Covered with Glory: The 26th North Carolina Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg

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Here, fully told for the first time, is the unforgettable story of the 26th North Carolina Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg. In July 1863 the regiment's eight-hundred-plus troops—young men from North Carolina's mountains, farmlands, and hamlets—were thrust into the firestorm of Gettysburg, the greatest battle ever fought in North America. By the time the fighting ended, the 26th North Carolina had suffered what some authorities would calculate to be the highest casualties of...
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Overview

Here, fully told for the first time, is the unforgettable story of the 26th North Carolina Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg. In July 1863 the regiment's eight-hundred-plus troops—young men from North Carolina's mountains, farmlands, and hamlets—were thrust into the firestorm of Gettysburg, the greatest battle ever fought in North America. By the time the fighting ended, the 26th North Carolina had suffered what some authorities would calculate to be the highest casualties of any regiment in the Civil War.

Following a bone-wearying march into Pennsylvania with the rest of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the soldiers of the 26th found themselves in ferocious, almost face-to-face combat with some of the hardest-fighting troops in the Federal army—the heralded Iron Brigade. The bloody contest on McPherson's Ridge produced some of Gettysburg's fiercest fighting, and the troops involved—men from North Carolina, Michigan, and Indiana--established an enduring legacy of American fortitude and will.

On Gettysburg's third day of battle, the 26th North Carolina was placed in the front ranks of Pickett's Charge. Following a massive artillery barrage, the tattered regiment was commanded to go the distance in what would prove to be the most famous assault of the war. At one point, as he watched the men of the 26th in battle, Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew dispatched a message to the regiment's commander: "Tell him his regiment has covered itself with glory today."

The story of the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg is an American saga of duty performed in the worst of warfare. It unfolds through the lives of key characters—the regiment's twenty-one year old commander, Colonel Henry K. Burgwyn, Jr.; its second-in-command, twenty-six-year-old farmer-turned-lieutenant colonel John R. Lane; twenty-two-year-old Major John Jones, who had abandoned his college studies to join the army; and common soldiers like Private Jimmie Moore, a North Carolina mountain boy who had gone to war at the age of fifteen.

Covered With Glory is an intensely personal narrative based on exhaustive research into the diaries, letters, memoirs, and official records of the men who struggled on the bloody field at Gettysburg. It is a powerful, moving account of American courage and sacrifice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On July 1, 1863, the 26th North Carolina Infantry marched toward Gettysburg with a strength of 843 officers and troops. Two days later, the regiment could muster only 156 soldiers--a staggering loss of 81.5%, perhaps the highest casualty rate of any Civil War regiment, North or South. Gettysburg is one of the most written-about battles in history, but Gragg (Confederate Goliath, etc.) has mined a host of primary sources for this engrossing study and paints a detailed, vivid picture of the destruction of one of Robert E. Lee's largest units. Following a brief history of the 26th, Gragg follows the Tarheels north from Fredericksburg into Pennsylvania, then moves with the regiment to Herr's Ridge west of Gettysburg. From this vantage point, 21-year-old Colonel Henry K. Burgwyn Jr. led his superbly trained unit into the teeth of enemy fire from two Union Iron Brigade regiments. Although the 26th forced the Yankees back, Burgwyn was killed and the regiment was decimated as bearer after bearer of the unit's flag went down like chaff. After resting on July 2, the regiment took part in Pickett's Charge. Gragg's prose is at its best as he describes the time it took for the gray-clad battle line to cross the mile from Seminary Ridge to the Federal line on Cemetery Ridge, suffering casualties all the while. This exemplary book puts a human face on the 26th North Carolina's tragic loss at Gettysburg and is one of the most original titles on the battle to appear in the past few years. Maps not seen by PW. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Award-winning historian Gragg offers yet another Civil War title (see, e.g., The Civil War, 1861-1865). The 26th North Carolina saw action early in the war at New Bern and Malvern Hill. On the first day at Gettysburg, it fought against the 24th Michigan in McPherson's Woods. On the third and final day, it participated in the infamous Pickett's Charge and suffered an 85 percent casualty rate, the highest of any regiment in the Civil War. Besides recounting the enormous loss of life and the heroic deeds of many men, Gragg reveals the human side of battle. Family diaries and letters describe the difficulties most soldiers faced in coping with military life. The author uses an impressive list of other books and historical sources. What emerges is a detailed but readable history of a regiment whose sacrifices and exploits merit studying. Recommended for its scholarship and depth of coverage to all academic and large public libraries and to special collections.--David Alperstein, Queens Borough P.L., Jamaica, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Rob Stout
No single event or period in American history has been documented quite like the Civil War. And of all the battles during the four-year war, none has occupied quite the unique place in history as Gettysburg. Although numerous histories have been written documenting the heroic sacrifices on both sides, historian Gragg reconstructs the story of the 26th North Carolina Infantry during the three bloodiest days of the war, in which the regiment suffered the greatest casualty rate of any unit during the war. Thrown into battle during the first day at McPherson's Ridge against the North's feared "Iron Brigade," these farmers, students, mountaineers and plantation owners served with distinction. Interweaving personal stories of the soldiers and the technical details of battle, Gragg has written a distinguished work of military literature that recreates the experiences of those who fought there. Having established its reputation, the 26th was placed in the front ranks of the ill-fated Pickett's Charge on the third day of the battle only to be decimated by Union artillery. Seventy men survived the frontal assault. One brigadier general relayed this message to the surviving officer: "Tell him his regiment has covered itself with glory today." Based on an extensive body of research, Gragg creates a gripping account of regimental heroism during one of history's most significant military events.
From the Publisher
"Gragg presents an exceptional look at the rise and fall of the 26th North Carolina Infantry and their actions at the battle of Gettysburg."--The Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

