Thin Grey Line of North Carolinians
The “Confederate Greys” of Duplin County, originally students of Captain Claudius B. Denson’s Franklin Military Institute near Faison, North Carolina and commanded by him, was mustered into the 20th North Carolina Regiment in 1861 as Company E. As part of the 20th Regiment, its commanders then were Col. Alfred Iverson and Lt. Col. Frank J. Faison, the latter killed at Cold Harbor; the regiment was later commanded by Col. Thomas F. Toon of Columbus County.
Thin Grey Line of North Carolinians
“About the middle of June, 1864, Gen. [Jubal] Early was detached from Gen. Lee’s army, and sent on the famous Early and Sheridan Valley Campaign. The company was a part of Gen. Early’s troops that was at Harper’s Ferry on July 4, 1864, and captured and enjoyed the Federal’s Fourth of July dinner.
From there across the Potomac to Williamsport into Maryland for the third time, and assisted in defeating Gen. Lew Wallace at Monocacy Bridge, then on towards Washington City near enough to see the dome of the capitol, thence back across the Potomac river into the valley, and participated in the battles of Winchester, Strawsburg, Cedar Mountain and other battles of that noted campaign.
The company was part of the “thin line” of North Carolina moving off in retreat that Gen Bradley T. Johnson saw at Winchester on the 19th of September, 1864, and went to its assistance. He gives a thrilling account of what he witnessed:
“There was not a fence, nor a house, nor a bush, nor a tree to obscure the view. Away off, more than two miles, we could see the crest of the hill covered with thousands of Yankee cavalry, and five hundred yards in front of them was a thin grey line moving off in retreat, solidly and with perfect coolness and self-possession. As soon as I got to realize what was going on, I quickened our gait and when within a mile broke into a gallop. The scene was plain as day. A regiment of cavalry would deploy into line, their bugles would sound a charge, and they would swoop down on the thin grey line of North Carolinians.
The instant the Yankee bugles wound sound, North Carolina would halt, face to the rear rank, wait until the horse got within one hundred yards and then fire as deliberately and cooly as firing volleys on parade drill.
The cavalry would break and scamper back and North Carolina would “about face” and continue her march in retreat as solemnly, stubbornly and with as much dignity and discipline as if marching in review. But we got there just in time. Cavalry aids the Tar Heels.
Certainly half a dozen charges had been made at this thin grey line in retreat, and each and every time the charging squadrons had been driven back, when the enemy sent his line with a rush at the Brigade of Tar Heels and one squadron overlapped the infantry line and was just passing it as we got up.
In another minute they would have been behind the lines, sobering the men from the rear, while they were held by the fight in front; but we struck a headlong strain and went through the Yankees by the flank of North Carolina, and carried their adversaries back to the crest of the hill, back through the guns of their battery, clear back to the infantry lines.
In a moment they were charging us in front and on both flanks and back we went in a hurry, but the thin grey line of old North Carolina was safe. They had gotten back to the rest of the infantry and formed a line at right angles to the pike west of Winchester.”
(Flashes of Duplin’s History and Government, Faison Wells McGowen & Pearl Canady McGowen, editors, 1971, pp. 230-231)
North Carolina’s War Between the States Sesquicentennial
“The Official Website of the North Carolina war Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission”