NC commemorates 150 years since secession

North Carolina seceded from the Union 150 years ago today, beginning the state’s involvement in the Civil War.

Opposed by Unionists in the northeastern, central and western regions of the state, areas with large slave populations in Coastal and Piedmont counties led the call for secession and the deployment of troops to bolster the Confederacy’s defenses. The state would contribute more men and supplies to the Confederate cause and suffer more casualties than any other Southern state.

The University’s Wilson Library recently concluded an exhibit on the Civil War that included original documents from the period. Materials drawn from the library’s special collection featured correspondence between Chapel Hill residents that worked at the University and soldiers on the battlefront.

Biff Hollingsworth, collecting and public programming archivist for the library, said its display of its Civil War collection was one of the most engaging and popular exhibits in the spring.

“It’s amazing to think about people in our state coming to blows about political differences,” he said. “People wonder if we would ever escalate to that point again.”

Events commemorating the anniversary of the secession kick off today in Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of History, which will host an exhibit containing artifacts of the war — such as a Confederate national flag used by the 33rd Regiment N.C. Volunteers in 1861.

The museum will also host a daylong conference with more than 18 speakers entitled “Contested Past: Memories and Legacies of the Civil War.”

Harry Watson, director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, said the war contributed to a polarization of N.C. politics in its immediate aftermath, embodied by the popular slogan “vote the way you shot.”

But he said the legacy of the war in the state has evolved over time as phrases such as the “war of Northern aggression” were adopted and symbols like the Confederate flag were emblazoned as a source of Southern pride. The scars of slavery have become muddled with remembrance of the courage of Confederate troops, he said.

“The cause for which the South fought was unjust even if Southerners fought very bravely,” he said. “If we can learn that then I hope we can learn to heal from the Civil War, and build a country in which the issues that divided the country in 1861 don’t divide us in the future.”

An original printed version of North Carolina’s ordinance of secession can be viewed here as part of Wilson Library’s project, “The Civil War Day By Day.”

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