On the evening of September 9, 1863 the printing office of the North Carolina Standard was sacked by a group of Georgia soldiers coming through Raleigh on their way to Tennessee. The following morning, supporters of the editor, William Woods Holden, and his newspaper, subsequently destroyed the printing office of the State Journal. This event served as the culmination of a months long fight of words played out in the newspapers concerning the rise of a “peace party” in North Carolina.
Earlier in August, the Fayetteville Observer outlined the growing tension created by the Standard’s reporting on the peace movement writing “It can no longer be doubted or denied that there is a division in public sentiment in North Carolina—on the one hand a determination to resist subjugation by the yankee government, and to achieve the independence of the Confederacy, on the other, a “peace party,” as it is falsely called, that would be willing to have independence, but clamore for peace, with or without independence. Those first mentioned are unmistakably headed by Gov. Vance. The others by the Raleigh Standard, though that paper does not itself go the length of some of its followers, for it has very recently declared itself opposed to a reconstruction of the Union.” A September issue of the Raleigh Progress also highlights this tension while denouncing inflammatory sentiments from another local newspaper who wrote “Let a decided example be made, and all sympathizers among journalists who have aided in bringing about these disgraceful scenes be hung as an example to others who have been poisoned by their damnable teachings.” Throughout the summer, many examples can be found of newspapers antagonizing each other while defending their own actions.
Holden responded to the destruction of his office and his characterization as the head of the peace movement writing, “I was assailed in a cowardly manner, my property injured, and my Constitutional rights trampled down, on account of my opinions. It was done because I had boldly and uniformly defended the rights and the honor of my native State… and had insisted that whilst the war should be pressed with the utmost vigor, and desertion and resistance to law discountenanced and repressed, statesmen and people at home should cast about anxiously for some means to initiate negotiations that might end in an honorable peace.—‘My offence hath this extent—no more.’” He continued, explaining the issues concerning the idea of peace stating, “But it is said that to talk for peace at home while our troops are fighting for it in the filed, operates against the cause. I do not believe it. What sort of a peace? A return to the old government? No. Submission to Mr. Lincoln? No. What then? A peace based on the separation of a portion of the Southern States from the other states, and two or three independent governments. That is what I would call “’an honorable peace.’”
Unable to print for almost a month after the destruction of his printing office, Holden finally described the event attributing the actions to the tension created by the local newspapers. He wrote, “I trace this mob spirit to the course pursued by the Richmond Enquirer, the Raleigh Register, the State Journal, and Charlotte Bulletin; and also to the so-called “Army Convention.” All the papers named had repeatedly called for mob law against the Standard.” He maintained his scathing indictment of these other papers in a following issue writing, “The truth is, the Charlotte Bulletin, the State Journal, the Richmond Enquirer, and the Raleigh Register are as much responsible for this mob as the man is guilty of murder who stands by and advises the killing of another. They had called for mob law against us for months. They could not meet us in argument—the great body of our people were against them, and they sought to destroy us by brute force. But the blow aimed at us was intended for every one of our readers and for every friend of law in the State. It was intended for every subscriber of ours who has a son, or a brother, or a husband in the army, as well as for every soldier from this State who reads and approves the sentiments of the Standard.”
Other newspapers echoed Holden’s comments on the promotion of dissent and mob violence found in North Carolina and other Southern newspapers. The Standard reprinted an excerpt from the Greensborough Patriot describing this issue stating, “It is certainly shameful that in this trying hour the people of the South should be so divided in sentiment as to prompt them to enact deeds of violence upon the property of one another; but it is equally true that the presses which have thus been mobbed—one by an exasperated soldiery, and the other by citizens, have been mainly instrumental in creating differences, and stirring up party strife and engendering discord among the people at a time when all should be firmly united.” The Fayetteville Observer also wrote, “All sorts of denunciations have been bandied between the newspapers of that city. Their conductors have become bitterly hostile to each other, and have gotten the people of the city and a considerable portion of the State and the Confederacy at loggerheads. They have talked so flippantly of hanging up each other to lamp posts that the wonder is, not that the city has been disgraced by two mobs, but that nobody was killed or hanged by them. Fortunately they have escaped such a tragedy as yet, but how long they may hope for exemption it may not be easy to say, unless the newspapers there moderate their tone towards each other and exhibit some small degree of respect for Law and Order and common decency.” The Raleigh Progress simply stated “Newspapers and politicians have advocated mob law in North Carolina and the first fruits of their labors have been seen.” The destruction of the Standard and the State Journal represents the power that local newspapers had to direct political thought and action.