The Confederate victory at Plymouth, N.C. in April 1864 opened the entire Washington, Tyrrell and Hyde County peninsula area of eastern North Carolina to Confederate control. Under nominal United States control – especially where US troops were garrisoned – since the successful Federal Burnsides Expedition in early 1862, the people in the area exhibited Union sentiments by holding pro-Union meetings, organizing pro-Union trade and contributing men to the North Carolina Union volunteers, termed locally as “Buffaloes.”
Colonel George Wortham of the 50th North Carolina State Troops was the commander in charge of the occupying forces in the region stationed at Plymouth. Col. Wortham immediately set about garrisoning the peninsula and consolidating Confederate control after the Battle of Plymouth in April 1864. He rounded up and jailed Union sympathizers and began supporting pro-Confederate trade in the region.
A letter dated 9 July 1864 came to Wortham from Col. Joel Griffin of the 62nd Georgia Cavalry. Although Griffin was then fighting in Virginia his regiment had operated in North Carolina in 1862 and 1863, recruiting at least three companies from North Carolina men – some from the eastern North Carolina region. In need of horses and familiar with “Buffaloes” in the peninsula area, Griffin wrote Wortham requesting that his Color Sergeant Jasper Spruill, probably from the peninsula area, be allowed to gather horses from “Buffaloes” for use by Griffin’s cavalry – confiscation.
Later that month Union forces struck at Columbia, the county seat of Tyrrell County, situated on the Scuppernong River. Confederate efforts to foster trade in the region caught the attention of Union commanders. Rather than let the goods from such an agriculturally rich region pass easily into Confederate hands the Federals raided the town. The raid destroyed many goods and infrastructure including the main bridge crossing the Scuppernong River severing the main connection between Columbia and the North Carolina interior. Thus, the Confederate capture of Plymouth brought the hard hand of war to all occupants of the region. Moses B. Pitt wrote Wortham on July 13, 1864 to inform him of “enemy” actions.
The state was also preparing for the 1864 gubernatorial election. Governor Zebulon Vance faced a challenge from newspaper editor William Woods Holden. Holden was the leader of a nascent Peace Movement seeking to end North Carolina’s participation in the war. Vance and Holden had been allies in the 1862 election cycle but found themselves on opposite sides of the ending-the-war-by-a-separate-peace issue. The post script of this July 28, 1864 letter shows how important the soldier’s vote was to Vance – like the men at the Post in Tarboro most of the soldiers voted for Vance contributing to his re-election.