First Wednesdays – Burnside Expedition Proclamation

       When Federal forces captured Roanoke Island, North Carolina in February 1862 they began not only a physical battle on the “Rebels” of North Carolina, but also a psychological battle for the hearts and minds of local Union sympathizers and those people who did not readily claim allegiance to either government.  U.S. Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside and U. S. Commander Stephen C. Rowan issued this pamphlet hoping to assuage any fears concerning the purposes of the United States forces.  While blaming the invasion on a “few bad men,” the proclamation explained the goal of the expedition as simply returning the people to the Union.  It decried as falsehoods the claims by local authorities that the United States forces would free slaves, injure women, and perform other atrocities.  Even as this proclamation circulated, however, the conquering forces at Roanoke Island committed what Burnside reported as “irregularities” against the local people.  Property was destroyed or taken as a trophy of war.  It was United States army policy to return runaway slaves to owners who could prove loyalty to the Union, but the United States navy refused to return runaway slaves who had become sailors.  The actions of the invading force belied the words of the proclamation and undermined Burnside and Rowan’s attempt to win local hearts and minds.

Burnside Expedition Proclamation

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