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North Carolina
Nickname(s): "Tar Heel State"

The Confederate States of America
Map of the Confederate States
Largest cityWilmington
Admitted to the ConfederacyMay 20, 1861 (10th)
  • 992,622 total
  •  • 661,563 (66.64%) free
  •  • 331,059 (33.36%) slave
Forces supplied
  • - Confederate troops: 125,000
    - Union troops: 15,000 (10,000 white; 5,000 black)[1] total
GovernorHenry Clark (1861–1862)
Zebulon Vance (1862–1865)
SenatorsGeorge Davis (1862–1864)
Edwin Reade (1864)
William Graham (1864–1865)
William Dortch (1862–1865)
Restored to the UnionJuly 4, 1868

During the American Civil War, North Carolina joined the Confederacy with some reluctance, mainly due to the presence of Unionist sentiment within the state.[2] A popular vote in February, 1861 on the issue of secession was won by the unionists but not by a wide margin.[3] This slight lean in favor of staying in the Union would shift towards the Confederacy in response to Abraham Lincoln's April 15 proclamation that requested 75,000 troops from all Union states, leading to North Carolina's secession.[4] Similar to Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia, North Carolina wished to remain uninvolved in the likely war but felt forced to pick a side by the proclamation. Throughout the war, North Carolina widely remained a divided state. The population within the Appalachian Mountains in the western part of the state contained large pockets of Unionism.[5] Even so, North Carolina would help contribute a significant amount of troops to the Confederacy,[6] and channel many vital supplies through the major port of Wilmington, in defiance of the Union blockade.

Fighting occurred sporadically in the state from September 1861, when Union Major General Ambrose Burnside set about capturing key ports and cities, notably Roanoke Island and New Bern.[2] In 1864, the Confederates assumed the offensive, temporarily reconquering Plymouth, while the Union Army launched several attempts to seize Fort Fisher.[6] The last remaining major Confederate army, under Joseph E. Johnston, surrendered at Bennett Place, near Durham, to William Tecumseh Sherman in April 1865.[6] Troops from North Carolina played major roles in dozens of battles in other states, including Gettysburg, where Tar Heels were prominent in Pickett's Charge.[7]

North Carolina would also raise troops to fight in Union regiments. The 3rd North Carolina Cavalry helped take part in the Battle of Bull's Gap, Battle of Red Banks, and Stoneman's 1864 and 1865 raids in western North Carolina, southwest Virginia, and eastern Tennessee.[6] The Department of North Carolina, established in 1862, seized Wilmington in 1865,[6] then the state's largest city. The North Carolina–based XVIII Corps was also among the largest in the Union Army.


The great popular heart is not now and never has been in this war. It was a revolution of the politicians, not the people.

— Zebulon Vance, Governor of North Carolina, 1862-1865

In the mid-19th century, North Carolina was a picture of contrasts. On the Coastal Plain, it was largely a plantation state with a long history of slavery.[5] In the more rural and mountainous western part of the state, there were no plantations and few slaves.[5] These differing perspectives showed themselves in the fraught election of 1860 and its aftermath. North Carolina's electoral votes went to Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, an adamant supporter of slavery who hoped to extend the "peculiar institution" to the United States' western territories, rather than to the Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell, who carried much of the Upper South.[7] North Carolina (in marked contrast to most of the states that Breckinridge carried) was reluctant to secede from the Union when it became clear that Republican Abraham Lincoln had won the presidential election.[7] North Carolina did not secede until May 20, 1861, after the fall of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and the secession of the Upper South's bellwether, Virginia.[7] The next day, on May 21, North Carolina was admitted to the Confederate States. The law admitting the state required a presidential proclamation before it was to take effect,[5] which sources say took place on this date;[7] the only primary source found so far is a statement from Jefferson Davis on July 20 stating that the proclamation had been made.[8]

Some white North Carolinians, especially yeoman farmers who owned few or no slaves, felt ambivalently about the Confederacy; draft-dodging, desertion, and tax evasion were common during the Civil War years, especially in the Union-friendly western part of the state.[9] These North Carolinians, often in disagreement with the aristocracy of eastern planters, along with African Americans across the state, helped in numbering around 15,000 troops who served in the Union Army.[10] North Carolina Union troops helped fight to occupy territory in the mountainous regions of North Carolina and Tennessee, as well as the coastal plains of North Carolina, sometimes with troops from other states.[9] Central and Eastern white North Carolinians were often more supportive of the Confederate cause.[11]

"Colored Troops, Under Gen. Wild, Liberating Slaves in North Carolina" (Harper's Weekly, January 23, 1864)

Initially, the policy of the Confederate populace was to embargo cotton shipments to Europe in hope of forcing them to recognize the Confederacy's independence, thereby allowing trade to resume.[12] The plan failed, and furthermore the Union's naval blockade of Southern ports drastically shrunk North Carolina's international commerce via shipping.[12] Internally, the Confederacy had far fewer railroads than the Union. The breakdown of the Confederate transportation system took a heavy toll on North Carolina residents, as did the runaway inflation of the war years and food shortages in the cities.[12] In the spring of 1863, there were food riots in Salisbury.[12]

