Sabres, Saddles, and Spurs

William R. Carter (1833–1864)

William R. Carter was a Confederate cavalry officer and diarist, whose observations of his experiences riding with J. E. B. Stuart during the American Civil War (1861–1865) became a boon to researchers after the war and finally were published in part in 1998. A graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, Carter taught briefly in Lunenburg County before moving to Mississippi, where he purchased a school. He returned to Virginia in 1860, earned his law degree, and then, after Virginia's secession, joined the Confederate cavalry. Briefly captured in 1861, he fought with Stuart through nearly all the major campaigns, including at Brandy Station and Gettysburg in 1863, and, in 1864, Yellow Tavern, where Stuart was killed. Carter himself died from wounds he received in June 1864 at the Battle of Trevilian Station and was buried in Nottoway County. Always a good writer, his field diaries became important source material for historians, especially those studying the Confederate cavalry. A partial transcription of the diaries was published in 1998; the complete two-volume transcription is preserved at Hampden-Sydney College. MORE...

 

William Richard Carter was born on April 22, 1833, on the Nottoway County farm of his parents, Martha Anderson Craig Gregory Carter and Sharpe Carter, a farmer, sometime schoolmaster, and charter member of the Nottoway Library Society. Carter excelled in his studies at Hampden-Sydney College from 1848 until 1852, when he graduated with high honors in chemistry. Exhibiting talent as an essayist, he served as clerk for the college's Union Literary Society and in 1850 and 1851 was elected vice president.

Recommendations from his professors led to Carter's employment in February 1853 at the Flat Rock Female Seminary in Lunenburg County, but after two years he became restless. He inquired about buying a newspaper, but nothing came of it. Carter unsuccessfully sought the mathematics chair at Hampden-Sydney in 1856 and suffered another disappointment when Amelia Trotter ended their engagement. Discouraged and frustrated, he resorted to drink for a time before deciding to seek his fortune in the West.

By March 1858 Carter was living in Columbus, Mississippi, anxious to remove any stigma attached to his name in Virginia and optimistic about opportunities in the bustling town. He joined the Presbyterian Church and renewed contact with Amelia Trotter, who invited him to write but then rejected another marriage proposal. Soon after his arrival Carter published an essay, "Wealth versus Character," in the Columbus Enquirer. Although he had lost his taste for teaching, he took a position at the Collegiate High School run by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and became so well regarded there that he was invited to purchase the two-story school. On January 1, 1859, he became both proprietor and principal in charge of eighty-five students and two assistants.

The demands of the school proved greater than expected and by April 1860 Carter had decided to sell the institution. Returning to Nottoway County by July 15, he began studying law and was admitted to the bar in April 1861. Carter had hardly settled into his new Richmond practice when Virginia's secession from the Union prompted him to enlist on May 27 as a private in the Nottoway Troop. That same day he began keeping a field diary.

His unit was soon incorporated as Company E of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry. Carter was captured at Big Bethel on June 10, 1861, and held at Fort Monroe until his exchange twelve days later. On November 23 he was elected first lieutenant and on January 18, 1862, was elected captain to fill a vacancy caused by death. During the Peninsula Campaign the 3rd Virginia was attached to Brigadier General J. E. B. Stuart's brigade but did not join in Stuart's celebrated ride around the Union Army of the Potomac in June or in the Catlett's Station Raid during the Second Manassas Campaign. Carter was absent from the Chambersburg Raid but entered a detailed description of it in his field diary. On November 7, 1862, he was promoted to major to rank from October 21 and on November 18 was elevated to lieutenant colonel, in which capacity he occasionally commanded the regiment. In a letter home that month he summed up his wartime experiences so far as "fighting, skirmishing, advancing, or retreating nearly every day."

