First Wednesdays: “…I want you elected Governor again…”

By spring of 1864, the gubernatorial campaign had opened in earnest in North Carolina. As detailed in our previous “First Wednesdays” post, William W. Holden had announced his intention to campaign for the office of governor of North Carolina. The current chief executive of North Carolina, Zebulon Baird Vance, faced a daunting task of mounting a political reelection campaign during the course of war, which was becoming more unpopular as the days multiplied toward the season for active military operations in both Georgia and Virginia. The quest for independence was going badly for the Confederate States of America, and North Carolina citizens simply grown tired of the sacrifice in both lives and property to support a losing cause.

Governor Vance was extremely aware of the discontent of his citizens. He saw their pain and anguish over crimes being committed against unarmed civilians such as in Shelton Laurel in Madison County and bread riots over the inability of soldiers’ families to obtain basic foodstuffs during the previous year. Throughout the state, calls for a peace convention began to rise in places such as Johnston County in the east and the western regions in towns like Wilkesboro and Yadkinville. Governor Vance had to fight Confederate President Jefferson Davis to protect North Carolina’s interests during this unpopular Civil War, and now he faced another fight with the citizens of his own state. To make matters worse, President Davis supported, and the Confederate Congress passed, a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus directed at the growing discontent within the Confederacy.

Despite the political climate within the state, Vance decided to run for reelection for governor. As with Holden, Vance corresponded with key supporters such as former governor David Swan to formulate a political platform and campaign to deal with Holden and his supporters. Vance remained determined to support the idea of a separate Southern Confederacy coupled with a strong defense of North Carolina interests within that new country. Vance realized, as did others, that a return to the days prior to secession was unrealistic. Vance began his political campaign in Wilkesboro with a speech on February 22, 1864, in which he defended his support for the new Confederate nation and attacked the notion of a separate peace convention for North Carolina. Unfortunately for Holden and his political aspirations, Vance was an excellent stump speaker, and had the personal charisma to hold the attention of large audiences. His initial speech was a success, and he made additional remarks to large audiences in Salisbury, Taylorsville, and Statesville. Afterwards, Vance travelled to Virginia to speak to the North Carolina regiments in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia before returning to Raleigh on April 6, 1864.

We are highlighting the beginning of Vance’s reelection campaign in the spring of 1864 with two letters written by supporters of Governor Vance after his initial round of campaigning in the piedmont and western regions of North Carolina. In a letter dated April 2, 1864, Nathaniel Boyden gave his support to Governor Vance, but reminded him of the continued problems with the home guard and militia described as “…countless horde of worthless devils.” Boyden also expressed his concern of Governor Vance as being seen as pawn of “Richmond power” and noted that vocal support of Confederate Colonel Thomas Clingman was not helping. He wished that Clingman would “…turn his steam in some other direction.” Our second letter, addressed April 4, 1864, was written by a former soldier Walter W. Lenoir, who had lost a leg as a result of wounds suffered in combat in Virginia in 1862. He too wrote of his support for Governor Vance, and wished that his “Wilkesborough” speech be distributed to “every soldier and voter at home.”

To learn more about the peace movement in North Carolina in 1864, please be sure to attend our next “Second Mondays” lecture here in the auditorium of the Archives and History building at 12 noon on May 12, 2014. Our fellow committee member, Tiffanie Mazanek will be presenting “Peace Movement and William W. Holden.”

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First Wednesdays: The Reasons William W. Holden Ran for Governor, 1864

In the spring of 1864, the American Civil War has been going on for three years, and the people of North Carolina were tired of the war and the ravages, it brought with it. Many were talking about peace and abandoning the Confederacy to rejoining the Union. William W. Holden, editor of the newspaper, The North Carolina Standard, was among those who believed that the Confederacy was doomed and that an honorable peace now would be better than a forced surrender later.

This spring, 150 years later, we are taking a look at North Carolina’s Peace Movement. Over the next few months, we will add new documents related to the Peace Movement to the digital collections and, on May 12th at 12:00 PM, Tiffanie Mazanek will be giving a lecture on The Peace Movement and William W. Holden here in the Archives and History/State Library building.

In 1862, William W. Holden used his newspaper, the North Carolina Standard, to promote the new Conservative Party and to spearhead the election of Zebulon B. Vance; however, by 1863 the two men started to see things differently and by 1864 Holden decided that he would run against Governor Vance.

