A Brief History of the
37th Virginia Infantry
by R. K. Denton jr.

    The 37th VA Infantry was raised from volunteers who resided in the far southwestern part of the state, primarily Washington, Lee, Russell and Scott counties (although some recruits were from nearby Tennessee).  The first companies (which would eventually become A, B, F, and K), were formed just after the secession of Virginia from the Union, in late April, 1861.  The remaining six companies would be completed by July of 1861, giving the regiment a total compliment of close to 1000 men.
    The land these recruits came from was characterized by parallel ranges of high, rugged mountain ridges, interspersed with flat-lying, fertile limestone valleys punctuated by small, steep hills.  Moderate winters with a long summer growing season made the region exceptional farming country.  Livestock, cane, flax, and especially tobacco, were the most important cash crops of the region. The area's dark soils supported the growth of heavy, reddish leaves, best suited for the manufacture of chewing and (burly) pipe tobacco. There were also many dairy farms and orchards, and in these orchards the local farmers maintained honeybee colonies to pollinate the fruit trees.   This coupling of dairy farming with beekeeping gave the region it's nickname of "the land of milk and honey".  Farmers also raised corn, wheat, and vegetables, primarily for their own household use and for sale in local markets.
    Thus, the majority of the young men who filled the ranks of the 37th VA were farmers. However the service records also indicate that many of the skilled trades of the mid-nineteenth century were represented in the regiment, including tinners, coopers, mechanics, blacksmiths, shoemakers, and sawyers.  The remoteness of the region, as well as the presence of the local salt and niter mines, demanded the talents of skilled tradesmen. Although practiced to a limited degree,  lumbering would not become a major industry in the region until after the war.
    In general, the standard of living of those recruits from Washington County (Seat: Abingdon) and Russell County (Seat: New Garden; now Lebanon) was the highest among the regiment, and on par with most other areas of the state. Nevertheless, many of the fellows seem to have been
illiterate and of relatively modest means.  Although various nationalities lived in the area, the majority of the men were of  Scotch-Irish, Irish, English and German derivation. The religion of most of the rank and file was baptist, although the more well-to-do townsfolk were often members of the Methodist, Presbyterian or Episcopal Churches.
    There were few slaves in southwestern Virginia, and they belonged only to the relatively wealthy.  Ironically, many of the townsfolk, including those who owned slaves, opposed secession, while their "country cousins" who farmed the surrounding mountain valleys were ardent supporters of the new Confederacy.  This was due to the fact that the townsfolk, who benefitted from the progress and trade of Abingdon's position on the railroad, saw secession as a sure-fire way to limit their prosperity.  The mountaineer farmers wanted to see things stay as they were, and resented rapid progress and industrial growth, causing them to favor the Confederate side.
    Yet when secession did come, the men of what would eventually be designated the 37th Virginia Volunteer Infantry were among the first to gather to defend the "Old Dominion".  The governor appointed Samuel V. Fulkerson, a veteran of the Mexican War and judge from Abingdon, as the regiment's colonel. Travelling by rail from Abingdon to Richmond, they were quartered and trained at Camp Lee, at the Richmond Fair Grounds, where they would receive their first uniforms and weapons.  Shortly thereafter they were shipped by train to Staunton, from where they marched into the Allegheny mountains.  They would spend five months fighting the miserable and indecisive "Allegheny Mountain Campaign", before finally being assigned to Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson at Winchester, VA, during November, 1861.
    Jackson would lead his army on the abortive Romney expedition during January, 1862.  Horrendous weather conditions, as well as indecisive battles, would lead to a near mutiny among some of his troops, including the 37th VA. However, the regiment would soon recover it's lost honor at  Kernstown (March 23, 1862), the first battle of Jackson's brilliant "Valley Campaign".  Jackson's activities in the Shenandoah valley (April through June of 1862), would solidify his reputation forever as a both a southern hero and military genius.  The 37th VA participated in every battle of the Valley Campaign except Cross Keys, and would receive honors for their exceptional service at Kernstown, McDowell and Port Republic.
    The regiment would leave the valley with Jackson during late June, 1862, and for many of the men of the 37th it would be the last time they would see their beloved mountains until the end of the war.  The regiment participated in the so-called "Seven Days" battles, and although not heavily engaged, they suffered the loss of Colonel Fulkerson, who was killed while reconnoitering at the battle of Gaines Mill.
