Civil War on the Web

by Fred Ray on July 23, 2011 · 0 comments

A day or two late, but here’s something about Tarheels at Manassas.

About 300 Forsyth County men gathered 150 years ago today to fight in the Battle of Bull Run, when Confederate forces defeated Union troops in the first major engagement of the Civil War.

But most of those local soldiers didn’t see much action, historians say.

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Three companies — the Forsyth Rifles, Forsyth Grays and Forsyth Southrons — were part of the 11th N.C. Volunteers, said Fam Brownlee, a historian in the N.C. Room at the Forsyth County Public Library.

The Forsyth companies didn’t suffer any casualties, and Brownlee said he doubts that the soldiers from the towns of Winston and Salem inflicted any casualties on the Union troops they faced on the battlefield.

Meanwhile, historical digging continues on the number of North Carolinians lost in the Late Unpleasantness.

For more than a century, North Carolina clung to a pair of Civil War distinctions thought sacred: It sent the first Confederate killed in battle, and it sacrificed 40,275 men – the most in the South.

Only part of that may still be true.

On the 150th anniversary of the war’s first shots, a new state study pulls together the scattered, error-riddled records of North Carolina’s Civil War dead and shows the following:

A Virginia captain beat Pvt. Henry Lawson Wyatt, a 19-year-old from Tarboro, to the grave by nine days;

North Carolina’s casualty list is actually closer to 32,000, possibly 35,000 if you count those still missing from the records and lumped into the “probable” category. Whether that’s the highest is unclear;

The war killed about a quarter of the state’s men of military age. More died of typhoid fever and chronic diarrhea than bullets. Some even died of spider bites and lightning strikes.

The point of the study isn’t to debunk any points of pride, said Josh Howard, the study’s author and a historian with the state Office of Archives and History. He started the study six years ago assuming the 40,275 figure was accurate.

In another part of the state others look at the Great Dismal Swamp as a haven for runaway slaves.

This fall, a permanent exhibition will open to provide some detail about those lives, part of an expanding effort by the National Park Service and other agencies to recast the experience of pre-war slaves. Scholars are using sites like the Great Dismal Swamp, straddling the line between North Carolina and Virginia, to highlight a little-known side of history, in which the freedom trail for slaves didn’t always run to the North.

“What you find with places like the Dismal Swamp is that there were oases within the South for people,” said Michelle Lanier, a curator at the N.C. Division of State Historic Sites and Properties. “When you start to look at these communities that kind of created a safe haven or safer haven, it really explodes our simplified notion of what the underground railroad was.”

So far, I’ll have to say their evidence is rather thin.

Here in western NC columnist Rob Neufeld looks at a diary of Confederate captain (and slave owner) Tom Lenoir.

As letters to his mother and sister reveal, the younger Thomas Lenoir was a lonely man on his plantation. In charge of 18 slaves, he felt vexed by his responsibilities toward them, and once declared, “I can’t help wishing sometimes that the whole race were back in Africa.”

In the extensive biographical portion of his book, Jones shines a light on Lenoir’s activities as a slaveholder.

Lenoir had great trouble allowing a slave named Riley – “the briskest hand on the plantation,” Lenoir told his father – to marry the woman of his choice. She was a slave attached to a farm owned by a man named Osborn.

“If you allow him to have a wife away from home,” he advised his father, who was evidently still in charge, “the precedent will play the mischief with the balance.”

And finally, it seems that the state of Alabama is still collecting a tax for the Confederate veterans home, even though it closed 72 years ago, which is I suppose proves the idea that once a tax is passed it’s almost impossible to get rid of.


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