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Friday, March 20, 2015

John Peebles Whittenton, a Confederate Soldier

John Peebles Whittenton, who had been a teacher, served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War in Company C of the 31st Infantry of North Carolina, under Captain Andrew W. Betts. He volunteered in Wake County on October 4, 1861 at the age of 24. They went out to the coast in December 1861 and defended Roanoke Island. In February when half the force was sick, the Union attacked the island forts by sea and ultimately captured the entire island. All the captured Confederate soldiers were paroled according to the custom of the early part of the war—they gave their word not to take up arms until an exchange of prisoners was effected. The following September, the North Carolina 31st regiment was reorganized at Raleigh, Wake County.

In the interim, John P was in the village of Bartlesville near Wilmington, North Carolina when he was hospitalized August 10, 1862, and treated for gonorrhÅ“a. Venereal diseases were the bane of military organizations worldwide. There would be prostitutes in the cities, and there were women called “camp followers” on both sides who found a living in following military units informally and exchanging sexual services for food and/or money. In the early days of the war, the Confederate soldiers would have had enough money and food for camp followers. Later in the War, the soldiers were suffering extreme privations themselves; the women went elsewhere. In those days there were no antibiotic cures for venereal diseases; symptoms could be treated to make them subside though. Probably John P had been enduring the disease a while, because the treatment, which would have been horribly painful, consisted of injections of silver nitrate into the urethra every hour for several days. Twelve days later, on August 22, he began to be treated for cholera morbus, the non-epidemic form of the severe gastro-intestinal illness, characterized by vomiting and diarrhÅ“a. The common treatment in those days was a dose of calomel, which sometimes had the unfortunate side effects of loosening the teeth, making the hair fall out, and destroying gums and intestines, i.e., mercury poisoning. But somehow he recovered and rejoined his unit.

Apparently John P was not a model soldier, for on September 15, 1862, he was reduced from the rank of Corporal back to a Private as Company C was reorganized under Captain WJ Long.

His company and the rest of the regiment went to Kinston in December 1862 and participated in tactical movements near New Bern. Then they marched to Wilmington on the south coast and fought on December 16th in the Battle of White Hall on the Neuse River. From there they moved to Charleston, South Carolina and were successful at repelling enemy actions at James Island, on the seaward side of Charleston, for a time. But sickness was rampant on the Island, so they were moved inland. They were ordered to Nashville and got up the coast as far as Wilmington when the order was countermanded and they were sent back to the vicinity of Charleston. There they were in a bloody battle when the Union attacked Battery Wagner on 18 July 1862, endeavoring to capture the harbor and then Charleston itself. The Confederates, with only 1600 men, successfully defended the Battery from the assault by 9000 Union troops.

The next winter, 1863, the 31st Regiment was ordered to Virginia and joined to General RF Hoke’s division near Petersburg. They spent most of 1863 at Ivor Station, midway between Petersburg and Chesapeake. In September 1863 John P Whittenton came down sick and had to go home for 30 days. He was granted $9.90 for rations and returned to his company October 14, 1863. We have no record of what specific illness gave him this furlough. His regiment was stationed on the James River for part of the time, evidently near its mouth when the following episode occurred:
During our stay there the enemy ascended with the steamer Smith Briggs up to Smithfield, Isle-of-Wight County, Virginia, and landed a marauding expedition, composed of 150 infantry, 25 cavalry and two mountain howitzers. Four companies of the Thirty-first Regiment, commanded by Captain Pipkin, one section of Sturtevant’s Battery, and one squadron of cavalry went in pursuit of the enemy, arriving just in time to head them off from the steamer, which was waiting for them. We had a sharp fight through the woods and through the streets of the town. The enemy were in a full run for their boat, but too late. Captain Sturtevant, by a well directed shot (the second shot from one of his pieces) sent a round shot through the steamer’s steam chest, which disabled her, and at once the white flag was run up by the steamer and the entire expedition captured and the steamer (General Butler’s flagship) was burned. It was told us by the prisoners we took that only one man escaped, and that was Captain Lee, the com- mander of the expedition. He swam to the marsh and secreted himself, thus making his escape (it was said with a bullet wound in his arm). This was the most complete victory of its size and importance that ever crowned the efforts of any troops. [Bryan, page 515]

At the end of 1863, John P and his regiment were part of Clingman’s Brigade, stationed at Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, on the coast outside Charleston. In May 1864 the 31st Regiment experienced day-and-night incessant fighting until the 31st of that month when they were sent on the railroad cars to Cold Harbor, Virginia, and participated in that horribly bloody battle, which lasted from May 31 – June 12, 1864. They were kept in the vicinity of Petersburg from that time, fighting battle after battle in the Seige of Petersburg. General Robert E. Lee was desperately trying to save the Southern capitol, Richmond, Virginia; Petersburg, just south of Richmond, was the main supply hub for Lee’s army, so that it was General Ulysses S Grant’s immediate target.

It was October 2, 1864, the last day of the Battle of Peebles’ Farm, that John Peebles Whittenton was admitted to Receiving and Wayside Hospital, or General Hospital No. 9, Richmond, Virginia. Two days later he was moved to Winder Hospital at Richmond, suffering from v.s. in his right hip, short for vulnus sclopeticum, meaning gunshot wound. He died on October 19, 1864.


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