens of their state first and foremost.
Therefore, when Governor Ellis called for 10,000 state troops, Rufus immediately responded by raising a company of cavalry from among his friends and neighbors. He recruited 100 men whose names he tendered to the state for service. The Governor accepted this offer and incorporated his unit into the 1st Cavalry Regiment then forming.
The light hearted romping soon came to an end. On June 15 the company were all sworn in as "regular soldiers for the war." This was unusual since most soldiers were ninety day volunteers.
When the company was assigned to Asheville Barringer's wife and children
accompanied him. Since the unit came by rail, they had no horses. Barringer
therefore devoted his time to drilling his men on foot.
Many of the young men had never been away from home. This was a great adventure and initially they seemed to enjoy themselves. Private Neel remembered that "we had a good time sight-seeing and swimming in the French Broad River."
In early August all the companies at Asheville reported to Camp Beauregard
in Warren County where they joined with the rest of the 1st Cavalry Regiment.
Here there was no swimming or sight-seeing. Under the stern, watchful eyes
of West Point Officers the boys were turned into men and the men into soldiers.
Barringer himself seems to have been put off a bit. He notes in his history of the 1st that "No troops ever went through a severer ordeal. At times and on occasions there were loud complaints against Colonel Ransom for the rigid rules and harsh measures adopted." Private Neel also resented the discipline stating that these officers "threatened to split our heads if we were a little out of line."
North Carolina troops, unlike those of her sister states, were provided with mounts at state expense. Horses were brought in from all over. Each man was issued what were described as "nice gray uniforms and very inferior guns and pistols." They also received Model 1833 Dragoon sabers of Mexican War vintage from the Fayeneville arsenal.
Some men, like Private Levi Morphew of Company D, balked at all the discipline. In a letter to his parents he explained how easy it was to get in the hospital, "a blood boil or even a bad corn on your toe or anything of that nature would entitle you to go there."
Most of the troops eventually adapted well and soon became what Private Neel says was "a very handsome body of troops." Private Morphew even commented, "we take it tolerable... I enjoy myself first rate and stand up to it as well as any of them." Occasional humorous incidents, like runaway horses and frightened riders ripping through field and forest, lightened things up, but mostly it was hard work.
By mid October the Regiment was ready for active service with orders to the front lines around Manassas, Virginia. Before it left, Mrs. Ransom, the Colonel's wife, presented it with a hand embroidered silk flag she had made. As part of the ceremony "she requested that the flag never be surrendered," and it never was. After Appomattox, one of the men wrote, "they never surrendered it, but sunk it in the river."
In early November the regiment arrived and was placed on advanced picket duty around Centerville. Captain Barringer, in a letter to his children, mentioned that their camp was on the Bull Run Battlefield. With the enemy close by everyone was alert, including Private Neel who reported that an entire squad was once deployed to investigate an alleged enemy intrusion which turned out to be an ancient horse grazing in a corn field.
More dangerous foes were soon encountered on November 26th at Vienna, Virginia. Colonel Ransom, with a detachment of 200 men, surprised about 100 men of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, killing several and capturing 26 during a three mile chase. One North Carolina trooper was slightly injured when his horse fell. Captain Barringer's troops were present but not engaged as his detachment was being held in reserve at the time.
In December the cavalry units at Manassas were organized into the
First Brigade under J.E.B. Stuart. This included
the 1st N.C, the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th Virginia cavalry Regiments, and the Jeff
Although elements of the 1st N.C were involved in Stuart's December 20th raid at Dranesville for winter forage, they weren't heavily engaged. The winter was primarily at Manassas doing outpost and picket duty.
The main enemies were sickness and cold. The State of N.C. constantly appealed to the ladies to donate carpets, quilts, and blankets for the shivering troops.
On February 7, 1862 troopers of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, captured
nine 1st N.C. pickets. Their commander corroborated the soldiers' own opinion
of their equipment when he reported that the prisoners were armed with rather
unusual weapons: "Colts repeating rifles, old fashioned horse pistols
In March of 1862 the regiment was ordered to Kinston N.C. There they were supposed to do some recruiting and refitting as well as keeping an eye on the movements of the Federal forces under General Burnside.
This easy duty was cut short in June when they were ordered to Richmond to help counter General McClellan's thrust up the James River Peninsula.
By mid June the 1st was on picket duty south of the Chickahominy River.
Both Ransom and Baker had received promotions, to Brigader General and Full
Colonel respectively with Baker in charge of the 1st.
