Colonel John Decatur Barry, 18th Regiment N.C. Troops (8th Regiment N.C. Volunteers)
Major General A. P. Hill’s Division, which included two North Carolina brigades, marched at the rear of Stonewall Jackson’s flanking column at Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863. Much of Hill’s Division, including Brigadier General James H. Lane’s Tar Heels (7th Regiment N.C. State Troops, 18th, 28th, 33rd, and 37th Regiments N.C. Troops) remained deployed in marching columns, even as the two leading divisions of Jackson’s command shattered the Federal right.
Lane’s men were fully aware that Stonewall had achieved victory, however, and as he rode past the 18th North Carolina the regiment erupted in cheers. Jackson delighted the men by doffing his hat in acknowledgement.
As night fell on May 2 the victorious Confederates halted, exhausted and disorganized. Fresh troops were needed, and Lane’s North Carolinians were chosen to move to the front, form on either side of the Orange Plank Road, and prepare for a night attack. The Tar Heels, daunted by the thick undergrowth, found it difficult to deploy into lines. Suddenly enemy artillery fire erupted and lashed Lane’s column with a “terrific” fire, one member of the 37th North Carolina recalling that he had “never experienced such a shelling.” The men had little recourse than to lay face down on the road.
When the artillery fire ceased Lane placed his regiments: the entire 33rd North Carolina was thrown forward several hundred yards as skirmishers, and the remaining four regiments were placed in line of battle, two on either side of the Orange Plank Road. Right to left were the 7th North Carolina, 37th North Carolina, 18th North Carolina, and 28th North Carolina.
Generals Jackson and A.P. Hill both decided to make a reconnaissance of the ground in front of Lane’s Brigade, and led separate mounted parties into the dark woods. On the right flank of the brigade, in front of the 7th North Carolina, firing began as the 120th Pennsylvania Regiment, lost and disoriented, blundered into the Confederate lines, losing more than two hundred prisoners. Soon musketry also erupted from the skirmish line, as a portion of the 33rd North Carolina became engaged with the enemy to their front.
The situation was fraught: as the Tar Heels had moved up they passed the appalling site of a failed cavalry charge of the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry earlier in the day. The unexpected artillery barrage had further increased tensions and now there was musketry fire on the right flank and to the front. When Lane’s men perceived mounted soldiers in front of them, Major John Decatur Barry of the 18th North Carolina gave the order to fire. Although some fire may also have come from the flanking regiments of the 18th North Carolina, the two parties were to the front of that regiment and there seems to have been little doubt among the participants who fired the tragic volleys.
Barry (born June 21, 1839) was the son of John A. Barry, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and later partner in a prominent Wilmington mercantile firm. The younger Barry attended the University of North Carolina from 1856 to 1859, and was a banker when he enlisted as a private in Company I (the “Wilmington Rifle Guards”), 18th Regiment N.C. Troops, on August 26, 1861.
The Confederate conscription act of April 1862 extended by two years the enlistment of all twelve-month regiments such as the 18th North Carolina. The men were permitted to elect new officers and Private Barry defeated the incumbent for the captaincy of Company I. Barry was wounded in the head at the Battle of Frayser’s Farm, July 30, 1862, but returned to duty and was promoted to major on November 11, 1862.
At Chancellorsville Barry emerged as the only unwounded field officer in Lane’s Brigade. Colonel Thomas J. Purdie of the 18th North Carolina was killed in action and Lieutenant Colonel Forney George was wounded and then resigned to assume a seat in the state legistlature. On May 27, 1863, Barry was promoted to colonel.
Barry commanded the 18th North Carolina until June 2, 1864, when, as senior colonel, he assumed brigade command following the wounding of General Lane. He commanded the brigade in several engagements in the summer of 1864 and on July 25 General Robert E. Lee recommended Barry’s promotion to brigadier general. Unfortunately, Barry was severely wounded on July 27 and was absent from service for the remainder of 1864. His nomination for brigadier general was withdrawn. Barry had commanded the brigade as a colonel, but never as a brigadier general. Nevertheless, he is counted among North Carolina’s Confederate generals.
Barry was present for duty in January-February 1865 but was not with the regiment at Appomattox Court House. His name appears on a list of men paroled at Raleigh on May 12, 1865, by the Provost Marshal General of the Army of the Ohio.
Barry returned to Wilmington, founded a newspaper, and worked as its editor. He died, however, on March 24, 1867, by some accounts from a persistent melancholia from his role in the death of Stonewall Jackson. He is buried at Oakdale Cemetery, Wilmington, New Hanover County.
Another photograph of John Decatur Barry can be seen in Volume I of State Troops and Volunteers, p. 304, Image 5.3.32.
Image: Copy print in author’s possession.
1860 U. S. Census, Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina, population schedule, p. 97, dwelling 858, family 851, M.S. Berry household; William C. Davis, ed., The Confederate General (National Historical Society, 1991), 6 vols., 1:64-65, hereinafter cited as Davis, The Confederate General; DNCB, 1:104-105; Robert K. Krick, “The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy,” in Gary Gallagher, ed., Chancellorsville: The Battle and Its Aftermath, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996, 107-124, hereinafter cited as Krick, “Smoothbore Volley”; Manarin et. al., North Carolina Troops, 6:306, 400, 719; Official Records, 25, pt. 1, 915-917; service record files of John D. Barry, 18th Regiment N.C. Troops, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers from the State of North Carolina (M270), RG109, NA http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Barry&GSfn=John+&GSmn=D&GSbyrel=all&GSdy=1867&GSdyrel=in&GSst=29&GScnty=1715&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=9857&df=all&