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

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

by Rod Gragg


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The battle of Gettysburg was the largest engagement of the Civil War, and--with more than 51,000 casualties--also the deadliest. The highest regimental casualty rate at Gettysburg, an estimated 85 percent, was incurred by the 26th North Carolina Infantry. Who were these North Carolinians? Why were they at Gettysburg? How did they come to suffer such a grievous distinction? In Covered with Glory, award-winning historian Rod Gragg reveals the extraordinary story of the 26th North Carolina in fascinating detail.

Praised for its "exhaustive scholarship" and its "highly readable style," Covered with Glory chronicles the 26th's remarkable odyssey from muster near Raleigh to surrender at Appomattox. The central focus of the book, however, is the regiment's critical, tragic role at Gettysburg, where its standoff with the heralded 24th Michigan Infantry on the first day of fighting became one of the battle's most unforgettable stories. Two days later, the 26th's bloodied remnant assaulted the Federal line at Cemetery Ridge and gained additional fame for advancing "farthest to the front" in the Pickett-Pettigrew Charge.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807871409
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 03/01/2010
Edition description: 1
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,239,857
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About 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.

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...

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction "I Was Once a Soldier" xv
Good, Honest American Stock
Into the Jaws of Certain Death
We Are on Our Way
"May the Good Lord Take Care of the Pore Soldiers"
"Summer is Ended"
"Like Wheat Before the Sickle"
Covered with Glory
"The Sickening Horrors of War"
"All Were Willing to Die"
"Terrible as an Army with Banners"
"Unconquered in Spirit"
Epilogue "Steadfast to the Last" 221(25)
Notes 246(33)
Bibliography 279(15)
Index 294

What People are Saying About This

Clyde N. Wilson

Covered with Glory is a story that has long been waiting to be told. No one could be better able to tell it than Rod Gragg. A superb story has met a superb writer. Battle history does not get any better than this.
— (Clyde N. Wilson, author of Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew and The Most Promising Young Man of the South: Pettigrew and his Men at Gettysburg)

From the Publisher

A superb story has met a superb writer. Battle history does not get any better than this.--Clyde Wilson, author of Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew

Wiley Sword

Rod Gragg's stirring account of the 26th North Carolina's fiery ordeal at Gettysburg reveals the valiant spirit of the Southern fighting man. In a minute by minute, blow by blow description, the fascinating details emerge as fresh as the next incredible moment. Here is a book rich with history and powerful in its message of the stout fiber of our American heritage.
—(Wiley Sword, author of Embrace an Angry Wind and Shiloh: Bloody April)

B. Keith Toney

In Covered With Glory: The 26th North Carolina Infantry at Gettysburg Rod Gragg has done an admirable job of bringing to life the men who made up this storied regiment. Well-researched and written, this book will make a welcome addition to anyone's bookshelf.
— (B. Keith Toney, Historian/Licensed Battlefield Guide, Gettysburg National Military Park)

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