Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Richard Caswell Gatlin: North Carolina SoldierBy James L. Gaddis, Jr.

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Richard Caswell Gatlin (180-186) of Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina was a United States Military Academy graduate, a decorated United States Army officer, the first Confederate General to command in the State of North Carolina, and North Carolina’s last Confederate-era Adjutant General. During his -year infantry career, Gatlin saw action in all the significant American military conflicts of the middle 1th century and commanded various army posts in the expanding American West. At the outbreak of the Civil War he surrendered his Federal commission to serve his home state of North Carolina. Gatlin first headed North Carolina’s southern coastal defenses in Wilmington; then, when the State troops were transferred to the Confederacy, he was appointed Brigadier General in the Confederate Army and served as the first commander of the Confederacy’s North Carolina Department. Following that command Gatlin became Adjutant and Quartermaster General of North Carolina, the highest-ranking state military office and at that time a post in the North Carolina governor’s cabinet .

Richard Caswell Gatlin was born January 18, 180 in Lenoir County near Kinston, North Carolina, the son of Kinston merchant and farmer John Gatlin and Susannah Caswell Gatlin. His grandfather was North Carolina’s first constitutional governor Richard Caswell, and his birthplace, the “Red House Plantation”, had been Governor Caswell’s plantation and home. About the year 1815 the Gatlin family moved from the plantation into Kinston where, except for a year at the University of North Carolina in 184-185, Gatlin lived until his appointment to the United States Military Academy in 188.

Gatlin’s West Point classmates included several other Cadets who achieved acclaim in later years, among them Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, Edgar Allan Poe, Benjamin Ewell, Randolph Marcy and others. Graduated on July 1, 18, Gatlin was appointed Brevet nd Lieutenant and was assigned to the 7th US Infantry. Immediately upon graduation he and most of his West Point class voluntarily accompanied General Winfield Scott across the Great Lakes en route to the Black Hawk War; an expedition that was abruptly aborted when a severe outbreak of cholera decimated the hastily-gathered troops. Surviving the cholera, Gatlin served from 18 to 187 at the Army’s western-most post, Fort Gibson, in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) where he explored new country, built new roads, treated with the Plains Indians, and helped relocate the westward-migrating Eastern Indian tribes. During the 186 War for Texas Independence he commanded a company of 7th Infantry stationed at Nacogdoches, Texas to prevent the Plains Indians from aiding the Mexican cause. He was promoted to nd Lieutenant in 184 and 1st Lieutenant in 186. In 188, while on recruiting duty in New York, Gatlin and the new recruits under his command joined Colonel William J. Worth in quelling the Patriots’ War, a Canadian rebellion along the United States border that nearly drew the U.S. into an armed dispute with Great Britain. In 18 Gatlin was appointed adjutant of the 7th US Infantry, a post he held until 1845. From 18 to 184 he was in the Second Seminole War as an assistant to the 7th US Infantry commander headquartered at Forts King and Micanopy in north-central Florida, the most active and deadliest theater of the war.

Following three peaceful years in garrison at New Orleans from 184 to 1845 Gatlin was promoted to Captain, appointed company commander, and marched with General Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation to Texas and Mexico. In May 1846 Gatlin and a 500 man contingent of the 7th US Infantry, including fellow Tar Heels Captain Gabriel Rains of New Bern, Captain T. H. Holmes of Duplin County, artillery Lt. Braxton Bragg of Warrenton, and several other future Civil War generals, withstood a seven-day Mexican siege and bombardment of Fort Texas at Brownsville that launched the Mexican-American War. Later, in September 1846, while leading his company in house to house fighting in the American victory at Monterrey, Mexico, Gatlin was severely wounded in the shoulder. For his “valiant and meritorious conduct” he was decorated and promoted to Brevet Major. While recovering from his wound Gatlin returned to North Carolina in 1847 where Governor William A. Graham offered him command of the new North Carolina State Volunteer unit being raised for service in Mexico. Gatlin declined and rejoined the 7th US Infantry in Mexico City in January 1848 where he became a charter member of the Aztec Club, an organization founded by and for Mexican War Officers that included as members Robert E. Lee, U. S. Grant, Franklin Pierce, Winfield Scott, George McClelland, Zachary Taylor, William Worth, and others. From 1848 to 1861 he accompanied expeditions in the South and West and served as commander or adjutant at various posts, including Jefferson Barracks (Missouri), New Orleans Barracks (Louisiana), Fort Casey (Florida), Fort Smith (Arkansas), Fort Leavenworth (Kansas), Fort Laramie (Nebraska), Fort Bridger (Wyoming), and Fort Craig (New Mexico). During this period he lost his first wife and a child to childbirth and his first-born son was killed in a steamboat explosion in St. Louis. He remarried and took his second wife and family with him to Forts Laramie and Bridger during his service in the Utah War.

Cheap University Papers on Richard Caswell Gatlin: North Carolina SoldierBy James L. Gaddis, Jr.

