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Colonel Thomas Purdie

Col. Thomas James Purdie, CSA

Thomas James Purdie was born at the family home, Purdie Hall, on the bank of the Cape Fear River, near present day Tarheel, NC on June 22, 1830. He was the second son and third child of James Bailey Purdie and Anna Mariah Smith Purdie. The couple would eventually have four children born at Purdie Hall before the death of James Bailey in 1835. Purdie Hall, which still stands today, is a two story Georgian style house, which was built by James Samuel Purdie, grandfather of Thomas Purdie, between 1803 and 1807.

The Purdie family was one of wealth and prestige, affording Thomas the opportunities and advantages which were, at that time, only available to children of wealthy families. His father died when Thomas was only five years old; so he was reared under the watchful eye of his mother during his formative years.

Little is known of the early life of Thomas except that recorded in local accounts, such as a neighbor's diary. These accounts indicate that Thomas was a well-respected young man, who collected books and helped tend his family's vast land holdings on both sides of the Cape Fear River.

In 1855, at the age of twenty-five, Thomas built a home for himself on family land several hundred yards up river from Purdie Hall. Family papers reveal that his new home had a large library to accomodate his lust for reading and for accumulating books. Thomas was able to live in his new home for only six years when the Civil War began. One can imagine that those six years were among the happiest as he tended the family farms and indulged himself in his quest for knowledge. By 1860, as revealed by the census, Thomas had become among the wealthiest men in Bladen County. The Thomas Purdie house no longer exists.

When the Civil War began after the firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Thomas enlisted as a private in the Bladen Guards of the North Carolina Militia, entering service in May, 1861. The Bladen Guards were called into service by North Carolina Governor Ellis immediately after Purdie's enlistment. He reported to Wilmington, serving throughout the fall and winter at Fort Fisher and Zeke's Island at the New Inlet entrance to the Cape Fear River. Thus began his service in the army of the Confederate States of America, which terminated in his death at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863. Purdie's unit became part of the Eighth North Carolina regiment, which soon was re-designed as the Eighteenth.

The Eighteenth Regiment came under the command of Brigadier General L. O'B. Branch, and it was initially assigned to protect the coasts of North and South Carolina. As a measure of the confidence and trust which he inspired in his fellow soldiers, Thomas Purdie was soon elected as captian of his company. (At that time, junior officers were elected by their company peers). Following several rapid promotions, Captain Purdie became Lt. Colonel Purdie in April, 1862.

The Eighteenth Regiment, with its new Lt. Colonel, was sent by rail to Virginia in May 1862 and immediately became a part of General Stonewall Jackson's "foot cavalry." The Eighteenth served with General Jackson in the famous Shenandoah Valley campaign for a short time, after which time Jackson's corp was ordered to Virginia by General Robert E. Lee and participated in the Battle of Hanover Court House, and later in what became known as the "Seven Days Campaign" around Richmond. The Eighteenth Regiment and Lt. Colonel Puride were engaged in all of the battles of the seven days campaign, when the Union army under General George B. McCellan was attempting to capture the Confederate Capital. The seven days battles ended in the retreat of the Union army to the banks of the James River. Concerning Colonel's Purdie's execution of command during the Seven Days campaign, there can be no doubt that he led his troops with competence and bravery. After the battle of Malvern Hill, (part of the seven days campaign) it was not long before Colonel Purdie took full command of the Eighteenth. Col. Robert H. Cowan, then in command, wrote in his report: "Where all behaved well it is difficult to make distinctions...still I desire to make special mention of my lieutenant-colonel, Thomas J. Purdie. He was everywhere in the thickest of the fight, cool and courageous, encouraging the men and directing them in their duty. His services were invaluable."

After the conclusion of the Richmond campaign, the Eighteenth North Carolina regiment and Lt. Colonel Purdie fought at the battle of Cedar Mountain and Second Manassas (Bull Run) in August, 1862. Second Manassas ended with a great Confederate victory over the northern army then under the command of General John Pope.

In September, 1862, the Eighteenth North Carolina participated in the invasion of Maryland and the bloody battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg). General Jackson's corp, including Lt. Coll. Purdie's regiment, initially had been sent to Harper's Ferry, Virginia by General Lee, to reduce the fort and capture the Union troops occupying Harper's Ferry. This was accomplished, and brought about the surrender of over 12,000 Union troops. Immediately after the surrender, Jackson's corp made a rapid march to Sharpsburg, arriving just in time to rescue the Confederate troops from an impending defeat. The action at Sharpsburg included the infamous battle of Burnside's Bridge, in which the troops of Lt. Col. Purdie participated.

The battle of Antietam produced the greatest one day casualty list in American history, the Union suffering over 12,000 casualties, and the Confederates over 10,000. The battle ended as a tactical draw, but it was a strategic victory for the Union. Shortly after the battle, President Lincoln, who had been delaying issuing the Emancipation Proclamation until after a Union victory, felt the outcome of the battle justified the issuance of the proclamation.