On June 29th Colonel Baker with detachments from the 1st N.C. and elements of the 3rd Virginia set off to reconnoiter around McClellan's army. In a narrow lane near Willis' Church the column was ambushed. Hit by both rifle and artillery fire, the 1st lost some 60 men, the remainder escaping as best they could.
The men felt someone had blundered terribly. Private Morphew's experience was probably not unusual. When several riderless horses ran by his mare, she also spooked, racing wildly off. In attempting to bring her under control he hurt his elbow and also lost both hat and gun. Private John H. Monie wrote in his memoirs that he lost his gun while jumping a fence.
The Regiment was present during the Seven Day's Battles but were primarily engaged in picket duty and in guarding prisoners. When the Federals withdrew to Harrison's landing the 1st was assigned to keep an eye on them.
During July and August the regiment was in the vicinity of Richmond,
drilling, picketing, and scouting. At this time it was reorganized. Together
with the Cobb, Jeff Davis, and Hampton Legions and the 10th Virginia, the
1st N.C. became part of the First Brigade under the command of General Wade
As Lee's forces moved northward to meet General Pope, Hampton's Brigade was assigned the task of watching McClellan's withdrawal from the Peninsula. While other troops were fighting at Cedar Mt and Second Manassas, Private Neel remarked that the 1st N.C.'s worst enemies were mosquitos.
Bullets were soon as thick as bugs as the regiment joined in the invasion
of Maryland which culminated at the bloody battle near Sharpsburg. During
this campaign the 1st acted as an advance guard. Once again it was ambushed,
this time at night. Fortunately the enemy's aim was high and causalities
Once across the Potomac the regiment participated in skirmishes at Urbana, Frederick, Middletown, Catoctin Creek, Buckettsville and a place inappropriately named Pleasant Valley. It arrived at Harper's Ferry too late to fight but just in time for the spoils. Together with Jackson's victorious troops they helped themselves to whatever was available.
Private Monie got a "much needed overcoat, a flagolet, and a fine little goat skin which some of the ladies at home greatly appreciated. "
At Sharpsburg on September 17-18, the 1st occupied a position on thc left flank but was never ordered forward. Its duty was later to cover Lee's retreat across the Potomac at Williamsport, Maryland.
This duty turned out to be extremely hazardous. As one of the last units to cross, the 1st got cut off in the darkness, being forced to find another crossing point. Private Neel wrote that several men and horses got separated, drifted down river or got stranded on large rocks in the river. Many of the horses "were ruined by their legs being cut on sharp rocks." Captain Barringer observed that the crossing was worse than the fighting.
All the while both men and animals were subsisting on short rations. Private Neel recalled that the only food for both was green corn. Private Monie related how they stopped in a field near Sharpsburg to get something to eat only to be shelled by Federal Artillery before they could even get a good start.
Once across the river, it was picket duty and getting rested up. On October 9th General Stuart obtained four cannons and handpicked 1800 men for a raid into Pennsylvania. Among them was a detail of 200 men from the 1st N.C., including Captain Barringer.
On this successful raid the 1st served as the advance party going in and the rearguard coming out. Private Neel said the march was "the hardest trip we had during the whole war." This is easy to imagine considering the fact that at one time during the three day foray they traveled eighty-five miles in just twenty-seven hours.
Riding a circuit around McClellan's entire army they captured and brought back 1,200 horses (a hard enough task in peace time). At Chambersburg they burnt all the Army stores and did severe damage to the railroad and telegraph lines. The total casualties for the entire raid were three men.
Captain Barringer and his troops were once called on to perform a distinctly unmilitary operation, that of escorting General Stuart while he made a courtesy call on some lady friends who happened to reside off the designated path. They guided him safely through two miles of Federal territory and then back to the main column.
After this escapade there was little rest for the men and horses of the 1st. With the movement of McClellan's army in November, the troopers were almost constantly skirmishing with opposing cavalry forces on the flanks. The 1st was engaged at Gaines Cross Roads, Little Washington, Barbee's Cross Roads, and Amisville.
At Barbee's Cross Roads it was taught a hard and expensive lesson in small unit tactics. Having been bested in virtually all horseback encounters, the Federals had taken to dismounting fully three fourths of their troopers and deploying them like infantry. The remaining mounted men took the horses to the rear and waited.
Private Matthew Person wrote in a letter soon after the Barbee incident that the Yankees had dismounted men and hidden them behind a fence. The charging 1st was driven back by the concealed Federals, losing twenty men. "It was a wonder they had not killed everyone of us," he said.
