Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Who Was Richard Caswell Gatlin?

Richard Caswell Gatlin was a Confederate Brigadier General noted for commanding the Confederacy's North Carolina Department from August 19, 1861 to March 15, 1862. Major Gatlin resigned a laudable 29-year army career on the day North Carolina seceded from the Union, May 20, 1861, to serve his home state as a militia general. When the Confederacy took responsibility for North Carolina's military defense in August 1861, Gatlin became a brigadier general in the Provisional Confederate Army and assumed command of the newly formed North Carolina Department. Despite planning a solid strategy and enlisting the aid of Generals J. R. Anderson, D. H. Hill, and Lawrence O'Bryan Branch, Gatlin was unsuccessful in garnering from the Confederate War Department enough resources to ward off a Union invasion and occupation of the North Carolina coast. Union attacks on Hatteras Island in August 1861, Roanoke Island in February 1862, and New Bern in March 1862 resulted in Gatlin's dismissal from command. Eventually, Gatlin was absolved from blame for the Union occupation and he went on to serve as North Carolina's Adjutant General under Governor Vance from August 1863 until the end of the war. Gatlin, a grandson of North Carolina's first governor, Richard Caswell. was born January 18, 1809 at the Red House Plantation in Lenoir County, NC, near the town of Kinston, to John Gatlin and Susannah Caswell Gatlin. After the war, he retired to his wife's family farm in Fort Smith, Arkansas where he had commanded an army post in the 1850s. He died at age 87 in Mount Nebo, AR on September 8, 1896 and is buried at the Fort Smith National Cemetery beside his two wives and two of his children.

Gatlin is one of the unheralded Confederate generals and 19th century stories. Besides being the first Lenoir County native to graduate from West Point (1832), he, with the US Army, helped open the American west, and he is the only Confederate general from Kinston and Lenoir County. A privately funded commemorative highway marker erected at the Kinston/ Lenoir County Visitor Center in 2014 and an exhibit of some of Gatlin's possessions, soon to be displayed at the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center in Kinston, indicate a growing recognition for his place in history. My new book, Richard Gatlin and the Confederate Defense of Eastern North Carolina, is essentially a Gatlin biography covering his early days in Kinston, to his army life in the wilds of America, to his Civil War experience, to his death in Forth Smith. If you read it, I think you will find Gatlin to be quite a likeable fellow and a man for his times.

Next time we'll talk about the many tragedies in Gatlin's life.

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