After Antietam, Lt. Col. Purdie was appointed a full colonel as a reward for his courage in leading his regiment in the battle. Colonel Purdie retained his rank of colonel until his death at Chancellorsville in May 1863.

In November, 1862, new Union commander General Ambrose Burnside attempted to overcome the entrenched Confederates at Fredericksburg, Virginia. The battle resulted in a major Confederate victory. Colonel Purdie was successful in helping to hold the right wing of Jackson's corp against the Union charge. "I cannot speak in too high terms of the gallantry of Colonel Purdie, who was slightly wounded" wrote Brig. General James H. Lane, Purdie's superior, in a December 23, 1862 report on the Fredericksburg battle.

After resting during the winter months of 1862-63, the Eighteenth regiment participated in the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Chancellorsville was General Lee's greatest victory; but in it he lost his "right arm" when General Stonewall Jackson was mistakenly shot by Confederate soldiers under the command of Colonel Purdie. Purdie believed that General Jackson was a Union officer leading a charge against Purdie's part of the Confederate line, and an order was given to "commence firing." The error was soon discovered, but the cease firing order came to late to prevent General Jackson from being struck twice by mini balls fired from the rifles of Purdie's men. Jackson died eight days later, May 10, 1863 as a result of the wounds he suffered from musket fire from Purdie's men.

The next day after the fatal wounding of General Jackson, Colonel Purdie was leading his regiment with sabers drawn in a pre-dawn charge against a breastwork of twenty-eight Union cannon on Fairfield Heights. As he was encouraging his men both by word and example, he was stuck in the forehead from close range by a minie ball fired by a Union sharpshooter. Colonel Purdie was killed instantly. Union troops, momentarily retaking their position, stripped the body of Colonel Purdie of his revolver and braided officer's coat. His body was shortly recovered by his troops when retook the position.

Following the battle, General Lane, Purdie's immediate superior, wrote on May 11, 1863 as follows:

"Never have I seen men fight more gallantly or bear fatigue and hardship more cheerfully. I shall always be proud of the noble bearings of my brigade in the Battle of Chancellorsville - the bloodiest in which it has ever taken part, when the Eighteenth and Twenty-eight North Carolina gallantly repulsed two night attacks made by vastly superior numbers - its gallantry has cost it many noble sacrifices, and we are called upon to mourn the loss of the gentle, but gallant and fearless Col. Purdie, who was killed while urging forward his men."

Colonel Purdie's body was carried to Richmond and thence sent by rail from Richmond to Wilmington, and from there by steamer to Purdie Hall. He was laid to rest in the family cemetery near his home after a funeral service at Purdie Methodist Church. The funeral Service was held on May 10, 1863, the same day as the death of General Jackson from the wounds he received at Chancellorsville.

One who attended Purdie's funeral paid tribute to him in the North Carolina Presbyterian magazine as follows:

"Thinking it wrong for the gallant dead to pass away - when their deeds, founded in virtue, have merited the highest honor, I send you a brief history of the gallant Col. Thomas J. Purdie, 'One good deed dying tongueless murders a thousand that wait upon that.' The reticence natural to him concealed many latent virtues - His benevolence was the most unselfish and kin, and he spared no pains to make all around contented and happy. All the members of the 18th N.C. Troops will testify to his kindness, and at late hours of the night he would visit the tents to quell any disorder; his powers of persuasion were so great that he seldom had to use harsh means to bring a soldier to his duty.

Thus ended the short but heroic career of Colonel Thomas J. Purdie. In honor of this gallant North Carolinian, Fort Fisher named the seaface artillery emplacement containing the mighty 8 ton Armstrong Rifle Cannon, Battery Purdie.

Many Civil War historians believe that if General Stonewall Jackson had not been wounded at Chancellorsville and had thus been available for service at Gettysburg in July 1863, that Gettysburg may well have resulted in a Confederate victory, and with it have caused a different final result in the Civil War.


Purdie Uniform At the Averasboro Museum

The Averasboro Battlefield Commission was presented with the Civil War uniform worn by Col. Thomas James Purdie after months of planning and coordination. Thanks primarily to Bob Bryan, the Purdie family decided to place the uniform with the Averasboro Museum.


After 140 Years, Historic Civil War Uniform Has New Home
By: JOHN F. YOUMANS Of The Record Staff
Source: The Daily Record


The Averasboro Battlefield Museum was officially presented the Civil War uniform worn by Col. Thomas James Purdie when he was a junior officer during a presentation made by the Purdie family Saturday afternoon. The uniform has been at many temporary locations, but now it has a permanent home at the Averasboro Battlefield Museum.