The lesson was not lost on the survivors. In a letter to his sister (dated November 22, 1862) General Wade Hampton wrote, "We have had several fights of late and my men do finely. They always drive the Yankees, and are beating them now at their own style of fighting, which is to dismount a large number of men and fight them as Infantry."
Burnside, having replaced McClellan, moved his troops toward Fredricksburg.
To deny him easy crossing points the 1st was transferred to the upper fords
of the Rappahannock river. From that location they raided Federal supply
lines and depots while the main battle was taking place. From late November
until the first of the following year they conducted raids on Yellow Chapel,
Dumfries, Occoquan, and Fairfax Station.
They captured much war materiel and many luxury items. Sergeant G.F. Adams of Company D wrote home that they had captured cutler's stores "consisting of boots, shoes, tobacco, cigars, butter and cheese." Wade Hampton wrote of drinking some of "Burnside's champagne and finding it very good."
At this time there was a shortage of forage for the horses, Private
Pearson referring to the area as "the poorest country I have seen in
Virginia." It seems the men, though ill clad, were well fed. One man
remarked that "we have plenty to eat," another referring to himself
as being "fat as a pig." Sergeant Adams noted that "the health
of the regiment is very good notwithstanding they are half naked and barefoot."
With the second Christmas of the war approaching many of the men were homesick. The war was supposed to be short and exciting. Instead it was long and dull. Sergeant McBride saw the season like this: "I am thinking we are going to have a dull Christmas, no girls, no whiskey, no honey and peaches, no eggs, no nothing that is good."
The rest of the winter was equally uneventful consisting of frequent
movements to find forage for the horses. January and February of 1863 was
spent in Rockingham County in the Shenandoah Valley. March and April were
spent in Halifax County on the North Carolina State line where some recruiting
During the Chancellorsville campaign, when Barringer's famous brother-in-law Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded, Hampton's Brigade was south of the James River recruiting.
In May the Confederate Cavalry gathered at Culpeper Court House in
preparation for the invasion of Pennsylvania. While camped at Brandy
Station the 1st N.C. took part in General Stuart's grand review of his
cavalry corps. He assembled some nine thousand troops and invited General
Lee to review them.
As a tribute to their fame and fighting spirit, the 1st N.C was chosen to lead the entire column in review. According to Colonel W. H. H. Cowles, as the column came into view, Stuart turned to Lee and pointing with pride to the 534 mounted men said, "General, there comes the 1st North Carolina Cavalry, than which there is not a better regiment in either army."
Yankee General Pleasanton, curious about the goings on, crossed the river with 10,000 troopers the next day. This precipitated the largest mounted cavalry battle ever on the American continent. The 1st was engaged from early morning until late afternoon. Most of the action was conducted dismounted but later in the day there were several charges on horseback. They routed the 10th New York Cavalry and captured their colors. Captain Barringer was wounded in the face during one such charge. In his official report General Hampton stated that Captain Barringer "bore himself with marked coolness and good conduct." The regiment lost thirty-one men that day.
Immediately following the battle at Brandy Station the troops moved north toward Pennsylvania. The cavalry's task was to screen the movements of Lee's army. In practical terms this mean non-stop skirmishing with Federal cavalry first at Aldie, then Middleburg, Upperville, and Fairfax.
After Lee's army was across the Potomac Stuart took off on another
excursion around the Federal army. The men of the 1st together with other
members of his command were constantly skirmishing with Federal troopers.
Notable actions were engaged in at Sykesville, Littletown, Hanover, Hunterstown,
The troops arrived at Gettysburg on July second and were engaged on the left flank the following day. The 1st charged the Federal lines several times. During one of these actions General Hampton was wounded in hand-to-hand combat. If not for the quick action of the Regimental Sergeant-Major Richard Fulghum, he would have certainly been captured. After Fulghum carried him from the field, the 1st's Colonel Baker took command of the entire Brigade while Lt. Colonel Gordon took command of the 1st.
As in the aftermath of Sharpsburg, the cavalry once again covered the retreat of the remnants of Lee's army. It protected the wagon trains and the river crossings. One of the more sizable actions occurred at Falling Waters, near Williamsport.
Once across the river, General Meade failed to press his advantage thus allowing the cavalry to obtain needed rest. Most of the next while was spent attempting to obtain forage and standing picket duty. With the increasing boldness of the Federals, skirmishes were fought at Brandy Station, Mountain Run, Culpeper Court House, Raccoon Ford and Jack's Shop.