While commanding at Fort Craig, New Mexico in February 1861 Gatlin was promoted to full Major in the US Army’s 5th Infantry. Ordered by President Lincoln to secure Fort Smith, Arkansas in April 1861, Gatlin was taken prisoner by secessionists already in control there. Paroled on his promise to take up arms against neither Arkansas nor the Confederacy, and realizing that North Carolina would soon leave the Union as well, he offered his services to the governor of his home state. On the day North Carolina seceded, May 0, 1861, Gatlin resigned his US Army commission and journeyed to Raleigh. He was one of the first officers commissioned by the State of North Carolina into its militia in June 1861, and was among the many US Army officers who sided with the Confederacy.

Appointed first to Colonel, then to Brigadier General in state service, Gatlin commanded and developed North Carolinas Southern Coastal defenses from his headquarters in Wilmington from June to August 1861. When the North Carolina troops were transferred to the Confederacy in August 1861, Gatlin was commissioned by the Confederate War Department as a Brigadier General in command of the Confederacy’s new North Carolina Department and moved his headquarters to Goldsboro. In that capacity he commanded such notables as Gen. D. H. Hill, Gen. Lawrence OBryan Branch, Col. Robert F. Hoke (later General), Col. Zebulon Vance (later Governor), and Lt. Col. Henry Burgwyn (the Boy Colonel). With a sound defense plan but only limited state resources and virtually no support from the Confederate War Department, Gatlin directed his few troops to the points most likely to be targeted by an enemy assault and set about reinforcing those points with forts and cannon. Rather than allowing North Carolina’s troops to remain at home and defend their state, a nervous Confederate War Department chose to march most of them to Virginia in order to stave off the Union threat there. Thus debilitated, and despite his incessant urgings for troops, munitions, and more qualified officers, Gatlin had the dubious distinction of being in command - and consequently being held responsible - when an overwhelming Federal force sailed into the Pamlico Sound in 1861-6, invading and capturing Hatteras Inlet, Roanoke Island, and New Bern. In the Battle of New Bern in March 186, Union General Burnside’s 11,000 troops easily routed Gatlin’s mere 4,000 men, forcing the Southerners to regroup to the west and to establish Gatlin’s hometown of Kinston as the new front line of the Confederacy.

A surprised and angry North Carolina press, and many civilians who wanted an accounting for Eastern North Carolina’s capture by the Federals, unfairly and unmercifully castigated Gatlin for the loss of the coastal region, going so far as to accuse him of drunkenness during the Battle of New Bern. Gatlin had been temporarily bedridden at his Goldsboro headquarters with a recurring fever during the battle, and was stung by the invective heaped upon him. Rising from his bed he directed the movements of the re-enforcing troops in hopes of bottling the enemy up in New Bern until, four days after the fall of New Bern, he was relieved of command due to “ill health”. In response to the negative press, Gatlin vehemently denied the charges of drunkenness and requested an inquiry into the reason for his dismissal stating “we failed to make timely efforts to maintain the ascendancy on the Pamlico Sound, and thus admitted Burnside’s fleet without a contest; we failed to put a proper force on Roanoke Island, and thus lost the key to our interior coast; and we failed to furnish General Branch with a reasonable force, and thus lost the important town of New Berne. What I claim is that these failures do not by right rest with me.” When for several months no new command was offered him, Gatlin resigned his Confederate commission on September 8, 186 and campaigned for the post of North Carolina Adjutant and Quartermaster General. Thanks in part to recommendations from former governor William A. Graham and University of North Carolina President David L. Swain, Governor Vance appointed Gatlin to that post in August 186. As Adjutant General, Gatlin reorganized the North Carolina militia and home guards and managed all statewide provisioning and procurement. Gatlin served as the State’s Adjutant General until the end of the war in April 1865 and is generally acknowledged to have excelled in that role. Initially refused Presidential pardon, Gatlin doggedly petitioned President Johnson who finally pardoned him in 1867. Still smarting from the press’ poor treatment of him after the Battle of New Bern, Gatlin and his family removed after the war to his wife’s family home near Fort Smith, Arkansas. Following years of farming and retirement, “The General” as he was known in Fort Smith, died at age 87 on September 8, 186. A tall granite obelisk emblazoned with crossed sabers marks his gravesite in the Fort Smith National Cemetery.

Richard Caswell Gatlin represented North Carolina admirably during his distinguished military career, and his activities during the Civil War are of statewide historical significance. During much of the Civil War he was the highest-ranking officer in the state; during his command Eastern North Carolina was neutralized and the remainder of the state forced to stay on constant alert for attack from the east; and during his term as Adjutant General North Carolina became the chief supplier of provisions and clothing to the Confederacy. Though his career separated him from North Carolina for much of his adult life, Gatlin’s loyalties brought him back to his North Carolina home in its time of need. Remarkably, his contributions to the State’s history remain generally unrecognized.

1 Richard Caswell Gatlin Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Richard Caswell Will

UNC Alumni; “The Peebles House” by Jerry Cross, 10

4 Richard Caswell Gatlin Papers

5 Ibid

6 Ibid

7 Ibid

8 NC State Adjutant Generals Papers, NC Division of Archives and History

Official Records of the War of Rebellion Vol LI

10 Ibid

11 Raleigh Register March 5, 186

1 Richard Caswell Gatlin Papers

1 Official Records Vol LI

14 Ibid

15 Ibid

16 Confederate Veterans Magazine, 187

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