Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Flag of the 33rd NCT

On several occasions in the past few years, I have been honored to stand on the stage at the North Carolina Museum of History and Raleigh in order to share the history of some of the Confederate regiments that came from North Carolina. This Saturday, I will have that privilege again, thanks to the fine folks in the 26th North Carolina Troops, Reactivated. On Saturday, December 13, 2014, the recently conserved flag of the 33rd North Carolina Troops will be unveiled. Unlike the half-dozen battle flags that I have had the privilege of accompanying  in the past, this is a state flag, captured during the Battle of New Bern, North Carolina, on March 14, 1862. The flag was returned to North Carolina in 1917.

This program will start around 2:30 in the auditorium at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, and is free and open to the public. If you are out and about, please feel free to join us.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

A racially integrated Confederate military?

Recently, I was reading the most recent issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era, and I found a mention of “a racially integrated Confederate military.” The author of the essay does not believe that the Confederate army was integrated to any degree, and that the idea of tens of thousands of black Confederate soldiers served beside their masters or former masters within the ranks. As I have stated before, I’ve never believed there were hundreds of thousands of black Confederate soldiers. But at the same time, I have come to believe the Confederate army was far more integrated that most people want to believe.

The only way to back up the belief of an integrated Confederate army is to look at Confederate regiments on a company level. This type of research does not come easily, and is probably beyond the interest of the academic historian. To accomplish this type of research, you really need to be a family historian.

I’m not a family historian. But I know of lot of them. So, I formulated a test. I pulled out all of the men in Company B, 37th North Carolina Troops, who came from Watauga County and who originally enlisted in September 1861. Located in the mountains of western North Carolina, and by looking at the 1860 Federal census, Watauga might be considered one of the least ethnically diverse counties, at least in North Carolina. According to this census, there were 4,821 white people, 104 slaves, and 32 free persons of color in Watauga County. The county furnished several companies to the Confederate army in 1861 and 1862, along with a handful who joined the Federal army, and another group who used the guise of the Federal uniform to wage a dirty war on their neighbors.

Back to our test company: Company B was originally recruited from Watauga County in September 1861 and entered Confederate service in November 1861. Of that initial group of 98 men, we find 21 mixed race people. The most famous would be the Cozzens (or Cousins) brothers. They considered themselves Melungeons or descendants of the Portuguese.   The government considered them either mulattos or Negroes. We understand that Melungeons are today considered descendants of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin. The Cozzens were two members of Company B who were free blacks. They voluntarily enlisted in Company B on September 14, 1861. Franklin was killed in the fighting at Second Manassas on August 29, 1862. William Henry Cozzens served as a teamster for much of the war, a more traditional role for a black person in the Confederate army. He was captured on April 2, 1865, and spent a couple of months at Point Lookout, Maryland.

And then there is the story of Larkin Oxentine, born in Sumter District, South Carolina. He, and his family, claimed that he was a Lumbee Indian and  a recent arrival to the Watauga County area. After the war was over, Oxentine headed one more county west, settling in Carter County, Tennessee.
All of the rest of 21 men's families claim to have some degree of Native American ancestry. This is probably not the most scientific way to conduct such a study, but at the same time, even a DNA study would not tell us when the Native American ancestry entered into a person's  family background. It should also be remembered that Native Americans were not considered citizens. Anyone with Native ancestry, in the mid-19th century, hid it, or faced possible forced relocation.

So, at least 21 percent of the original enlistees of Company B, 37th North Carolina Troops, could be considered racially mixed in some form or fashion. This is just one test case. I wonder what additional research into the subject might show? Maybe that the Confederate army was little more "racially integrated" than some folks might want to admit? 

Monday, October 20, 2014

North Carolina Symphony to Perform Stirring Civil War Program on Thursday, Oct. 30

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The North Carolina Symphony will perform "Battle Hymn of the Republic: Words and Music From the Civil War," a special concert that combines music and history Thursday, Oct. 30, at 10:30 a.m., at Meymandi Concert Hall. Associate Conductor David Glover, along with special guests Dr. Kevin Cherry of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, tenor Scott MacLeod and Civil War re-enactors, will lead the audience on a journey through the Civil War era with music, letters and historical information.

Tickets to the concert are $5 and are on sale now. Tickets are available online at or by calling the North Carolina Symphony Box Office at (919) 733-2750.