Captain Barringer took five months recovering from his wounds at Brandy Station. His gallantry on that occasion brought a promotion to major. He was fortunate enough to have a visit from his family in September while at Hanover Court House. He was also approached by those who wished him to run for Congress. While this would have been an easy and seemingly honorable way out of the frontline misery, he declined writing in a letter, "I entered the army from a sense of duty alone... Our great object is not attained... and I think it is better for those in service to stand by their colors."
Once again there was a reorganization with the 1st being transferred to a Brigade composed solely of North Carolina troops and under the command of General Baker. Baker was wounded during this time and Colonel Gordon was promoted to Brigadier General. This left the 1st in the hands of Colonel Ruffin, Lt. Colonel Cheek, and Major Barringer.
In early October Lee began what came to be known as the Bristoe campaign. With Stuart's cavalry out front scouting and skirmishing, Gordon's brigade once moved too quickly and found itself surrounded by Federals. Fortunately it was dark and the enemy was blissfully unaware of their presence. The word was passed for the troops to remain silent until morning when a breakout attempt would be mounted.
Many who later wrote accounts of this action remembered it as the longest night of their lives. When light began to show over the horizon Stuart sent word to Gordon, "for God's sake take the 1st N.C. and cut through."
Colonel Ruffin obeyed immediately but the enemy's first volley stuck him down. The leaderless troops hesitated momentarily then Major Barringer, still officially on the sick list, stepped in leading the charge "with only a walking cane for a weapon." He was slightly wounded in the charge but not nearly as much as some of the troopers, one of whom was hit seven times but still remained in the saddle.
The 1st was also in on an action that the Confederates derisively called the "Buckland races," a seven mile chase of Federal cavalry in which the pursuers were so close to the pursued that it looked for all the world like a horse race.
Major Barringer and his horse, Black shot, along with the troopers of the 1st N.C. were at the front so close on the heels of the Federals that they might have been part of the same company of men. Amazingly the rout was so complete that remarkably few of his troops were killed or injured.
Barringer himself wasn't so lucky a bit later as he chased the enemy through a village. His tired horse became unmanageable and "threw both horse and rider square up against an old building and so disabled the commander.'' At this point Captain Cowles took over and continued the pursuit.
There were further skirmishes during this campaign including actions
at Russell's Ford, James City, Culpeper Court House, and Manasses. The 1st
lost some twenty-four men killed during this time. In spite of all the hardship
it maintained its reputation as one of the best drilled and disciplined
regiments in the Brigade. General Stuart issued special orders in which
he called the regiment "a pattern for others."
During the winter Major Barringer was promoted to Lt. Colonel and was temporarily assigned to command 4th North Carolina Cavalry then picketing in eastern North Carolina. This continued until spring.
On the first day of March Hampton dispatched the 1st and some other units to blunt the impact of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid on Richmond. Near Atlee's Station they closed on the rear of the encamped Federal column. The surprised Federals fled in fear toward their main column. Uncertain about how many men were actually attacking and confusion in the gathering darkness unnerved Kilpatrick, causing him to pull back.
Just before the Wilderness Campaign in May the 1st was doing scouting and picket duty along the Rapidan. As Grant pressed forward they provided much valuable information on his movements.
With reports of a possible raid by Sheridan on Richmond, the 1st was hastily withdrawn to check his activities. Gordon's Brigade harassed the raiders from behind while Stuart imposed himself between them and Richmond. He was successful in stopping them at Yellow Tavern but in the process was mortally wounded.
Meanwhile the 1st was engaged at Ground Squirrel Church attacking the column from the back. In this action General Gordon was also mortally wounded. This set of unfortunate circumstances set the stage for Lt. Colonel Barringer's promotion to Brigadier General and his subsequent reassignment to his old Brigade on June 6, 1864.
Barringer's Brigade, including the 1st N.C., had the dangerous job
of attacking the flanks of Grant's army as it executed a flanking movement
around Lee's forces. This led to skirmishes at Wilson's Wharf, Hanover Court
House, Haw's Shop, Ashland, Malvern Hill, Nantz' Shop, Herring Creek, Crenshaws,
and The Rocks.
The fighting generally took place in heavily wooded areas requiring the men to fight dismounted. At this time the Brigade was transferred to a newly formed division commanded by W. H. F. Lee.
He employed it in repulsing a raid on the Petersburg & Weldon and the Southside & Danville railroads by Federal Cavalry under Generals Kautz and Wilson. In engagements at Ream's Station, Black's & White's, and Sappony Church, they utterly destroyed the raiding party.
