Monday, August 29, 2022

Halifax County

    Formed in 1758 from Edgecombe County, Halifax County was named for George Montague, second earl of Halifax (England) and President of the British Board of Trade and Plantations. At times, Halifax County has been called North Carolina’s “Cradle of History.” It was in the community of Halifax that the Halifax Resolves were drafted, debated, and signed in April 1776 by the delegates at the Fourth Provincial Congress. These resolves authorized North Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. The resolutions were unanimously adopted. The county seat, also named Halifax, was established in 1757 and became the county seat in 1759.

   In 1860, Halifax County boasted a population of 19,442 people, including 10,349 slaves and 2,450 free people of color. In the 1860 presidential election, local voters cast 757 votes for John C. Breckinridge, 545 votes for John Bell, and 22 votes for Stephen Douglas. No votes were recorded for Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln (he failed to garner enough support to get on the ballot in North Carolina).

   During the February 1861 call for a convention to consider the question of secession, 1,049 cast their votes for the call, with 39 against. Only Edgecombe, Warren, and Martin Counties had fewer votes against the convention. Considering the population of Halifax County, two delegates were selected. An early history of Halifax County considered both men “union men.” Those two were Richard H. Smith and Littleberry W. Batchelor. Smith was born in 1810 in Scotland Neck and graduated from the University of North Carolina, later reading law. He was a member of the House of Commons in 1852 and 1854. He was in favor of the Union until the inauguration of Lincoln “when he became an ardent supporter of [the] war.” Batchelor was born in Halifax in 1823. He attended the Bingham School and later studied medicine in Philadelphia. He practiced medicine and was a Justice of the Peace. Batchelor “was a devoted Southerner and firm believer in the right of a State to secede.”

   There were several companies that enlisted in Confederate service during the war. These included: Companies I and K, 1st North Carolina Volunteers; Company K, 1st North Carolina State Troops; Company F, 2nd North Carolina Artillery; Companies G & I, 12th North Carolina State Troops; Company A, 14th North Carolina Troops; Company D, 24th North Carolina Troops; Company D and F, 43rd North Carolina Troops; Company G, 3rd North Carolina Cavalry; and Company K, 2nd Regiment North Carolina Junior Reserves. There does not seem to be an adequate list of men from the county who served in the Federal army. However, based upon the 1890 Veterans Census, several men served in the 14th United States Colored Heavy Artillery. There are four African Americans who applied for Confederate pensions after the war. 

Lawrence Branch
   Several high-ranking Confederate officers were born in Halifax County. Lawrence O’Bryan Branch was born near Enfield in 1820. He was brought up by his uncle, U.S. Secretary of the Navy John Branch. Lawrence was tutored by Salmon P. Chase, and in 1838, graduated from Princeton University. Branch practiced law, living in Tennessee and Florida before returning to North Carolina. He was a banker and served as president of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad. From March 4, 1855, to March 3, 1861, Branch represented his district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Branch served as North Carolina’s quartermaster early in the war. He then accepted a position as colonel of the 33rd North Carolina Troops in September 1861. In November 1861, he was appointed brigadier general. Branch commanded on the coast, losing a battle at New Bern in March 1862. He was assigned command of the Second North Carolina brigade about three days after the battle and sent to Virginia the first of May 1862. Branch would again lose a battle at Hanover Court House on May 27, 1862. He and his brigade were then assigned to the Light Division under A.P. Hill, and Branch became a dependable brigade commander. At one point, he led the division and was complimented by Stonewall Jackson. On September 17, 1862, Branch was killed during the battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland. Branch is buried in the Old City Cemetery in Raleigh.

 Also from the area was Junius Daniel. He was born in Halifax in 1828 and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1851. He resigned from the army in 1858 and lived in Louisiana for a time, but he was back in North Carolina by 1860. Daniel was colonel of the 14th North Carolina State Troops, then colonel of the 45th North Carolina Troops. He was appointed brigadier general in September 1862 and commanded a brigade in the Second Corps until mortally wounded at the battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, on May 12, 1864, dying the same day.

   David Clark was born in Scotland Neck in February 1829 and attended the Episcopal Male School of Raleigh. He was colonel of the 15th North Carolina Militia, then brigadier general of the Ninth Brigade, North Carolina Militia, in March and April 1862. He died in Halifax County in October 1882.

   William Ruffin Cox was born in Scotland Neck in March 1832. Four years later, he moved to Tennessee. He attended Franklin College and then Lebanon Law School. In 1852, Cox returned to North Carolina. In 1861, he was a member of the North Carolina Militia, then elected major of the 2nd North Carolina Infantry in June 1861. Cox was wounded at Malvern Hill in July 1862. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on September 17, 1862; promoted to colonel on March 20, 1863; wounded at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863; and wounded in the right shoulder and face at Rappahannock Station, Virginia, on November 7, 1863. On May 31, 1864, Cox was promoted to brigadier general. He led a brigade in Ewell’s Second Corps. On April 9, 1865, Cox was paroled at Appomattox Court House. After the war, he returned to the practice of law and later served as a judge. Cox represented North Carolina in the US House of Representatives from 1881 to 1887 and was Secretary of the US Senate from 1893 to 1900. He passed in 1919 and is interred in Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh.

