The Occupation: Book Looks at Civil War in Eastern N.C.
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What: Meet the Author
When: Wednesday, March 9
Where: The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines
“The time has come,” a New Bern man proclaimed on behalf of strongly secessionist Craven County, “when we should no longer submit to the tyranny of the detestable abolitionists, but we should defend our rights, even if it costs us the last drop of our blood.”
Forty miles away, a Beaufort resident reflected the depth of Unionist sentiment in Carteret County when he condemned the fervor over slavery. “We believe that the people of North Carolina should never adopt such a course” until “all other remedies have been tried and failed.”
But President Lincoln’s “intolerable abuse of power” calling for troops to put down the rebellion in the wake of the attack on Fort Sumter united Carteret’s “conditional Unionists” with the secessionists of Craven County. For the next year, however, resistance to the Confederacy in eastern North Carolina ran the gamut from vigorous Unionism to simple disaffection and apathy.
That changed in March 1862, when Union troops marched into eastern North Carolina and began an occupation that lasted until the end of the war. For three years, the people of Carteret and Craven counties had to decide how to negotiate with the “local wielders of power” to preserve their property, livelihood and way of life.
“Military occupation in terms of American foreign policy is something we have been reading about in the news for the past six years,” says Dr. Judkin Browning, assistant professor of military history at Appalachian State, who will discuss his new book, “Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina,” at The Country Bookshop on Wednesday, March 9, at 7 p.m. “That has led my generation of scholars to look back on previous wars to discover the similarities, differences or perhaps even some universal truths about military occupation.”
Browning adds that military occupations are not always resented by the people who are occupied — at least not initially.
“Loyalty was often quite fluid and driven by practicalities,” he says. “During the Civil War, people in eastern North Carolina had ‘dual citizenship’ and their convictions were on a ‘sliding scale,’ more pro-Union or pro-Confederate at any given time, depending on their individual circumstances.”
In March 1862, Union Gen. Burnside had vowed “not to interfere with North Carolina laws, institutions or property.” But when Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation six months later, what had been a limited war to restore the Union had become a sweeping, society-changing war.
“Unionists had opposed secession, not the institution of slavery,” Browning says. “They wanted a united nation again, but not with anything resembling equality between the races. The tensions and conflicts that ensued began to change local white attitudes toward both their Union occupiers and the nation to which they were trying to return.”
For the Union occupying troops, North Carolina might as well have been “a foreign country.”
“That is how many northern soldiers viewed the climate, landscape and inhabitants,” Browning says. Frequent hostile encounters with white residents, verbal insults, hit-and-run attacks perpetuated by Confederate military units and civilian sympathizers, and their inability to distinguish friend from foe in this new kind of war tried the patience of occupying troops.
“These acts of violence only heightened the desire for retribution among the disgruntled occupiers. As has been true of conflicts throughout U.S. history, when the occupying American soldier no longer is able to clearly distinguish combatant from noncombatant, the scale of reprisals grows. Once troops reach the point of considering every civilian a potential enemy, they justify engaging in harsher actions against those civilians, which often leads to a moral degeneration among the combatants themselves. Reflecting the escalating sense of retaliation, Union soldiers took out their vengeance on suspicious locals.
“The irony for Craven and Carteret counties,” Browning adds, “is that, contrary to President Lincoln’s hope, white residents were more firmly sympathetic with the Confederacy at the war’s end than they had ever been during the heady days of session. Only conditional Confederates in 1861, they became confirmed Confederates during the very occupation that was supposed to cultivate and encourage loyalty to the Union among the inhabitants.”
Judkin Browning earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Florida State, a master’s in public history at N.C. State, and a doctorate in history at the University of Georgia in 2006. He has published extensively on military occupation and the Civil War, and has written several books, including “The Southern Mind Under Union Rule: The Diary of James Rumley, Beaufort, NC 1862-1865.” He teaches courses in American military history, U.S. Civil War and World War II at Appalachian State. He lives in Boone with his wife, Greta, and their daughter, Bethany.
For reservations to the Meet the Author event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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