First Wednesdays – “…hoping you will not leave us to the mercy of the tories much longer…”

The first week of January 1865 heralded the beginning of a new year in North Carolina, but also marked the fifth year of the struggle define a new country within the boundaries of North America. This struggle for independence by the Confederate States of America was slowly and painfully coming to an end in the midst of great suffering by the population of the state. While the focus of attention was directed to the defense of Fort Fisher and Wilmington, North Carolina, the western portion of the state was on the verge of lawlessness. Confederate and state authority had broken down in many piedmont and western counties, where bands of Unionists (also known as Tories) were openly resisting the civil authority. Union Colonel George Washington Kirk, a native of Greene County, Tennessee, had formed a force comprising North Carolina regiments enlisted in Union service to conduct raids throughout Western North Carolina. These raids struck blows against the Confederate supply infrastructure, and prevented gathering of men and supplies for the state’s war effort. In addition to these raids, local bands of Unionists coupled with Confederate deserters conducted their own raids to gather foodstuffs from the population.

Despite the efforts of Governor Zebulon Vance to appeal to the patriotism of western citizens during his recent gubernatorial campaign, the disenchantment with the war continued to grow in the small communities dotting the piedmont and the western mountains. Many families had suffered greatly through their men being conscripted for Confederate service, and leaving their families in need during the fall harvest and winter months. In many cases, the absences became permanent, when news of the death of family member serving in Confederate service came back home. Other events, like the Shelton Laurel Massacre in 1863, served only to bring into question the entire Confederate war effort by citizens. By 1864, many North Carolinians serving in Confederate service had enough of the broken promises by their new government and begun the process of leaving (or deserting) their regiments to return home and care for their families. These veterans began their own resistance against the Confederate government by openly opposing the civil authority in their communities.

On 5 January 1865, Sue Combs wrote a letter to Governor Vance describing the conditions in the small community of Stony Point in Alexander County, North Carolina. She wanted Governor Vance to understand the hardships being suffered by the women of the community due to rising food prices brought on in part by local speculators and shortages due to roving bands of Tories. Her husband, Newton P. Combs, had enlisted in Company H, Fifty-Sixth North Carolina Troops in March 1862, and was captured in May 1864. He was exchanged on November 15, 1864, but died seven days later.

Widow's Pension for Newton P. (Sue) Combs, State Archives of North Carolina

Widow’s Pension for Newton P. (Sue) Combs, State Archives of North Carolina

As a recent widow, Sue Combs was particularly sensitive to the needs of her two children and the other families suffering through the winter of 1865. She also wanted Governor Vance to have her father released from military service. He had been drafted into the Senior Reserves, and was detailed as a guard at Salisbury Military Prison. Ms. Combs described that her father “…would do his country more good to be home [and] work for the people than 20 good soldiers…” In her mind, her father was needed at home to support the community due to the lack of protection by the local militia officers. She noted that “…the tories [and] deserters have gotten procession almost from the upper edge of Iredell County to the brushy mountains.” She continued to support the idea of a separate Confederate government; however she wrote “I will close now hoping you will not leave us to mercy of the tories much longer…”

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