For our First Wednesday post, we are highlighting a letter written by William W. Holden to C. J. Cowles on March 18, 1864. In this letter, Holden outlined the key factors that had driven him to run against Governor Vance in the upcoming election. “It was not my wish to run for Governor, and I was led to announce my name by two reasons: First, the Knowledge that Gov. Vance was gone from us, and secondly, the urgent appeal of numerous friends. It is my opinion that Gov. Vance has made up his mind deliberately to go with Davis and the Destructives ones since his visit to Richmond last August.” Other topics discussed in this letter are “encouraging reports” in regards to the upcoming election and Jefferson Davis’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. In February of 1864, the Confederate Congress gave Confederate President, Jefferson Davis the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in specific circumstances, including in cases of inciting insurrection against the government, in part due to the activities of the Peace Movement in North Carolina.  In response, Holden ceased publication of his newspaper, “ I felt that if I could not continue to print as a freeman I would not print it at all, and I could not bear the idea of laws [illegible] or changing my tone. Thank god the Governor of Georgia has spoken out like a man, in the spirit worthy of an American manhood and American Liberty. I indulge the hope that the Congress when it meets in May will repeal the [illegible] law, and then I can print again.” The Governor of Georgia that Holden mentioned was Governor Alexander H. Stevens, who at the time was Vice President of the Confederacy.

This letter has been transcribed to the best of our ability and we hope that you take the time to read the letter in its entirety. For more information on the topics covered in this letter I have listed some informative links below.

The Peace Movement –


The Writ of Habeas Corpus and the Confederacy-

Alexander H. Stevens and the writ of habeas corpus-

William W. Holden -

Zebulon B. Vance –

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Prisoners of War and Other Civil War Lectures for 2014

[This announcement is cross-posted from the History for All the People Blog]


Event poster for the February 10, 2014 Civil War lecture on Prisoners of War.

The State Archives Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee presents a lecture given by Bill Brown of the State Archives of North Carolina. The presentation will focus on the care and treatment of prisoners of war in both Union and Confederate prison camps.

When: February 10, 2014, 12 Noon – 1 Pm

Where: Auditorium of the Archives and Library Building, 109 East Jones Street, Raleigh, N.C.

Other 2nd Mondays Civil War lectures for 2014 include:

  • May 12, 2014: Peace Movement and William W. HoldenChris Meekins, State Archives – A survey of the peace movement in North Carolina during the American Civil War, and the involvement of William Woods Holden in the growth of the movement.
  • August 11, 2014: Blockade RunnersAndrew Duppstadt, State Historic Sites – An introduction to the development and use of blockade runners by the Confederate government and civilian companies to deliver material through the Union Naval blockade to Southern ports.
  • November 10, 2014: Rose Greenhow, Part IIDebbi Blake, State Archives – The second half of the lecture titled “A Thorn in the Union’s Side: Rose O’Neal Greenhow” will be given as a conclusion to the earlier presentation given on November 9, 2011. This lecture will follow Greenhow from her imprisonment to Europe, and her death while attempting to re-enter the Confederacy.
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Love and War

It is not often that we highlight fun and possibly frivolous letters on this blog, but with Valentines Day being right around the corner, we figured it would be appropriate to highlight a couple of letters William Henry Grady wrote to his sister in which he mentions Valentine’s Day.

William Henry Grady (1841-1921) was the son of a Duplin County Farmer, Sherwood Grady of “Waterloo” near Albertson, N.C. and his wife Harriett Jackson. Grady Volunteered for six month service in Company C, 2nd North Carolina Volunteers. He served until November 18, 1861, when his company disbanded and his regiment re-designated the 12th Regiment, North Carolina Infantry. On March 17, 1862, Grady enlisted for a second time, this time in Company C, 51st Regiment, North Carolina Infantry. He remained with his regiment until paroled at Greensboro, N.C., on April 29, 1865.

On February 21, 1864, William Grady wrote his sister that he had nothing that would “prove interesting” to write about but would “attempt to drop a few lines.” He writes about the weather in Petersburg, where he is stationed, and asks about friends back home.  What caught my eye was that he mentions a valentine that a girl received from someone in his regiment. “Tell Margaret Ann I would like to see that Valentines she got from my Reg.”