"An interesting story that never lags. . . . The writing is excellent [at] capturing the heartbreak and dissolution of an army."--TOCWOC-A Civil War Blog

"One of the most dramatic combat narratives ever written."--Military.com

"This exemplary book puts a human face on the 26th North Carolina's tragic loss at Gettysburg and is one of the [battle's] most original titles."--Publishers Weekly

"Gragg's engaging style and in-depth research present a highly readable account of the regiment, its leaders, and the men in the ranks."--The Civil War News

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060174453
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Rod Gragg, author of Confederate Goliath: The Battle of Fort Fisher and numerous other works of history, is director of the Center for Military and Veterans Studies at Coastal Carolina University.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Good, Honest
American Stock



Up ahead, death awaited some of them.

Lieutenant Colonel John Randolph Lane understood that grim fact, but at the moment he was distracted by a wave of nausea. After a bone-wearying two-week march from Virginia to Pennsylvania, his regiment and the rest of General Robert E. Lee's army were finally about to fight the Yankees on Northern soil. A mile or so up the road now crowded with Confederate troops, the smoke of battle was rising from a crossroads hamlet called Gettysburg. In the distance, Lane could hear the sputtering toll of small arms fire and the slam-slam-slam of artillery fire. The men of his regiment were moving steadily toward the sound of the guns, but Lane feared his nausea might force him to fall out. Was it bad water or a case of pre-battle jitters? He was unsure. He had been up all night overseeing the brigade picket line, had eaten practically nothing for breakfast and had unwisely gulped down several big swallows of muddy water. Now he felt so nauseous he wondered if he could do his job in the fighting that lay ahead.

Tall and erect, Lane was a robust man with a stocky build. He was three days away from his twenty-eighth birthday, but a chest-length black beard made him look older. Despite his uniform of Confederate gray, he looked more like a farmer than an army officer. Before the war, he was a farmer, turning over the sod every spring in the rolling fields of central North Carolinas Chatham County. He had the hardy look of a man accustomed to the outdoors — a strong face with rough-hewn features — but healso projected a natural dignity that befitted his current occupation. Lieutenant Colonel Lane was now second in command of the 26th North Carolina — one of the largest infantry regiments in the Army of Northern Virginia. His men revered him, and he returned their esteem. Most of the regiment's shirkers were gone now; the last handful had been shaken loose by the hard march north and the prospect of battle. What remained was a regiment of more than 800 well-drilled fighting men.

A year earlier, Lane had endured a hellish night on the battlefield at Malvern Hill with these men. Now, exactly one year later — Wednesday, July 1, 1863 — he was heading with them into what appeared to be an even greater battle. Would he be too ill to exercise command? They were approaching Gettysburg from the west, marching on a well-used highway called the Chambersburg Turnpike. Up the road before them they could see a series of ridges, and from atop the crest of a distant ridge, on the outskirts of Gettysburg, Federal troops appeared to be pouring fire into the Confederate troops ahead. In response, the Confederates — Third Corps troops of Heth's Division — were spreading out in a long battle line on both sides of the pike. The men of the 26th advanced up the road in formation as the chaotic sounds of heavy fighting increased, muffling the rhythmic tread of the marching men. As the troops leading the regiment crested a ridge, Federal artillery fire suddenly shrieked down from the morning sky and exploded on the road just steps ahead. It was their first fire of the battle, and it came unexpectedly, jarring the marching column with a concussion and a loud blast of smoke, flame and debris. The men in front wavered, and the column seemed to hesitate.

"Steady, men!" boomed a calm but authoritative voice. It belonged to the regiment's commanding Officer, Colonel Henry King Burgwyn Jr. Moving alongside the column on horseback, Burgwyn shouted encouragement to the troops, and they regained their step. "Steady, boys, steady," he urged them, and the measured tread of the march resumed. Moments later, Burgwyn ordered the men off the road. They deployed along to their right behind a row of Confederate artillery pieces, and prepared to form a line of battle.

The cool-headed response to the incoming artillery fire was typical of Colonel Burgwyn. He had a reputation in the 26th as a steady man in a time of danger — and one who always put his troops first. He was also known for his youth: Colonel Henry King Burgwyn Jr. was twenty-one years old. Even in an army of so many young men, such youthfulness was exceptional. Yet, Burgwyn's troops followed him devotedly. The Colonel was "cool under fire," proclaimed one of his men, and always knew "exactly what to do." A year earlier, a brigade commander had sparked protests when he tried to block Burgwyn's promotion because of his youthfulness. Soon afterwards the 26th had transferred to another brigade. Now, as the regiment moved into battle at Gettysburg, Burgwyn enjoyed even greater loyalty from his men, who knew he would never send them anywhere he would not go. The young officer had not always enjoyed such enthusiastic support. Lieutenant Colonel Lane could remember when Burgwyn was the most despised man in the regiment.

Lane was a fresh recruit the first time he saw Burgwyn. It was a warm August morning in 1861. He and his company — the Chatham Boys — had just arrived at Camp Carolina, a large training post established about three miles northwest of Raleigh at Crabtree Plantation. The Chatham Boys had arrived by train in the night and could see little in the darkness. In the moming, Lane awoke to a sprawling encampment — rows of tents, smoking campfires and hordes of coughing, laughing, yelling recruits. Looking at the rifle-toting sentries patrolling the boundaries of the camp, Lane suddenly realized the four-month-old war that had seemed so distant was a serious reality. In their fumbling adjustment to soldiering that morning...

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