First Wednesdays – “He is a non-combatant & has never borne arms vs. Government.”

In Nineteenth Century America, the civilian population was not to be involved directly with the “dirty business” of the military. There has always been a distrust of a “standing army,” and the civilian population would take steps to make sure that they were separated from the activities of the U.S. Army and Navy. Despite this belief, the U.S. military had always employed civilians to perform tasks such as cooks, laundrywomen, warehousemen, and other activities that freed up soldiers and sailors to perform more important duties. The roles of these civilians (or contractors in the modern-day U.S. Armed Forces) did place them in harm’s way during the American Civil War, and one example can be found at the Battle of Plymouth, North Carolina during April 17-20, 1864.

When it became apparent that the Union garrison at Plymouth, N.C. was going to be besieged by Confederate Brigadier General Robert F. Hoke’s forces, efforts were quickly mounted to remove the civilian population from the threat of the battle. In addition to solders’ wives and children, a number of North Carolina civilians (both African-American and white) were present in the town as employees of the headquarters of the U.S. District of North Carolina, Sub District of the Albemarle. The federal transport Massasoit made two trips to ferry civilians to Roanoke Island to escape the fighting. Soon, the appearance of the Ram C.S.S. Albemarle stopped all Union attempts to evacuate the town through the river.

Union Brigadier General Henry W. Wessells, commander of the sub district, was forced to surrender his command to Confederate General Hoke on April 20, 1864. As a result, a number of civilians found themselves as Confederate prisoners of war. Unlike earlier engagements where civilians were paroled, a number of civilians found themselves on train cars going to Confederate prisons located in Andersonville, Georgia, Salisbury, N.C., and Richmond, Virginia. The Confederate forces refused any attempt to release these civilians, despite Union General Wessells’ attempts to spare them during the surrender negotiations.

On July 8, 1864, Cyrus Waters wrote to Patrick Henry Winston in an attempt to free one of these “civilian” prisoners. At the time of the letter, Winston was serving as the financial agent for North Carolina Governor Zebulon Baird Vance to Confederate government in Richmond, Va. Waters was hoping that Winston might be in position to inform the Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon of the plight of T. S. Everett. Everett, described as “aged federal prisoner,” was captured as a quartermaster clerk in the Union sub district headquarters in Plymouth, N.C., and was currently confined at Camp Sumter, the Confederate Prisoner of War camp in Andersonville, Ga. Despite his several letters to the Confederate War Department and Governor Vance, Waters was never able to get Everett released from prison. On August 30, 1864, Everett died at Camp Sumter, and was buried in grave No. 7320 with a number of other Union prisoners.

Andersonville

M1303_4: Selected Records of the War Department Commissary General of Prisoners Relating to Federal Prisoners of War Confined at Andersonville, Ga, 1864-1865

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