Carter performed bravely during the Dumfries Raid in December 1862 and at Kelly's Ford in March 1863. During the Gettysburg Campaign in June he fought at Brandy Station and at Aldie and joined in the controversial Gettysburg Raid, although, as his diary notes, only the sharpshooters represented his regiment in the cavalry fight on July 3. During the army's retreat his troopers fought a rearguard action against pursuing Union forces. Carter led the regiment at Raccoon Ford in October and was captured but escaped to participate in the rout of Union cavalry at Buckland Mills, also called the "Buckland Races." In May 1864 his regiment was heavily engaged at Todd's Tavern, Yellow Tavern, and Haw's Shop. On June 1, the eve of Cold Harbor, he wrote his father that he was ill from nearly fifty days of constant marching and fighting. Ten days later Carter was wounded at Trevilian Station, in Louisa County, and taken to the general hospital at Gordonsville, in Orange County, where he died on July 8, 1864. He was buried at his father's house, Hickory Hill (later Carter's Hall), in Nottoway County.

Carter's detailed, articulate field diary became a boon for researchers. In 1876 Sharpe Carter planned to publish it and obtained letters from former generals Fitzhugh Lee and Williams Carter Wickham testifying to his son's military skills. Henry Brainerd McClellan borrowed it while writing Life and Campaigns of Major-General J. E. B. Stuart, Commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia (1885). That same year the Southern Historical Society expressed an interest in publishing the diary in its magazine, but Carter's compelling observations did not appear in print until 1998, when editor Walbrook D. Swank published Sabres, Saddles, and Spurs. That edition, however, was based unknowingly on a partial transcription covering only the period from July 27, 1862, to April 30, 1864. The original field diary, kept from May 27, 1861, to June 7, 1864, no longer survives, but a complete two-volume transcription, probably made by Sharpe Carter, is preserved at Hampden-Sydney College.

Major Work

  • Sabres, Saddles, and Spurs (Walbrook D. Swank, ed.; 1998)
  • Time Line

    • April 22, 1833 - William Richard Carter is born in Nottoway County.
    • 1852 - William Richard Carter graduates from Hampden-Sydney College with high honors in chemistry.
    • February 1853 - The Flat Rock Female Seminary in Lunenburg County hires William Richard Carter, but he will only stay for two years.
    • January 1, 1859 - William Richard Carter becomes both proprietor and principal in charge of eighty-five students and two assistants at the Collegiate High School run by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Columbus, Mississippi.
    • April 1860 - William Richard Carter decides to sell the Collegiate High School run by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Columbus, Mississippi.
    • July 15, 1860 - By this day, William Richard Carter has returned to Nottoway County.
    • May 27, 1861 - William Richard Carter enlists as a private in the Nottoway Troop of the Confederate army. That same day he begins keeping a field diary.
    • June 10, 1861 - William Richard Carter is captured at Big Bethel and is held at Fort Monroe until his exchange twelve days later.
    • November 23, 1861 - William Richard Carter is elected first lieutenant of Company E of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry.
    • January 18, 1862 - William Richard Carter is elected captain of Company E of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry.
    • November 7, 1862 - William Richard Carter is promoted to major to rank from October 21 and on November 18 is elevated to lieutenant colonel, in which capacity he occasionally commands Company E of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry.
    • December 26–28, 1862 - William Richard Carter performs bravely during the Dumfries Raid in Prince William County.
    • October 19, 1863 - William Richard Carter participates in the rout of Union cavalry at the battle of Buckland Mills, also called the "Buckland Races."
    • June 11, 1864 - William Richard Carter is wounded at the Battle of Trevilian Station, in Louisa County, and taken to the general hospital at Gordonsville, in Orange County.
    • July 8, 1864 - William Richard Carter dies at the hospital in Gordonsville and is buried at his father's house, Hickory Hill (later Carter's Hall), in Nottoway County.
    • 1998 - Portions of William Richard Carter's Civil War field diary are first published.

    References

    Further Reading
    Gunter, Donald W. "Carter, William Richard." In Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, 94–96. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
    Cite This Entry
    • APA Citation:

      Gunter, D. W., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. William R. Carter (1833–1864). (2013, August 19). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Carter_William_Richard_1833-1864.

    • MLA Citation:

      Gunter, Donald W. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "William R. Carter (1833–1864)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 19 Aug. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

    First published: March 26, 2010 | Last modified: August 19, 2013