My Name is Thomas Marks and I am in the Dead Book
by Gordon Thorsby
Thomas H. Marks wasn't known for anything much in the Civil War. He did make one impact by becoming a name among the over 700,000 dead during the war.
Thomas was just any ordinary man who farmed a small property near the Pee Dee River. He was not famous nor was he educated. He occupied a place on this earth to live a simple, ordinary life. He was born in 1818 near Albemarle northeast of Charlotte, NC and he was not a man of money. He was barely eaking out a living for his wife, Nancy, his two sons and a daughter.
Thomas was 44 when he enlisted in Co. C of the 42nd North Carolina as a private on February 1, 1862. Six companies of the 42nd were detached for as a Prison Guard Battalion at Salisbury Prison under Col. George Gibbs and Co. C was one of them. It was light duty for a Marks, a man of 42.
In 1863, the regiment was moved north Richmond where they guarded at several of the prisons while other men went forward into the Army of Northern Virginia. Thomas was sick and in the hospital two times while in Richmond. The 42nd was transferred back down to North Carolina and fought at New Bern and where they fought at Ft. Fisher and Wilmington in early 1865 and battle casualties rose. Thomas was extremely sick in the retreat from Wilmington and he was once again hospitalized in Kinston.
In March, 1865, the war entered North Carolina for good. Sherman and his armies crossed the State Line and Union Gen. John Schofield ventured up the rail line out of New Bern where Confederate Gen Braxton Bragg met Schofield at Wyse’s Forks.
Thomas and the 42nd was part of Kirkland’s Brigade and the 42nd was on the far right of an flanking assault. March 8, 1865 was a glorious day for the South and the Yankees didn’t know a strong Confederate line could attack and yet they came. Col. George Brown had to stop and reorganize the 42nd because they had so many prisoners and few casualties but they eventually resumed their advance. The division had swept a larger force from the field in the surprise move.
The plan was for March 10th to be a repeat of March 8th. In Kirkland’s Brigade, the 17th North Carolina was on the left, the 66th North Carolina was in the center and the 42nd was once again on the right. The plan was an attack to the right with a left wheel into an open flank of waiting bluecoats but the open Union flank was expecting the move. There was the130th Indiana on their left, the 129th in the center, and the 123rd Indiana adjacent to the 180th Ohio. Sprinkled in the infantry was Battery F, First Michigan Light Artillery's Napoleon 12 pounders, the 5th Independent IL Light's with its 3 inch ordnance and Battery A 3rd NY Light Artillery with steel 12 pounders. There 18 guns in all.
The charge across the open field toward the Union breastworks with sharpened branches in front was a total disaster and the 42nd suffered 166 casualties. It was the most of any Confederate regiment in the battle. After the fighting, Thomas was still on the field where Union soldiers found Thomas, now 47, with canister wounds to the right hand and shoulder, and a minie ball wound to the other shoulder.
They placed him on a litter where he was carried several miles to the rail head. There were few ambulances and support wagons so he might have been transported by rail or he might have been transported by wagon back to New Bern.
He entered Foster General Hospital and his wounds were attended to. There were no reports as to his condition other than his bandages were changed on March 19th. At midnight, March 20th, Thomas Marks breathed his last breath.
A hospital orderly recorded everything. Thomas had been captured on March 10th and admitted to the hospital on March 15th. Thomas had no effects on him except the clothes he was wearing. With his remains, he was buried March 21, 1865 in Row 1, Grave 3, the North Carolina Lot.
He has a Confederate headstone in Salisbury, NC. and his remains may have been re-interred there. This is not confirmed. Thomas H. Marks died four weeks before Johnston's surrender at Bennett Place on a little known field, at a little known place away from home.
The Hospital orderly did do one thing for Thomas. He was entered in the Book of the Dead. Thomas was not an Unknown.
Note: Thomas and Nancy's daughter, Sallie, became the first Female Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Battle of Wise's Forks, by Sokolosky, Wade and Smith, Mark A, Savas Beatie, 2015.
American Civil War Research Database (civilwardata.com).
Historical Data Inc. Historical Data Systems, Inc., P.O. Box 35 Duxbury, MA 02331.
National Archives, Washington, D.C., Thomas Marks, Co. C 42nd North Carolina.