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1860-1876 Civil War and Reconstruction



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Resolutions of the General Assembly submitted to the Senate and/or referred to Senate committee in early January 1861.

Resolutions of the General Assembly submitted to the Senate and/or referred to Senate committee in early January 1861. One resolution states that "unless by the 4th day of March next the lust of exclusive Northern sectional domination shall be quenched and a reaction in public sentiment at the North upon the subject of slavery shall have taken place…it will be the duty of North Carolina, making common cause with her sister states of the South, to seek safety out of the Union.” A second resolution refers the governor’s message on “the recruiting of solders among the several counties” to the committee on Military Affairs. A third resolution requests that the governor “inform the Senate if any portion of the citizens of North Carolina have consulted with him upon the propriety of taking possession of the United States forts in North Carolina.” A note on the verso side indicates that this resolution was tabled on 7 January 1861. A Resolution dated January 7, 1861 authorizes a Secession Convention. The first Resolution mentioned above, placing a fixed date on the quenching of “Exclusive Northern domination,” according to a handwritten notation on the verso side was “taken from the Records of the State, at Raleigh, N.C., April 15, 1865, by Captain S. B. Wheelock, A.A.A.G., 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 20 A.C.,” part of the Federal occupation force in Raleigh. This same inscription appears on the Resolution dated January 7th authorizing a secession convention.
There is also a separate note included from the clerk reporter requesting to be “discharged from further consideration of the subject.”



Signed transmittal letter, March 16, 1861, from Abraham Lincoln to Governor John W. Ellis, with the original Thirteenth Amendment, and Secretary Wm. H. Seward transmittal document

On March 16, 1861, President Lincoln signed a cover letter directed to Governor John W. Ellis of North Carolina. It accompanied a copy of the originally proposed Thirteenth Amendment that was approved by the United States Congress on March 2, 1861. This earlier proposed Thirteenth Amendment was an effort at a compromise to head off impending civil war. This proposed amendment provided that “no amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any state, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of the said State.” Included with the cover letter and proposed amendment was also a transmittal statement of document’s authenticity signed by Secretary of State William H. Seward, March 13, 1861. These documents and their importance and rarity were brought to the attention of the State Archivist of North Carolina in October 2006, by representatives of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln (co-project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the University of Illinois-Springfield) on a visit to the North Carolina State Archives during their survey of Lincoln documents in the various American states.

These documents were originally filed in the Governor John W. Ellis Papers [G.P.150, folder “March 1861”]. They were transferred to the Vault Collection on April 20, 2007.

The cover letter is signed by President Abraham Lincoln using his full name “Abraham Lincoln”; Secretary of State Seward signed the transmittal document. The three documents (a total of four pages) include: the cover letter, dated March 16, 1861, signed by Abraham Lincoln; the transmittal document signed by Secretary of State Seward, signed March 13, 1861; and the text of the proposed amendment, dated March 2, 1861.


Jefferson Davis to Governor Ellis Letter

Letter from Jefferson Davis to Governor John W. Ellis, May 23, 1861

On May 20, 1861 120 delegates assembled and unanimously voted to secede from the United States of America, and within an hour of adopting the secession resolution the same convention ratified the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, in this letter to Governor Ellis is responding to a telegram sent on May 22nd to request “machinery.” He also states “I have written to Gov. Letcher on the subject and desired him to communicate with you.” John Letcher was the Governor of Virginia.


John Tyler, Montgomery, Alabama, May 14, 1861, to Col. J. Johnston Pettigrew, aide-de-camp to Governor Francis W. Pickens of South Carolina.

John Tyler, Montgomery, Alabama, May 14, 1861, to Col. J. Johnston Pettigrew, aide-de-camp to Governor Francis W. Pickens of South Carolina.