Although there was little military combat in the Western districts, the psychological tensions grew greater and greater. Historians John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney argue that in the western mountains "differing ideologies turned into opposing loyalties, and those divisions eventually proved as disruptive as anything imposed by outside armies....As the mountains came to serve as refuges and hiding places for deserters, draft dodgers, escaped slaves, and escaped prisoners of war, the conflict became even more localized and internalized, and at the same time became far messier, less rational, and more mean-spirited, vindictive, and personal" (Inscoe and Mckinney).[11]

Campaigns in North Carolina

Battles of the Civil War

From September 1861 until July 1862, Union Major General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Department of North Carolina, formed the North Carolina Expeditionary Corps and set about capturing key ports and cities.[6] His successes at the Battle of Roanoke Island and the Battle of New Bern helped cement Federal control of a part of coastal Carolina.

Fighting continued in North Carolina sporadically throughout the war. In 1864, the Confederates assumed the offensive in North Carolina, trying to recover some of the territory lost to Burnside's expedition.[6] They failed to retake New Bern, but reconquered Plymouth and held it for six months. Moreover, the Union Army launched several attempts to seize Fort Fisher and finally did in 1865.[6] In the war's closing days, a large Federal force under General William Tecumseh Sherman marched into North Carolina, and in a series of movements that became known as the Carolinas Campaign, occupied much of the state and defeated the Confederates in several key battles, including Averasborough and Bentonville.[6] The surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate army at Bennett Place in April 1865 essentially ended the war in the Eastern Theater.[6]

Battles in North Carolina

See also: List of American Civil War battles

The following are the major battles of the Civil War that were fought in North Carolina:[13][14]

Battle Date Location Outcome
Battle of Albemarle Sound May 5, 1864 Albemarle Sound Inconclusive
Battle of Averasborough March 16, 1865 Harnett and Cumberland Counties Inconclusive
Battle of Bentonville March 19–21, 1865 Johnston County Union victory
Battle of Fort Anderson March 13–16, 1863 Craven County Union victory
Battle of Fort Fisher I December 23–27, 1864 New Hanover County Confederate victory
Battle of Fort Fisher II January 13–15, 1865 New Hanover County Union victory
Siege of Fort Macon March 23, 1862 - Apr 26, 1862 Carteret County Union victory
Battle of Goldsboro Bridge December 17, 1862 Wayne County Union victory
Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries August 28–29, 1861 Outer Banks Union victory
Battle of Kinston December 14, 1862 Lenoir County Union victory
Battle of Monroe's Cross Roads March 10, 1865 Hoke County Inconclusive
Battle of Morrisville April 13–15, 1865 Wake County Union victory
Battle of New Bern March 14, 1862 Craven County Union victory
Battle of Plymouth April 17–20, 1864 Washington County Confederate victory
Battle of Roanoke Island February 7–8, 1862 Dare County Union victory
Battle of South Mills April 19, 1862 Camden County Confederate victory
Battle of Tranter's Creek June 5, 1862 Pitt County Union victory
Battle of Washington March 30, 1863 – April 20, 1863 Beaufort County Inconclusive
Battle of White Hall December 16, 1862 Wayne County Draw
Battle of Wilmington February 11–22, 1865 New Hanover County Union victory
Battle of Wyse Fork March 7–10, 1865 Lenoir County Tactical Union victory, Strategic Confederate victory
Campaign of the Carolinas January 1 – April 26, 1865 North and South Carolina Decisive Union victory

Government and politics

Union propaganda showing North Carolina's Seal being held by the Devil

Henry Toole Clark served as the state's governor from July 1861 to September 1862.[15] Clark founded a Confederate prison in North Carolina, set up European purchasing connections, and built a successful gunpowder mill. His successor Zebulon Vance further increased state assistance for the soldiers in the field.[15]

As the war went on, William Woods Holden became a quiet critic of the Confederate government, and a leader of the North Carolina peace movement. In 1864, he was the unsuccessful "peace candidate" against incumbent Governor Vance.[15] Unionists in North Carolina formed a group called the "Heroes of America" that was allied with the United States. Numbering nearly 10,000 men, a few of them possibly black, they helped Southern Unionists escape to U.S. lines.[9]

"Silent Sam" Confederate memorial on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus (now removed)

The North Carolina General Assembly of 1868–1869 ratified the Fourteenth Amendment on July 4, 1868, which readmitted North Carolina to the Union.[16]