William again brings up the topic of Valentines to his sister in a letter of March 29, 1864. “Tell Hessey she must not thank me for favors that I have not done for her. She is mistaken I do know why she harbored the opinion that I sent her a Valentine but since she accused me of such I wish that it was true.” He also tells his sister that a friend Margaret, maybe the same as mentioned on February 21st had “caused her old Friend to go blind with a Valentine.” He then states “I shall never correspond with her!” The poor girl must have had poor handwriting skills. William also tells his sister that he has sent home a message for a girl named Dalia, whom he wants not to get married before she hears from him, and if “she does not comply with my order I shall be compeld [sic] to enforce the severest penalty of the law of matrimony against her + employ Cupid as my attorney.” Might he have certain attentions toward Dalia?

As I said this first Wednesday post is a bit light and frivolous, but not all correspondence is full of pertinent information dealing with the war, and I though it good to see that the young men and women of the time still harbored a fun and silly side. I hope you take the time to read these fun letters William writes his sister, even though not full of important information about certain battles or other war related information they do give insight into the relationships of friends and family. Enjoy and Happy Valentine’s Day!

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New Volume of the Papers of Zebulon Baird Vance Available

Book cover for the third volume in The Papers of Zebulon Baird Vance series

Book cover for the third volume in The Papers of Zebulon Baird Vance series; this volume covers the years 1864-1865.

[This press release comes from the Historical Publications Section of the Department of Cultural Resources.]

The third volume in The Papers of Zebulon Baird Vance series is now available. The last eighteen months of Vance’s governorship at the end of the Civil War (1864-1865) are chronicled in the more than 200 letters and other documents transcribed and annotated in this volume. Topics discussed include conscription, desertion, disaffection among North Carolina citizens for the war effort, conflicts with the Confederate government over blockade running, impressment, and the increasing calls for a peace convention. Also included is the flurry of correspondence between Vance and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston prior to his surrender to Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place in Durham on April 26, 1865.

The Papers of Zebulon Baird Vance, Volume 3: 1864-1865 (hardbound, pp. xxxix, 584, illustrated and indexed) retails for $45.00 (plus shipping and NC sales tax). Click here to order a copy through the online Historical Publications Shop.

Historical Publications is also offering a Vance Papers set of volumes 1 (1843-1862), 2 (1863), and 3 (1864-1865) of the series for $60.00 (plus shipping and NC sales tax), a 37% savings off the purchase of the three volumes separately.

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First Wednesdays – Celebrating Freedom 1864

It had been almost fifteen months since President Lincoln made the preliminary announcement of an idea of ending slavery in the states in rebellion; it had been a year since that proclamation – the Emancipation Proclamation – was enforced.  The provisions of that document extended freedom to slaves and authorized the use of freedmen “of suitable condition” in the military.

Areas of Union occupation in states that were in rebellion, such as coastal North Carolina, became places of refuge for former slaves and free people of color.  Small coastal towns or river ports in North Carolina – Plymouth, Elizabeth City, Beaufort and New Bern – became centers of activity for these people.  Gathering to worship together, drill together, form political organizations together, learn how to read and write together, the freed people exulted in their freedom.

Little wonder then on the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation these people would gather, pause, reflect and rejoice in the moment.  The freed people in Beaufort organized a day of food and speeches – with at least one speech delivered by the luminous Abraham H. Galloway, who would burn bright with the fire of freedom until his untimely death during Reconstruction.  Resolutions were passed calling for a restoration of their rights to suffrage and representation in North Carolina – rights that that had been stripped from free people of color in 1835.  The freed people in Plymouth gathered in a church.  Their jubilation included songs in addition to speeches. All across Union occupied North Carolina, African Americans fed the body and the soul in celebration of the proclamation.

These newspaper articles capture the spirit of the revelry and sense of purpose of these men and women.

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A Soldier’s Christmas 1863

Christmas in the Civil War was a time for reflection and a longing for home.  These are universal feelings and desires from men and women caught in the currents of their day.  In past years we have, in this blog, shared those thoughts written in drawingsdiaries and letters (see letters in the Carolina Christmas) – this year we share a newspaper article.

Union soldiers based as garrison on the small river port town of Plymouth, N.C., sought to bring a flavor of home to their duty station.  A grandly decorated house and such activities as a rowing contest and horse and foot races were temporary distractions from missing home and hearth and the comfort of Christmas with your “family circle.”  Even presenting a favorite officer with a token of esteem in the form of a sword could not assuage the notion that Christmas in the army was not the same as it was at home.  Clearly the men of the 85th New York made due in that way that all soldiers understand.