   James R. McLean was also born at Enfield in September 1823. He attended Bingham School and the Caldwell Institute, later reading law under John A. Gilmer. He practiced law in Greensboro, and later, in Rockford. He represented Surry County in the General Assembly in 1850-1851 but then moved back to Greensboro. In November 1861, McLean won a seat in the Confederate House of Representatives. In Congress, he usually supported the Davis Administration. McLean did not seek re-election due to poor health and later served as major in the senior reserves. He died in 1870 and is buried in Greensboro.

   Halifax County played a major role in the war. M. Fannie Whitfield of Enfield actually sent Vice-President Alexander Stephens five flag proposals early in the war. These were found after Richmond was captured in April 1865. The community at Weldon was an early mobilization and training camp for Confederate soldiers. The railroad that ran through Weldon also played a major role in the war, moving supplies from the Wilmington area to Virginia and transporting troops. Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes made his headquarters in Weldon early in the war, as did Brigadier General L.S. Baker later in the war.  A Wayside Hospital opened in Weldon Methodist Church in December 1862. Near Scotland Neck, at Edwards’ Ferry, the ram Albemarle was constructed beginning in the spring of 1863. The Albemarle helped to capture the town of Plymouth in April 1864. In November 1863 there was a skirmish near Weldon. Between March 25 and April 11, 1865, there was a Federal expedition from Deep Bottom, Virginia, towards Weldon, North Carolina. On April 12, 1865, the Confederates abandoned Weldon and moved toward Raleigh. What was left, like trains and engines, were driven onto the bridge over the Roanoke River and set fire. 

War Memorial in Enfield recently bulldozed. 

   After the war, Halifax County became home to at least two United Confederate Veterans camps. The Cary Whitaker Camp 1053 was established in Enfield, while the Bill Johnston Camp 1275 was in Weldon. Halifax had the Halifax Chapter 1232, Enfield had the Frank M. Parker chapter 1096,  and Weldon had the Junius Daniel Chapter 600, United Daughters of the Confederacy. There is no recorded post for a Grand Army of the Republic Post in Halifax County. A monument to Confederate and World War I soldiers was erected in Enfield in June 1929. It was later expanded to honor soldiers of other wars. In August 2022, the mayor of Enfield bulldozed the monument. Another monument was dedicated in Halifax in 1929. There are North Carolina Highway Historical Markers near Scotland Neck and in Halifax denoting the ram Albemarle. There are North Carolina Civil War Trail Markers at Roanoke Rapids concerning the Roanoke Canal and in Weldon concerning the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Trestle. There is also a war memorial at the Weldon Confederate Cemetery with the names of those who died at the hospital and are interred nearby.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Wilmington, Fort Fisher, and Historiography

Monument at Fort Fisher. 

   Has the importance of Fort Fisher and the great Wilmington area been missed in the historiography of the past 160 years? I recently came up with this question during our annual visit to the greater Wilmington area. In working on my upcoming book on food and the Army of Northern Virginia, I came to the conclusion that Wilmington, at least during the second half of the war, was second only to Richmond.

   So what do the historians say? How important were Wilmington, Fort Fisher, and the Cape Fear River area? Charles Roland, The Confederacy (1960), William C. Davis, Look Away! A History of the Confederacy (2002), and Russell F. Weigley, A Great Civil War (2000) make no real mention of the importance of the area.

   Keegan, while making mention of Fort Fisher and the ensuing battle, does not really get to the importance of the area, writing that  “The most important military operation in North Carolina during the closing phase of the war was not the work of Sherman’s army but a deliberate and separate operation to close down the South’s last large blockade-running port at Wilmington…”[1] Vandiver writes that “In Wilmington. . . the best of the blockade ports outside of Bagdad, Mexico, things settled into a pattern of hard work. Most citizens decamped in fear of invasion or of pestilence from foreign ships, or because the town became little more than a military depot.” Once again, he does not really seem to get the importance that Wilmington had to the entire war effort.[2]  

   There are a couple of historians who kind of get it. James McPherson writes that “Wilmington became the principal Confederate port for blockade runners because of the tricky inlets and shoals at the mouth of the Cape Fear River…”[3] Edward Pollard, in his early (as in 1867) history of the Confederacy, concludes that Wilmington was the “the most important sea-coast port left to the Confederates, through which to get supplies from abroad, and send cotton and other products out by blockade-runners.”[4]

Only two of the texts in the sample survey (i.e., books on my shelf) seem to get the importance. Robert S. Henry writes in 1931 that Wilmington was “most important of all” ports in the South. Due to this, it became “one of the great centers of the business of blockade running.”[5]    One other example comes from the pen of Shelby Foote. Foote tells us that in the last nine weeks of 1864, supplies landed at the port of Wilmington included “8,632,000 pounds of meat, 1,507,000 pounds of lead, 1,933,000 pounds of saltpeter, 546,000 pairs of shoes, 316,000 pairs of blankets, 520,000 pounds of coffee, 69,000 rifles, 97 packages of revolvers, 2,639 packages of medicine, 43 cannons,” along with other munitions. “Just how important those cargoes were to the continued resistance by the rebels was shown by the fact that R.E. Lee himself had sent word…that he could not subsist his army without supplies brought in there.”[6]

   Overall, I think the importance of the port of Wilmington, with its surrounding fortifications, has been underrepresented in the greater portion of the historiography of the past 160 years.

[1] Keegan, The American Civil War, 278.

[2] Vandiver, Their Tattered Flags, 107.

[3] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 380.

[4] Pollard, The Lost Cause, 671.

[5] Henry, The Story of the Confederacy, 239, 437.

[6] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative, 3:741.