There’s no script for war

by | Mar 10, 2014 | News

Abolish the unthinkable and you can have no more wars.

Is there even a remote chance that Alexander McRae, a U.S. Army officer from Fayetteville, idly wondered during his time as a West Point cadet if he would die in New Mexico Territory battling rebels led by his former commander — a fellow North Carolinian?

How could a North Carolina boy who signed up to defend hearth and home against federal “invaders” find himself bleeding to death on a Pennsylvania hillside?

Early on, there was fierce fighting in the mountain counties — not between Yankees and Southerners, but between North Carolinians with irreconcilable notions about secession. It was a rebellion within a rebellion.

Imagine a young Louisiana girl, displaced by the federal onslaught at New Orleans in 1862, finding refuge among friends who lived along the upper Cape Fear River — in the exact path that William T. Sherman’s 60,000-man juggernaut would take three years later.

North Carolina chose secession in May of 1861. Before summer’s end, Hatteras had fallen. Ambrose Burnside’s campaign soon followed. Yet, despite their early victories and successful occupation, federal forces were unable to secure the critical rail junction at nearby Goldsboro until 1865.

For most of the war North Carolina was an exporter of troops, a place whose noncombatants adapted to new laws, new ways and reliance on blockade runners for things they’d long taken for granted. They pitched in, innovated and went on with their lives as they awaited news from far away. But it was in North Carolina that the long, gory enterprise finally ground to an end on April 26, 1865, with the largest troop surrender of the war.

Things seldom go just as expected, as both sides learned at awful cost. Preserving their stories acknowledges their sacrifices and enlightens the living.

The N.C. Civil War History Center Blog

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