Sunday, July 24, 2011

John Decatur Barry: The man who destroyed a stone wall

John Decatur Barry

       John Decatur Barry was born in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1839. He graduated from the University of North Carolina and was working as a banker when the war began. He was a member of a local militia company that became Company I, Eighteenth North Carolina Infantry. 
       The regiment spent the first part of the war in North Carolina. In April, 1862 the company was reorganized and Barry was made a captain. The regiment was sent to Robert E. Lee's army the next month and fought during the Seven Days battles where they took heavy casualties. Barry himself was seriously wounded at Frayser's Farm. It is believed he wasn't able to return to the army until September. He would enter Maryland with Lee's army where he was commended for his gallantry and bravery and awarded with a promotion to major. Barry would see action at Fredericksburg in December. 
       The low point of Barry's career would occur at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863. After Stonewall Jackson's successful attack on the Federal right flank, the Eighteenth North Carolina was called up from reserve for night operations. A group of horsemen came riding toward the fresh regiment. Barry, thinking it was Federal cavalry ordered his men to open fire. Despite the yells from the riders that they were friends, Barry thinking it was a trick ordered them to fire again. Because of this order, John Decatur Barry had mortally wounded Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
       The battle had been severe on the officer corps of the Eighteenth North Carolina. Out of thirteen field officers, only Barry was unhurt. He had moved from private to colonel in just over a year. He would lead the regiment in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg and during the Mine Run Campaign. Because of his actions during the Battle of the Wilderness, Barry's commanding officer recommended he be promoted to brigadier. He also saw heavy action at Spotsylvania. 
       When Brigadier General James Lane was wounded at Cold Harbor, Barry took command of the brigade. He would see his first major action in command of a brigade at the Weldon Railroad. General Lee asked Davis to promote Barry to brigadier general in command of Lane's brigade. He would never lead the brigade in battle once he was promoted. While scouting the Federal lines at Deep Bottom, a Federal sharpshooter shot the newly appointed brigadier in the hand which caused him to lose two fingers and remain out of action for the rest of the year. Lee was forced to ask the war department to cancel the promotion which it did. 

Barry as a major

       He would return to duty and again command the brigade in early 1865, but was soon transferred back to North Carolina. After the war he became a newspaper editor. Just two years after the war, Barry would die in Wilmington, North Carolina at the age of twenty-six. The man was noted for his bravery. He rests today in Wilmington's Oakdale Cemetery. 
       It was said that he returned from the war with his health broken, but his friends told a different story about the man's early death. It was said that Barry felt responsible for Stonewall's death and couldn't live with the fact that he may have cost the Confederacy the war that night at Chancellorsville. His friends often said that John Decatur Barry died of a broken heart.

John Decatur Barry's grave

The inscription reads, "I found him a pygmy and left him a giant."
This is in reference to his rise from private to general.



  1. It's amazing the life these men lead in their short time on earth. Most of us will never experience half of what they did and we will live much longer..........

  2. I'm a Yankee girl through and through and my heart goes out to this tragic, heroic man.