As the Civil War approached, Tyler, as a former president, led efforts at compromise; however, when he realized that conflict was inevitable, he supported the Confederacy and was elected from Virginia as a member of the Confederate House of Representatives then meeting in Montgomery. Pettigrew, a native of Tyrrell County, North Carolina, practiced law in Charleston, South Carolina and was colonel of the First Regiment of Rifles of Charleston. Tyler informs Pettigrew that because of the expected long duration of the war and the change in the method of enrolling volunteers the Confederate War Department had full authority to appoint officers, including those of Pettigrew's proposed Rifle Regiment. When Pettigrew's regiment could not enter the Confederate Army on his terms, he went to Richmond and enlisted in Hampton's Legion.


Order signed by Abraham Lincoln, April 8, 1862

Order signed by Abraham Lincoln, April 8, 1862, authorizing and directing the Secretary of State of affix the Seal of the United States to a document addressed to the Emperor of Russia announcing the recall of Cassius Clay as American Ambassador.

Cassius Marcellus Clay, although a native of Kentucky, was a fervent abolitionist and strong supporter of the Republican Party and Lincoln's campaign for president in 1860. Clay was appointed as ambassador to Russia in 1861, but was recalled in 1862 to accept the post of major general in the United States Army. Clay returned to Russia in 1863 and served as ambassador until 1869.



Davenport - Vance Letter

C. G. Davenport – Zebulon B. Vance Letter, August 10, 1862.

A letter dated August 10, 1862 from C. G. Davenport of Co. F, 11th North Carolina Regiment, which was penned at Camp Lamb, near Wilmington, and addressed to Governor-elect Zebulon Vance. The letter congratulates Vance on his election as governor of North Carolina, commenting on the large margin of his election, and recommending that a friend, Dr. Edward Warren, be appointed Surgeon General of North Carolina. This letter was written a little less than a month prior to Vance taking office as Governor.

During the war Dr. Warren held numerous appointments including Chief Medical Officer of Confederate naval forces of North Carolina, Medical Director of the Confederate Department of the Cape Fear, and in 1863 he was appointed Surgeon General of North Carolina.


General Robert E. Lee's Special Order 191, September 9, 1862

General Robert E. Lee's Special Order 191, September 9, 1862

In early September of 1862, following the Confederate victory at Second Manassas, the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee moved into Maryland at Frederick. There General Lee wrote out his plans in great detail. On September 9, Lee issued Special Order 191 giving strategic information on the division of units at the beginning of his Maryland campaign. A copy was sent to General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who in his own hand made a copy that he sent to General D. H. Hill. Hill kept the order with his papers, which were later deposited in the North Carolina State Archives by his family.

When the Union Army moved into Frederick, an Indiana private found three cigars wrapped in another copy of Special Order 191, also addressed to General Hill. Controversy and mystery surround the story of how the orders came to be there. However, the dispatch was passed through the Union chain of command and gave General George B. McClellan advance notice of Lee's army's movements. Subsequently, Lee was defeated and driven back by McClellan's army at Sharpsburg (Antietam), Maryland, September 17, 1862.

Later, stories of the "Lost Dispatch" appeared in newspapers, and D. H. Hill was largely blamed. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Hill carried on an extensive correspondence to discover the circumstances surrounding the misplaced order. Finally, in 1885, Hill conceded that "an order from Lee directed to me was lost, I do not now doubt," but he denied that he had received it. To this day, students of the Civil War, argue the questions of who lost the Special Order 191, how it happened, and what were the long-term implications.



Isaac Avery's Message to His Father

Isaac Avery's Message to His Father, 1863

Consider the circumstances of 35-year-old Colonel Isaac Erwin Avery of Burke County in the late afternoon of July 2, 1863. He and his fellow North Carolina soldiers found themselves pinned down in a wheat field under a flaming sun near the base of Cemetery Hill in a place called Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Avery was the grandson of Waightstill Avery, the fiery Revolutionary War hero who served as the first attorney general of North Carolina. As General Robert F. Hoke's senior colonel, Isaac Avery was thrust in command of Hoke's brigade at Gettysburg because Hoke had been badly injured and narrowly missed losing his left arm in the fight near Chancellorsville two months earlier.

