JOHN CALVIN USSERY IN THE CONFEDERATE ARMY
John Ussery has generously contributed his research on the
23rd North Carolina Infantry; The Pee Dee Guards. His 2nd Great Grandfather, John Calvin Ussery, was a
member of that unit for the entire course of the Civil War. The information contains a transcript of a
letter written home by him on May 18, 1963 in which a number of names of Richmond County residents are
mentioned. Perhaps this will assist others in their research. Please direct any questions or comments to John.
Thanks, Myrtle Bridges
December 09, 2002
John Calvin Ussery [9/22/1838 - 10/28/1912], son of William Dorsey and Sarah Curtis Everett Ussery,
enlisted in "D" Company of the 23rd NC Infantry - "The Pee Dee Guards" on May 30, 1861 as a Corporal.
Military records show he was reduced in rank to Private on May 10, 1862, but no reason for this has been found.
John was captured at the Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia on May 31, 1862 and was taken to Fort Monroe,
Virginia. He was transferred from Fort Monroe to Fort Delaware, Delaware on June 5, 1962. He was paroled
from Fort Delaware on October 5, 1862 and exchanged on October 20, 1862. During this confinement, John had
been reported as killed in action and his family was notified of his death. The following is an excerpt
from the book "History of the Pee Dee Guards" by H. C. Wall: "Among the severely wounded were: Benson
Ledbetter, Steve Webb, and Ed Moorman, Wesley Dawkins, John Covington, Mike Scott, Charles Powell and
Angus Morrison were wounded - not badly. Among the captured were Parks Chappell and John Ussery. After
the battle John Ussery was numbered among the dead, and such information communicated to his friends at
home, the mistake arising from the statement of some one that his body had been seen lying on the field;
so that a few weeks afterwards John, having been released from prison, made his appearance in camp again,
great was the trepidation of his friends who could hardly now believe that is was not a ghost but the
Records show John was promoted to Sergeant Major and transferred to the field staff of "D" Company on
January 1, 1864.
During the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 12, 1864, John was wounded in the hip. He was reported
as absent due to his wounds until December of 1864.
John was present as the surrender of Lee at the Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. After taking the oath of
allegiance, he, as other Confederate soldiers where allowed to go home. With the train system destroyed
and having no horses for transportation, he and others were left to walk home. As John was walking back
through Virginia, he came upon a farmer. While visiting with the farmer, they both discovered that they
were both Masons. The farmer then gave John a mule which John rode back to Richmond County, North Carolina.
He eventually settled in the Black Jack District of Richmond County where he farmed and also served as a
Justice of the Peace.
The following letter was sent to John's parents, notifying him of his death, when he had in fact, been
taken prisoner of war. My research has not determined how the family was finally notified that he was alive:
"Killed on the 31st day of May, 1862 in the battle of the Chickahominy, John Calvin Ussery and William H.
McKeithan, members of Company "D". 23rd Regiment, North Carolina troops. Resolved that in their
deaths, two of our brothers in arms have been taken from our ranks, whose love for their native South and
devotion to her cause prompted them to step forth among the first to respond to her call for aid in this great
struggle and from that period up to the hour of their deaths. There were none more true, none more dauntless
than they. They were ever ready and willing to perform all their duties in camp, and when the hour came to meet
the enemy face to face in deadly conflict, they were to be seen in the front ranks, gallantly struggling for
independence, until they fell with many kindred spirits, a sacrifice to liberty".
Resolved that with their many noble acts the memory of their many good and amiable qualities as friends and
companions - which had won the esteem of all who knew them, will be ever cherished by their friends and
Crusaders and while we are sadly grieved to part with them, we see and acknowledge the workings of our
omnipotent God and bow submissively to His will.
Resolved that we extend our sympathies to their grief stricken and bereaved parents and relations, whose
fond hopes and bright aspirations for the future have been so suddenly crushed in this their time of sorrow.
Resolved that a copy of these resolutions be sent to the parents of each and to the Fayetteville Observer
and North Carolina Presbyterian with a request that they be published.
C.P. Powell, Chairman
COMMITTEE John W. Covington John W. Garrett John G. McKeithan Jasham Russ
L. T. Everett
Camp near Richmond, Virginia June 22, 1862
John wrote a letter home to his father on May 18, 1863. This letter contains the names of a number of
Richmond County residents who were also serving in the Pee Dee Guards.
Camp 23rd, N.C. Troop
Near Guiniay, Station, Va.
Friday, May 8th, 1863
I take this first opportunity of writing to you since the close of the last great battle on the
Rappahannock, which closed on Wednesday morning, by retreat of the enemy across the river which
was commenced the preceding day.
I have very much to be thankful for - having gone through the heaviest of every fight in which our
wing of the army was engaged with - not being touched, not even so much as by a spint ball, and stood
the hard marching, fatigue and exposure without any serious inconvenience. My only damage is a slight
lameness in my left ankle caused by my shoe heel wearing off on the outside, which is now nearly well.
