"Boys, God bless you every one, but you can't succeed. Their resources are too great for you." — The elderly Willie P. Mangum of Walnut Hall plantation in present-day Bahama. Mangum, a distinguished U.S. senator, congressman and slave owner, reportedly said this as he watched young recruits of the Flat River Guards march off to Durham's Station in 1861. His only son was killed shortly afterward at the First Battle of Bull Run.
Last Friday, May 20, North Carolina semi-officially recognized the day as the 150th anniversary of the state's secession from the Union. After secession, North Carolina spent the next 48 months in the company of 10 other discontented states in a futile quest to establish a Confederate States of America. And so, the next four years will see a succession of anniversaries of the bloodiest war the world knew in the 19th century.
Of course there was no "Triangle" then. There was a state capital in Raleigh, and there was a university in Chapel Hill. Durham, however, didn't exist as a city, or even as a county, but there was Durham's Station, a railroad stop and the site of tobacco warehouses in the vicinity of the present-day Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Fortunately for North Carolinians, the fiercest fighting in the Civil War took place elsewhere—in Virginia, in Tennessee, in Pennsylvania. While North Carolinians suffered during the war, the war did not come to central North Carolina until the last weeks. However, this region was the scene of extraordinary tumult and violence in a few short weeks that spring—one that saw the surrender of armies, plunder and violence against civilians and the assassination of a president.
By the end, the Confederates were pitiably demoralized and starved. Four years after Willie P. Mangum's prophetic words to the recruits eagerly departing for Durham's Station, Gen. Joseph Johnston had this weary assessment for Jefferson Davis: "Our people are tired of the war, feel themselves whipped, and will not fight. Our country is overrun, its military resources greatly diminished, while the enemy's military power and resources were never greater and may be increased to any extent desired. ... My small force is melting away like snow before the sun."
So, yes, this year's Summer Guide is a primer for the Triangle's connection to the Civil War (plus our usual Summer Calendar). We realized that we knew relatively little about the Triangle's experience with the war, so we decided it was an opportunity to learn. While the Triangle is heavily paved over and often history-free, there are still remnants of the struggle—sometimes just barely.
Our Raleigh political guru Bob Geary uncovered a narrative of the nearly three weeks of occupation in April 1865, while Samiha Khanna visited Durham's Stagville plantation and attended a day-long symposium on how we continue to feel the war's effects. Joe Schwartz delved into the barely known history of anti-war, anti-slavery subversion in North Carolina. Intern Rebecca Collins investigated the area's biggest slaveholders and came up with some very familiar names. Meanwhile, staff photographer D.L. Anderson defied 150 years of development to locate haunting impressions of the people who lived in those times. He also took photos with the generous help of the 26th North Carolina Infantry, a re-enactment and education group (for one, see this week's Gallery).
We also could not have done this without the assistance of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and its representative, Michael Hill. The NCDCR has a website devoted to the ongoing sesquicentennial, which should be your starting point for investigations of the war in North Carolina: www.nccivilwar150.com. —David Fellerath
Civil War sites
Bennett Place—A modest location for a major surrender: Located off US-70 on the west side of Durham, this reconstructed farm house has docents who help take visitors through negotiations between Union Gen. Sherman and Confederate Gen. Johnston on the largest surrender of the war.
Bentonville Battlefield—Located in Four Oaks in Johnston County, it's the site of the last major engagement in North Carolina, which occurred March 19–21, 1865. Re-enactors stage the battle on each year's anniversary. From April through September, it's open 9 a.m.–5 p.m., with no admission fee; call 910-594-0789 for more information.
Historic Stagville—This restored antebellum plantation is in northern Durham County. Visit Stagville at 5828 Old Oxford Highway Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. for free tours. Groups should make advance reservations by calling 919-620-0120.
For a comprehensive survey of the Civil War in North Carolina, visit North Carolina's Department of Cultural Resources' North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial. Additional information is on the Civil War Sesquicentennial blog of the North Carolina State Archives as well.
On a separate NCDCR blog called Civilian Wartime, which also has a Twitter account, there are regular postings of letters from the war, published on the days the letters were written (May 22, 1861, on May 22, 2011, for example).
We also recommend Gary Kueber's Endangered Durham blog post on Walnut Hall, which tells the story of the deterioration of Walnut Hall, the estate of Willie P. Mangum, an important political figure in antebellum North Carolina.
Information on the 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment.