“In authorizing the assault on North Carolina, General-in-Chief George McClellan advised [Ambrose] Burnside to avoid linking the invasion to emancipation….In a February 1862 ‘Proclamation made to the People of North Carolina’ Burnside assured them that rumors that he intended to ‘liberate your slaves’ were ‘not only ridiculous, but utterly and willfully false.’
“His actions immediately after the invasion indicate the opposite. Shortly after the invasion of New Bern, Burnside wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that…. he had adopted a policy to ‘allow all [slaves] who come to my lines to enter’ and ‘to give them employment as far as possible, and to exercise toward old and young a judicious charity.’ ”
— From “Driven from Home: North Carolina’s Civil War Refugee Crisis” by David Silkenat (2016)
“In early 1862, George McClellan, then general in chief of the army and a vocal opponent of a war against slavery, gave extremely conservative instructions regarding military emancipation to General Ambrose Burnside as he was about to embark on another joint army-navy operation aimed at capturing Roanoke Island:
” ‘[Say] as little as possible about politics or the negro. Merely state that the true issue for which we are fighting is the preservation of the Union and upholding the laws of the General Government….’
“Upon capturing Roanoke Island in early February, Burnside [denied intending] ‘to liberate your slaves.’ McClellan’s instructions, like Burnside’s proclamations, were technically correct: The ‘purpose’ of the Union invasion was the restoration of the Union, not the liberation of slaves. The policy of the federal government, however, was to emancipate all slaves coming within Union lines…. Occupation forces would not actively interfere with the peaceful operation of slavery among loyal farmers and planters, [or] entice slaves away from their owners, but slaves escaping to Union lines were emancipated and employed as wage laborers.
“Slavery deteriorated rapidly in the occupied parts of North Carolina thanks to the policy instructing Union forces to employ fugitives entering their lines, coupled with the prohibition against military enforcement of the fugitive slave clause.”
— From “Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865” by James Oakes (2012)
“Born in 1850 on an eastern North Carolina plantation, my father’s mother was the proprietress of two slave girls who were her age, 12 or thereabouts, at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. Many years later, when she was an old lady in her 80s and I was 11 or 12, she told me at great length of her love for these children and of the horror and loss she felt when that same year, 1862, Union forces… under General Burnside swept down on the plantation, stripped the place bare and left everyone to starve, including the little slave girls, who later disappeared.
“It was a story I heard more than once, since I avidly prompted her to repeat it and she, indulging her own fondness for its melodrama, told it again with relish, describing her hatred for the Yankees (which remained undiminished in 1937), the real pain of her starvation (she said they were reduced to eating ‘roots and rats’), and her anguish when she was separated forever from those little black girls, who were called, incidentally, Drusilla and Lucinda, just as in so many antebellum plantation novels.
“All of the deliciously described particulars of my grandmother’s chronicle held me spellbound, but I think that nothing so awed me as the fact that this frail and garrulous woman whom I beheld, and who was my own flesh and blood, had been the legal owner of two other human beings. It may have determined, more than anything else, some as-yet-to-be-born resolve to write about slavery.”
— From “Nat Turner Revisited” by William Styron in American Heritage, October 1992
“Work goes slow and well, particularly on little-known events, like Roanoke Island, whose neglect I cannot understand…. Loss of that island lost the Confederacy the whole NC coast, both Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds and Norfolk to the north.
“Also it began the career of Ambrose Burnside — so perhaps it was a Southern gain after all, collectable at Fredericksburg.”
— Shelby Foote in a letter to best friend forever (and fellow UNC Chapel Hill alumnus) Walker Percy, Jan. 31, 1955
Foote, who had just marshaled his fountain pens and ink blotters to undertake the three-volume “The Civil War: A Narrative,” was referring to Gen. Burnside’s mismanagement of Union troops in a failed attempt to take the Confederate capital of Richmond.