I am very sorry that I Can't say so much for all the company - three of them fell on the battlefield,
among them one of my best friends, Lieutenant Knight, than whom no better or cleverer man ever gave his
life to his country's cause. Kenneth McKenzie and Malcolm Morrison also fell - martyrs to the cause;
many others have been wounded, how many is not certainly known yet as some have not been seen or heard
from since last Sunday. So far three are known to have been killed; nine wounded, all living yet, and
four missing. The missing are Charley Smith, Tom Smith, Donohoe, Bryant, and Walker, a conscript. The
two Smiths are supposed to have been taken prisoners; Bryant and' Donohoe now - Bryant has just come in
and brings us news of Donohoe too. They will both be court-martialed. Of all the wounded none are seriously
hurt except Everender McDonald and his wounds are feared dangerous, they are in the side and arm. Three
conscripts are also severely wounded; two of them probably mortally. The slightly wounded are Bob Webb,
Bill Covington and Hugh McLean, all very slightly. I forgot to mention Sip Hart; he is wounded too, how
I don't know. The conscripts generally fought splendidly at which I was, I acknowledge, somewhat surprised.
The regiment did even better than before and has added fresh Laurels to it's already glorious wreath, and
now has a reputation second to none in Jackson's Corps, which everyone knows is the best in the service.
I suppose you will have heard of the severe wounds "Old Stonewall" received before this reaches you, and
I am sorry that I shall have to confirm it. He has lost one arm in consequence of a wound by a minie ball,
near the elbow. I hope that he may soon recover.
I will try and give you an account of the battles on the left wing, where we were engaged, of the fighting
on the right I have learned but little, although we came directly through the field in returning to camp.
I have made a small map of the country over which the two armies fought which may probably give you a better
idea of the situation you gather from the newspapers.
On Wednesday morning the 29th of April, we were ordered to march to Hamilton's Crossing, a point on the
rail-road four miles below Fredericksburg where the wagon road from Port Royal crosses the rail-road. The
enemy had crossed the river in considerable force there and were forming in front of the fortifications
not more than two miles if so much from us as we lay behind the fortifications on the hillside. We could
plainly see them coming down to the river on the opposite side, and crossing through after getting over,
they were hid by the high bank near the river. We commenced the fight by shelling their adjoining column
on the other side of the river which confused them terribly. They replied to our battery and for a few hours
we had quite a warm time. We remained there quietly until Thursday morning, three o'clock when we were
hurriedly roused and ordered to prepare for a march - in a few minutes we were moving up the river leaving
Fredericksburg three miles to our right and striking the plank road that leads from that place in Orange
County North Carolina. At that point about four miles from Fredericksburg we found that troops had gone
before us a formed a line of battle crossing the plank road and extending to the right and resting on the
river, and were fortifying. Our column pushed up the road, across the line of battle for the purpose of
finding out the position of the enemy, I suppose, and to deceive him too - lead him to expect the attack
from that quarter.
We found the enemy on both sides of the plank and they gave back on our approach to the north or river side
of the road, fighting as they want, but offering no serious resistance to our advance, evidently wishing
to draw us on until we reached a point, about four miles this side of Chancellorsville and six above
Fredericksburg, when they seemed determined to stand, but they were driven before us after hard fighting
for two miles and a half to a dirt road, called the "Nine Road" breaks off to the left going in the direction
of Gordonsville, about a mile further a plank road breaks off to the left too, going to Gordonsville also,
the main plank keeping directly up the river. We halted and rested for the night, when the mine road turns
off. Next morning, we were up and moving early (Iverson's Brigade) our regiment in advance, marching in
columns of fours. General Iversen in the lead with his glass looking ahead as he went. We got on quietly
enough until we got to where the plank road turns off to the left, where the main plank road inclines to
the right. The enemy had planted a battery right in the form which was entirely concealed from sight by
the thick growth with which the whole country is covered. We got in less then one hundred yards of the
battery before we thought of danger. The alarm was given by the pickets who fired into us and then ran
for their lives. I was marching with my head down, not thinking of danger when I heard the first gun fired
I was considerably startled, as was everybody else. I looked ahead and saw their pickets in the edge of
the woods, firing. They fired but one volley, but by some means one gun went off before the rest, which
gave us the alarm, and there was scarcely a moment between the first gun and the volley, every man was
flat on his belly so that they overshot us and hurt no one. Every man seemed instinctively to understand
the trap they were in and to be aware of our great danger, so as soon as the volley of musketry ceased we
jumped out of the road into the woods to get shelter of the timber; when the men all fell in the road I came upon my knees only for I saw the Yankees plainly
enough and intended having shot at them, but I had taken the cap off the night before and put a piece of
cork on its place to keep the rain from wetting it, as a light shower was falling. This prevented my getting
a chance at them for before I could cap my gun, the man in front of me had risen from the ground and was
in the way. I then followed suit and made for the woods with the rest of them. And 'twas well that we got
there as soon as we did for in a moment the battery opened down the road with grape and canister.
