Sunday, May 5, 2013

Company C, North Carolina 61st Infantry: Private John R. "Jack" Wheeler, my 1st cousin 4x removed

Battle Flag of the Beaufort Plow Boys, Company B, North Carolina 61st Infantry Regiment

The North Carolina 61st Infantry Regiment was organized in Wilmington, North Carolina in August of 1862.  Its men were recruited from the Counties of Sampson, New Hanover, Beaufort, Craven, Chatham, Wake, Lenoir, Wilson, Martin, Alleghany, Ashe and Jones.  James D. Radcliffe of New Hanover County was elected Colonel of the Regiment. 

Colonel James D. Radcliffe

Edward Mallett was elected as the first Captain of Company C.  After its organization, the unit was assigned to Brigadier General Thomas Lanier Clingman's Brigade.  The other Units in Clingman's Brigade included the 8th, 31st and 51st North Carolina Infantry Regiments. 

Brigadier General Thomas Lanier Clingman

Clingman's Brigade was initially stationed at Camp Lamb, near Wilmington.  The North Carolina 61st  remained in the Wilmington area until early November when they made their way to Plymouth, North Carolina.   From Plymouth, the Regiment marched 39 miles to Spring Creek, where they arrived just before dawn on November 3rd.  The men endured a deep snow on November 6th, however they continued their march towards the Tarboro Railroad Terminal.  As many as 100 men in the regiment were without shoes.  Several of those men were cautioned not to make the barefoot march in the snow.  Ten men from the Regiment died from Pneumonia following their barefoot march. 

The Regiment left the Tarboro Railroad Terminal on November 10th and bivouacked at Greenville, North Carolina on November13th.  The men remained in Greenville until December 7, 1862, when they began to march towards Kinston, North Carolina, where they arrived on December 9th.  On the 12th of December, the Regiment crossed the Neuse River near Southwest creek, where they destroyed the bridge after crossing.  The North Carolina 61st was then posted on the west side of the creek to check or delay the advance of Union Major General John G. Foster.  Foster's troops included 10,000 Infantry, Six Batteries with 40 pieces of Artillery, and 640 Cavalry.  My 3rd cousin 5x removed, Brigadier General Nathan George "Shanks" Evans was in command of the Confederate force, which numbered roughly 2,000.

Brigadier General Nathan George "Shanks" Evans

Foster's Federals reached the Southwest creek on the morning of December 13th.  A small force from the North Carolina 61st Infantry Regiment skirmished with the enemy near the bridge crossing, but was beaten back with heavy casualties.   The remained of the North Carolina 61st entered the field of battle near Hines' Mills and marched double quick towards the action.  The musket fire from the enemy seemed "rapid and terrific" to the soldiers.  For some time the 61st held its ground, but were forced to fall back due to the enemy advancing in overwhelming numbers.  The Regiment retreated towards Kinston and halted to form a line of battle.  A company of skirmishers moved forward to re-engage the Federals.   The men marched about a hundred yards to find that the woods were full of blue coats and the Federals were beginning to flank the Confederates on their left.  

General Evans gave the order to "retreat under fire in good order".  The Confederates fired and fell back to a position near the Kinston side of the river, taking advantage of the woods in front of them.  From this position Confederate and Federal Artillery Batteries began clashing.  The Artillery duel lasted about an hour, all the while the Confederates were under heavy fire from Federal small arms and were unable to return the fire due to the inferiority of their guns.  All the Confederates could do was lay low and wait. 

Around 8:00 pm, as darkness fell, the North Carolina 61st Infantry Regiment withdrew from the field and marched through the swamp to Harriet's Chapel.  As the temperature dropped, it was deemed unsafe to build a fire due to the close proximity of the enemy.   By midnight, it was safe enough to build a fire.  The men gathered around the fire for warmth and discussed their first engagement with the enemy.   On the morning of December 14, the Confederates received a wholesome supply of rations and began their way back to the battlefield in Kinston. 

