56th North Carolina Infantry Regiment

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56th North Carolina Infantry Regiment

Across the Dark River: The Odyssey of the 56th N.C. Infantry in the American Civil War, by Clyde H. Ray

The 56th N.C. Infantry was organized in the second year of the war. Composed of ten companies, it was mustered into the Confederate army in August, 1862. The regiment was raised in about twelve counties in North Carolina: Henderson, Rutherford, Wilkes, Pasquotank, Cumberland, Orange, Cleveland, Alexander, Iredell, Craven, Caswell, and Northampton. These counties extend from the mountains to the sea in North Carolina and the state as a whole was well represented. Its men came from every station of life.

 

At first, the regiment was assigned to a ceaseless round of guard duty at different garrison posts around the state. When they did hear the sound of enemy guns, they were always in a rear area, adding support to other units at the front.

 

But in 1863, the regiment at last saw action near Dover, North Carolina. The results were disastrous. In two battles just east of Kinston, the regiment was routed and it lost half of its men. It became a laughing stock among other units and its morale plummeted.

 

The 56th was gradually built back up to strength, but it was kept far to the rear for the rest of 1863, assigned the duty of rounding up conscripts and impressing supplies from the civilian population. The worse elements in its ranks came to the fore during this dark period and the regiment was relieved from this duty when it became evident that it was exceeding its orders. Governor Vance, in fact, threatened to call out the militia to expel them from the state!

 

But in 1864, things began to change. As the Confederacy weakened after Gettysburg and Vicksburg, it was no longer possible to keep unused manpower in the rear area. At the battle of Plymouth, North Carolina in April 1864, the 56th led a frontal assault on a heavily defended Union garrison and carried it -- one of the few victories the South could celebrate in 1864. Within two weeks, the regiment was on its way to Virginia.

 

The 56th was one of a few Confederate regiments that, in a three day and night battle, held Petersburg, Virginia against Grant's Army of the Potomac at bay until Lee could rush the Army of Northern Virginia to its assistance. The regiment played an important part in all the battles in the Richmond-Petersburg area until the end of the war. These included The Crater, Globe Tavern, Fort Stedman, Five Forks, and Sailor's Creek. And it was represented by a handful of men at Appomattox Court House.

 

During the last months of the war, the regiment was virtually annihilated in the final battles around Petersburg and Richmond. But in its final destruction, it found itself as a military unit -- its reason to be, as well as giving unexpectedly a final, more lasting message to modern America. And, as an added bonus, the novel describes these events that actually happened in realistic detail.

A major theme of the novel is the regiment s search for some kind of redemption or atonement. Ray shows that war brings out the worse, as well as the best in people. Atrocities were committed on both sides, but Ray demonstrates any wrong-doing is usually paid for in some way or another. He feels that the regiment, as with any military unit, was aware of right and wrong action and their the latter must be corrected in some way, at some time.

 

But even more, the final purpose of any action; the reason why such things as war and suffering must be experienced and endured, are questions that not only every soldier, but every citizen of the United States, then and since, have tried to answer. Why was all the devastation and loss of life in such a terrible event as the American Civil War necessary?

 

Ray’s work, ACROSS THE DARK RIVER, provides some interesting answers to these questions and does so in the words of participants themselves. Ray points out that "In a very real sense, the war is not over. Many of the issues that were first raised then have still not been settled. National unity, race relations, even the place women in professions -- every issue we have now, they had then. Achieving equality is an on-going struggle."

 

The experience of Blacks in the war is also covered, not only in the Union Army, but also in the Confederate Army. Ray demonstrates sensitivity and pride in the contributions of Black Americans on both sides of the conflict. One of the novel's most reassuring qualities is the honest, but positive and conciliatory light in which race relations in both the Old South and modern America are addressed. The novel is a superb contribution to modern historical fiction. Characters are not only historical figures, but emerge in the book as flesh-and-blood human beings caught up in the drama of the moment, The action is not only realistic and graphic, but historically accurate as well. One reviewer stated that it is the most accurate writing on the war that he has encountered, adding it appears to have been written by a veteran of the war. Written in the present tense, the reader has the unique experience of knowing almost at first hand.