Musical selections include "The Battle Cry of Freedom," Copland's Lincoln Portrait, narrated by Dr. Cherry; "Oh Susannah," "Old Dan Tucker," and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," performed by MacLeod, as well as stirring renditions of "Ashokan Farewell," also known as the theme to Ken Burns' PBS series "The Civil War," and the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Letters from Civil War soldiers will be read from the stage, and artifacts from the North Carolina Office of Archives and History will be available for viewing in the lobby prior to and after the concert. North Carolina's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which is sponsored by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, continues through 2015. North Carolina has a number of key Civil War sites, including Durham's Bennett Place State Historic Site, which was the location of the largest troop surrender of the Civil War. 

Dr. Kevin Cherry is the deputy secretary of the Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. Dr. Cherry has several North Carolina connections. He served as a consultant for special collections for the State Library of North Carolina. He also created one of the largest cultural heritage repositories ever undertaken in North Carolina - the N.C. Exploring Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO) project. He has worked in Rowan County, at UNC-Chapel Hill, and taught at East Carolina University.

Scott MacLeod has appeared in a variety of venues both nationally and abroad, including Opera Omaha, Central City Opera, Opera North, Utah Festival Opera, Mobile Opera, Duluth Festival Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Greensboro Opera, Long Leaf Opera, Opera on the James, the Tucson Symphony and National Symphony of Costa Rica. He made his Carnegie Hall solo debut in Mendelssohn's Elijah with the New York Chamber Orchestra in 2009. Recent performances include Lee Hyla's Wilson's Ivory Bill with the Chicago Chamber Musicians, Messiah with the Greensboro Oratorio Society and the debut performance of "The Persistence of Smoke" with the Duke University Encounters new music series.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Governor Ellis in Richmond

In doing some research today, I came across the following, concerning a visit of Governor Ellis to  Richmond in May 1861. I'm not sure I've come across this before. We know that Ellis only had two months to live. The Avery referred to is William Waighstill Avery, one of the most interesting characters in North Carolina history.

From the Richmond Dispatch, May 14, 1861
   Serenade to Gov. Ellis.-The patriotic and eloquent Governor of the Old North State was serenaded last night at his lodging, at the Exchange Hotel, the First Regiment Band having been engaged for that purpose by a number of citizens.

   Hon. Wm. W. Avery was introduced to the people, who excused the absence of the Governor on account of indisposition, and proceeded to deliver an impassioned address, which was received with enthusiastic applause. He said North Carolina was a unit on the secession issue, and would stand or fall with the Southern Confederacy, with which her fortunes were now indissolubly linked. She had paused for Virginia to act, though confident how she would go in the great contest;  there was now a race between them as to who should be first in the new and out of the old Confederacy. He promised on the part of North Carolina, arms, ammunition and men in any quantity, ordered in sustaining Southern Rights. They could soon be on the soil of Virginia. Addresses were also delivered by Judge Person, and Hon. W. M. Ransom. His Honor the Mayor, introduced the last two gentlemen. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Ft. Caswell Cannons

Have you ever wondered about those two cannons on either side of the Confederate monument on Union Square in Raleigh? Union Square? The North Carolina State capitol actually sits on a piece of land entitled "Union Square." That, however, is another story. Back to those cannons. They are large and have a great history of their own.

Those two cannons have quite a history. According to an article in the New Bern Weekly Journal (October 3, 1902), the "guns were originally naval 32 pounders, and they were taken at the Norfolk navy yard when Virginia occupied it in 1861. They were sent to Tredegar Iron Works, rifled and made 6 inch rifled guns and a wrought iron band was shrunk on the breech, making them greatly resemble Parrott guns. They were mounted on the sea front of old Ft. Caswell. When in January 1865 that fort was vacated they were left loaded and spiked."

 Another article, this one from the News and Observer (Raleigh, August 24, 1902), tell us that the cannon were buried sixteen feet underground prior to their excavation.

The Wilmington Morning Star reported (August 12, 1902) that "Before the two cannon could be shipped here [Raleigh] they had to be taken out of the sand into which they had been rolled and the charges taken out. This was a work of no little trouble... Up to about 1898 [Fort Caswell] was in precisely the same condition it was after the evacuation in 1865. Fire and powder have done their work upon it."

