Thursday, May 10, 2007

Shirley Mystery Solved

I was delighted this morning to have a visit from Frank Carpenter, one of the tour guides at Shirley Plantation, who was assisting me in solving a small mystery there from my reading (found here). He’d lost my business card and actually went to the trouble of hunting down my office.

He informed me that the wounded Confederate officer encountered at Shirley by Lieutenants Sanford and Sumner was one of Hill Carter’s sons, Bernard Hill (“Hilly”) Carter, Jr. According to family history, he’d been wounded during the battle of Gaines’ Mill. My curiosity piqued, I sat down and did a little research on Mr. Carter.

Bernard Hill Carter, Jr. initially studied at Eastern View in Fauquier County under Robert L. Randolph, then attended the Episcopal High School of Virginia. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1855. He attended the Theological Seminary of Virginia, but did not complete his studies there.

Hilly enlisted in the Charles City Troop or Charles City Light Dragoons as they were also known, as a private on May 18, 1861 at Charles City Court House. This troop later became Company D, 3rd Virginia Cavalry. His occupation, unsurprisingly enough, is listed as farmer, and he was 25 at the time of his enlistment. In July he was promoted to Corporal, and in January 1862 to Second Lieutenant.

After his encounter with Sanford, Carter was severely wounded and captured in a skirmish at Boonsboro, Maryland on September 15, 1862. His regiment, together with the 4th and 9th Virginia Cavalry, served as the rearguard during the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat from South Mountain. They were closely pressed 8th Illinois Cavalry, and there was fighting in the streets of the village. He was paroled on October 3rd and exchanged November 2nd of the same year.

Carter was very active during the battle of Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863, where his horse was killed during the battle. According to Fitz Lee’s report in the OR, “First Lieut. [Bernard] Hill Carter, jr., was very conspicuous in his behavior.” (OR, Ser I, Vol 25, pt 1, pg 61). JEB Stuart’s official report on the battle adds that carter’s “individual prowess attracted my personal attention and remarks.” (Ibid, pg 59).

Unfortunately, Carter didn’t survive the war. He was killed only a month and half later, during the battle of Chancellorsville. Lieut. Col. William R. Carter of the 3rd Virginia recorded in his diary for May 2nd, “Lt. B. Hill Carter, company D, was wounded yesterday near Loar church on the turnpike & died today.” (Carter, Sabres, Saddles and Spurs, pg 60). The regiment was detailed on May 1st to screen the front and both flanks of Anderson’s division.

After Carter’s death, Robert E. Lee wrote a letter offering sympathy to his father. I hope to have a copy of this sometime next week. And I’ll definitely have to try to find Loar church on my next visit to Chancellorsville.

It’s nice to actually get to the bottom of one of these little mysteries. Many thanks again to Frank Carpenter for all of his help!


Mike Burleson said...

Here's a civil war cavalry question:

What was the name of the Western Theater battle which is called the largest cavalry charge of the war? I saw a documentary on the History Channel once, and can't recall the name. I'm thinking Confed General Sterling Price participated but not sure.

Don said...

Hmm, excellent question, Mike. I'm going to have to research that one, I'm really not sure. Thanks for the question, and once I figure it out I'll be sure to post it if no one reads this who already knows....