The unnamed soldier – KAPPA – captures the festivities of the moment and the longings of the time in describing Christmas Day in Plymouth, N.C., in 1863.

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First Wednesdays – Secede from the Secession

Northeastern North Carolina, the area east of the Chowan River and north of the Albemarle Sound, fell to Union occupation during the Burnside Expedition in February 1862.  The subsequent 22 months devolved into raids by Confederate forces, cavalry expeditions by Union forces, a constant Confederate guerrilla presence and a myriad of home front issues, including the arming of African Americans to garrison the Union occupied city of Elizabeth City, the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, and recruitment into Federal army units designated first as the North Carolina Colored infantry and later (January 1864) as the United States Colored Troops.

A vast trade in goods continued from northeastern North Carolina into Norfolk, Virginia – but in November 1863 General Benjamin Butler created a trade pass system requiring citizens to pay for the privilege of trading goods in Norfolk.  The system concentrated buying power into the hands of a few trade stores and also fostered an illegal trade across the no-man’s land of Chowan County with Confederate factors buying goods and selling cotton to “Union” agents.

Invariably when Confederate guerrillas launched raids (as when guerrillas captured the Emily and the Arrow in May 1863) or burned infrastructure (as guerrillas did in September 1863) the Union cavalry retaliated on the local citizens, threatening violence or destruction of property to any who supported guerrilla activities.  Confederate conscription efforts in the region in October 1863 brought swift action from Union gunboats (shelling Elizabeth City) and Union cavalry (brief occupation of Elizabeth City and Edenton).

In November 1863, the boldest guerrilla raid came within a few miles of Fortress Monroe in Norfolk, Virginia.  Abandoned plantations had been converted to farms for contraband (escaped slaves) and newly freedmen (with the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863).  Confederate guerrillas made a successful raid on one of these converted plantations and captured over 100 former slaves.  The captured slaves were taken back to North Carolina and probably sold back into slavery.

The inability of small Federal cavalry forces to eliminate Confederate guerrilla activity generated the concept of a large extended raid into the northeastern region.  The raid would have several goals.  These included fighting the guerrillas, recruiting African Americans, seizing slave property of Confederate sympathizers and destroying the local citizens will to wage/ support any guerrilla activity.  On December 5th Brigadier General Edward Augustus Wild launch a raid into northeastern North Carolina adopting a “more rigorous style of warfare.”  For the next thirteen days Wild and his men wreaked havoc in the area.  Beyond seizing food for men and horses, the Federal forces hunted for guerrilla forces, illegal traders and Confederate sympathizers.  Before Confederate forces could gather and retaliate Wild and his men returned to Norfolk.  In their wake they left stunned and concerned citizens.

Wild had captured and tried several men involved with illegal trade.  When one of his soldiers was captured, Wild tried to ensure his safety by seizing two of the guerrilla fighter’s wives – a Mrs. Munden and Mrs. Weeks.  These women he held as hostage for the return of his soldier – he would not release them until May 1864.  Wild’s men also arrested Daniel Bright, who had been in the local militia as late as September 1863 and was purportedly in Joel Griffin’s 62nd Georgia Cavalry (which had recruited three companies while stationed in North Carolina).  Wild hanged Bright on December 18th, 1863.  Wild told the citizens of Elizabeth City that he would return and continue to return until all guerrilla activity ceased.

That same day the citizens of Pasquotank County gathered in Elizabeth City and created a petition to both Governor Vance and General Butler – asking that all forces be removed from the area, in part due to the fact that neither set of forces could ensure the protection of the area.  They also denounced the “blockade running” or illegal trade in the area.  Pasquotank citizens sent delegations to all of the counties in the area (Currituck, Camden, Perquimans, and Chowan) urging the people of those counties to adopt the same petition.  On December 24th, 1863 the citizens of Perquimans adopted a similar petition.  In effect the people were asking to secede from the Secession.

Copies of the petitions from the various counties were to be transmitted to both Vance and Butler.  The only surviving copy of the petition in North Carolina records is this copy from the Adjutant General Office miscellaneous records.  Despite the pleas of the people in the northeastern North Carolina area neither Vance nor Butler could honor the petition and the raids and war would continue for 16 more months, if not longer.

Note: this is the same petition mentioned in an earlier post of our favorite Civil War items  It should also be noted, however, that the six pages of petitioners attached to the petition is included with this version of the document – those names have been transcribed and indexed (hat tip to my colleague Tiffanie for getting that done).

