- Along with the locations of where the 26th North Carolina fought and served, I thought it would be interesting from time to time to highlight a soldier from the ranks and take an in-depth look at their life, both as a civilian and militarily. James H. Robinson first drew my attention with his mention in "Lee's Tarheels" by Earl J. Hess, and on further research conducted in part for the Socio-Military Profile of the 26th North Carolina a more complete picture of Robinson emerges.
At the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, James H. Robinson was 21 years old and lived in or near the community of Walkersville, North Carolina in Union County. Walkersville is located about 11 miles south west of Monroe, and is situated just four miles north of the North Carolina and South Carolina border. James was the oldest of the seven children belonging to Robert and Martha Robinson.
James was most likely born in South Carolina around 1840. According to the 1850 census the Robinson family lived in Lancaster District where James' father Robert was employed as a school teacher and had $300 worth of real estate to his name. There is a bit of question as to how long the Robinson's lived in South Carolina and when they moved to Union County, North Carolina. The 1850 census indicates that James, his parents, and at the time four other siblings were all born in South Carolina. Yet the 1860 census gives us a slightly different picture when the family is living across the border in Union County. The 1860 census lists James and his parents being born in South Carolina, yet list his sisters Rebecca (17 years old) and Mary (15 years old) as being born in North Carolina, but this brother William (12 years old) and sister Sarah (10 years old) are listed as being born in South Carolina. The youngest of the Robinson children Robert (5 years old) and Martha (2 years old) are listed as being born in North Carolina. Given the proximity between Union County and Lancaster District across the border from one another, it is not out of the question that the Robinson family might have moved a few times between the two locations in the 1850s. It should be noted that some problems do exist in the 1860 census listing for the Robinson family namely the age of James' mother Martha. In 1850 she is listed along with Robert as being 37 years old. The problem in 1860 is that while Robert is listed as 47 years old as one might expect, Martha remains 37 years old. If anything this is indicative of some of the problems with 19th century census records, while a wonderful resource they are not without flaw at times.
By 1861, James, now 21 years old, lived with is parents and siblings and worked as a farm laborer alongside his father (it is unclear if Robert remained a school teacher in North Carolina but his occupation on the 1860 census was both a farmer and a school teacher). James' mother Martha was also listed as a spinster, which she was not listed as in the 1850 census. In addition to the farm work, education seems to have been an important part of the Robinson family life (not surprising considering that Robert was a teacher). The five oldest Robinson children, including James, had all attended school within the past year according to the 1860 census, perhaps even having their father as their teacher, only the two youngest of the children had not attended school but that is due to their age. The Robinson household has a total of $600 in personal wealth, but the 1860 census does not suggest that Robert owned the land he worked as he had no amount of land value listed to his name.
Shortly after North Carolina seceded from the Union, James enlisted at Monroe, North Carolina in "The Waxhaw Jackson Guards" (eventually what became Company B of the 26th North Carolina) on June 5, 1861 as a private. His term of service was first for one year, but he later reenlisted for the duration of the war. James was present and accounted for until he was listed as absent "sick in hospital" during the March and April regimental muster roll. James may have seen action at the Battle of New Bern on March 14, 1862, but records are not clear as to when he actually entered the hospital (it should be noted that the overall health of the regiment shortly before and after the battle was not very good).
James continued to serve with Company B until he was captured on July 5, 1863 during the retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia from Gettysburg. He was confined first at Fort Delaware, Delaware before he was transferred to Point Lookout, Maryland around October 15, 1863. During this period it was not uncommon to see Confederate prisoners of war take an Oath of Allegiance and enlist in the United States service in return for their release from prison. Considering the conditions that had to be endured in Civil War prison camps this was an enticing offer. In fact, James himself accepted such an offer.
On January 25, 1864 he was released from Point Lookout after taking an Oath of Allegiance and joined Company D of the 1st Regiment United States Volunteer Infantry. News of his actions reached the 26th North Carolina shortly after. His service record from the period of January and February 1864 contains the following note "prisoner of war taken the Oath of Allegiance." But James was not long for Union service as he deserted on August 1, 1864 near Elizabeth City, North Carolina and soon returned to his former company and the 26th North Carolina on August 7, 1864(now located around Petersburg, Virginia). James' brief time in the Union Army seemed to be dismissed and almost forgotten as a note in his service record states that he "was absent without leave the first of March 1864 to Aug. 7th 1864." Another entry from November and December of 1864 in is service record seems to make light of his time in the Union Army as James was listed as absent "on furlough of indulgence. Absent without leave from 1 April to 19th Ju [ne] roll taken." It might be expected that many in his company and regiment grinned a bit over his "furlough of indulgence."
Less than a month after his return to the 26th North Carolina, James was slightly wounded in the right ankle at the Battle of Ream's Station on August 25, 1864. The action at Ream's Station was one of the high marks for the regiment during the war as they, with their division, routed the famed Union Second Corps under the command of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock.
James seems to have recovered quickly from his wound as he as promoted to Sergeant during the period of November and December 1864. This is a clear indication that his Union service was not held against him or his standing in the eyes of the officers and men of his company. He remained present and accounted for until February 1865. After this period it is unclear his actions for the rest of the war. It does not seem he was at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, most likely he had deserted before then, but no record can verify this one way or the other. There was a James H. Robinson on the parole list at Appomattox, but he belonged to the 6th Alabama which was part of Battle's Brigade, Grimes' Division of the Confederate Second Corps, but it is clear this was not the same James H. Robinson who served with the 26th North Carolina.
Just like the end of James H. Robinson's service is murky so is his life after the war. Whereas he and his family were located in the 1850 and 1860 census, there is no record as of this time that has been found of them after the war. It is my hope that once I go back to Union County to finish research there I might be able to find more on James and his family and what became of them after the Civil War.
1850 United States Census via Ancestry.com
1860 United States Census via Ancestry.com
Muster Rolls of the 26th North Carolina North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina
Compiled Service Record of James H. Robinson via Footnote.com
North Carolina Troops 1861-1865: A Roster, Volume VII, Jordan and Manarin, 2004
Lee's Tar Heels: The Pettigrew-Kirkland-MacRae Brigade, Earl J. Hess, 2001