 

Ray uses the record of this unit to examine the personal experiences of historical characters in the war and the dominant issues that the war addressed and left for future generations to resolve. What I had tried to do Ray says, was to recreate a lost period of American history in the words and experiences of the men and women who lived it and to demonstrate that their experience still has relevance to the modern world. Almost every character actually existed; almost every incident in the novel actually occurred. In a very real sense, they tell the story. I was only the bearer of their ordeal.

Highly Recommended Reading: Across the Dark River: The Odyssey of the 56th N.C. Infantry in the American Civil War, by Clyde H. Ray. Review: A superior effort by Mr. Ray that takes the reader/Civil War buff to the limits -- the feeling of sadness, frustration and empathy for the members of the 56th infantry during their times of turmoil; and, then the feeling of triumph at their victories--no matter how small or great. The book is replete with data regarding the Civil War era--and just plain "fine reading." -- From the Quill, April 1998. Continued below...
The novel is ....very good at demonstrating the centrality of the war, even if only hazily remembered and barely understood, to the survivors' lives. Its effects on their postwar behavior alienated some of them from their families long after they had gone home. So Across the Dark River has important historical lessons to teach. --Appalachian Journal, Fall 1997
From the Back Cover:
Must reading for Civil War enthusiasts. A quality blend of history and fiction that makes for powerful story telling, Mr. Ray's first novel quietly roars from beginning to end. --Michael Rigsby Revere
The realism, the authenticity captivated me. Across the Dark River is authentic in its details and fascinating in its story, its war psychology, and its characterization. I recommend it highly, and especially to those interested in the details of war, history, and the growth of the United States. --John Foster West, Emeritus Professor of English, Appalachian State University
Combining the research skills of the historian and the imagination of the story teller, Clyde Ray has written an evocative Civil War novel. . . . The reader becomes engrossed in camp life, leisure pursuits, battles, and the hopes and fears of the combatants. Ray succeeds in giving the Civil War a more human face. --Max Williams, Professor of History, Western Carolina University
About the Author:
Ray, a teacher and author of several articles on Appalachian culture, lives in Sylva, North Carolina. He was born in Waynesville, North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree from Western Carolina University and a Master's degree from East Tennessee State University. He taught History, English, and Sociology in the public school system and at Southwestern Community College. He served for a number of years in an auxiliary branch of the National Guard. Across the Dark River represents Ray's lifelong interest in the American Civil War and it took him well over ten years to research and write the book. It is Ray's first novel.

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Recommended Reading: The Civil War in North Carolina: Soldiers' and Civilians' Letters and Diaries, 1861-1865. Volume 2: The Mountains (Civil War in North Carolina) (Hardcover). Description: As with The Civil War in North Carolina: Soldiers' and Civilians' Letters and Diaries, 1861-1865. Vol. 1: The Piedmont, this work presents letters and diary entries (and a few other documents) that tell the experiences of soldiers and civilians from the mountain counties of North Carolinaduring the Civil War. The counties included are Alleghany, Ashe, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Haywood, HendersonJackson, McDowell,MaconMadison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Surry, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey. The book is arranged chronologically, 1861 through 1865. Before each letter or diary entry, background information is provided about the writer. Continued below...

