More on the Origin of “Tar Heels”

Digging again through old newspapers, I came across another very early use in print of the nickname “Tar Heels.” A little over a year ago I wrote about the appearance of the nickname in an ad in an 1864 Fayetteville paper, which was a contender for the earliest use of “Tar Heels” in print. Now we can move it back another year to 1863 thanks to a letter from a Civil War soldier to a Raleigh newspaper.

Sgt. G. W. Timberlake, a member of Company A of the 3rd Regiment of North Carolina Troops, had a letter published in the Raleigh Semi-Weekly Standard on June 2, 1863. Writing from a “Camp Near the Old U.S. Ford” in Virginia, Timberlake describes the action of the second Battle of Fredericksburg and lists casualties from the regiment. Apparently the North Carolina soldiers did a particularly good job of holding their line. Timberlake writes,

The troops from other States call us “Tar Heels.” I am proud of the name, as tar is a sticky substance, and the “Tar Heels” stuck up like a sick kitten to a hot brick, while many others from a more oily State slipped to the rear, and left the “Tar Heels” to stick it out.

It’s a great quote, and confirms the origin of the nickname in the Civil War.

2 thoughts on “More on the Origin of “Tar Heels””

  1. Hat tip to Nick (and to digitalization) for another vivid discovery — the etymology of Tar Heel just keeps giving….
    “Like a sick kitten to a hot brick” was new to me, but apparently it’s an artifact of the fireplace era…

    Here’s an 1857 example from Thomas C. Bowie’s diary:

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