“[This blog post was written by Matthew M. Peek, Military Collections Archivist in the Special Collections Section.]”
Road to Appomattox: Company G of the 38th North Carolina Troops and Their Path to Surrender
In January 2015, the State Archives of North Carolina Military Collection received a rare, original company pay roll for Company G of the 38th North Carolina Infantry, Confederate States Army, dated February 29, 1864. The document was dated two weeks after their new commanding officer, who remained the commanding officer until the surrender at Appomattox Court House, was assigned that position. The payroll was donated by the direct descendants of one of the company’s officers, who most likely carried this payroll while the company was at Appomattox Court House. In honor of the 150th anniversary of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, we would like to utilize the company payroll to trace the experience of Company G and some of its men from February 29, 1864, until their surrender on April 9, 1865.
Company G of the 38th North Carolina Infantry was raised in Alexander County, N.C., on November 2, 1861. It went into state service at Camp Mangum on December 31, 1861, near present-day Raleigh. Known as the “Rocky Face Rangers,” the great majority of its members were farmers, mechanics, and teachers. The 38th North Carolina Infantry and Company G served with distinction at some of the Civil War’s most important battles prior to February 1864, including the Seven Days Battles, Second Battle of Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. By 1864, Company G had suffered significantly from wounds, deaths, captures, and desertions to the enemy. 1864 would prove to be a turning point for the unit—as it had for so many other North Carolina regiments, worn down by the grueling fighting as the tide seemingly began to turn in the Union’s favor.
By February 1864, Company G had 46 men listed in its ranks, with many of these men having family connections to each other, such as the Murdock (listed in the payroll as Murdah) brothers and the Lackey family. By the time of April 9, 1865, Company G had suffered tremendously from the course of war, with the following fates coming to the men of its ranks as listed on the February 1864 company payroll:
7 soldiers were captured during battle, and released after they took the Union’s Oath of Allegiance; 5 soldiers deserted to the Union side; 13 soldiers surrendered at Appomattox Court House with the 38th North Carolina Infantry; 5 soldiers were transferred or retired to the Invalid Corps due to injury; 1 soldier left the company and returned home, believed to be due to injury; 6 soldiers were killed in combat or died of disease before the surrender at Appomattox; 7 soldiers are unaccounted for due to unknown circumstance by the time of Appomattox; and 2 soldiers were discharged before the end of war.
Each of the company’s men who remained in service until the surrender at Appomattox found their own unique path to the doorsteps of defeat.
The company’s commanding officer, Captain Richard M. Sharpe, had just been promoted to captain and was assigned as the company’s commanding officer on February 16, 1864. Richard Sharpe served in the same company with his four brothers and one cousin, George W. (also a company officer), John C. (also a company officer), James F., Thomas J., and Christopher T. (cousin). Of all his relations in the company, only Richard survived through the Civil War to the surrender at Appomattox Court House. Richard Sharpe would lead Company G in the fierce combat at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Va., where he was wounded in the right shoulder on May 13, 1864. Sharpe would be unable to return to full service until sometime in July or August 1864, regaining command of Company G. Sharpe oversaw his company’s surrender to the Union forces at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
Alfred A. Hines was promoted to First Lieutenant of Company G on February 16, 1864. Having been a teacher before the Civil War, Hines served in the company with his two brothers and a family relative. Hines appears to have suffered greatly from illness, having been absent from the company before his 1864 promotion, and absent again due to illness for most of the year until October 1864. During this period of illness, Alfred learned of the death of his brother Benjamin at Petersburg, Virginia, on June 24, 1864. Finally unable to continue in full service, Alfred retired to the Invalid Corps, and would surrender with Company G and his sole living brother Samuel
Not all of those who surrendered at Appomattox had a clear path to the end of the war. Private Henry M. Poplin entered service with Company G at the advanced fighting age of 38 in March 1863. Before 1864, Poplin was captured by the Union forces at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va., on May 3, 1863, and confined at Washington, D.C. He would be involved in a prisoner-of-war exchange with the Confederacy around May 13, 1863, and returned to duty with Company G within the next few months. Poplin would face the Union forces as victors again on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox.
