First Wednesdays – The Peninsula Campaign: A North Carolinian’s View from the Field

The Peninsula Campaign was significant for many reasons:  it was the first concerted, large-scale attempt by Union forces to capture Richmond; it solidified General Robert E. Lee’s place in history as the preeminent southern general; and, upon its completion, was the costliest campaign in terms of casualties so far seen in the war.  Not to be overlooked in all this was the role that North Carolina troops played in the campaign.  Many Tar Heel regiments were sent to the Richmond area to combat Union Major General George B. McClellan’s waterborne invasion, and eventually made this campaign one of the largest single concentrations of North Carolina regiments seen thus far in the war.  Among these regiments was the 30th North Carolina, commanded by Colonel Francis M. Parker.  Recruited mostly from the eastern part of the state, the regiment served in its home department for the first few months of its existence before being transferred north to Virginia into Brigadier General George B. Anderson’s all-North Carolina brigade.

“Frank” Parker led the regiment into battle at Seven Pines and then saw heavy combat during the Seven Days, particularly during the battles of Gaines’ Mill and Malvern Hill.   Colonel Parker wrote many letters during his service in the war concerning various topics, from camp life, desertion, and religion, to the horrors and harsh realities of combat.  This particular letter, dated July 3, 1862, was written two days after the regiment’s action at Malvern Hill.  Parker conveys the emotion associated with surviving combat while many of his comrades-at-arms are killed and wounded around him –  “I never before in all my life knew what it was to be thankful” – while also exemplifying the typical, almost jingoistic confidence in the fighting prowess of his own men, whose assault against the “cowardly rascals” (Union soldiers) was thwarted only by non-support on the part of his fellow regiments.  Parker concludes his letter by questioning the motivation behind men who go to war but then curiously follows it up by saying that the life of a soldier (“fighting, marching, and sleeping in the open air”) is very agreeable to him.  One can only wonder if he kept this attitude after Antietam, Gettysburg, and other terrible contests his regiment was destined to fight in.

Frank Parker to Wife, July 3, 1862

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