Mexican War

Major John T. Hambrick
13th Regiment N.C. Troops (3rd Regiment N.C. Volunteers)

In January or February 1847, John Turner Hambrick of Caswell County volunteered for service with Company F, 1st Regiment N.C. Volunteers. The regiment mustered at Smithville (present-day Southport), Brunswick County, and, vowing to honor their flag or “leave their bones to bleach on the battlefields of Mexico,” sailed from Wilmington in early March, bound for Brazos Santiago on the Mexican coast.

The regiment found little glory in Mexico, at first as wagon train escorts, then in August as the garrison of the city of Saltillo. Disease was prevalent and by October had claimed the lives of more than 180 men. Although Saltillo, in the mountains, was a healthier place, morale was low, exacerbated by boredom, isolation, and resentment of the regiment’s martinet colonel, Robert Treat Paine. In a mutinous outburst, Colonel Paine shot and killed one his soldiers – apparently the only member of the regiment to die from gunshot wounds during the war.

The 1st North Carolina remained in Saltillo until peace was declared in June 1848. By the end of July they were back in North Carolina. No details of Hambrick’s service are known, other than he had risen to sergeant when the regiment disbanded.

Hambrick returned to Caswell County where he became a saddler. In the mid-1850s he married and moved to the town of Leasburg, also in Caswell County. He became a prosperous merchant, and owned five slaves. Hambrick’s military experience was probably the reason he was elected captain of the “Leasburg Grays” on April 17, 1861. The “Grays” joined the 13th Regiment N.C. Troops as Company D, and by the end of May the regiment was on duty at Suffolk Virginia.

The first colonel of the 13th North Carolina was William Dorsey Pender, recently resigned from the U.S. Army and a future Confederate major general. Pender did not spare the regiment, and Hambrick, wrote his wife that “I am pretty worn out with drilling. Nine hours in the sun is no small matter.”

When Company D reorganized for the war on April 26, 1862, Hambrick was not reelected captain. It is unclear if he was defeated for reelection or chose not to run. In any event, on May 26, he was promoted to major of the 13th North Carolina.

Hambrick was with the regiment through the Peninsular and Seven Days Campaigns. At the Battle of Gaines’s Mill on June 27, a 24-pound cannon ball struck and killed his horse. Hambrick was seemingly unwounded, but in July he was sent home on sick furlough. He resigned on October 15, 1862, “on account of impaired condition of my health from disease of several years standing.” The examining surgeon concurred, stating that “he is suffering from a spinal affliction . . . accompanied with Brights disease of the kidneys which in my opinion entirely unfits him for duty.”

On July 7, 1863, the North Carolina legislature organized a “Guard for Home Defence” to replace the militia, which was largely ineffective by mid-war. The Home Guard comprised all white men who were otherwise exempt from Confederate service, including all militia officers below the rank of colonel. Most counties provided battalions with a varying number of companies. The 36th (Caswell County) and 48th (Alamance County) Battalions N.C. Home Guard were consolidated to form the 2nd Regiment N.C. Home Guard, and John T. Hambrick was appointed colonel.

Home Guard records are fragmentary but reveal that in June 1864 Hambrick was ordered to call out his regiment to defend against a possible enemy raid against nearby Danville, Virginia. In December 1864 he was one of several officers ordered to Kinston to command Home Guard contingents assembled from central and eastern North Carolina. Hambrick was still on duty on January 30, 1865, when he was granted a thirty day furlough.

Hambrick was photographed in the gray uniform worn by many Mexican War volunteer regiment (although the men may have been issued regulation U.S. blue uniforms while in Mexico). The waist belt (with oval US buckle) and cartridge box sling (with eagle breastplate) are of buff leather, characteristic of U.S. army accouterments in the 1840s. The apparatus affixed to Hambrick’s right side is a pick-and-brush tool for use with a flintlock musket.

Hambrick (December 1, 1823-April 26, 1872) is buried at Fair Grove Methodist Church Cemetery, Thomasville, Davidson County.

Image: Courtesy of the N.C. Office of Archives and History

Source Note: 1860 U. S. Census, Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina, population schedule, page 169, dwelling 1159, family 1161, J. T. Hambrick household; 1860 U.S. Census, Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina slave schedule, page 105, J.T. Hambrick, slave owner; Manarin et. al., North Carolina Troops 5:284, 318; 698; Stephen E. Bradley, Jr., North Carolina Confederate Militia and Home Guard Records (Virginia Beach: the author, 1995) 3:50 Mast, State Troops and Volunteers, 1:1-2, 5; Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the Mexican War (M616), RG 94, NA; service record files of John T. Hambrick, 13th Regiment N.C. Troops Regiment N.C. Troops, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers from the State of North Carolina (M270), RG109, NA;