As the afternoon of July 2 wore on at Gettysburg, Union artillery placements atop Cemetery Hill and nearby Culps Hill began to roar and belch deadly fire. Then the command came from Major General Jubal Early for the small brigades of Hoke and General Harry Hays of Louisiana were to attack the heavily fortified enemy positions on East Cemetery Hill-then considered the most strategic position for Union General George Meade. From the hill, the Union soldiers could observe the Confederate assault columns as they formed. Avery's three regiments moved to the right of Hays' Louisiana Tigers, a hard-fighting bunch of French-speaking Creoles.

Without yielding or retreating, the two brigades moved forward in the face of terrible fire from the 22 heavy field guns raining down shot and shell from the two hills. Well-protected Union sharpshooters sniped at the men as they made their advance. The Southern soldiers hurdled fences and rock walls, and it took nearly an hour to move across the 700 hundred yards to reach the base of Cemetery Hill.

As the Confederates approached the hill, Colonel Avery was out in front, leading his men on General Hoke's large black warhorse, the only mounted soldier in the attack. At the North Carolina State Archives, you can read a copy of a letter written by one of Hoke's officers to Colonel Avery's father after the battle detailing the debate that Colonel Avery had with himself as to whether he should go in mounted.

As the two brigades began their ascent of the hill, they quickly smashed through the first Federal line. With darkness rapidly approaching and with thick smoke from the heavy gunfire now enveloping the hill, most of the Confederates were unaware that Avery had been struck by a bullet at the base of his neck on the right side. The ball plowed its way through the blood vessels and nerves that supplied the upper extremities and resulted in immediate paralysis to his right side. Avery was knocked from his horse and, as he lay bleeding to death, he gathered enough strength to take from his coat a lead pencil and a scrap of paper. With his writing hand paralyzed, he used his left to scrawl a note which was addressed to his business partner and aide, Major Samuel McDowell Tate. Colonel Isaac Erwin Avery's dying message read:

"Major: Tell my Father I died with my face to the enemy. I. E. Avery"

When the litter-bearers reached the dying officer, they found the blood-stained note near Avery's hand. His death came hours later at a field hospital.

Years later, Lord Bryce, the British Ambassador to the United States, noticed a piece of brown Confederate note paper on display in our state's Archives. Deeply touched by Isaac Avery's dying message, Bryce remarked: "The message of that soldier to his father is the message of our race to the world."

---Excerpts from The Future of Our History written and presented by Representative Daniel W. Barefoot at the Leadership Conference on Access to Special Collections, High Point, North Carolina, March 2, 2000



Lewis C.F.C. Laesch diary image

Naval Diary of Naval Engineer Lewis C.F.C. Laesch

This is the Naval Diary of Naval Engineer Lewis C.F.C. Laesch, who served aboard the U.S.S. Pequot, during the first half of 1864, and kept a daily diary of activities, from January 1, 1864, until May 20, 1864. Lewis Laesch was born in the German State of Mecklenburg in 1844, immigrated to the United States with his father (Louis or Lewis, possibly originally Ludwig), settled in Philadelphia and was educated at Pennsylvania Polytechnic College. He joined the U.S. Navy at age 19, and was assigned to duty aboard the U.S.S. Pequot. The diary recounts his observations near Boston, Massachusetts, Portsmouth, Virginia and near the ports of Beaufort and Wilmington, North Carolina. During his time in waters off North Carolina the Pequot captured the notorious blockade runner Don. A very bad sore on his left foot impeded him from certain duties, and his resignation from the Navy was accepted on May 24, 1864.

The diary is a pocket diary, with leather covers, on ruled paper, covering three days per page. Closed it measures approximately 7” by 3.” At the beginning of the diary there is interest calculation information, 1860 Census information showing the population of different states and territories, information in regards to the solar eclipse that would take place in 1864 as well as information as to postage rates, and at the end there is a bills and accounts section with several account notations.

