With the arrival of federal forces on Outer Banks in August and September 1861, the definition of the sectional conflict was still being defined within the ranks of the Union Army. On one side, there were those soldiers and officers who believed that Southern population, particularly North Carolinians, were forced to secede from the United States, and as a result, these soldiers sought to treat the civilian population with gentleness. A modern term defining this approach would be “Winning the hearts and minds” of the population. They believed that through this approach that the “Civil War” could quickly ended, if the Southern population is allowed to rise up and overthrow their secessionist leadership. On the other hand, there were those soldiers and officers who saw the Southern population as Confederates and the enemy of the United States. In their mind, they were fighting a war for the survival of their country, which required no compromise.
The document presented for your viewing is representative of that internal conflict in the Union Army in the beginning stages of the Civil War.
Colonel Rush Christopher Hawkins, commanding the Ninth New York Volunteers (Hawkins Zouaves), attempted to reassure the civilians around the recently captured post of Fort Clark, that the Union forces did not mean them any harm and wished to provide them assistance and protection. Colonel Hawkins saw these North Carolinians as potential ally in establishing a Union foothold in eastern North Carolina, and through this foothold, a way to defeat the rebellion without much more bloodshed. In dispatches written to Major General John Ellis Wool, who commanded the U.S. Department of Virginia, Colonel Hawkins wrote about the eagerness of these North Carolinians to embrace their former country and return back to its fold. In addition, he also wrote that these North Carolinians would also be a potential source of recruits for a military unit to operate within North Carolina.
Colonel Hawkins’ assurances to the civilian population and General Wool had several underling issues. First, he was dealing with problems being generated by the Twentieth New York Volunteers under the command of Colonel Max Weber. Unlike his Zouaves, these New York soldiers saw North Carolinians as their enemy, and treated them as such. These soldiers looted the Confederate encampments by breaking into Confederate officers’ trunks and stealing equipment left behind. Afterwards, they set fire the Confederate encampment and burned the remaining shelters and tents. Then they moved on to adjoining houses, and proceeded to break into them and steal food and valuables. Colonel Hawkins wrote to both Colonel Weber and General Wool protesting these actions as a potential problem in recruiting North Carolinians. In addition, Colonel Hawkins was also attempting to secure a command of brigade, and in turn, a promotion to brigadier general. Hawkins was relieved of command due to his insubordination a month later. Through a personal meeting with President Abraham Lincoln, Colonel Hawkins restored back to command and received brigade in time for further military operations in eastern North Carolina. Unfortunately, Hawkins did not receive his promotion to general until 1865, and this was after he was mustered out of service in 1863.
As a side note to this story, Ninth New York Volunteers (Hawkins Zouaves) was mustered out of service in May 1863 after two years of service in North Carolina and with the Army of the Potomac, USA. Those members of the regiment, who did not muster out, were later combined with members of the Seventeenth New York Volunteers, and were transferred to the Army of the Cumberland, USA operating in Tennessee. In 1865, the old members would return to North Carolina in 1865 as members of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Army of Georgia, USA.
Governor’s Correspondence: Colonel Rush C. Hawkins Proclamation clarifying Union Army intentions on the North Carolina Outer Banks, Sept. 17, 1861