A New Colonel

Two days have passed since William wrote home. On August 22, 1862, he writes to his mother with news of the march. His brigade left Petersburg in route to Richmond at 10 Am marching 15 or 17 miles on the first day. William complains about the first days march, “severe marching… the roads were almost intolerable it had been sometime since we had had any rain and the dust was so great at times that I could barely see the men of my own company.” They marched another 9 miles the next day in the dust that was even “more intolerable than that day before,” and stopped outside Richmond.

In this letter, William mentions his brother’s, “Harry” Henry King Burgwyn, Regiment was “very anxious that he should return for they don’t relish the idea of going to Stonewall without any field officer in command.” During the time Henry Burgwyn was on sick leave, Col. Zebulon Vance was elected Governor of North Carolina. This would mean that Henry would be in the position of becoming Colonel of his regiment. However, it would seem he would have to fight for the promotion because General Robert Ransom was against his promotion. Captain John Thomas Jones, Company I, wrote to Henry “Col. Vance will leave here in a day or two or at least this week and as a friend I would advise you if your health will permit to return to the regiment. I heard from Col V. this evening that Gen. Ransom said he would not recommend you for Colonel on account of your age. He said he did not intend to have any more boys to command regiments in his Brigade. I have spoken to several of our officers & they will not submit to have anyone else.” This would mean that Gen. Ransom was refusing to observe the “rule of promotion as governed by the Army Regulations.”  On August 21, 1862, Captain Jones wrote Henry again “Your letter I only rec’d just before I left Petersburg. I am this far on my way to Stonewall. Have not had time to tend to the matter you spoke of. I believe now there will be no difficulty in your way. For God’s sake come to us as soon as you can.” Another of Henry’s fellow officers, Captain J. J. Young, wrote him with information of what the men of the regiment had done to try and secure his promotion. “A committee waited on Gen. Ransom yesterday to know if the regt. recommended officers to fill the vacancies if he would approve them. He emphatically denied to approve you[r] recommendation consequently the committee recommended no one for Col. …Please come to us as soon as you can. I wish for you to resist to the last this usurpation of power. I am too angry to act.”

Harry and his father left Raleigh and are in Richmond on the August 22, 1862. On this day Henry meets his brother William in Richmond. William tells his brother that his brigade has been transferred to General G. W. Smith’s Division, which is to be left in Richmond in case of attack. On August 23, 1862 Henry becomes colonel of Twenty-sixth, North Carolina Troops. In a letter to his mother, Henry describes his meeting with General Ransom. “I had a long conversation with Ransom today; in which after speaking of the subject of field officers for my regiment. He said he had recommended Col. Ruffin, & not myself, & had gone to see the President upon the subject. The Presdt. Replied by showing him the Conscript Act & saying it was impossible to prevent my promotion & that the utmost which could be done would be to get some Capt. Who by good & meritorious conduct was deserving of it to be promoted as Maj. So, said Gen. Ransom you are Colonel of the 26th Rgt. After considerable conversation upon this subject, & the subject of the promotion of other officers, I asked him if Gen. Hill had told him anything about sending us to N.C. he said he had not, but that Gen. R. would facilitate it as much as possible, & actually made an appointment to meet me at 12 o’clock tomorrow to go see Gen. Smith to prevail upon him to transfer us, & said he had no doubt he could get Gen. S. to make the order. Gen. R. added that he would not be willing to weaken his brigade by giving us up without an equivalent in the shape of some other Regmt. I then told him that General M. had promised to send a regiment here if he would get mine back to N. C. This he said would satisfy him.

Father is still in Richmond, & I go in to town early tomorrow morning to see him & Sect. of War as well as Gen. Smith. I hope this transfer can be effected & am inclined to think it can. I shall try and make an active campaign of it in N.C. if I can. ” Three days later Henry wrote his mother again to let her know that his Regiment was transferred to General Johnston Pettigrew’s Brigade.

At this point the two brothers would no longer be in the same brigade. William will be heading to “join Stonewall” where we hear from him after the battle of Sharpsburg, and Henry “Harry” will be heading back to North Carolina, where he will stay until Pettigrew’s Brigade goes back North to meet with Lee at Gettysburg.

If you would like to read more about “The Boy Colonel” the letters and life of Henry King Burgwyn, Jr. can be read in the book Boy Colonel of the Confederacy, by Archie K. Davis, published by The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

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