The U.S.S. Pequot was a wooden screw gunboat of the Union Navy. The ship was launched on June 4, 1863 near the Boston Navy Yard; and was commissioned on January 15, 1864, with Lt. Comdr. Stephen P. Quackenbush in command. Its name came from the Pequot Indian tribe from the Southern Connecticut area, members of the Algonquian language grouping.

The Pequot departed Boston Harbor on February 5, 1864 and joined the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. She captured the notorious British blockade runner the Don off Beaufort, North Carolina, on March 4, 1864, and helped the Army beat back a Confederate attack on Wilson's Wharf at James River, Virginia, on May 24, 1864. Blockade duty occupied her time until she participated in the attacks on Fort Fisher near Wilmington, North Carolina, on December 24, 1864 and January 13, 1865, which closed the last major Confederate port. After this victory she helped in the capture of Fort Anderson, North Carolina.

With the end of the Civil War, the Pequot was decommissioned at the New York Navy Yard on June 3, 1865, and was sold in 1869.



Fort Fisher Log Book, May 20th, 1864 to November 10th, 1864

Fort Fisher Log Book, May 20th, 1864 to November 10th, 1864

Over the course of the Civil War, the port of Wilmington held almost to the end as the main Confederate center of blockade-running. A large factor in Wilmington's strength was its defense by the powerful Fort Fisher, located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The fort had withstood Union naval attacks in 1862 and 1864, making it impossible for the northern blockade to stop the transport of supplies to General Lee's army.

Late in 1864, around the time of the termination of this Log Book, the federal leaders decided to cut off these vital supplies by capturing Fort Fisher and Wilmington. After a second attack, Fort Fisher fell on January 15, 1865. Five weeks later, the Union army occupied Wilmington. The fall of Fort Fisher and Wilmington was a major factor sealing the fate of Lee's army.


Parole signed by Andrew Johnson dated September 28, 1866

Parole signed by Andrew Johnson dated September 28, 1866 granting Zebulon B. Vance permission to visit any place in the United States subject to the conditions imposed by the parole.

Zebulon Baird Vance served as governor of North Carolina during the Civil War years, 1862-1865. At the end of the war, Vance was arrested at his home in Statesville and taken to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. He was released from prison after federal officials discovered that he had worked for improvement of conditions for Federal prisoners at the Confederate prison at Salisbury.

Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh and as a boy worked as a tailor's apprentice before running away to eventually settle in Tennessee. Johnson represented Tennessee in Congress and demonstrated this loyalty to the Union by remaining in the Senate after Tennessee seceded. As vice-president during Abraham Lincoln's second administration, Johnson became president with Lincoln's assassination in 1865 and continued Lincoln's moderate policy of reconciliation with the South.


Ulysses S. Grant, Secretary of War, November 25, 1867, to Jonathan Worth, Governor of North Carolina.

Ulysses S. Grant, Secretary of War, November 25, 1867, to Jonathan Worth, Governor of North Carolina.

Prior to becoming president, Ulysses S. Grant served as secretary of war in the administration of Andrew Johnson. In this letter Grant replies to a request from Governor Jonathan Worth to return to North Carolina the letter books containing copies of incoming and outgoing correspondence of Governor Zebulon Vance which had been placed by Vance at the Greensboro Branch of the Bank of the Cape Fear at the end of the Civil War where they were discovered by Federal troops and taken to Washington. Grant refuses the request on the grounds that the books "are of such a nature as to require that they should be retained in the custody of the United States." In the years following, repeated unsuccessful attempts to obtain the release of the letter books were made by state officials. In 1886 President Grover Cleveland signed a resolution allowing certified copies of the books to be sent to North Carolina. It was not until 1962 through the efforts of the Office of Archives and History that the letter books were returned to the state.