Private Robert Clementus Lackey is one of the most unique soldiers in Company G to have made it to Appomattox. Lackey was one of thirteen members of the Lackey family of Alexander County who served in Company G, along with his first cousin Thomas Fielding Murdock (also Murdah). The Lackey, Murdock, and Sharpe families, represented by 22 members in Company G during the Civil War, are all related through marriage. The Lackey family at the start of the Civil War was one of the largest families in Alexander County. Robert worked as a farmer before the war, and enlisted in November 1861. Lackey was wounded about June 26, 1862, at Mechanicsburg, Virginia; he appears to have been bothered by the wound throughout the remainder of the war. He rejoined Company G by September 1862 and served until about March 1864, when he was promoted to be a Musician (again, likely due to his injuries). Robert Lackey retired to the Invalid Corps on December 7, 1864, remaining in a non-combat capacity with Company G until Appomattox.
One of the most unusual stories from the members of Company G by February 1864 was that of Private Cyrus Drum. At age 38 when he enlisted in March 1863, Drum was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va., during May 1-4, 1863. After his absence from his company due to injury, Drum would be listed on August 13, 1863, as a deserter, having not returned to his company after more than three months’ absence. Drum returned to duty sometime in November or December 1863, after which he was court-martialed for desertion and sentenced to death by the Confederate Army. However, likely due to the shortage of Confederate soldiers by 1864, his death sentence was remitted. Drum would remain with Company G, only to end up surrendering to the Union Army at Appomattox.
Finally, we come to the Company G payroll’s original owner, Thomas Fielding Murdock (listed as Murdah). Thomas Murdock was a 19-year old farmer when he enlisted in Company G; Thomas’ younger brother Robert would enlist at some point in the same company. Thomas became the 3rd Lieutenant of Company G on May 11, 1863, and served in this capacity throughout the rest of the Civil War. Thomas surrendered on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House. During the surrender, Thomas appears to have retained an original February 1864 payroll, along with a diary he kept throughout the war, and took the payroll back with him, folded up, to Alexander County
The surrender of the Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, and later of Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee on April 26, 1865, did not spark the end of fighting for the Confederate veterans of Company G. They would return home to farms and communities in Alexander County, requiring the veterans to pitch in to fill the void of those men county men lost in war. The returning soldiers had to learn to deal with the horrors of war as they re-learned to live at home and reunite with their families. The men also had to learn how to deal with the residual injuries of the war, even as their Southern culture would be shocked with changes following the end of the Civil War and beginning of Reconstruction. Each member of Company G found their own way at war’s end.
Richard M. Sharpe returned to Alexander County, and married Barbra E. Mehaffey on April 4, 1867. Alfred A. Hines would eventually settle in Iredell County, and raised a family with his wife Rebecca C. Hines. Despite his various infirmaries, Alfred lived until May 15, 1926, getting to see a son and daughter into adulthood. Henry M. Poplin returned to Alexander County and his family, including his wife Mary and their four children—one of whom, Catherine, had been born at the start of the Civil War. In a double ceremony with his cousin Thomas F. Murdock, Robert C. Lackey married a Civil War soldier’s widow, Panthy Susan Beckham, on November 22, 1865. The Lackeys went on to have a large family and built their own house.
Cyrus Drum returned home to his wife Nancy in Alexander County. It is not known what, if any, effect Drum’s desertion had on his reputation in the county. Drum died on August 23, 1904 at the age of 78. Drum did not die before seeking a Confederate veteran’s pension in 1902—without mentioning anything about his court-martial or desertion in his official application. After the war, Thomas Murdock married Elizabeth H. Beckham on November 22, 1865. He and his wife had a large family, and Thomas became a local public official. Later, he became a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives. The entire time, his family retained the Company G payroll, until Thomas Murdock’s descendants donated it to the State Archives in January 2015. The documents preserved by the State Archives of North Carolina and the Military Collection assist in completing gaps in the record of our state’s Civil War heritage. And with donations by members of the public, such as this donation of this document, we are able to offer North Carolinians richer understanding of their past.