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Introduction to the Cicero R. Barker Letter
By Jeremy A. Kiene
Cicero R. Barker was born in April 1848 in Salisbury, Rowan County, North Carolina. The 1860 Federal census indicates that he then resided in the household of his parents, William M. and Angeline A. Barker, and had recently attended school. William Barker was a carriage maker by trade, with personal and real estate valued at $9160 and $7000, respectively. The Slave Schedule for 1860 records that the Barkers held three slaves.
Barker enlisted in the Confederate army when not yet fourteen, on 12 August 1861; he served initially as a drummer in Company K, 8th North Carolina Infantry. He was captured, with the rest of the regiment, at Roanoke Island, North Carolina on 8 February 1862, and was paroled at Elizabeth City, North Carolina two weeks later. The regiment was formally exchanged on 15 August 1862, and reorganized in September at Raleigh. On 22 November 1863, Barker was transferred to Company F and appointed regimental drum major, a duty he appears to have fulfilled for the remainder of the war. As drum major, Barker would have been broadly responsible for the welfare of the regiment's musicians, and for their military and musical instruction. In December 1863, after service in the defenses of Charleston, the 8th North Carolina was sent north to Virginia, where it fought at Drewry's Bluff, Cold Harbor, and in the trenches outside Petersburg and Richmond. The regiment returned to North Carolina in late December 1864, and was present at the fall of Fort Fisher, the evacuation of Wilmington, and the battle of Bentonville. The 8th North Carolina surrendered with the remnants of Gen. Joseph Johnston's Army of Tennessee on 26 April 1865.
From 27 October to 22 December 1864, the 8th North Carolina, attached to Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Clingman's Brigade, Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke's Division, 4th Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, was posted in the Confederate defenses on the Darbytown Road southeast of Richmond. According to regimental historian Henry T. J. Ludwig, service in this sector was relatively quiet, with "only an occasional light skirmish" (p. 409). Yet Barker's letter, dated 1 December 1864 and addressed to his mother, discloses that the period was not uneventful. After acknowledging the receipt of letters and other items from home, Barker describes a sight he "never saw before & never wish to see again," the execution of "one of our Brigade . . . for desertion." He confesses that he "could not help pitying" the man as he was paraded before the assembled brigade, positioned atop his coffin, blindfolded, and shot by firing squad. Barker was clearly unsettled by the event, and soon turns to less traumatic matters. He even manages to find humor in an incident, likely reported to him in letters from home, involving the escape of Union prisoners in Salisbury. "I think I would have laughed," he writes, "if I had been home at the time the prisoners broke loose."
Salisbury was the site of a major Confederate military prison, established in late 1861 on the grounds of an abandoned cotton factory. Though small-scale escapes happened with some frequency, it is quite possible that Barker is referring to the mass escape attempt that occurred at the prison on 26 November 1864. During the fall of that year, Union advances into Georgia had forced Confederate officials to close the prison at Andersonville and transfer most of the prisoners to Salisbury. Driven to desperation by starvation, exposure, and rampant disease, thousands of Salisbury's inmates rushed the prison gates on the 26th. They managed to kill two guards, according to the stockade superintendent's report, before the "guard on the parapet . . . opened with musketry and two pieces of artillery, killing between forty and fifty of the prisoners" (Official Records Series II, Vol. 7, p. 1163). It is not clear that Barker's father served in one of the home guard companies assigned to the prison, but in the letter Cicero bids his mother to "ask Pa if his gun was loaded & how many rounds of blank cartidges he had and if he had bayonets fixed or if he was scared much."
Following the war, Barker returned to Salisbury, where he worked as a druggist. In 1880, he and his wife Mary were living at the Salisbury home of his father-in-law, A. L. Young. The 1900 Federal census identifies Barker as head of a household. He died at Buncombe, North Carolina on 25 July 1917.
Provenance note: Purchased by Robert and Beverly O'Grady for the University Libraries in 2006, from Reginald Shoeman of Madrid IA.
Bibliographic note: On the history of the 8th North Carolina Infantry, see H. T. J. Ludwig's "Eighth Regiment," in Walter Clark, ed., Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-'65, ed. Walter Clark, Raleigh, 1901, Vol. 1, pp. 386-415. A portrait of Cicero R. Barker is included in the collage of photographs on pp. 400-01, and Ludwig, likewise a former drummer, acknowledges Barker's assistance in compiling the history. For the regiment's movements and a roster of its officers, see Janet B. Hewitt, ed., Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Part II, Vol. 48, Wilmington NC, 1996, pp. 505-43. On the Confederate military prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, see Louis A. Brown, The Salisbury Prison: A Case Study of Confederate Military Prisons, 1861-1865, Wendell NC, 1980; and Charles W. Sanders, Jr., While in the Hands of the Enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War, Baton Rouge, 2005, pp. 47-49, 253-55.
Index of Letters
|MSN/CW 5040-01||Letter||December 1, 1864||Richmond, Virginia||Cicero R. Barker|