Pvt. George Clifton, 47th NC Infantry

I’ve got more Confederate ancestors than I can shake a stick at, but when I filled out my application to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I applied based on the record of my second great-uncle George Clifton.

The above marker is in our family cemetery in rural Franklin County, NC. During my research, I discovered that George was not actually buried in North Carolina at all. His parents, brother, and sisters all went to their grave only knowing that he had been wounded and left behind when the Army of Northern Virginia was in its final days, making its way toward Appomattox. What they did not know (and my grandfather, John R. Clifton, Jr., eventually discovered) was that he died in a Yankee prison camp and was buried in New York City.

Based on the records I’ve found for George, as well as research on the activities of the 47th during the final days of the war and family lore, here’s what I believe happened during his last days in the Army of Northern Virginia:


1. Family lore holds that George Clifton was wounded and left leaning against a tree by his compatriots so that the Union Army would care for him, and that he was never heard from again. This story was presumably related to his family by a fellow soldier from the 47th who made it to Appomattox and was paroled.

2. 47th North Carolina Regimental History (by John H. Thorp, Captain., Company A, pp. 99-100):

Toward the end of March Grant had collected an irresistible force on his left, which was daily feeling for our right, and on 2 April broke through our attenuated line nearer to Petersburg and moved in our rear. At this time the Forty-seventh, lately reinforced with the latest recruits from home, were further to the right to try to stem the torrent that appeared in that quarter…

Things everywhere on our side were getting in a desperate fix, the battle raging, seemingly, everywhere. Our skirmishers, about 100 in number, of whom thirty were from the Forty-seventh, got up with our brigade near Southerland’s Station, where McRae was so pressed 2 April that he must need turn and fight. Two charges of the enemy were repulsed and the third was being made when a column of the enemy arrived on our left and rear. A fierce struggle ensued in which we were totally defeated, slain, wounded, captured, or scattered. Only a few came out, the river being in front, the victorious enemy in rear. By order all means of crossing the river had been removed…

3. 47th North Carolina Regimental History (by Rowan Rogers, 2nd Lt., Company I, pp. 111-112):

2 April, 1865

On that day I was captured on the Cox road about five miles west of Petersburg, while with the skirmishers of the Forty-seventh Regiment holding the enemy back till the handfull of Lee’s army crossed to the north side of the Appomattox river, thus placing a barrier between them and the great host of Grant’s army, which was then pressing him.

and

After 2 April the Forty-seventh had very few men but its organization was kept up till General Lee surrendered.

4. Union Army Records (The Union Army, Vol. 6, p. 861) (source):

Sutherland’s Station, Va.,
April 2, 1865.
1st Division, 2nd Army Corps.

At 9 a. m. the division, Bvt. Maj.-Gen. N. A. Miles commanding,  drove the Confederates from the White Oak road and pursued to Sutherland’s station on the South Side railroad, 8 miles from Petersburg where a larger force was found intrenched, with artillery. Miles ordered Nugent’s and Madill’s brigades to charge, which was gallantly done, but the position proved too strong to be carried by a direct assault over the uneven ground in front.

Madill was severely wounded in the charge and Brig.-Gen. MacDougall took command of the brigade. About noon the artillery of the division came up and began a vigorous shelling of the works, under cover of which MacDougall made another charge but it was also repulsed. Miles then pushed forward a strong skirmish line against the enemy’s right to engage his attention, while Ramsey’s brigade was moved rapidly through the woods and down a ravine on the Confederate left.

At 2:45 Ramsey advanced on the double-quick, struck the enemy in flank, and then swept down inside the works, capturing a large number and scattering the remainder. Those who escaped were driven toward the Appomattox river, where they were picked up in the woods that afternoon and the next morning. Miles captured 600 prisoners, 1 battleflag and 2 pieces of artillery.

His loss for the day was 33 killed, 236 wounded and 97 missing.

5. George Clifton’s records from the VA state that he was captured on April 3, 1865 at Appomattox – the location must be in error (unless the meaning is “Appomattox Campaign”) since Lee’s forces did not arrive there for several days.

Given the above puzzle pieces, I believe it is likely that George Clifton was among the skirmishers holding back the Union Army so that the Lee’s (presumably Fitzhugh, not Robert E.) forces could cross the Appomattox to safety, and was wounded during this action, seriously enough that he could not be taken with the retreating Confederate Army. The fierce nature of the fighting combined with Lee’s desire to put distance between his forces and Grant so that he might acquire rations west of Petersburg and join forces with Johnston in North Carolina would explain why his comrades would choose to leave him to the care of the Union Army – the Confederates did not need to be weighed down with wounded soldiers. The Union records, which match the first description of the action on April 2 (both note two charges, and then a third made with a column assaulting the Confederate left), note that prisoners were picked up “that afternoon [April 2] and the next morning” which lines up with the date of capture listed in the VA records.