The Civil War in North Carolina: Soldiers' and Civilians' Letters and Diaries, 1861-1865 (Volume 2): The Mountains, is the soldier's story. It is an A-to-Z compilation of what the "rank and file soldier" experienced during the American Civil War. TheWestern North Carolina soldiers express their hearts to their loved ones and friends, thus allowing the reader the most intimate and personal view of the war. From triumph to tragedy, the "soldiers' letters" express what few authors or writers can achieve--realism. According to cartographic and demographic studies,Southern Appalachia comprised a unique indigenous people, and by isolating these rare letters it allows the reader the most detailed insight to their experiences. The soldier experienced various traumatic stressors in the conflict: such as witnessing death or dismemberment, handling dead bodies, traumatic loss of comrades, realizing imminent death, killing others and being helpless to prevent others' deaths. Plain, raw and to the point: The reader will witness the most detailed insight to the so-called American Civil War. Intimate and personal: diseases, privation, wounds, loneliness, exhaustion, heartache, and death are all explored. This book includes a lot of information about: Western North Carolina Civil War History (North Carolina mountain troops), soldiers' photos (some tintype photographs too), and rare pictures. For example, on page 143, there is a photo of Gov. Zeb Vance's brother, Robert, at Fort Delaware Prisoner of War Camp; he had been captured by Pennsylvania cavalry in East Tennessee. You may see a rare photo or letter of an ancestor. The maps, which reflect the region, have keys which place each regiment to each respective western county (where the troops were raised). The soldiers - collectively - also present a detailed North Carolina Civil War History. By reading the letters, you will easily form a timeline that is filled with first-hand facts. To be very candid, it is not only filled with primary accounts of the war, but it is one of the best books to read about the war...Creates an indispensable historical timeline of the life, times, and events of the brave men from the Old North State.


NEW! HIGHLY Recommended Viewing! The American Civil War (DVD Megaset) (2009) (A&E Television Networks-The History Channel) (14 DVDs) (1697 minutes) (28 Hours 17 Minutes + extras). Experience for yourself the historical and personal impact of the Civil War in a way that only HISTORY can present in this moving megaset™, filled with over 28 hours of American Civil War content. This MEGASET is the most comprehensive American Civil War compilation to date and is the mother of all Civil War documentaries. A multifaceted look at “The War Between the States,” this definitive collection brings the most legendary Civil War battles, and the soldiers and leaders who fought them, vividly to life. From Gettysburg and Antietam to Shiloh, and led by the likes of Sherman, McClellan, Grant, Beauregard, Lee, Davis, and Jackson, delve into the full military and political contexts of these men, their armies, and the clashes between them. Continued below...
Almost 150 years after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, the unexpected secrets and little-known stories from Civil War history are divulged with fascinating detail. Cutting-edge CGI and accurate dramatizations illustrate archival letters and original diary entries, and the country’s most renowned historians describe the less familiar incidents that add perspective and depth to the war that divided a nation. If the DVDs in this Megaset were purchased separately, it could cost hundreds of dollars. This one-of-a-kind compilation belongs on the shelf of every Civil War buff, and if you know anyone that is interested in the most costliest and bloodiest war in American history, buy this, they will love it.
THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR contains the following programs:
* The Most Daring Mission Of The Civil War
* April 1865
* Battlefield Detectives: The Civil War (3 Episodes): Antietam, Gettysburg, Shiloh
* Secret Missions Of The Civil War
* The Lost Battle Of The Civil War
* Tales Of The Gun: Guns Of The Civil War
* Eighty Acres Of Hell
* Lincoln
* Investigating History: Lincoln: Man Or Myth
* Man, Moment, Machine: Lincoln & The Flying, Spying Machine
* Conspiracy?: Lincoln Assassination
* High Tech Lincoln
* Sherman’s March
* The Hunt For John Wilkes Booth
* Civil War Combat (4 Episodes): The Hornets’ Nest At Shiloh, The Bloody Lane At Antietam, The Wheatfield At Gettysburg, The Tragedy At Cold Harbor
* Civil War Journal (8 Episodes): John Brown's War, Destiny At Fort Sumter, The Battle of 1st Bull Run, The 54th Massachusetts, West Point Classmates—Civil War Enemies, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Sherman And The March To The Sea
BONUS FEATURES:
* Full-Length Documentary “Save Our History: Sherman’s Total War Tactics”
* Behind the Scenes Featurettes for “Sherman’s March” and “Lincoln”

