First Wednesdays – “Your Governor will meet you at the front and will share with you the worse”

By December 1864, the Confederacy was slowing disappearing from the face of the planet. Invading federal armies were now piercing its borders at will, and the current Confederate government was losing the ability to protect its citizens and institutions from outside invaders. Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman moved his combined federal armies southeast out of Atlanta, Georgia on a “raid” to Savannah, Georgia to gain access to the Atlantic Ocean. The Confederate Army of Tennessee had attempted to besiege Nashville, Tennessee after a failed effort to draw General Sherman and his “bummers” out of Georgia, but was nearly destroyed by attacks mounted by the recently reorganized Union Army of the Cumberland. Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia remained bottled up in and around Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia by the combined federal forces under the command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. As in 1861-1862, the active military operations were coming back to North Carolina, and the state was unprepared.

As the threat to Wilmington, North Carolina became more apparent, the inability to raise additional forces to react to the upcoming Union military operations at the coast became a large concern for Governor Zebulon Vance and the Confederacy. The state was torn apart over the issue of conscription and peace movement over the last two years to a point that lawlessness governed large portions of the state. Despite this internal conflict, both Governor Vance and General Robert E. Lee were convinced that there were legions of men, who were available to come and defend the Confederacy in its dying days.

On December 20, 1864, Governor Vance issued a proclamation to call men to rally and defend the North Carolina coast from Northern invasion. The wording of the proclamation directed “…all good people, whether by law subject to military duty or not, who may be able to stand behind breastworks and fire a musket of all ages and conditions, to rally at once to the defense of their country and hurry to Wilmington.” Governor Vance was convinced that his words calling for all North Carolinians to assemble and defend the coast would be entice those men, who had up to this point, had avoided military service. He referred to the excuse of “be more useful at home” as a statement of cowardice. He was convinced that the immediate threat of invasion would bring men into the ranks. He closed the text of the proclamation by saying “Let every man physically able then hurry with his blanket to Wilmington, where arms and rations will be furnished, and let those left behind mount themselves and patrol their counties, looking after the women and children and preserving order. Your Governor will meet you at the front and will share with you the worse.”

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