You may guess that we got back from there in quick time. Fortunately we lost but five men in the regiment-six
I should have said, for there was one from our company-not wounded, but mortally scared, Bryant went rapidly
to the rear and was heard no more of until all of the fighting was over.
The cause of such a dangerous move was the failure of a courier to inform General Iversen of the position
of our pickets, and he crossed the lines unawares.
I suppose the Yanks were as greatly surprised as we, and knew not what to do. If they had fired into at
first with grape and canisters while we were in the road the slaughter would have been terrible for the
road was full of men for at least a half mile. After we got behind our picket line we were engaged in
skirmishing until nine or ten o'clock, when we moved back to where the mine road breaks off which we took,
leaving our skirmishes in the road to keep up appearances while we moved rapidly up the road some ten or
twelve miles until we came to a road crossing ours at nearly a right angle and running directly to some
of the fords on the river. This we took and pushed our column forward until we came almost to the river,
then we halted. You can tell by examining the map that by this move we had flanked him on his right for
which he was unprepared, in fact taken completely by surprise.
I will try to explain to you the position of the two armies. I don't know whether or not I can make
it intelligible to you or not, but with the aid of the map I will try.
The river above Fredericksburg makes a considerable bend for some fifteen or twenty miles and along in
this bend were the fords at which Hooker crossed his troops, this was about ten miles above the city and
just in the rear of Chancellorsville, a point on the Orange road, where Hooker and his headquarters. He
chose an admirable place for throwing his troops across as his batteries on the other side completely
protected him in coming over, and would likewise cover his retreat if it should become necessary. After
crossing he formed two fronts, one facing towards Fredericksburg and the other along the side plank road
and fortified himself very strongly. His object was to move down the river on Lee's left flank and force
him out of his entrenchments, expecting him to move up and then meet him on the line of the plank. That
would then leave the force which had crossed the river below Fredericksburg no obstacle to an advance which
they would have done and attacked Lee in the rear. That crossing was not a feint as some supposed and as
Hooker had wished Lee to believe, but a real move. Lee pretended to take Hooker's bait, but kept his eyes
wide open all the while so he moved a portion of his forces up the river to check the enemy from coming
any lower; another part he sent around to fall upon his flank and make the attack, remaining force sufficient
at and below the city to prevent an advance in that quarter. The plan was for Jackson to gain his position
on Hooker's right by twelve o'clock Saturday and commence the attack at ten o'clock, but something delayed
us and the attack was not made until sometime between three and four o'clock. Our Brigade was to the extreme
left. We met the enemy after advancing a half or three-quarters of a mile and attacked him vigorously soon
after driving him from every position. Then commenced the second edition of the Bull Run races - I tell you,
we carried them two miles and half at 2.40 speed, and would believe, have completely routed the whole army
if we had made the attack three hours sooner. Darkness was all that saved them.
Next morning the fight renewed, the enemy standing much firmer than the night before, though we continued
to drive them. At about nine o'clock they fell back upon a very strong position, and there I saw I reckon
the hardest fight of the war took place. This regiment never saw anything equal to it, the enemy flanked
this regiment completely, and cut us up terribly. I never saw it until they were within thirty yards of me
and the only chance to escape was running down to the right between their line. Nearly everybody was gone:
only one of by company was left. I turned to him and told him that we must try to get away from there, which
we were fortunate to do - how, I can't see, for it looked like nothing human could come through such a shower
and come out unhurt. The enemy than flanked our line both on the right and left, on the right the whole body
of flankers were captured, on the left our reserves came up just at the right time and cut them all to
pieces, in fact, I have never seen such a slaughter in all my life. It looked like a regiment had been
formed and the cannon placed at one end ads fired down the line, killing every man. Twas then upon that
hill that our regiment was cut up so badly every man in our company that is hurt got it there except one.
Kenneth McKenzie fell by my side; I was looking at him when he was struck - he never spoke at all.
We were never so closely engaged after that fight, though we moved forward from that evening under a
very heavy fire of shell and took position along the plank road when we put up fortifications and remained
until Wednesday morning.
I never saw shot and shell rain down so thick in my life as they did all through Saturday and Saturday
night, Sunday and part of Monday, for the Yanks shelled us in our breast-works.
On Sunday evening the plank road was open all the way down to Fredericksburg, the enemy between it and
the river, and on Wednesday morning our luck disappeared. Our batteries shelled the house in which Hooker
had his headquarters, and burned it, hurting him, so one of the surgeons told us.
I received a letter from Martha last night. I will answer hers soon. You must write soon. Give my love to all.
I remain as ever Your affectionately,
John C. Ussery
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