Captain Lenoir at Cedar Mountain and Ox Hill — North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial


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Captain Lenoir at Cedar Mountain and Ox Hill:

(from “At War: Battlegrounds and the Homefront”)

“[On July 23, 1862, Walter W. Lenoir of Caldwell county found] he had been elected and appointed first Lieutenant of Company A in the 37th North Carolina regiment. On the way to Richmond, Walter learned that the
captain of Company A had resigned on account of bad health, and he had been promoted to take the captain’s place. The news left him with a heavy sense of responsibility, for he was now asked to command
battle-hardened veterans.

Walter’s regiment had been in camp near Gordonsville [Virginia] for only a few days when it received marching orders on August 6. [Despite stomach problems]…he found himself relishing the nightly fare of dry army crackers, cakes of flour heated on strips of wood over an open fire, badly cooked beef roasted on sticks, and raw bacon.

After a few days he and his men were filthy and covered with body lice, an indignity Walter blamed on the abandoned Yankee knapsacks they found on the outskirts of Richmond. Since learning that he would be serving in General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps, Walter had always expected to be sent “to some place where there is good work to be done.” That place was Cedar Mountain.

Walter’s company had about an hour to rest before it was thrown into the battle to fill the gap in the Confederate lines. The thought of dying, but not of being wounded, ran through his mind. Most of his men, he observed, became serious as they awaited battle, yet once in action they seemed to possess an amazing ability to cast aside their fear of death and face with cool indifference the awful sights and sounds that would envelop them.

The battle enveloped Walter in a bedlam of noise and confusion as the retreating Virginians swarmed through the Confederate lines, separating him from some of the men in his company …[but able to keep] the remnant
of his company moving forward only by constant effort.  After repulsing a Union cavalry charge (“in almost an instant eight or ten dead horses were piled in the road”), the Confederates charged…across the cornfield
to attack the fleeing Yankees, but they quickly fell back to a safe position.

After praising his men for their bravery and checking on casualties and those present for duty, Walter joined other Confederates in roaming over the battlefield. The Yankees had been badly bloodied; Walter stepped
over the bodies of at least six or eight of their dead. Yet no one had been killed or wounded in Walter’s company and casualties in his regiment were very light. He could find no explanation for the contrast “except that our God in whom we trust favored our righteous cause.”

[Resting on a slight ridge after the Ox Hill engagement of August 31, Walter] felt an “awful pain” in his right leg. A minie ball had ripped through it about halfway between his knee and foot, smashing both bones.  No sooner had he told [Captain] Morris that he thought his leg had been broken when a second ball, perhaps skipping up from the ground, laid bare the shinbone in the same leg and took off his right toe.

Disabled and fearing that he would bleed to death from a severed artery, he began to drag himself toward the rear…[and] Exhausted after crawling for about fifteen feet, he collapsed in a small clearing by the road. As
sand was thrown into his face by minie balls striking the ground near his head and Yankee artillery shells exploded all around him, he realized he was in a more exposed position than the fence he had just left. He lay hopeless, waiting to die.

Looking back, Walter marveled at how calm and resigned he had felt. What sustained him was faith in the God he never had acknowledged in a public confession of faith. He felt that he was “in the hands of a good and
merciful God and that He would do with me what was right.”

(The Making of a Confederate, Walter Lenoir’s Civil War, William L. Barney, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 77-88)