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 purported 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 http://civilwar150nc.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/archives-week-petition-to-secede-from-secession/. 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).