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First Wednesdays – “It is important to have uniformity in the decisions of our judges…”

Despite the fearful losses of the recent campaigns, military operations continued in both Tennessee and Virginia by both Union and Confederate forces. In Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee continued to pull his battled and reduced Army of Northern Virginia back to the Rapidan River, while the Union Army of the Potomac continued strike at Confederate posts along the Rappahannock River. Confederate General Braxton Bragg, a native of Warrenton, North Carolina, had bottled up the Union Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga, Tennessee after his victory at Chickamauga, Georgia in September 1863. In an effort to break the siege at Chattanooga and to quell dissension within his commanders, Bragg allowed Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet to advance his corps northward toward Knoxville, Tennessee to strike a blow at federal forces in East Tennessee. Southeast of North Carolina, the port of Charleston, South Carolina once again became a focus of another Union military operation through an unceasing bombardment of Fort Sumter, the symbol of Confederate Independence.

In North Carolina, the military conflict for Southern Independence had truly become a “Civil War” to the citizens of the state. Severe losses in North Carolina regiments had brought turmoil to families, who discovered that their fathers, husbands, and sons would not be returning home. Prices of goods were rising to the point, where families simply could not afford to purchase basic necessities. Confederate conscription acts served to stoke the fires of dissension within the state by drafting the yeoman farmers and mechanics of Tar Heel society, and exempting the wealthier classes of the population. In western North Carolina, massacres such as the one that occurred at Shelton Laurel in Madison County served to convince citizens that the need for independence was not important enough to justify the cost. Not surprising, a peace movement began to grow within the state being fueled by editorial writers and politicians such as William Woods Holden and others.

Increasingly, North Carolinians turned to the courts to combat the perceived draconian actions of Confederate conscription officials within the state. They found a willing ally in the North Carolina Supreme Court, and especially Chief Justice Richmond Pearson of Yadkin County. Chief Justice Pearson saw the court as the protector of individual freedoms within the state, and as a result, he issued opinions going against the actions of the Confederate conscription officials. These opinions reversed the conscription of citizens, and ordered the release of men already in the custody of the Confederate Army. In the case of In re Irwin, John Irwin presented a substitute aged thirty-six years of age to the conscription officer. When the age requirement for conscription was then expanded to forty-five years of age, the substitute was liable for conscription, and John Irwin was arrested. John Irwin then applied for a writ of habeas corpus to the N.C. Supreme Court. Chief Justice Pearson ruled that Irwin should be released, since the expansion of the conscription age should only affect those men who have not been conscripted, and not those already in the army.

Chief Pearson’s opinion brought the state into the attention of the Confederate national government, who saw North Carolina and her judiciary as thwarting the Confederate war effort. Governor Zebulon Vance found himself between the increasing overtures from Confederate President Jefferson Davis and others, who wanted Vance to ignore the opinions of his judges and the rising public support for Chief Justice Pearson’s opinions and growing peace movement within the state. Governor Vance was also concerned that the recent legislation for the establishment of the Home Guard would be affected by this court decision, and would negate his ability to regain control of areas of lawlessness within the state. Vance turned to his Attorney General, Sion Hart Rogers, to issue his opinion regarding the Irwin case and the recent Home Guard legislation. Rogers, who recently served as colonel of the Forty-seventh North Carolina Troops, disapproved of Chief Justice Pearson’s opinion in his letter to Governor Vance, and also supported the use of the Home Guard to arrest deserters in the state. The internal division over the war had affected nearly all aspects of North Carolina and its government, and would serve to plunge the state and its citizens in further discord.

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Freedom Symposium: Lay My Burden Down October 17th and 18th, 2013

The Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee of the Department of Cultural Resources and co-hosts Wake Forest University, Winston Salem State University and Old Salem Museum and Gardens, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Wake Forest Humanities Institute, are holding a symposium exploring concepts of Freedom in the Civil War era.  Titled “Lay My Burden Down” from the spiritual Glory Glory Hallelujah the symposium exams some of the many facets of Freedom during and after the Civil War era and the continuing legacy of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The two-day event features lectures by Cheryl Harry and Anthony Parent as well as tours at Old Salem on Thursday afternoon, a key-note address by Hari Jones at Winston Salem State University on Thursday evening and fifteen presentations on Friday, including an opening address by Ira Berlin, a keynote address by Thavolia Glymph, a closing discussion panel with Tim Tyson presiding and a poetry reading by Maya Angelou.

Pease see our webpage for more information

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