An added benefit for General Barringer was the acquisition of a new horse to replace the skittish beast that had once run him into a wall. A Sergeant Ratcliff of the 5th N.C. Cavalry was lucky enough to capture a Federal Colonel with a magnificent gray horse. Speaking of Sergeant Ratcliff, Major John M. Galloway tells the story in his History of the 5th N.C.:
Unfortunately for him the horse attracted the attention of General Barringer. Partly by persuasion, partly by authority, Ratcliff was induced to exchange with the General. Ratcliff got a serviceable black chunk of a horse. 7he General got a charger fit for Charlie O'Malley in his best days. By curious coincidence when General Barringer was captured in April 1865, this Yankee Colonel was in the crowd which captured him. His first words were, "I'll be damned, if yonder ain't my horse." Hence we infer that Yankee Colonels do not have the benefit of Sunday School training, or soon forget it.
After a short rest the Brigade was next positioned on the extreme right flank of Lee's Petersburg defenses so as to guard the Weldon railroad. The summer was full of action notably at Ream's Station where Barringer commanded the division and also during Hampton's "Beef Steak Raid." At a cost of 140 men the Bngade performed their duty and also rustled 3,000 head of cattle from the enemy.
Increasing hardships were reflected in the letters the men sent home. In 1864 private Matthew Person wrote, "We have been fighting nearly all the time... we are living hard now... They are feeding us old beef. I despise it. We have no way to cook." Another trooper, John S. Wray said, "when we couldn't get anything else I lived on hardtack." NCO's fared no better as Sergeant Adams noted in his correspondence, "our rations are thin." On the positive side he finished up with the comment, "but we are whipping the Yankees right and left." Person, probably speaking the thoughts of many others, commented on their leadership when he said of Barringer, "he is a slow old fellow but a good officer.''
As the year drew to a close the Brigade wintered near Belfield. Compared with the Petersburg troops they had it pretty good. As Private Person put it, "This is a very good place... We are getting plenty of good beef to eat now." Also both the Brigade and the Regiment grew in strength. By spring the 1st was up to four hundred men.
Until March of 1865 the Regiment was merely engaged in picket duty. Late that month, however, General Sheridan made his famous flanking movement at Five Forks. The entire Brigade was dispatched to repel him.
At Chamberlain Run it engaged Federal troops and gained what may have been the last Confederate victory in Virginia. They savagely drove the Federals back several miles to Dinwiddie Court House. At the end of the fight only two field grade officers remained in the entire Brigade. Eighty percent had been lost.
The following day they were pulled back to Five Forks and held in reserve due to their heavy casualities. After the fall of Petersburg the Brigade again served as rearguard for the entire army as it headed toward Appomattox Court House. On reaching Namozine Church they were put under orders not to retreat for any reason. Overwhelmed ten to one, they stood their ground ultimately being destroyed as a separate fighting unit.
Those that survived attempted to rejoin the army. General Barringer survived but was captured by some of Sheridan's scouts dressed as Confederates. He was taken to General Sheridan who, after providing him lodging and feeding him breakfast sent him under guard to Petersburg. There General Meade, in a kindly gesture, offered Barringer the contents of his purse, knowing that Union greenbacks would be needed once he was sent north. Barringer thanked him but refused his offer.
General Barringer was the first general officer to be captured and taken to City Point where the Federal Headquarters were then located. It so happened that President Lincoln was visiting there at that time and he was very anxious to meet a genuine Confederate General. An interview was arranged and the two men conversed pleasantly for a period of time. They discovered that the General's brother, Daniel, had shared a desk with Lincoln while they were both in Congress.
Lincoln gave Barringer a note to the Secretary of War, Stanton, saying that the General was the brother of a dear friend and to please make his stay in prison as comfortable as possible. The note proved anything but helpful in light of the assassination. Barringer was questioned many times. In fact he was held until July, long after many of the other prisoners had been released.
By August he finally made it home leaving behind a distinguished war
record, having risen from captain to general in only a few years. His regiment
was considered one of the finest in the Confederate service.
During the war the regiment was engaged in well over one hundred and fifty actions. Barringer himself was involved in seventy-six battles and suffered three wounds. Following the war the men returned home or headed west. Barringer picked up the pieces of his life and resumed his law practice.
Rufus Barringer and the men of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry are
truly representative of the soldiers of the Confederacy. Their war wasn't
one of grand strategy or elaborate flanking maneuvers. It mostly consisted
of day to day survival, wondering when, or if, they would get something
to eat and pondering their prospects of surviving the next battle. Through
their words and by reciting some of their deeds we get a glimpse of what
it was to be a member of the gallant 1st North Carolina Cavalry.