During his opening comments Saturday, Col. Purdie’s nephew, Thomas James Purdie, said it was an honor to present the uniform.

 “This is an incredible day for us. We extend to the Purdie family our fondest gratitude and we pledge to keep alive his story, the gallant soldier from Bladen County,” said Robert C. Bryan, president of the Averasboro Battlefield Commission.

Mr. Bryan has been working hard for many months to make the Averasboro Battlefield Museum the permanent home of the uniform consisting of a frock, trousers, and vest. The uniform was accompanied by a medicine chest, valise, canteen with a bullet hole and a sword.

Col. Purdie led the charge that mistakenly killed Confederate Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson in 1863. Col. Purdie was shot and killed the next day.

The Purdie family was looking for a good home for their uniform. The first thing Mr. Bryan did when he obtained the uniform was get it preserved to protect it from deterioration. While the uniform is on display at the museum now, after four weeks it will go to the Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville for six months. During that time, the Averasboro Battlefield Museum will complete final work on the showcases that will be used to display the uniform permanently.

“We, as cousins, decided what to do to continue its heritage so future generations could keep contact with it. After I heard of Bob Bryan and the Averasboro Museum in Harnett County, I felt that was best. Since the Purdie family has been in Harnett County over 100 years, why take it to Raleigh or Wilmington? We decided to give it to the Averasboro Museum,” John Wesley Purdie Jr. said.

John Wesley Purdie Jr. explained the many locations of the uniform since Col. Purdie sent it to Purdie Hall between 1861 and 1863. From there it traveled to the North Carolina Museum of History, leaving Raleigh, when a renovation was planned for that building. Dunn was the next stop for the personal articles of Col. Purdie.

The next move was back to Bladen County. In 1976, the articles were loaned to the Bladen County Historical Society. They remained there until the late 1990s. “After the death of my aunts and my father, I received a phone call informing me that the uniform was not being preserved and handled as it should. So with Randy Doffermyer’s and Bob Bryan’s help, we were able to reclaim the uniform and all the other belongings on loan to Bladen County,” John Wesley Purdie said.

The uniform, which had been covered, was then unveiled for the public to view.

Close to 200 people attended the presentation. The ceremony was held outside under cover of several canopies where the honored guests, the Purdie family, were seated in the front row. Family members came from as far away as Florida to attend the ceremony.

Purdie family members in attendance were Thomas James Purdie, John Wesley Purdie Jr., John Alexander Purdie, David Boyce Purdie, Elaine Purdie Russell, Carolyn Hardee Johnson, Ann Wainwright, Susan Purdie Allen and Alice Purdie.

The uniform on exhibit is that of Colonel Thomas Purdie as a junior officer. At the time of his death at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863, he was wearing the uniform of a senior officer, having been promoted to Colonel in September 1862. It is believed that he had shipped his junior officer uniform home at the time of his promotion, thus saving it for history. It is recorded in accounts of the battle of Chancellorsville that the braided officer's coat Colonel Purdie was wearing at the time of his death, together with his revolver, was stripped from him on the battlefield by northern troops. His canteen, struck by a shell during the engagement, together with his valise and medicine chest, were sent home to the Purdie family with his body. It is believed that his sword and sword belt also survived the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Averasboro Battlefield Commission is grateful to the heirs of John Wesley Purdie, brother of Colonel Thomas Purdie, for the generous gift of the uniform and other accoutrements of Colonel Purdie which are on display at the museum.


Purdie's Connection with Smithville 

Although Colonel Purdie had been killed prior to the battle of Averasboro, which occurred in March 1865, he did have a significant family connection with Smithville.

Colonel Purdie died on May 3, 1863 at age thirty-three, never having been married. However, his older brother, John Wesley Purdie, married as his second wife Sarah Grady Smith, daughter of Farquhard Smith, the owner of Lebanon plantation at Smithville. It was from this marriage that the Dunn Purdie families descended. Thus, Smithville and Averasboro have a strong family connection with Colonel Purdie.

- This article is provided by the Averasboro Battlefield and Museum. 

Located off N.C. 82, three miles east of Erwin, the Battlefield Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 - 4 p.m. The museum is closed on Monday. There is no admission charge to the museum, but donations to maintain the museum and its artifacts are always welcome.

There are many artifacts in the museum to view and study. You may view an 1850 quilt owned by the Smith family, that was used to hide and protect the family silver in the woods during the battle. It rained during the entire battle, and you can still see the water stains on the quilt.

There is a map room in the museum that you can study to see troop positions during certain phases of the battle. A small diarama of the sucessful Federal assault on the first line is there as well as models of each of the plantation houses.

For the avid historian research books, copies of period newspapers, and other printed and preserved materials are available.

Averasboro Battlefield and Museum

3300 Hwy 82
Dunn, NC 28334

(910) 891-5019