The 11th North Carolina at Cold Harbor: A short history of Company B (Feb. 1862 – June 1864)

Posted on Monday, December 30th, 2013

William T. Harbison (Co. B) lost his leg at Cold Harbor.


The 11th North Carolina at Cold Harbor:

A short history of Company B:

 February 1862 to June 1864

Thomas Venner

William T. Harbison enlisted into Company B on February 1, 1862 along with his older brother, Tolbert Harbison. The young men (Tolbert was 20, William; 18) were farm boys, laboring on their father’s farm not far from Morganton, Burke Co. They mustered into Cpt. Mark Armfield’s company at Camp Mangum, along with three officers and 104 enlisted men.  They, along with hundreds of other Tar Heels drilled for hours as they prepared to battle the Yankees.

Sadly, the immediate effects of multitudes of young farm boys all crowding together into one location was a precipitous spreading of disease. Two brothers; John Patton and J. W. Patton quickly succumbed to typhoid fever in April, 1862, becoming the first members of Cpt. Armfield’s company to die. Then, when the regiment moved to Wilmington the scourges of disease followed them. By summer’s end, over a half-dozen soldiers had been buried, including William Harbison’s older brother, Tolbert.

Name DOB Remarks
George Patton 1847 Died of typhoid fever, 4/8/52 at Camp Mangum
John Patton 1844 Died of typhoid fever, 4/9/62 at Camp Mangum
John A. Williams 1836 Died of pneumonia, 4/20/62 at Raleigh
David Keller 1836 Died of measles & diarrhea, 6/11/62 at Wilmington
Tolbert Harbison 1842 Died of typhoid fever, 6/13/62 at Wilmington
John Morgan 1846 Died of typhoid fever, 6/18/62 at Wilmington
John W. Puett 1845 Died of typhoid fever, 6/25/62 at Wilmington
William W. Short 1827 Died of remittent fever, 7/21/62 at Wilmington

Throughout the fall of 1862 Pvt. William Harbison’s company shrank in size as comrades were transferred to other units, or were discharged due to disabilities. These losses however were partially countered by the recruitment of John Cook, William Duckworth, George A. Loven, Walker W. McGrimsey, and James P. Parks; thus, by middle December 1862 when the 11th North Carolina moved into position at White Hall, Company D totaled 74 combat troops. Another 18 men were either on detached duty or absent because of sickness. Then, in the battle of White Hall, Cpt. Armfield’s men suffered 2 killed (Elam Bristol and Walter Duckworth), and five wounded.

Six months later, Company B had just over 70 men in the ranks as the Carolinians tramped into Pennsylvania and in the fateful days to follow 60 men fell. Private William Harbison returned to Virginia as part of a devastated company consisting solely of a dozen riflemen; every officer and NCO had been lost. Three months later, in October 1863, Company B was led by Sergeants Thomas Ferree and John L. Warlick and consisted of 27 riflemen. William Harbison’s company then suffered one wounded (John Shuffler), and four captured (Thomas Cook, Larkin Livingston, Henry Mull, and William S. Patton) in the fight at Bristoe Station.

Company B wintered (1863-64) with its regiment in the Orange Court House area and its new captain, 43-year-old Thomas Parks spent those inactive months working to rebuild the formation. Nine new recruits (John Butler, David Johnson, William Ledford, Daniel Short, William C. Teem, Austin L. Parks, James Shelton, James R. Walker, and David L. Warlick) were added and a number of wounded veterans returned to the company. Thus, by the time Grant’s army marched into the Wilderness in early May 1864, Pvt. Harbison’s comrades now totaled 40 officers and riflemen.

The 11th North Carolina punched it out with the Federals in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania, fighting a new form of warfare; one where the veteran Confederates had learned frontal assaults and standing out in the open was the equivalent to suicide. Now, every time the Southerners had time, they dug breastworks and hunkered down behind them for protection. Company B did not lose anyone in the Wilderness, but lost four at Spotsylvania; J. W. Crawley (neck wound), George Loudermilk (wounded), Robert G. Williams (wounded), and D. Logan Warlick (killed).

