Thomas Fentress Toon was born on June 10, 1840 in Columbus County, North Carolina. His father was Anthony F. Toon, of Irish and Welsh ancestry, and his mother was Mary McMillan Toon, whose father was from Scotland. Thomas was a senior at Wake Forest College when the war broke out.
Thomas joined the “Columbus Guards No. 2” as a private on May 20, 1861. The company was raised by his half brother William, who would climb in the ranks to major and lieutenant colonel before resigning his commission in December of 1862. The Columbus Guards No. 2 became Company K of the 10th North Carolina Infantry Regiment Volunteers in July of 1860. In November the regiment was redesignated 20th North Carolina Infantry Regiment to fix a confusing overlapping numbering system for North Carolina regiments.
Thomas briefly returned to Wake Forest and graduated in June, 1861.
Civil War Career
On June 17 of 1861 Toon was elected First Lieutenant of Company K. On July 22, 1861, he was elected Captain of
the company when his half brother William was elected Major of the regiment.
The regiment spent its first year garrisoning the North Carolina coastal area, but in May of 1862 it was moved by train to Virginia to join Johnston’s army near Williamsburg. It was quickly involved in the fighting of the Seven Days Battles, and Thomas became the second man in the unit to be wounded when a bullet passed through another soldier and struck him, the first of seven wounds he would suffer.
Thomas recovered from his wound and rejoined the 20th North Carolina for the Battles of South Mountain and Fredericksburg. Colonel Iverson had been promoted to brigadier general and Thomas’ half brother resigned his commission as lieutenant colonel. On February 26, 1863, the major and senior captain both agreed to have Thomas promoted over them to become colonel of the regiment.
In May of 1863 the regiment fought at Chancellorsville, where Thomas was wounded three times. He was still on leave recovering from these wounds when his regiment was slaughtered at Gettysburg due to the poor handling of the brigade by Brigadier General Iverson.
Toon had returned to command by the start of the Overland Campaign in 1864, and was wounded again in the deadly fighting in the Mule shoe at Spotsylvania Court House. He was back by the end of May and was given temporary command of Johnston’s North Carolina Brigade after that officer was wounded. He commanded the brigade through Jubal Early’s Shenandoah Campaign and the raid on Washington D.C. In August Toon reverted to regimental command after Johnston recovered from his wound.
The 20th North Carolina returned to Lee’s army around Petersburg in December of 1864. But Colonel Toon spent much of December in the hospital.
On March 25 Lee launched his last great gamble, the attack on Federal Fort Stedman. The 20th North Carolina was in the lead in the attack, which failed with heavy casualties. Colonel Toon suffered his last and most severe wound of the war, which ended his days of active duty. He would spend time at a hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina but recovered enough to be present for the surrender of Johnston’s army, and was paroled at Greensboro.
After the war Toon lived in Columbus County for 25 years. He 1866 he married Carrie E. Smith of Fair Bluff and together they had three daughters. He served as a high school principal. Carrie died in 1880. In 1881 Thomas was elected state senator, serving two terms. He married Rebecca Ekizabeth Amm Cobb in 1891 and moved to Robeson County, North Carolina.. He was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1900. He wrote the history of the 20th North Carolina Infantry Regiment in 1901. Toon died at age 61 in Raleigh, North Carolina, on February 19, 1902.
North Carolina Governor Aycock wrote, “He freely offered his life for the independence of the South. He finally gave it in behalf of the education of the children. He was engaged in canvassing the state in advocacy of larger educational facilities when he was attacked by pneumonia.”
Thomas Toon is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.