    During August, 1862, Jackson's Command met with near disaster at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, but were able to avenge themselves at the Confederate victory of Second Manassas (August 28-30).  The 37th suffered 81 casualties at Cedar Mountain.  They would participate in Jackson's investment and capture of Harper's Ferry on September 15, and would subsequently be engaged in brief but ferocious fighting at the Battle of Sharpsburg (September 17), during the action at the West Woods, where they would suffer 48 casualties.  Although they were present, the regiment did not take an active part in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
    The following year would see the greatest number of battle casualties in the regiment, with Chancellorsville topping the list.  It was here that Stonewall Jackson was mistakenly shot down by his own troops, who mistook his reconnoitering party for Federal cavalry. The thirty seventh were part of Jackson's brilliant flank attack that routed the Union XI Corps from the Federal right flank on the afternoon/evening of May 2. They would suffer severe casualties the next morning (May 3), following Jackson's wounding, in the attack against the Federal breastworks guarding the Orange turnpike and plank road near Fairfield.  One hundred and thirty two men of the 37th would be killed or wounded at Chancellorsville (May, 1863), often considered Lee's greatest victory.
    At Gettysburg in July of 1863, 98 men of the regiment would become casualties at the fighting on Culp's hill.  The two days prior to the battle the 37th had marched over thirty miles.  The men were exhausted, hungry and thirsty.  Many were broken down by the hard marching and were without shoes.  General Ewell (who had taken over Jackson's old Corps) decided against an all-out attack on Culps Hill on the first day, as most of his troops were in the same condition as the 37th. He did not feel they could carry the position without a night to rest and recoup.  The second day saw the advance of Ewell's Corps, the 37th being assigned at that time to the brigade of General George "Maryland" Steuart.  They drove the Federal skirmishers from the base of Culps Hill and overran the trenches higher up the slope.  The Federal troops began the action on the morning of the third day (July 3rd, 1863) when they commenced shelling the position occupied by Steuart's brigade.  Under fire, the men of the 37th lined up perpendicular to the works they had captured, and charged across and down the slope now known as Pardee's Field.  Terrible fire assailed them from the left and front, and the entire left wing of Steuart's line was pinned down.  All except one company (company A) of the the 37th lay down to try to protect themselves from the galling fire.  The Maryland Line, 1st NCST and 3rd NCST continued towards the Federal works, but were turned back only yards away from their goal.  The fire was so terrible that only two men of Company A were left standing by the time they reached the base of Pardee's field.
    The period after Gettysburg saw the greatest number of desertions from the regiment, and by Spring of 1864, only 300 men were present for duty.  The 37th was engaged briefly at the Wilderness, and spared great carnage.  However at Spotsylvania disaster struck.  Assigned to the ill-fated "mule shoe" salient, they were caught in the full force of a Federal advance consisting of 16,000 men under the command of Winfield Scott Hancock.  Two hundred of the 270 men present for duty that morning  were either  killed, wounded, or captured.  The regimental colors were lost, and only 70 soldiers managed to escape down the trench line.  It is unknown to what extent they participated in the Confederate counterattack that saved the day.
    The remnants of the regiment went on to fight in a consolidated brigade under General Terry.  They participated in Jubal Early's second Valley Campaign, and were honored for their parts at the Battles of Monocacy and Second Kernstown.  They also fought at Second Winchester, Fishers Hill and Cedar Creek, before returning to the Petersburg line during November, 1864.
    The CSR's indicate that a number of men from the 37th were captured at the attack on Fort Steadmen, the last offensive action by the Army of Northern Virginia (March 1864).  They would abandon the trenches along with the rest of the army during the first week of April, and 39 men surrendered with Lee at Appomattox on April 9th.  The surrender roll filed with the Federal government read and signed by Sergeant Andrew Kelley read:
    "I certify, on honor, that, of the above number of men, that there were present and in line of battle, seventeen (17) enlisted men on the morning of the ninth (9) instant, the day of surrender of this army."
Grave of Colonel Samuel V. Fulkerson of the 37th VA, killed at Gaines Mill June 1862 (Sinking Spring Cemetery, Abingdon VA)
"...Col. Fulkerson was such a great favorite with him that the General's eyes filled with tears when he heard of his death..."
                                                  Henry Kyd Douglass
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