On May 31, 1864 the 11th North Carolina, now a regiment in Brig. Gen. William Kirkland’s brigade, was part of the Confederate far left flank. Captain Thomas Parks led Company B, consisting of 34 survivors, including Pvt. William Harbison, a veteran who had been in every fight the Bethel Regiment had participated in and had come out of each one unscathed. The regiment occupied earthworks dug in near Totopotomoy Creek. Their defenses were impregnable; Yankee assaults against it resulted in massive blue coat losses and almost negligible Confederate casualties. However, that night after 10:00 PM the 11th NC moved out of their defenses and marched three miles to new defensive positions near Hundley’s Corner.

The next morning, June 1, 1864 was quiet until a Yankee brigade attacked in the early afternoon. The well-protected Tar Heels slaughtered the blue coats, again without loss. Following this Yankee disaster, a screen of Tar Heels were sent out in front of the Confederate earthworks and heavy skirmishing continued for the rest of the day. The Bethel regiment lost seven men wounded.

unit Name rank Remarks

Co. D

William P. Hawkins Pvt. Wounded, 6/1/64

Co. G

William G. Clements Pvt. Wounded, 6/1/64

Co. H

John C. Taggert Pvt. Wounded, 6/1/64

Co. H

William H. Wilkerson Pvt. Wounded, 6/1/64

Co. I

Michael J. Craft Pvt. Wounded, 6/1/64

Co. I

Theodore J. Ramseur Pvt. Wounded, 6/1/64

Co. K

John F. Johnston Pvt. Wounded, 6/1/64

Sunrise on June 2, 1864 revealed little positional changes; and once the pickets saw each other they resumed their duels. The Confederate high command noticed the Union troops beginning to withdraw and ordered Kirkland’s brigade to pursue. The 11th NC climbed out of the safety of their earthworks and attacked the blue coat’s rear guard. They struggled forward for several hours, pushing the Federal skirmishers back several miles before finally bumping into additional Union troops protected by strong earthworks. The Tar Heels backed away from this position and quickly dug their own defenses.

Then, once darkness had limited the soldiers’ ability to see Union artillery bombarded the Carolinian line, and Yank skirmishers raked their position with heavy rifle fire. The Tar Heels shot back at the hidden enemy and the two forces grappled with each other in a blind fight in the dark. Sometime during this conflict a Minié ball slammed into William Harbison’s right shin and shattered his leg bone. He was carried back to the 11th NC’s surgeon, Dr. John Wilson who was forced to amputate Harbison’s right leg below the knee. The 11th NC’s casualties for June 2, 1864:

unit Name rank Remarks

Co. A

William S. Icehower Cpl. Killed, 6/2/64

Co. A

William B. Taylor 3rd Lt. Wounded, 6/2/64

Co. B

William T. Harbison Pvt. Wounded (right leg), 6/2/64

Co. G

Thomas Davis 1st Sgt. Wounded, 6/2/64

Co. H

N. C. Hall Pvt. Wounded, 6/2/64

Co. H

Robert B. Hall Pvt. Wounded (left hand), 6/2/64

Co. H

Berry G. Henry Pvt. Wounded (fore arm), 6/2/64

Co. H

Tyrell B. Henry Pvt. Wounded, 6/2/64

William Harbison was taken to a hospital in Richmond and he remained there until returning home to Morganton. After the war, Harbison married Harriet Alexander and they had one son. Harbison worked as a Burke County clerk and later, as the county deeds assessor. He died in 1896.


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One Response to
“The 11th North Carolina at Cold Harbor: A short history of Company B (Feb. 1862 – June 1864)”

  • mae gunter says: March 3rd, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    I just found this website/ blog post. William T. Harbison was my Grandfathers’ Grandfather. I thought it was very cool to find all of this information about him on your website. We have a lot of relics from this war and from him so it is cool to see so much information about him on here! Thanks!

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