At the outbreak of the Civil War, Lane held the position of professor of natural philosophy and instructor of military tactics at the North Carolina Military Institute. In response to the call of North Carolina's governor for volunteers, Lane enlisted and was promptly elected major of the First North Carolina, a regiment that included much of the corps of cadets of the North Carolina Military Institute. The regiment was sent to the scene of the expected fighting in Virginia. On 10 June 1861 a Union force of about 2,500 men advancing westward from Fort Monroe, Virginia, was met at Big Bethel by Confederate forces, including Lane's regiment. Lane led the scouting patrol that first made contact with the Federals. The fight that followed would hardly have rated as a significant skirmish later in the war, but at this point it was hailed as a great Confederate victory. The First North Carolina took the nickname "the Bethel regiment." That September, when the regiment reorganized for the war, Lane was elected lieutenant colonel. Later that month, when D. H. Hill was promoted to brigadier general, Lane moved up to colonel of the Twenty-eighth North Carolina.
Steven E. Woodworth, "Lane, James Henry," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/05/05-00417.html.