FIVE STARS! Recommended Reading: The Civil War: A Narrative, by Shelby Foote (3 Volumes Set) [BOX SET] (2960 pages) (9.2 pounds). Review: This beautifully written trilogy of books on the American Civil War is not only a piece of first-rate history, but also a marvelous work of literature. Shelby Foote brings a skilled novelist's narrative power to this great epic. Many know Foote for his prominent role as a commentator on Ken Burns's PBS series about the Civil War. These three books, however, are his legacy. His southern sympathies are apparent: the first volume opens by introducing Confederate President Jefferson Davis, rather than Abraham Lincoln. But they hardly get in the way of the great story Foote tells. This hefty three volume set should be on the bookshelf of any Civil War buff. --John Miller. Continued below…

Product Description:

Foote's comprehensive history of the Civil War includes three compelling volumes:Fort Sumter to Perryville, Fredericksburg to Meridian, and Red River toAppomattox. Collected together in a handsome boxed set, this is the perfect gift for any Civil War buff.

Fort Sumter to Perryville

"Here, for a certainty, is one of the great historical narratives of our century, a unique and brilliant achievement, one that must be firmly placed in the ranks of the masters." —Van Allen Bradley, Chicago Daily News

"Anyone who wants to relive the Civil War, as thousands of Americans apparently do, will go through this volume with pleasure.... Years from now, Foote's monumental narrative most likely will continue to be read and remembered as a classic of its kind." —New York Herald Tribune Book Review

Fredericksburg to Meridian

"This, then, is narrative history—a kind of history that goes back to an older literary tradition.... The writing is superb...one of the historical and literary achievements of our time." —The Washington Post Book World

"Gettysburg...is described with such meticulous attention to action, terrain, time, and the characters of the various commanders that I understand, at last, what happened in that battle.... Mr. Foote has an acute sense of the relative importance of events and a novelist's skill in directing the reader's attention to the men and the episodes that will influence the course of the whole war, without omitting items which are of momentary interest. His organization of facts could hardly be bettered." —Atlantic

Red River to Appomattox

"An unparalleled achievement, an American Iliad, a unique work uniting the scholarship of the historian and the high readability of the first-class novelist." —Walker Percy

"I have never read a better, more vivid, more understandable account of the savage battling between Grant's and Lee's armies.... Foote stays with the human strife and suffering, and unlike most Southern commentators, he does not take sides. In objectivity, in range, in mastery of detail in beauty of language and feeling for the people involved, this work surpasses anything else on the subject.... It stands alongside the work of the best of them." —New Republic


Recommended Reading: Touring the Carolina's Civil War Sites (Touring the Backroads Series). Description: Touring the Carolina's Civil War Sites helps travelers find the Carolinas' famous Civil War battlefields, forts, and memorials, as well as the lesser skirmish sites, homes, and towns that also played a significant role in the war. The book's 19 tours, which cover the 'entire Carolinas,' combine riveting history with clear, concise directions and maps, creating a book that is as fascinating to the armchair reader as it is to the person interested in heritage travel. Below are some examples from this outstanding book:
1. Fort Fisher - the largest sea fort in the war that protected the vital town of Wilmington N.C., and the blockade runners so important for supplying Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
2. Charleston - where the whole shootin' match started.
3. Bentonville - the last large scale battle of the war.
4. Outer Banks - early Union victories here were vital to capturing many parts of Eastern North Carolina from which the Union could launch several offensives.
5. Sherman's March - the destruction of certain towns in both Carolinas (particularly South Carolina) further weakened the South's will to continue the struggle. 
I also enjoyed reading about the locations of various gravesites of Confederate generals and their Civil War service. Indeed, if not for this book, this native North Carolinian and long-time Civil War buff may never have learned of, and visited, the locations of some of the lesser-known sites other than those mentioned above. 
Johnson's writing style is smooth--without being overly simplistic--and contains several anecdotes (some humorous ones too) of the interesting events which took place during the Civil War years. Highly recommended!

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