General Evans, with his South Carolina Brigade on the left and the North Carolina 61st on his right, eagerly awaited the Federal attack from General Foster.  Foster obliged, sending in three Brigades, supported by Artillery.  With the odds overwhelmingly against them, the Confederates resisted for the better part of three hours, before being forced back across the Neuse.  The Federals were unrelenting, and pressed so close to the Confederate retreat that they were able to capture about 400 prisoners, all of which were paroled the following morning. 

During the fighting, the North Carolina 61st was compelled to fall back on account of their ammunition being completely exhausted.   A small supply of ammunition soon arrived but was again exhausted in little time.  With their being no hope of a second resupply, the men of the 61st began an orderly retreat from the immediate action.  When the Regiment reached the bridge, it was engulfed in flames.  As the men began to rush over the burning bridge, Federal infantry men positioned 250 yards below, began to fire musket volleys into the fleeing Confederates.  The Regiment took on several casualties before making to safety. 

Picture taken in 1887 of the Goldsboro Battlefield

Following the Battle of Kinston, the North Carolina 61st Infantry Regiment, under the command of General Evans, marched to Goldsboro, where they arrived on December 17th.  From Goldsboro the Confederates marched down the Railroad track all the way to Wilmington, where they arrived on January 2, 1863.   There they remained until February 6, when they arrived at Masonboro Sound.    The Regiment was then ordered to Charleston, South Carolina, arriving there on February 18, 1863. 

Private John R. "Jack" Wheeler was discharged by Surgeon Certificate on April 1, 1863 in Columbia, South Carolina.  On October 25, 1864, Jack re-enlisted in the Confederate Army, this time in Company H, North Carolina 47th Infantry Regiment.  He served in that Regiment through the end of the war. 

John R. "Jack" Wheeler was born in Wake County, North Carolina in July of 1837.  He is my 1st cousin 4x removed.  Prior to the war, Jack was a laborer by trade.  Jack enlisted as a Private in Company C, North Carolina 61st Infantry Regiment on August 27, 1862 at the age of 24. 

1st Muster Roll for Jack in the NC 61st

Jack was listed as "present sick" for the January - February 1863 period.

Muster Roll showing Jack was "present sick"

On April 1, 1863, Jack received a disability discharge in Columbia, South Carolina.

Muster Roll showing Jack's Discharge
Following his discharge, Jack returned home to Wake County, North Carolina where he recovered from his illness.  A year and a half later, Jack enlisted in Company H, North Carolina 47th Infantry Regiment, where he served until the end of the war.   Jack lived at least an additional 45 years following the end of the Civil War.  The last record of Jack is the 1910 Federal Census where he is shown as a widower living in New Light, Wake County.   His burial location is not known at the time of this entry. 

Here's my relation to Jack:

John R. "Jack" Wheeler (1837 - 1910)
is your 1st cousin 4x removed
Burwell Wheeler (1796 - 1885)
father of John R. "Jack" Wheeler
Benjamin Wheeler (1755 - 1830)
father of Burwell Wheeler
Benjamin Franklin Wheeler (1803 - 1883)
son of Benjamin Wheeler
Christopher Columbus Wheeler (1842 - 1912)
son of Benjamin Franklin Wheeler
Benjamin Elliott Wheeler (1883 - 1951)
son of Christopher Columbus Wheeler
Phebe Teresa Wheeler Lewis (1918 - 1977)
daughter of Benjamin Elliott Wheeler
Joyce Elaine Lewis (1948 - )
daughter of Phebe Teresa Wheeler Lewis
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Joyce


  1. Chip, I found your blog in my search for an ancestor who I think was in the 61st regiment, NC infantry. I don't know the company. I just want to read more about his company and I'm new to my genealogy search. Where do you find all this info and documents?

    1. I pulled all the military records from If you've got an account, they give a pretty deep discount for fold3.

      The Civil War research comes from a few different areas. Back in 1901, Walter Clark (former CSA soldier from NC) compiled a 5 volume set of regimental histories told by the soldiers. You can free PDF downloads of many of these histories. You may be lucky enough to find a few of the volumes that were reprinted in the 1980's. The North Carolina Troop Books from the State Archives are also really helpful.

      Hope this helps!