On March 19, 1862, five days after the Union Army gained control of much of North Carolina's coastal plain with its victory in the Battle of New Bern, the Confederacy dismissed Brigadier General Richard C. Gatlin from command of the Department of North Carolina. Gatlin, ill with fever in Goldsboro, was unable to lead his troops in New Bern, leaving Brigadier General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch to suffer the battlefield loss. The local newspapers excoriated Gatlin for the loss, claiming he had neglected New Bern's defenses and his Department in general, and that he was drunk during the battle. The papers soon recanted their stories, but for some reason Gatlin never was assigned another command in the Confederate Army. After spending a full year trying to determine why the Confederate War Department, a War Department that was in desperate need for experienced military leaders, overlooked him for another command position, he gave up and resigned his commission on March 23, 1863, effective September 8, 1862. We do not know why Gatlin became persona non grata. Bad publicity may have kept him from receiving another command, he may have refused to serve in Virginia, away from his beloved North Carolina, or there may have been other reasons. We may never know, but here is Gatlin's resignation. It was accepted and made official by Special Order No. 85 from the Confederate War Department in April 1863.
Gatlin's Resignation from the Provisional Army of the CSA
The following is a true and full transcription of a photocopy of a document written by Richard Caswell Gatlin, such document on file with the National Archives. The photocopy was sent to James L. Gaddis Jr from the National Archives upon his request for military records of Richard Caswell Gatlin July 5, 2001. Transcription by James L. Gaddis Jr, January 31, 2016.
On the 19th Mar. 1862, Brig. Gen'l Gatlin was relieved from duty in the State of N. Carolina in consequence of ill health. On that day he addressed a note to the War Dep't asking an investigation into his conduct while in command of the Dep't of N.C. provided it had not met with the approval of the government, and this request was further urged in a note dated the 27th of March. The reply of Sect'y Randolph, though unsatisfactory from its neither exonerating or condemning, or promising investigation could only lead to one conclusion, viz that Gen'l Gatlin had been relieved for the reason stated in the order and from no other. Hence when he reported for duty on the 23rd of May 1862, he confidently expected to be at once assigned to a Command. This was not done however, and he continued to make the stated monthly reports until the month of September when he received Asst Adj't Gen'l Whiting's letter notifying him "that having no assignment, his appointment of Brigr Genl in the Provisional Army was vacated under the 2 par: of Genl Orders No 48." Soon after, Genl Gatlin proceeded to Richmond, and in an interview with Secty Randolph on the 24th of Sept, it was stated that the order was designed to be an exponent of the law, but if Genl Gatlin did not think that it applied to his case, he might protest, and the matter would be referred to the law Officer of the Government for his opinion.
The protest was then made, not with the vision of forcing his services upon the country, but to place himself in a position to again repeat his request, to have his conduct investigated by a proper tribunal, which could not be done so long as his appointment of Brigr Genl was not acknowledged by the Government. The investigation was the more to be desired, in as much as the Secty had stated that certain reports, rumours or allegations - not specified - prejudicial to Genl Gatlin had reached the War Dept. He had expected a speedy reply to his protest, as he did not presume but that the Secty had referred it according to promises. Up to this time however, nothing has been heard from the War Dept on the subject.
In as much as so much time has elapsed since the protest was made, that if an answer favorable to Genl Gatlin was now returned, he could hardly hope to have his conduct investigated, without which he would not willingly serve in the Army, he desires that the letter of Asst Adjt Genl Whiting be withdrawn or cancelled, and his resignation of the appointment of Brigr. Genl in the Provisional Army - which he believes he still holds under the law - be accepted to take effect on the 8th Sept. 1862, the date of Major Whiting's letter.
March 20th 1863.