"Early Times in Raleigh", addresses delivered by the Hon. David L. Swain, 1867

"Early Times in Raleigh", addresses delivered by the Hon. David L. Swain, 1867

Under former legislator and governor, David L. Swain, the University of North Carolina entered a new era in 1835. As college president, Swain popularized the institution and substantially increased its enrollment, attracting for the first time a number of students from other states. In 1844 he founded at Chapel Hill the N.C. Historical Society, which began the collection of documents relating to the history of the state.

In the spring of 1867, President Andrew Johnson attended commencement exercises at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Swain welcomed Johnson, a native North Carolinian, born in Raleigh in 1808. During his visit, President Johnson and Swain both traveled to Raleigh for a service dedicating a long-delayed monument to the deceased father of the president. Jacob Johnson, a humble man, had died following the ordeal of saving two prominent men from drowning in Walnut Creek during the winter of 1810 or 1811. Swain delivered a lengthy historical address, ending with a tribute to Jacob Johnson and expressing his own hopes for the Reconstruction Era. Declaring that the president’s late father “had many friends in every walk of life, and no enemies,” Swain spoke of the “crossed swords, surmounted by the stripes and stars” on top of the monument. He urged that these symbols “form an appropriate ‘Memorial Association’ for the Confederate and Union dead…to promote harmony and restore ‘the more perfect Union’ designed by the Constitution of our common country.” Less than a year later Johnson was impeached, though not convicted.

Swain delivered a second address during the summer of 1867 at the dedication of Tucker Hall—thereafter a site for plays, lectures, musical events, and other entertainments. Both addresses reflected Swain’s interest in the early history of the state and North Carolina’s capital city. Rufus S. Tucker then assembled the two speeches and had them published locally under the title Early Times in Raleigh. The volume includes maps of the City of Raleigh for the years 1792, 1834, and 1847.

James A. Garfield, Washington, November 27, 1872, to Major General Irvin McDowell, New York.


James A. Garfield, Washington, November 27, 1872, to Major General Irvin McDowell, New York.

Irvin McDowell, an Ohio soldier in both the Mexican and Civil wars, was assigned to the occupation troops of the Department of the South. Garfield, then representing Ohio in the U. S. House of Representatives, sent McDowell a newspaper notice of McDowell's recent appointment as major general in the regular army.

Tar Heel Collection

Over the years, there has been much discussion about the first use of the "Tar Heels" nickname. Most students and historians acknowledge that the name is related to the fact that North Carolina, from about 1720 to 1870 led the world in the production of naval stores-the tar, pitch, rosin, and turpentine harvested from the longleaf pine forests of the region. Known at one time as "sticky gold," these products were essential for building and maintaining the sailing ships that plied the waters between the America and Europe and the islands of the Caribbean. In Colonial days, naval stores were the only industry in which North Carolina ranked first among the English colonies.

Various legends have sprung up about the term. It is said that North Carolinians were given the moniker "Tar Heels" by Cornwallis' troops after emerging from a river with tar sticking to their heels. Another legend claims that Revolutionary War soldiers from North Carolina had the determination to march on after wading through a river coated with tar. However, there is no evidence that the term was used before the Civil War.

One popular account refers to a fierce battle during the Civil War, in which North Carolina troops felt they had been let down by a regiment from another state. After the battle, members of the other regiment taunted the weary North Carolinians, "Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?" The Carolinians retorted, "Not a bit. Jeff Davis bought it all up." Their reply to the question, "What's he going to do with it?" was "He is going to put it on you'uns heels to make you stick better in the next fight." Supposedly, General Lee, upon hearing of the exchange, said, "Thank God for the Tar Heel Boys."


Diary of William B. A. Lowrance, Nov. 2, 1862-Feb. 6, 1863.

Diary of William B. A. Lowrance, Nov. 2, 1862-Feb. 6, 1863.

The last narrative entry of this Civil War diary, on February 6, 1863, contains a phrase using the nickname "Tar Heels" for soldiers of North Carolina. While encamped in what is now Pender County in the southeastern part of the state, 2nd Lieutenant William B. A. Lowrance wrote, "I know now what is meant by the Piney Woods of North Carolina and the idea occurs to me that it is no wonder we are called 'Tar Heels.'" This diary entry is considered the earliest surviving written use of the term.

