It was Sunday April 12, 1863 when the 9th New York Zouaves had arrived at Suffolk, Virginia. The Zouaves wet and tired from the long march had turned themselves into the campsite of the 103rd New York Infantry who were presently on guard at the extreme front.
Now that the Zouaves had arrived it became the commanding officer’s responsibility to report the regiment’s arrival to General Getty’s headquarters. Lieutenant Colonel Edgar Kimball was either on his way to general headquarters or on his way back having secured a tent with Major Bowers of a New Hampshire Regiment, when a sentry’s challenge of some mounted riders had attracted his attention.
The challenged party did not respond to the satisfaction of the sentry, who, again demanded these men give him the countersign. There were raised voices from the men on horseback and others trying to explain their identity and destination. Colonel Kimball advanced in their direction saying: “That’s right sentry; let no one pass without the countersign.” He then challenged the party himself for the countersign.
Again none of the twelve on horseback would give the countersign, when the principle spokesman of the party merely reiterating the statement that he was General Corcoran (69th New York Alumni), Kimball resolutely determined that they should not pass, and placed himself in such a position as to obstruct the passage of the leader. After a few more words of altercation, a shot rang out, and Colonel Kimball fell and instantly died. The bullet from General Corcoran’s pistol had passed through the colonel’s neck, severing one of the carotid arteries.
A day or two later after the tragedy, Brigadier General Michael Corcoran sent a letter to Colonel Hawkins attempting to explain:
Suffolk, VA., April 13, 1863.
Colonel: To prevent any misapprehension I send you a brief statement in relation to the sad affair of Sunday Morning, which resulted, I regret to say, in the death of Lieut.-Col. Edgar E. Kimball. *** I proceeded along the main road toward the front line *** when an officer, whose rank I could not recognize (the night being very dark) rushed out in front of me and ordered a halt, with the additional remark, “I want the countersign.” *** I requested to know the object of his halting me, and his name, rank, and other authority, but could obtain no other reply than it was “none of my —— business; you can not pass here.” I expostulated with him *** told him he must let me pass. I asked him if he knew who he was talking to, and gave him my name and rank *** but it was to no avail. He answered: “I do not care a damned who you are.” I then told him I should pass and warned him to get out of my way, and attempted to proceed. He thereupon put himself in a determined attitude to prevent my progress. *** It was at this point that I used my weapon. ***
MICHAEL CORCORAN, Brig.-General.