Notable Confederate leaders from North Carolina

Notable Union leaders from North Carolina

North Carolina during Reconstruction

Following the end of the Civil War, North Carolina was part of the Second Military District.[17][18] Major General John M. Schofield was the military leader in charge of North Carolina for roughly a month, in which he implemented a temporary recovery to provide aid to the people of North Carolina.[19] On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson proclaimed the appointment of William W. Holden, as the provisional governor of North Carolina.[19] President Johnson's appointment also allowed North Carolina to set up a state convention to rejoin the union, which required the convention to declare the secession null, abolish slavery, and take an amnesty oath. There would still be a military governor, in the form of Schofield's replacement, Brigadier General Thomas H. Ruger, who would try to cooperate with Holden, such as the removal of most African American soldiers from North Carolina. On July 22, 1868, after multiple other military leaders, the power of military power over North Carolina ended, marking the end of military reconstruction for North Carolina and the Second Military District.[20]

See also


  1. ^ North Carolina in the Civil War – Legends of America. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Civil War Era NC".
  3. ^ "First Convention Vote".
  4. ^ "Lincoln's Proclamation".
  5. ^ a b c d John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney (2003). The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War. Univ of North Carolina Press. p. 9.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "North Carolina in the Civil War".
  7. ^ a b c d e "Secession". John Locke Foundation.
  8. ^ Confederate Congress 1861, 1:272. (View the page cited)
  9. ^ a b c Foner, Eric (March 1989). "The South's Inner Civil War: The more fiercely the Confederacy fought for its independence, the more bitterly divided it became. To fully understand the vast changes the war unleashed on the country, you must first understand the plight of the Southerners who didn't want secession". American Heritage. Vol. 40, no. 2. American Heritage Publishing Company. p. 3. Archived from the original on January 3, 2015. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  10. ^ FAQs about North Carolina and the Civil War. North Carolina Museum of History. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  11. ^ a b John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney (2003). The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War. Univ of North Carolina Press. p. 9.
  12. ^ a b c d Brooks D. Simpson (2013). The Civil War: The Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It: (Library of America #234). Library of America. p. 193.
  13. ^ "North Carolina Civil War Battles". National Park Service. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  14. ^ Dyer, Frederick H. (2016). The War of the Rebellion a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Official Records of the Civil War). THA New Media LLC/Compiler.
  15. ^ a b c R. Matthew Poteat (2009). Henry Toole Clark: Civil War Governor of North Carolina. McFarland. pp. 90–118.
  16. ^ Release, Allen W. (2006). "Reconstruction". NCPEDIA. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  17. ^ "Full Organization Authority Record: War Department. Second Military District. (03/11/1867 - 07/28/1868)". U.S. National Archives. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  18. ^ "Landmark Legislation: The Reconstruction Act of 1867". United States Senate. Retrieved November 1, 2021.
  19. ^ a b Bradley, Mark. The Army and Reconstruction. Center of Military History US Army, Washington D.C. 2015. P 13-15. The Army and Reconstruction, 1865-1877
  20. ^ Bradley, Mark (2009). Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina (New Directions In Southern History) Kindle Edition. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. pp. Location 2437.

Further reading

  • Barrett, John G. (1963). The Civil War in North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press.
  • Barrett, John Gilcrest (1984). The Civil War in North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.
  • Carbone, John S. (2001). The Civil War in Coastal North Carolina. North Carolina Division of Archives and History.
  • Clinard, Karen L.; Richard Russell, eds. (2008). Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journals and Letters of the Henry Family. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair Publishing.
  • Erslev, Major Brit K. (2015). Taming the Tar Heel Department: DH Hill and the Challenges of Operational-Level Command during the American Civil War. Pickle Partners Publishing.
  • Hardy, Michael C. (2011). North Carolina in the Civil War. The History Press.
  • Inscoe, John C. and Gordon B. McKinney (2000). The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War. University of North Carolina Press.
  • McSween, Murdoch John (2012). Confederate Incognito: The Civil War Reports of "Long Grabs", aka Murdoch John McSween, 26th and 35th North Carolina Infantry. McFarland.
  • Mobley, Joe A. (2012). Confederate Generals of North Carolina: Tar Heels in Command. Arcadia Publishing.
  • Myers, Barton A. (2014). Rebels Against the Confederacy: North Carolina's Unionists. Cambridge University Press.
  • Poteat, R. Matthew (2009). Henry Toole Clark: Civil War Governor of North Carolina. McFarland. pp. 90–118.
  • Reid, Richard M. (2008). Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina's Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era. University of North Carolina Press.
  • Silkenat, David (2015). Driven from Home: North Carolina's Civil War Refugee Crisis. University of Georgia Press.

Historiography and memory[edit]

  • Laws, William Christopher. 'The Millennium of Their Glory': Public Memory and War Monuments in North Carolina, 1865-1929 (2022).
  • Smith, Blanche Lucas (1941). North Carolina's Confederate monuments and memorials. North Carolina Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Preceded byArkansas List of C.S. states by date of admission to the Confederacy Admitted on May 20, 1861 (10th) Succeeded byTennessee

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