The writer, Lieutenant Lowrance, was at the time in Company B, Forty-sixth Regiment, North Carolina Troops. Initially, he entered as a private in Company G, 1st Regiment N.C. Infantry, enlisting at Salisbury on March 19, 1862. Lowrance was appointed Adjutant of the Thirty-fourth Regiment on December 11, 1863. Promoted to Captain on October 14, 1864, he was transferred to Company K. Lowrance was part of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865.


Civil War letter, dated August 28, 1864, is signed by Major Jos[eph] A. Engelhard

Civil War letter, dated August 28, 1864, is signed by Major Jos[eph] A. Engelhard

This Civil War letter, dated August 28, 1864, is signed by Major Jos[eph] A. Engelhard and addressed to "Friend Ruf." In the letter, Major Engelhard describes the successful Battle of Ream's Station (Dinwiddie County, Virginia) as a "'Tar Heel' fight," with the result that "we got Genl. Lee to thanking God, which you know means something brilliant." Certainly the letter seems to give credence to the tradition that General Lee had given thanks to the Almighty for the Tar Heel boys.

Born in Mississippi in 1832, Joseph Adolphus Engelhard attended the University of North Carolina and was graduated in 1854. Thereafter, he attended Harvard Law School and subsequently read law under noted judges in Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Engelhard left his growing law practice at Tarboro in May 1861 to serve as assistant quarter master (captain) of the Thirty-third Regiment under Colonel, later Brigadier General, Lawrence O'B. Branch. Reportedly, Branch collapsed into Engelhard's arms as he fell mortally wounded at Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862. Rising to the rank of major, Engelhard was made assistant adjutant general and transferred to General William D. Pender's brigade. From May 1863 until the close of the war Engelhard served as division adjutant. He was serving under General Pender at Gettysburg when General Lee formed the Third Corps and placed Pender in charge of one of its divisions. Following Pender's fall at Gettysburg on 2 July 1863, Engelhard came under General Cadmus M. Wilcox. After the loss and wounding of many soldiers during battle, Engelhard assumed command of the right flank of his division. According to various accounts, Engelhard's horse was shot out from under him upon reaching the opposition's lines. Following the request of General Lee, Engelhard later wrote the official performance report of Pender's division during the three days of battle at Gettysburg. Engelhard continued under Wilcox, whose stubborn defense at Petersburg on 2 April 1865 made it possible for General Lee's army to cover its withdrawal and to move westward toward Appomattox.

At the close of hostilities, Engelhard was selected as clerk of the North Carolina Senate. He served again during 1866-1867 session, representing Edgecombe County. During 1866 Engelhard acquired substantial interest in the Wilmington Journal and served as the paper's editor for the next ten years. In that position, Engelhard became the voice of the Cape Fear region in protesting the policies and acts of Reconstruction. A Democrat, Engelhard attended his party's national convention in Baltimore as a delegate. In 1875 he called for a state convention to revise the Constitution, particularly the provisions relating to local governments. During the following year, voters approved a variety of constitutional amendments, many of which were championed by Democrats as minimizing the more unreasonable aspects of Reconstruction. By a large majority, Engelhard was elected secretary of state in 1876. He served in that capacity until his death 15 February 1879 in Raleigh. Engelhard's funeral service was held at Christ Church (Episcopal) and he was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.


"Wearin' of the Grey written by Tar Heel," were first printed in 1866.

"Wearin' of the Grey written by Tar Heel," were first printed in 1866.

These three pages of sheet music, "Wearin' of the Grey written by Tar Heel," were first printed in 1866. The attribution to "Tar Heel" is the first known use of the term in post-Civil War published works. The author, "Tar Heel," is obviously a pseudonym. Published in Baltimore by William C. Miller, the piece is arranged for the piano forte with voice and uses the same melody as the Irish tune, "Wearing of the Green."

Last Modified: 08/12/2011