One Tough Tarheel

by Fred Ray on May 16, 2008 · 0 comments

It always amazes me how tough some of the soldiers were in the Late Unpleasantness. Multiple wounds were unfortunately common, even though medical care was marginal by today’s standards. One of the toughest was Tar Heel Colonel Hamilton A. Brown of the 1st North Carolina:

At the battle of Payne’s Farm in November 1863, Brown lost the middle finger of his right hand to a gunshot wound. When infection subsequently set in, threatening lockjaw, he was forced to relinquish command of the regiment for a time. While recuperating, Brown received a well-deserved promotion to colonel in the 1st, to date from December 14. He spent the balance of the winter bringing his unit to a state of “perfect discipline and efficiency.”

The 1864 spring campaign was very nearly the new colonel’s last. At the Wilderness on May 5 he personally assisted in capturing two guns of Battery D, 1st New York Light Artillery, on Sander’s Field. “It is … a fact known to the entire brigade that Colonel Brown, First North Carolina, with his own hands pulled the lieutenant in charge of the guns from his horse, and held possession of the horse, until required to turn him in,” a witness recorded.

A week later Brown suffered the most severe of his 13 war wounds. He was shot in both shoulders when the 1st was over-run in the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania. All but 30 men of the regiment was captured and her colors lost. The injured colonel himself was captured and recaptured three times, “the last time from the enemy’s ambulance corps, who, in turn, were made prisoners,” he remembered. Brown’s wounds were deemed so serious that a nearby chaplain conducted a burial service over him while he was still alive. In later years Brown maintained that “hearing his own [funeral] … brought him back to life rather than lying him away.”

You’d think that would be enough for a medical discharge but no, Brown returned to duty in August. Most of his regiment had been killed or captured at Spotsylvania, so he took command of the elite Division Sharpshooters of Rodes’ division, hardly a “bombproof” job. He distinguished himself there until captured at Fort Stedman in March, 1865. After the war he returned home and became a prosperous businessman.

One of Brown’s personal idiosynchronicities was that he stuttered badly, and it was said that his orders were “unintelligible to the uninitiated.”

Another very tough Tar Heel was Brigadier General William R. Cox, who commanded a brigade in Rodes’ division and was wounded eleven times. After the war he served three terms in the US House of Representatives and acted as secretary of the US Senate. You can still see his shredded shell jacket at the NC Museum of history.

Tough guys, indeed!

Modern politicians don’t come off so well. Senator John Kerry got three purple hearts in Vietnam, none of which required a stay in the hospital. He then invoked the “three purple heart” rule to get out of a combat zone.

Don’t make ’em like they used to.

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