As with many sites connected to North Carolina and the War, there is much history to explore when talking about Fort Caswell. I for one would like to know what happened to the 8-inch English Armstrong rifle (cannon) that was captured at Caswell at the end f the war. But I guess that is a whole 'nother post! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Urgent Fundraising Drive to Preserve Historic Civil War Land by Bennett Place

DURHAM, N.C. -- Part of the original Hillsborough Road traveled by Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston to meet with Union Gen. William Sherman in April 1865 is for sale. Bennett Place State Historic Site, where the Civil War ended, is desperately trying to raise $310,000 to purchase the tract located directly across the street.

"The state's option on a piece of wooded land near Durham's Bennett Place State Historic Site, where sits one of the most significant Civil War monuments in North Carolina, is about to expire," states Deputy Secretary Kevin Cherry, N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. "The site needs $310,000 to purchase the land near "The Unity Monument." This monument, located at the site where the Civil War effectively ended, symbolically marks the reunification of the nation. If the site is not able to purchase the optioned land, it is possible that development will mar the historical context in which the monument currently sits."

On April 26, 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered all active Confederate forces in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida at a farm house just outside of present-day Durham. This surrender effectively ended the American Civil War. The location of Johnston's historic surrender to Union forces led by William Tecumseh Sherman is currently preserved as Bennett Place State Historic Site. This site is maintained by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

A number of North Carolina's leading citizens initiated grassroots efforts to preserve Bennett Place before it became a state historic site in 1961. Many gathered at Bennett Place on Oct. 12, 1923 to dedicate two tall white Corinthian columns, one representing the Confederacy and one representing the Union. These two separate columns were joined at the top by a bridge with the text "UNITY" carved into it along with two flanking shields. With this piece of symbolic architecture, descendants of the men who fought this nation's bitterest conflict, fulfilled their desire to build a monument to national unity.

"Donations are needed to purchase the adjoining tract and preserve the sanctity of this place," insists Site Manager John Guss. "The need is urgent and immediate." Donations can be made to the Bennett Place Support Fund at 4409 Bennett Memorial Rd., Durham, NC, 27705.
For additional information, please call (919) 383-4345 or email Bennett Place State Historic Site is part of the Division of State Historic Sites within the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The US Mint in Charlotte

When I was working on the book Civil War Charlotte: Last Capital of the Confederacy, I had the chance to dig into the history of the US Mint in Charlotte. I've found a couple of other pieces of information recently, and I thought you might enjoy learning a bit more.

Gold was discovered in North Carolina in 1799 in Cabarrus County. North Carolina led in the production of gold in North Carolina until 1848. In 1835, the United State Government officially established a branch of the United States Mint in Charlotte, and a building was built in Charlotte for the production of gold coins. In 1861, the officers at the US Mint were as follows: Green W. Caldwell - Superintendent and Acting Treasurer.; John H. Gibbon - Assayer, Melter and Refiner; E. Graham - Chief Coiner; and, William F. Stranger - Clerk.
On March 9, 1861, the Confederate Congress passed a resolution for the continuance of the mints at New Orleans and Dahlonega (GA). Had North Carolina already left the Union and joined the Confederacy, this act no doubt would have extended to the Queen City as well. The Mint itself was captured by militia colonel J. Y. Bryce in April 1861. Governor Ellis offered the Mint building and operations to Jefferson Davis. There was an estimated $26,716.01 in gold bullion and coins captured at this time. However, the mints in the South ceased operations on May 14, 1861. It was determined that the cost of operating the mints would far surpass their anticipated income.

In June, there was some discussion about keeping the Assay Office open, but once again, it was determined that the cost outweighed the potential profit. On August 6, 1861, the Confederate government was petitioned by North Carolina, asking that the mint in Charlotte be put into operation. This was approved on August 24, 1861, but, in May 1862, the operation was shut down. The building and machinery was turned over to the Navy Department (loaned). What was not needed by the Navy was put into storage. It was not until December 1864 that inquiries were made by the CS Senate regarding putting the Mint back into operation. Secretary of the Treasury Trenholm replied that the he did not see any benefit of opening the mints, and they remained closed.

The Mint would serve as offices for much of the War. At the end of the War, the remnants of the Confederacy treasury, along with gold from the banks in Richmond, were deposited in the Mint building, along with the papers of the Treasury Department.

Following the end of the War, Federal military forces used the building as their headquarters. The Assayer's office was reopened in 1867. In 1873, North Carolina petitioned Congress to reopen the mint itself, but that request was denied. The Assay office operated until 1913.

So there you have it, a little more information about the United States Mint in Charlotte during the War. I for one would love to know just who was still mining gold in the Charlotte area 1861-1865.