First Wednesdays – “They never come to hand…”

As the state of North Carolina was becoming increasingly besieged by enemy forces entering the state from all sides, the civil authority within the interior of the state was collapsing as well. This was not an overnight phenomenon. The cracks became evident during the implementation of the conscription acts in North Carolina during the war, where the poor and middle class became convinced that they were being forced to shoulder the burden of majority of the fighting in the sectional conflict. This chasm grew even more as county governments became as fractured by the internal conflicts erupting between the opponents and supporters of the war as they fought for the control of local governments. The internal struggle soon forced Governor Zebulon Vance to take measures to militarily deal with counties that were in open rebellion to the Confederate and state governments. These measures brought additional pain and suffering to the state’s population, and weaken the state’s material support for the idea of separate Confederate government within the boundaries of North America.

As the war continued, county governments became dominated by wealthy land owners, who were able to avoid military service due to exemptions in the Confederate conscription acts. This was not a new occurrence, since most county governments were controlled by justices of the peace, who were appointed by state legislators who were in turn elected into office themselves by the wealthy property owners in the county. During the war, these justices of the peace used their authority to control the prices within the county, forced “undesirables” into military service, and levy taxes on the poor. Much of the revolt against the Confederate government was in part a struggle against the practices of courthouse politics in North Carolina.

The arrival of Union forces in February 1865 brought another player to further disrupt local governance within the state. Now, local governments had to contend with arrival of military operations within their boundaries. County courts cancelled scheduled court terms and other vital components of local government simply disappeared with the sight of blue-coated soldiers on courthouse grounds. In many cases, the county government would just disappear from sight, as court officials rushed home to protect their properties from Union soldiers. In the case of our letter dated 30 March 1865, P. J. Coppendge, the Clerk of Anson County Court, wrote to Governor Vance to make a second request for the commissions for the local magistrates that were appointed during the last term of the General Assembly. As noted by Mr. Coppendge, “They never have come to hand our mail Facilities have been interrupted by Yankee Raids our mails are uncertain…” It is assumed that April Term of the Anson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (County Court) was able to meet, since the Trial Docket for that court did survive the war. Interestingly enough, the regular court docket did not survive, and we are not completely sure that all the magistrates’ commissions were delivered from Raleigh, North Carolina.

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