The organization of the 7th NC Volunteers was highly irregular. The regiment did not rendezvous to muster in its various companies. Due to the urgent need to fortify the inlets on the northern coastline as quickly as possible, companies were sent individually to Hatteras or Ocracoke and mustered in as they arrived on station rather than holding a rendezvous at a camp of instruction as was the norm.
This irregular organization has been the cause of much confusion over the past 150 years. Rather than follow the letter designations originally assigned by Adjutant General Hoke, companies received their letters based on when they were received into service. These letters do not match the ones assigned on 14 November 1861 when the 7th NC Volunteer Troops were renamed the 17th NC State Troops.
The Washington Greys became dissatisfied with not being able to serve outside of the state. News of the battle at Bull Run had arrived, exciting their imaginations. An election was held and all but twelve voted to form a State Troops company instead of a volunteer one. The company was accepted and were transferred to the 10th NC State Troops (1st NC Artillery) as Company K on 20 August 1861. The Confederate Guards of Beaufort County,under Capt. Swindell, became Co. A in the 7th NC Volunteers following the transfer of the Washington Grays
Brigadier General Walter Gwynn, commander of the Northern Coastal Defenses of North Carolina, ordered an election of field officers. His order was received on or about 18 July 1861. Elections were held and Capt. William F. Martin of the State Guards was elected colonel to rank from 27 July 1861. Other officers elected included Capt. George W. Johnston (Tar River Boys) as lieutenant colonel and Capt. Henry A. Gilliam (Morris Guards) as major. Martin was replaced as captain of the State Guards by Lt. John B. Fearing, elected captain on 12 August 1861. Lt. Stuart L. Johnston was promoted to captain of the Morris Guards to replace Gilliam on 20 August 1861. The Tar River Boys were captured by Union forces at the battle of Hatteras Inlet before they could hold elections to replace Johnston. (Their elections were delayed by a mutiny that occurred in their company while on Portsmouth Island.)
The companies were distributed among Ocracoke, Hatteras, and Oregon Inlets when they arrived on the Outer Banks. The Washington Greys arrived at Ocracoke Inlet first, followed by the Hyde County Rifles, Morris Guards, Tar River Boys, Hertford Light Infantry, and Confederate Guards. The Independent Greys were first to arrive at Hatteras Inlet, followed by the Roanoke Guards and the Hamilton Guards. Three independent companies were also stationed at Hatteras Inlet. Oregon Inlet was manned by the Currituck Atlantic Rifles, John Harvey Guards, and State Guards.
When the Butler Expedition appeared at Hatteras Inlet on 27 August 1862, the Washington Greys, Tar River Boys, Hertford Light Infantry, and Morris Guards were hurriedly transported to Hatteras Inlet from Ocracoke Inlet. They arrived late in the afternoon of the 28th, too late to participate in that day’s fighting. They provided a welcome relief for the battle-weary troops in Fort Hatteras.
The Federals resumed their bombardment of Fort Hatteras on the 29th. The ships of the Union flotilla stayed outside the range of the fort’s 32-pounders and poured an accurate, incessant fire into the helpless fort. The Confederates surrendered before noon on the 29th. Most of the 7th NC Volunteers at Hatteras were captured.
Following the fall of Hatteras, the Hyde County Rifles and the Confederate Guards hurriedly abandoned the fort at Ocracoke Inlet on 30 August 1861. A council of war was held by the commanders at Oregon Inlet on the 31st. It was decided to abandon that position as it could be cut off from its supply lines now that the Federals had control of Hatteras Inlet.
The two Martin County companies, the Roanoke Guards and the Hamilton Guards, were stationed outside of Fort Hatteras when the surrender occurred. A number of these men (12 from the Roanoke Guards and 37 from the Hamilton Guards) managed to slip away and boarded a schooner, making good their escape. They were transferred to Co. F of the new 31st NC regiment where they served until their enlistments were up in September of 1862. A number of men from the Hertford Light Infantry escaped in a similar manner and enlisted in Co. G of that same regiment.
The John Harney Guards and the State Guards moved to Roanoke Island and were stationed at Fort Bartow. Federal forces captured them on 8 February 1862 during the battle of Roanoke Island; they were paroled at Elizabeth City on the 21st of that same month. The Currituck Atlantic Rifles also served on Roanoke Island, participating in the Chicamacomico Races during October 1861. They were stationed across Croatan Sound from Fort Bartow at Fort Forrest during the battle of Roanoke Island. Escaping capture, they worked their way to South Mills and joined forces with the 3rd Georgia Volunteer Infantry. They mustered out 2 April 1862.near Elizabeth City.
The soldiers captured at Hatteras Inlet were transported to New York harbor aboard the USS Minnesota. On arrival, the officers were imprisoned at Fort Columbus and the enlisted men at Castle Williams on Governor’s Island. Crowded, unhealthy conditions led to their being transferred to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor in early November of 1861. All of the captives from Hatteras had been paroled by early February 1862 and the enlisted men were officially exchanged on 20 February 1862. Five of these six companies were mustered out of service in March and April of 1862 as their enlistments expired.
The sixth, the Independent Greys, had 61 officers and enlisted men transferred to the 32nd NC, 1st Co. B, on the same day that they were exchanged. They were the members of their company that had been captured at Hatteras. Most of those that escaped at Hatteras had already transferred to Cos. E and I of the 7th NC or to companies in the 8th NC. They mustered out of the 32nd NC on 1 April 1862.
Following their retreat from Fort Ocracoke, the Hyde County Rifles and the Confederate Guards were stationed in Hyde County until ordered to Washington, NC, in February 1862. On March 5, they were ordered to Suffolk, Virginia and mustered out of service at Suffolk on 26 March 1862.
The John Harvey Guards and State Guards were left in limbo. All of the other companies had disbanded, but they couldn’t because they were still on parole following their capture at Roanoke Island. They were finally exchanged in August of 1862. Both companies continued to operate as independent commands. The State Guards disbanded on 4 March 1863 and mustered out of service. The John Harvey Guards finally disbanded on 1 May 1863; some were discharged while the rest transferred to the 17th NC Troops, Co. L (2nd organization).
The regiment was officially disbanded by Special Order No. 55, Adjutant and Inspector General’s office, on 10 March 1862.