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FAQs about North Carolina and the Civil War

The most frequently asked Civil War questions that Tom Belton, MOH’s former curator of military history, receives, answered here.

I have seen both North Carolina and Tennessee lay claim as the last of the eleven Southern states to leave the Union. Which state was actually the last to leave?

On May 7, 1861, the Tennessee legislature issued a “declaration of independence” stating that Tennessee was no longer part of the Union and entered into a military league with the Confederate States of America. Consequently, regiments were organized for Confederate service. The legislature submitted the declaration to a popular vote, which passed on June 8, 1861. The North Carolina convention signed an ordinance of secession on May 20, 1861, which was not submitted to a popular vote. Tennessee was technically the final state to secede.

Do the colors red, white, and blue on the North Carolina flag adopted in 1861 have special meaning?

Yes. The color red on a flag traditionally signifies courage, blue justice, and white purity.

You hear little about the role of African Americans in North Carolina during the Civil War. Did they play only a passive role as bystanders?

No. Free or enslaved, most African American adults in North Carolina played active roles in the Civil War. At least 5,000 freed males in areas of Union occupation in eastern North Carolina enlisted in Union regiments and fought to end slavery and restore the Union. Other free blacks did a variety of work for the Union army. Men labored on fortifications and served as wagon drivers, and women often worked as cooks or laundresses. Freedmen also found employment opportunities for wages as wagon drivers or cooks in the Confederate army. Confederate authorities impressed slaves to work on fortifications, and many slaves went to war as body servants for their owners. Northern observers often commented on the number of African Americans who passed through their towns with Confederate armies.

I’m confused. I’ve seen North Carolina regiments designated as both state troops and volunteer regiments. What is the difference?

In 1861 North Carolina began enlisting regiments designated as “State Troops” for three years or the duration of the war and regiments designated as “Volunteers” for six or twelve months. By this process, ten regiments of State Troops and fourteen regiments of Volunteers were formed. Two sets of North Carolina regiments having the same numerical designation created great confusion in both Raleigh and Richmond. In late 1861 it was decided that State Troops would retain their original numerical designations; Volunteers, however, would be reorganized as terms of service expired and their original numerical designations would grow by ten. Thus, the First Regiment North Carolina State Troops would stay the same, but the First Regiment North Carolina Volunteers would become the Eleventh Regiment North Carolina Troops (First Regiment North Carolina Volunteers). Of all the Confederate states, North Carolina wins the prize for the most confusing regimental numbering system!

Did any North Carolinians serve in the Union army?

Yes. During the war approximately 10,000 white North Carolinians served in four white North Carolina Union regiments, and about 5,000 black North Carolinians served in four black North Carolina Union regiments. (During this era, the regiments of the United States Army were segregated by race.) Many other men left the state to join other Union regiments.

I know North Carolina was primarily a rural state composed of yeoman farmers before the Civil War, but did any war-related industries develop in North Carolina during the war?

Yes, more than one might imagine. The United States Arsenal at Fayetteville was enlarged and machinery that had been removed from the captured United States armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), was installed there This manufacturing complex became the second-largest source (after Richmond) of domestically produced arms in the Confederacy. In addition, there were rifle-manufacturing sites in Asheville and Guilford County. A large bayonet factory was established in Raleigh, and in Kenansville a private concern made swords, bayonets, and other war-related goods. Also, North Carolina’s entire textile production during the war was used for uniforms and other military supplies.

What role did the wives of North Carolina soldiers play in the Civil War?

Most men had tilled the land as yeoman farmers before the war. Once they left and entered the army, the job of operating the family farm fell on their wives. Although women had always done laborious farm work, they found unfamiliar their new roles as managers and decision makers. Women had to determine when to plant and harvest crops and how much the harvest should be sold for on the market. In an era when the safety net of public welfare did not exist, failure to successfully bring in a crop could spell disaster for a family.

The war also provided women the opportunity to receive pay for their skills. Hundreds of wives and widows of North Carolina soldiers labored in textile mills or made uniforms at home through piecemeal contracts. Other women worked as paid or volunteer nurses in military hospitals, and thousands banded together in volunteer groups known as Ladies Aid Societies to provide food and items of comfort for soldiers.