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The Tragic Death of Young Willie Hardee

General William J. HardeeA historical tie to one of the participants in the Battle of Averasboro is the story of the death of Willie Hardee, the teenaged son of General William Hardee, who was on General Hardee’s staff at the Battle of Averasboro. Willie Hardee was severely wounded, resulting in his death, at the Battle of Bentonville. Through the writings found in the journal Bull Runnings by Harry Smeltzer, some additional information about Willie was discovered. From Smeltzer,

“In the ranks of the 8th Texas that day was the General’s 16-year old son, Willie. Young Hardee had first joined the Rangers in the first half of 1864, but the regiment sent the boy, who had run away from a Georgia school to sign up, to his father. In order to keep better watch over him, the General gave his son a position on his staff. Except for a brief stint with a battery, Willie served on his father’s staff up until the march toward Bentonville. Reunited with the Rangers on the march, the boy pleaded with his father for permission to serve with them. After an enticement of an officer’s rank and a position on Johnston’s staff was resisted by the son, the father relented. He told Capt. Kyle of the regiment, “Swear him into service in your company, as nothing else will satisfy.”

When Willie was wounded at Bentonville, Smeltzer says, “The General directed his son be taken toConfederate Seal Hillsboro to the home of his niece, Susannah Hardee Kirkland, wife of Brig. Gen. William W. Kirkland, one of Bragg’s brigade commanders. It was there that Willie Hardee died three days later on March 24. In a small military ceremony which his father attended, he was buried in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church cemetery.”

Here is an excerpt from an article which appeared in the January, 1916, edition of the Confederate Veteran, written by a surviving Confederate soldier who had firsthand knowledge of Willie Hardee, Colonel W. D. Pickett, from Lexington, Kentucky.

“The article in the January VETERAN on General Hardee's Son recalls to me one of the most deplorable incidents of that bloody struggle. I was a member of General Hardee's staff for the last three and a half years of the war and was paroled at Greensboro N C with the rank of colonel and assistant inspector of General Hardee's corps CSA, so I am familiar with the facts in relation to the death of Willie Hardee. The statement in regard to his death is substantially correct. He was never Tombstone Of Willie J. Hardeepublished as a member of the staff as he was too young. His father was very devoted to his only son and under the circumstances he naturally came to his father for about two years before the end, I think, however it is a mistake to say that he had even enlisted in any regiment. It was said that on his eighteenth birthday he enlisted as a private in the 8th Texas Cavalry one of the most distinguished cavalry regiments of the Confederate army. A few days after his enlistment the battle of Bentonville, NC, was fought for the possession of an important bridge in which the Confederates were successful. In the charge of his regiment, General Hardee leading it, Willie Hardee was killed. It was sad indeed that in this last battle of the war fought east of the Mississippi’ father and son were forever separated by the enemy's bullets. Willie Hardee was a noble boy. I was much attached to him, as were all who knew him and his death was deeply regretted.”