In the aftermath of the Army of Northern Virginia’s expedition into Maryland in September 1862, General Robert E. Lee needed supplies to feed and maintain his army. Lee called upon the government in Richmond to get the supplies. Looking south and east to the Union occupied area of North Carolina, the commissary department saw an opportunity to feed the Confederate army and at the same time deny Union forces those supplies. A plan was developed but owing to a lack of knowledge of the area and the people the commissary staff wrote Governor Vance to ask for his assistance in “exhaust[ing] the hogs, beeves, peas, beans & potatoes of that part of North Carolina which lies within the lines of the enemy or accessible to them.”
Vance responded positively to the plan and asked for particular units to assist in the efforts – men who were from the area and knew the land, the people they could trust and the overall situation. Thus began a massive operation to strip the breadbasket of coastal North Carolina of goods.
Union occupation of the region left North Carolina at the mercy of a foraging army. Patrols of Union soldiers often set out from occupied Elizabeth City to gather food and goods from the surrounding communities and counties. Citizens loyal to the Confederate government in Raleigh were unable to get assistance to stop these raids. The decision by the Confederate government made military sense but left the citizens in the occupied region feeling isolated and abandoned.