Slaveowners found Burnside’s actions belied his words

“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)

 

Confederate general had gift for blowing things up

On this day in 1864: Gen. Gabriel Rains of New Bern, whose use of land mines to stymie pursuing Union forces has already created outrage in the North, is appointed chief of the Confederacy’s newly created Torpedo Bureau. Under his supervision a variety of “torpedoes” (explosive devices he has patterned after a design by Samuel Colt) will be manufactured at Richmond, Wilmington, Mobile, Charleston and Savannah.

Confederate naval mines will sink about 58 Union vessels, some 1,300 land mines will be buried in the defenses of Richmond and two of Rains’ agents will detonate a bomb at the wharves of Ulysses S. Grant’s supply base at City Point, Va., that causes numerous casualties and $4 million in damages.

.

‘Some did not know N.C. even had a university….’

“Francis L. Hawks of Newbern, North Carolina, the Episcopal minister of Calvary Church in New York, a historian, and the founder of a New York Review, felt the force of these condescensions and explained them to David Swain in 1860. In Hawks’s experience, Northerners ‘thought that the people in the South were a set of craven imbeciles’….

“Once, in company, it was asked where Hawks was educated. One person said Yale, another ‘somewhere else at the North.’  Hawks volunteered that he had attended the University of North Carolina. ‘They coolly asked me how it was possible I could have acquired there such an education as they knew me to possess?’

” ‘Some did not know that North Carolina even had a university, let alone one dating from the 1790s and possessed of ‘400 undergraduates with as good a set of professors and instructors as Yale could show.’ ”

– FromConjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860″ by Michael O’Brien (2004)

 

‘Where the color line shifted under his feet’

“The African American novelist Charles Chesnutt, who grew up in North Carolina in the 1860s and 1870s, noted the absurdity of ‘walking around in a place where the color line shifted under his feet.’

“Black and white were ‘fluid categories’ in New Bern….  Mixed couples and their children lived in peace in the town into the 1880s…Segregation was not rigid in the South for at least another 10 years; for example, separate railroad passenger cars were not required by North Carolina until 1899….

“When the decennial count used the term ‘mulatto’ in the decades after the war, some families were able to move to that status from the category ‘black.’ ‘

– From “Lynching: American Mob Murder in Global Perspective” by Robert W. Thurston (2011)

 

’75 barrels of resin’ made for fiery Fourth

On this day in 1862: Private D.L. Day, Co. B, 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, writes in his journal while on duty in New Bern:

“The Fourth was celebrated with salutes from the forts, batteries and gunboats morning, noon and night. There were gala times in Camp Oliver last night. A huge bonfire was set from a pyramid of 75 barrels of resin, and when well on fire it lighted up the camp in grand style.”

 

In barber’s chair, whites weren’t in driver’s seat

“With a flick of the wrist, 19th century black barbers could have slit the throats of the white men they shaved….

“While no record exists of a black barber behaving like Sweeney Todd, stories circulated that reminded white customers of the threat. In one such account, from New Bern, North Carolina, physician Hugh Jones  entered a barbershop, sat in the barber’s chair, placed his revolver on the counter and told Brister, the slave barber, that if Brister were to cut him he would be shot. Brister calmly shaved the man without a nick. Afterward, asked if his hand had trembled while he shaved Dr. Jones, the barber replied that, quite the opposite, he had remained calm because ‘he had made up his mind to save his own life by cutting the throat of Dr. Jones if it became necessary.’ ”

— From “Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom” by Douglas W. Bristol Jr. (2009)

 

Soldiers in New Bern planted trees in the midst of war

“The city park movement, instigated by Andrew Jackson Downing, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1840s and 1850s, demonstrated that Americans needed to balance city life with healthful interactions with nature….

“In the context of the landscape of war, which transformed forests into camp villages seemingly overnight and often seemed to wipe out all vegetation and animal life, soldiers sought to reinsert nature into their lives by planting flowers and especially transplanting trees.

“Ensconced in camp near New Bern, North Carolina, in 1863, George Troup and his brother, Charles, worked on two different tree transplantation projects….”

— From “Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War” by Megan Kate Nelson (2012)

Is anyone else startled to read of such a landscaping project in the midst of war? How long might the Troup brothers’ trees have survived?

 

Heat, flies welcome Union troops to New Bern

On this day in 1862: Private D.L. Day, Co. B, 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, writing in his journal in New Bern:

“It is so hot most of the time we are scarcely able to do anything more than keep ourselves as comfortable as possible. All duty is suspended except guard duty and dress parade, and we are getting almost too lazy to eat. In fact we do miss a good many meals unless they happen to have something we like. We lie around in our tents in the shade. I thought I had seen flies at home, but I really believe there are more flies in this camp than there are in the whole state of Massachusetts. Besides, they are regular secesh [secessionist] ones.”

 

In Kinston, a rocky start for the electoral process

“An account of a particularly raucous election in [what was then] Dobbs County in March 1788 from New Bern’s North Carolina Gazette allows us to ‘see’ the scene at the courthouse in Kinston….The sheriff, election inspectors and clerks sat at a bench…. watching as the county’s 372 voters cast ballots [for ratifying-convention delegates] into a box….

“Balloting went on until sunset. As natural light waned, people lit candles…. The polls closed, and the sheriff began ‘calling out’ the ‘tickets’….

“One Federalist candidate, Colonel Benjamin Sheppard, seeing that he was going to lose… started verbally abusing the other candidates; then he threatened to beat one of the inspectors. Suddenly the Federalists — at least 12 or 15 of them — pulled out a set of clubs they had hidden and knocked or pulled down all the candle holders, throwing the hall into darkness. ‘Many blows with clubs were heard to pass,’ the Gazette reported, but most were said to land on fellow Federalists, since the Antifederalists, who came unprepared to defend themselves, fled for their lives. One blow, however, hit the sheriff. Then ‘the ticket box was violently taken away,’ which effectively ended the election with no official result….

“Dobbs County would go unrepresented at the ratifying convention in Hillsborough.”

“From Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788” by Pauline Maier (2010)

1862: Mail call’s leftovers make for a movable feast

On this day in 1862: Private D.L. Day, Co. B, 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, writes in his journal while on duty in New Bern:

“We were right glad to once more get back to camp, where we could clean ourselves up and get a change of clothing, but were much more glad to find mail and express matter from home. We were not, however, overjoyed to find an order awaiting us to be ready early in the morning to start on a long and rapid march, but having become accustomed to adapting ourselves to circumstances, the order was soon forgotten and we were absorbed in our letters and papers, after which the contents of the boxes were attended to. There was a generous quantity of goodies from the loved ones at home, some of which are of a perishable nature; what shall we do with them?…There are no taps tonight, and the candles burn long and well, so we sit down and gorge ourselves until we can eat no more, putting aside what we think will keep until we get back and crowding as much as we can that remains into our haversacks.

“By morning we are ready. I wear my best clothes, thinking if I should happen to become a guest at the Hotel de Libby [the Confederacy’s notorious Libby Prison in Richmond], I should like to appear respectable.”