1863: George Alfred Cunningham to James G. Martin

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A post war photograph of Col. George Alfred Cunningham

This letter was written by Col. George Alfred Cunningham (1837-1904), commander of the City of Wilmington and River Defenses which included the command of Brig. General James G. Martin’s Brigade in Robert F. Hoke’s Division. Col. Cunningham was an 1857 graduate of the US Military Academy. After graduation he served on the Utah Expedition and under General Lee in Texas. He resigned from the US Army in 1861, joined the Confederate army and was wounded at Fort Donelson. After he recovered, he was placed in charge of Fort Caswell, N. C. and the river defenses headquartered in Wilmington.

The letter accompanied a package containing the personal effects of Private Augustus B. Norton who had been on the sick list since September 1863 but was later listed as a deserter. Records indicate he returned to the regiment on December 22, but died that night while in the guard house. In this document, the three Confederate doctors making up the examining board concluded Norton died of a chill. ¹

Augustus Norton was a 29 year-old “day laborer” when he enlisted in Robeson county at the age of 29 in Co. B, 50th North Carolina Infantry. I believe that Augustus Norton was related to the Pate Family and came originally from Richmond county, North Carolina.


Headquarters City and River Defenses
Wilmington, North Carolina
December 23, 1863

Brig. Gen’l J[ames] G. Martin
Commanding &c. &c.

Enclosed I send a package taken from the body of A. B. Norton, Co. B, 50th N. C. Regt. who died while in confinement at 2½ A. M. yesterday. It contains all that was of any value that he had with him and I send it to you that it may get to his friends sooner than it would were the regulations in such cases followed out. Private [Norton] was in confinement for desertion & died very suddenly of a congestive chill.

Very respectfully, &c. — George A. Cunningham, Col. Commanding

¹ The doctor’s statement of cause of death is offered for sale (January 2020) at Iron Horse Antiques. It reads:

Wilmington NC
December 22nd 1863

In the case of Pr. A Norton 50th Reg NCI Co B, a Deserter, who died in Guard House of City Garrison on night of Dec 21st 1863, we the board of examination as to cause of the death of said Norton, do declare that from evidence produced we are of opinion that the immediate cause of his death was a congestive chill.

N. N. Harrison, M. Dr.
S. D. Door MD
_____ Bryant, Asst. Surgeon

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