Category Archives: “Buffaloes”

1864: William Edward Shallington to George Wortham

This letter was written by William Edward Shallington (1839-1921), the son of David Pender Shallington (1811-18xx) and Penelope Barnes (1814-1870) of Edgecombe county, North Carolina. William enlisted early in the Civil War as a private in Co. I, 3rd North Carolina Infantry. He remained with that regiment until January 1863 when he transferred to Capt. William H. Spencer’s Company of Independent Cavalry (“Spencer’s Rangers”) where he was awarded a commission as 1st Lieutenant. In February 1864, after Capt. Spencer and a few other rangers were taken captive in a surprise raid at Fairfield, Lt. Shallington took command of the Rangers.

In the spring of 1864, the Confederate army reestablished control over most of Tyrrell county which had been under Union occupation for almost two years. Gum Neck fell under the administration of Colonel George Wortham of the 50th North Carolina Regiment who established his headquarters at Plymouth. During the period that followed, conflicts necessarily arose between the roving Confederate bands—such as Spencer’s Rangers—and the local residents who had always been loyal to the Union, or who had “turned traitor” to the Confederacy and taken the Oath of Allegiance to the United States government. In common parlance, the term “buffaloes” was used to refer to any individual—black or white—who opposed the Confederate cause. See NCPedia, “Buffaloes.”

In the following letter, Lt. Shallington speaks of hunting down “buffaloes”—in this case, refugees—who were attempting to flee to the east side of the Alligator river in Tyrree county. [Readers are referred to an excellent article by Roy T. Sawyer entitled, Life on the Alligator River, published in Tyrrell Branches, Spring 2012.]


Tyrell County, North Carolina
June 17th 1864

Col. George Wortham, dear sir,

I avail myself of the opportunity of writing you a few lines to inform you of my health. My health is very good at present, hoping that these few lines may find you enjoying the [same] blessing of health, &c. The health of my company is very poor &c. Colonel, I wish—that is, if you could spare my men that I sent you—to send them to camp as I stand in need of them very much. My picket duty is so heavy [and] all my men are becoming sick. I sent a squad of men under the command of a sergeant to Second Creek near the mouth of Alligator River and they found a buffalo making preparations to get to the island. They shot eight rounds at him and supposed to have wounded him. He was moving household and kitchen furniture. They cut the boat to pieces and destroyed his furniture. He had just returned from the island with the boat to move.

I am going to Gum Neck Monday after some buffaloes that are giving the citizens trouble. My men are all tired and worn down at this time.

Colonel, I heard a few days ago that you had been informed by someone that my company was under no discipline. Colonel, there is not an independent company in the Confederacy under better discipline than this is. I am an old soldier. I know a soldier’s duty. You haven’t a man in your command that will obey an order from you sooner than my men will or from me.

I am getting along very well as to provisions at present. I shall make out my muster rolls next week and start for Raleigh. I have nothing more at present—only [to report that] the buffaloes are conveying men to the island every chance. Colonel, please send me my men immediately.

Yours with respect, — Will E. Shallington, Lieut. Commanding Rangers

1864: Franklin Gray Pitt to George Wortham

This letter was written by Franklin (“Frank”) Gray Pitt (1827-1871), a physician and slaveholder from Lower Conetoe township, Edgecombe county and the son of Col. Joab Phillips Pitt (1795-1854) and Elizabeth Shirley (1806-1841). In the 1850s, Frank and Dr. John Howard formed a medical practice together at Sparta, advertising their services regularly in Tarboro’s The Southerner.

In June 1861, Frank volunteered to serve in the 30th North Carolina Infantry and was elected Captain of Co. F (“The Spartan Band”). He served with the regiment until 11 March 1862 when he resigned his commission and returned home for the purpose of raising a cavalry company.

From a history of North Carolina Regiments in the Civil War, we learn that Frank organized the Edgecomb Partisan Rangers, with himself as Captain, Van B. Sharpe as 1st Lieutenant, Bennett P. Jenkins as 2nd Lieutenant, and Mark B. Pitt as 3rd Lieutenant. This company was incorporated into the 7th Regiment Confederate Cavalry as Co. I where they served until the 16th North Carolina Cavalry Battalion was organized in July 1864. Near the end of the war, Capt. Pitt took overall command of the 16th N. C. Cavalry Battalion until early April 1865 when he broke down from exhaustion and was captured.

Frank’s forage requests may be found in his Compiled Service Record beginning in April of 1864. The requests were made to, and approved by, Col. Wortham at Plymouth so this letter was no doubt written to Col. George Wortham, his commanding officer. George Wortham was a lawyer from Granville County, North Carolina.

What is most curious about this letter is the reference to a slave named George who was being pursued by Capt. Pitt although his reason for doing so is vague. A clue is offered by Pitt’s statement that “the Buffaloes” might come with him. According to the NCPedia, the origin of the word Buffalo during the Civil War era “is contested” and remains an ongoing area of research for historians. The best intelligence that has emerged is that the term “buffaloes” was first used to describe the North Carolina Union Volunteers of Eastern North Carolina. Later in the war, the meaning of the word was expanded to refer to any individual opposed to the Confederate cause.


Camp near Pettigrew’s Chapel
[Creswell, Washington County, North Carolina]
June 8th 1864

Colonel [Wortham],

I send two men to you as couriers and will station two half way between here and Plymouth. This will reduce me to twenty men for duty. I have to keep ten on picket at a time. This will have my men on picket duty every other night and day. I shall have none to scout now. This will give Lt. [Van B.] Sharpe near 30 men.

Colonel, I want to know if I have any control or command of the courier line. If I have, I shall change the number of men at post for I learn there is five men near Cross Roads Meeting House more than necessary. If I have no control of it, of course I cannot alter it.

I have been trying to get this boy George & have not succeeded yet for he is very shy and his master is not all right. I shall continue to try and get him & the Buffaloes that come with him. I do not think the negro carried against his will for he has been with them all the time. It is going to be very hard duty for my men here now. I do not see how I can keep up a scout below now. Let me hear from you. I will do all in my power at anything.

Yours truly, — F. G. Pitt, Capt. Commanding Cavalry