150 years ago today Civil War in the east took a twist with the commencement of the Seven Days Battles. The first of Lee’s great campaigns got off to a rough start, however, as he and his lieutenants went on the offensive for the first time. What was meant to be a crushing blow to the Union right flank to the northeast of Richmond turned into a piecemeal sacrifice of many of his soldiers. One regiment, the 37th North Carolina, was a part of A.P. Hill’s Light Division which made most of the assaults that day, but was spared the perilous advance against well entrench Union defenders. They did take some loss, however, and as we’ll see Sergeant John L. Crouch would become a victim of the strong arm of the Union Army of the Potomac.
We know from his service records that John Crouch was about 23 when he enlisted, and that he was a farmer before the war.
He was 6 feet, 1 ¾ inches tall and enlisted October 9th, 1861. Here we think we found him on the 1860 census:
If this is the same J. L. Crouch, he came from a large farming family of modest means. Shortly after volunteering he was made a sergeant, and in April of 1862 was promoted to 1st sergeant of his company.
The 37th North Carolina spent 1862 in its home state, guard against Union landings from the Atlantic and the many inlets along the coast. It fought its first battle in March of 1862 at New Berne, and by May had moved to the Peninsula to join the Confederate force opposing the Army of the Potomac. The regiments first battle in Virginia was at Hanover Courthouse in the wake of the abandonment of Yorktown, where it lost over 200 men in killed, wounded and captured.
150 years ago today they waited in reserve while other brigades of their division went forward in the first wave of assaults to take place during the Seven Days. Confusion was the word of the day amongst the Army of Northern Virginia. Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Army had just arrived in the area to bolster the assault, however Jackson’s force would not take part in the battle at all due to a combination of confusing orders of Lee and misinterpretation by Jackson. The division of A.P. Hill went forward independently without proper support and was bloodied in many failed assaults. While not in the direct line of fire, John and his comrades were subject to Union artillery fire, something which would do much harm to Lee’s army over the next week, especially at Malvern Hill.
Above: An eyewitness sketch of the Battle of Mechanicsville showing Union batteries shelling Confederate Positions.
At some point during the battle, a Union shell exploded near John and wounded him. While his comrades would go on in the next few days to batter George McClellan’s army back to the James River, John would be incapacitated at a hospital. He would linger on for less than a month, before dying of his wound on July 21st, 1861.