Major James Matchett Taylor
5th Regiment North Carolina State Troops
James Matchett Taylor was born in 1839 in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, the son of James Taylor and Elizabeth Carver Taylor. While from a farming family of modest means, his father was a recent Irish immigrant who saw the value in education. Because of this, the family provided the financial resources for the younger James to attend Sunbury Academy in Gates County. Showing promise in his academic pursuits, James entered Wake Forest College in the mid-1850s and graduated in 1859.
With a degree in hand and a desire to go into education, James initially went to Clarksville, Virginia, but when an opportunity arose near his home, he accepted a job as a teacher at Reynoldson Institute in 1860. This position was cut short by the onset of War though, and James enlisted as a Private in the “Gates Guards” on June 12, 1861 in Weldon, North Carolina. The “Gates Guards” subsequently were assigned as Company B of the 5th North Carolina State Troops.
The officers of the 5th North Carolina immediately saw potential in James, and within a few months, he was designated as a Clerk to Colonel Duncan K. McRae. By February of 1862, James was promoted to Sergeant Major, but with regimental elections occurring soon that spring, he accepted a position as a Lieutenant in Company G. When the 5th North Carolina took part in the Seven Days Battles around Richmond, James also served as the Acting Adjutant of the 5th, and as Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of Brigadier General Samuel Garland.
This field “promotion” continued on through the summer of 1862 and into the Sharpsburg Campaign, where Major General Daniel H. Hill commended James for “soldier-like gallantry” during the battle. Following General Garland’s death, James’ staff duties concluded and he returned to full-time service with his regiment.
In October of 1862, James promoted to Captain of Company G, 5th North Carolina.
For a brief period in the spring of 1863, James served as Division Inspector for Major General Robert E. Rodes.
During the battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, he and his men of Company G were noted for conspicuous duty from the regiment’s commanding officer: “Night closed (May 3rd) in without an incident worthy of note. I received orders to detail from my command a suitable number of men to relieve the sharpshooters then on duty. For this purpose, I ordered Capt. J. M. Taylor to take his command to the front, and the sharpshooters retired. When it had grown dark, I ordered the men to use every means in their power to protect themselves against the artillery fire of the enemy; and, by diligent use of the bayonet and a few axes, a tolerable breastwork was constructed, which proved invaluable in protecting them from a very severe artillery fire.”
At Gettysburg on July 1, serving as a part of Iverson’s Brigade, the 5th North Carolina took heavy casualties in the charge on Oak Ridge. James was one of several hundred casualties, receiving a wound in the abdomen. He was fortunate enough to avoid capture, however, and was transferred for hospital care in Richmond after the Campaign. Following a furlough of several months, James returned to duty in October of 1863.
Sometime during the Spotsylvania Campaign in 1864, James was again wounded, this time in the groin. He spent much of the next few months in and out of hospitals. Ultimately, he was granted a furlough in August. He returned to duty in time to join the 5th North Carolina with Jubal Early in the Valley. During the battle of Cedar Creek in October of 1864, James was wounded for the third time, this time in his right side. He was sent to a hospital in Harrisonburg, and then to Charlottesville. After several weeks treatment, he was given a brief furlough, but appears on muster rolls as being present by December of 1864.
When the 5th North Carolina returned to Lee’s Army, they were stationed near Hatcher’s Run, southwest of Petersburg. James was the highest ranking officer present with the 5th at the time, and was promoted to Major of the regiment in the spring of 1865. He ultimately surrendered with and was paroled as the 5th North Carolina’s commanding officer at Appomattox Court House, alongside a mere 7 officers and 76 enlisted men left of his regiment.
Returning home and hoping to begin where he had left off, James reopened Reynoldson Institute in the summer of 1865 with only two students. Within a year, forty students had enrolled. The school continued to operate for many decades hereafter.
Sadly, Major James M. Taylor died in October of 1867 at the young age of twenty-eight. While his cause of death is unknown, the fatigue of four years of War and three wounds, must likely have contributed. He was buried in Sunbury, Gates County, North Carolina.
Carte-de-visite taken in the summer of 1866. Byerly & Nimmo, Photographers.
Courtesy of the Fred D. Taylor Collection.