It is nearly impossible to select a favorite Civil War era document from the rich holdings of the North Carolina State Archives. Tasked with just such a mission, I was surprised to find myself readily mentally sifting through the holdings – vault collection, county records, private collections, maps and state agency records – and quickly settling on this very unique document from December 1863. Tucked away in a miscellaneous box of materials in the Adjutant General record series is a four-page petition from the citizens of Perquimans County, North Carolina asking the Governor of North Carolina to remove Partisan Rangers from the area and at the same time asking the Union general in charge of the Union occupied city of Norfolk, Virginia (Fortress Monroe) if that action coupled with the refutation of Blockade Running would be enough to ensure that he would send no further raids into the county. In addition to the language of the petition, there are several pages of signatures in support of the petition.
Northeastern North Carolina was contested territory practically from the outset of the Civil War. Divided political sentiments were evident in the results in the local voting patterns in the 1860 presidential election. After Union forces captured Hatteras in August 1861 and most of the upper inland coastal waterways in spring of 1862, the area suffered repeated raids from both armed forces and suffered the deprivations of local partisan rangers/ guerrilla fighters. After eighteen months of constant back and forth of both armed forces in the region, the United States forces sent about 2500 men on a raid into Pasquotank County in early December. These men were composed of African American soldiers and white officers, led by General Edward E. Wild. Wild’s troops brought harsh measures to bear on the area. They tore down buildings, emancipated slaves, took livestock, arrested and tried citizens/ guerrillas, took women hostage (for the safe return of the two soldiers captured by Confederate forces), and hanged one guerrilla fighter. Wild then promised to return time and again unless the illegal trade (blockade running) ceased and until the guerrilla forces withdrew or stopped fighting.
This petition by the Citizens of Perquimans County is almost an exact duplicate of the one a few days earlier by Pasquotank County citizens. Eventually, by February 1864, Camden, Currituck and Chowan County citizens would all adopt similar petitions. Only the Perquimans petition survives in the holdings of the State Archives – a copy of the Pasquotank petition is in the National Archives in DC, the Camden petition is mentioned period newspaper accounts, and the Chowan and Currituck petitions are mention in two different private collections (one at Chapel Hill and one at the Virginia Military Institute respectively). That the State Archives holds the Perquimans County record tells us the men assigned to bring the petition to Raleigh accomplished that mission.
Their message to the governor could not have been well-received: we wish you to withdraw troops because we know for certain that you cannot protect us. However practical it seemed to the petitioners, there was little chance that the proposal could be carried out. How could a corner of the state be allowed to secede from the secession? It could not. But the attempt itself makes the Civil War era document a favorite of mine.