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Forts held by Federal troops.

At the time of the withdrawal of South Carolina from the Union, Forts Moultrie in Charleston harbor and Pickens near Pensacola, Florida, were garrisoned and held by Federal troops.

South Carolina, being no longer in the Union, sent commissioners to Washington to treat for the peaceable possession of the forts at Charleston, promising ‘that there should be no attack upon the forts pending negotiations.’ The United States government did not consent to surrender the forts, but agreed that ‘the military status of the forts should not be disturbed.’ In spite of this Major Anderson, in command at Moultrie, on the night of December 26th, 1860, spiked the guns at the fort, burned their carriages and transferred the garrison, with equipment and stores, to Fort Sumter. This was plainly a violation of faith and agreement, and the State at once seized and occupied all forts, arsenals and other public buildings within its borders. Other States quickly followed this example and forts in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and elsewhere were seized and garrisoned by the State government to prevent their occupation by the United States government.

On the 1st of January, 1861, a committee from Wilmington waited on Governor Ellis at Raleigh and urged occupation of Fort Caswell at the mouth of the Cape Fear river. For this there was [283] no authority, North Carolina being still in the Union, and the request was, of course, refused; but on January 9th the fort was entered and occupied by a body of men, without organization, from Wilmington and Smithville (now Southport). They were promptly ordered out by the Governor, and the fort was restored to the Federal authorities. This is mentioned to show the excitement and intensity of feeling at the time.

The government refused to evacuate Fort Sumter—although there was a promise that it should be done, and works in Charleston harbor commanding it were erected or extended, to prevent its relief or reinforcement. General Scott advised its evacuation ‘as a military necessity,’ and Wm. H. Seward, Mr. Lincoln's Secretary of State, assured Judge John A. Campbell, of the Supreme Court, that ‘Fort Sumter will be evacuated in the next five days,’ and in reply to a note from Judge Campbell reminding him of this fact Seward replied briefly: ‘Faith as to Sumter fully kept; wait and see,’ and this though he knew that a large fleet with supplies and strong reinforcements for Sumter had already sailed.

It is a matter of interest, and worthy of memory, that the right of secession and the duty of the United States Government to withdraw its forces from the seceded territory were admitted by very distinguished Abolitionist authority. By no less a person than Wendell Phillips of Massachusetts, the great and able Abolitionist, the ‘silver tongued orator,’ the distinguished scholar, the bold, uncompromising foe of the South and of her institutions. In a speech delivered at New Bedford, Mass., on April 9th, 1861, just four days before the reduction of Fort Sumter by the Confederates, he said: ‘Here are a series of States girding the Gulf, who think their peculiar institutions require that they should have a separate government. They have a right to decide that question without appealing to you or me. A large body of the people sufficient to make a nation, have come to the conclusion that they will have a government of a certain form. Who denies them the right? Standing with the principles of 1776 behind us, who can deny them the right? What is the matter of a few millions of dollars or a few forts? It is a mere drop in the bucket of the great national question. It is theirs just as much as ours. I maintain on the principles of 1776 that Abraham Lincoln has no right to a soldier in Fort Sumter.’ These are the words of Wendell Phillips. Can language be more plainer or more forcible in support of the belief and action of the people who united in establishing the Confederate States? [284]

So as to the right of secession, the New York Tribune of November 9th, 1860, said: ‘If the Cotton States shall decide that they can do better out of the Union than they can in it, we insist upon letting them go on in peace. The right to secede may be a revolutionary one, but exists nevertheless. Whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep it in. We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets.’

The fleet, mentioned above, for the relief of Fort Sumter sailed about the 6th of April. When this was known a demand for the surrender of the fort was made by General Beauregard by direction of the Confederate authorities at Montgomery. This having been refused fire was opened on the fort on the morning of April 12th, and kept up until the 13th, when it capitulated without loss to either side.

It has been reiterated ad nauseam, and much stress laid upon the fact, that the Confederates fired the first gun, implying that they therefore were the aggressors in the war.

Very little thought will show the absurdity of this inference. According to Constitutional History (Hallam): ‘The aggressor in a war (that is, he who begins it), is not he who first uses force, but he who first renders force necessary.’

If a man finds a trespasser or a burglar on his premises who refuses to leave when ordered off, he is hardly expected to wait to be attacked before proceeding to enforce his rights. The Federals persisted in holding and occupying a Confederate territory in defiance of all remonstrances and entreaties, and there was nothing left but to repel force by force. Let it ever be remembered that throughout the war from beginning to end, the people of the Confederate States were merely defending themselves and resisting invasion, a wicked and cruel invasion—unjust and without warrant.

The fall of Sumter produced the fiercest excitement throughout the North. Reason was thrown to the winds and it was determined, in the ridiculous jargon of those and later days, to subdue the rebellion, as it was called, at any cost.

On the 15th of April, 1861, the following telegram was received at Raleigh from the War Department at Washington: [285]

Call made on you by to-night's mail for two regiments of military for immediate service.

Simon Cameron, Secretary of War.

So North Carolina was to be required to make war upon her sister Southern States. But they reckoned without their host. Instantly the reply went back, bold, spirited, patriotic:

Simon Cameron, Secretary of War:
Your dispatch is received, and if genuine, which its extraordinary character leads me to doubt, I have to say in reply that I regard the levy of troops made by the Administration, for the purpose of subjugating the States of the South, as in violation of the Constitution, and as a gross usurpation of power. I can be no party to this wicked violation of the laws of the country, and to this war upon the liberties of a free people. You can get no troops from North Carolina. I will reply more in detail when I receive your call.

A terrible crisis was upon the country, but there was no hesitation. As one man the whole State responded to a proclamation of the Governor calling for troops for defense, and for supplies of all kinds. Military companies were formed everywhere, and a camp of instruction, Camp Ellis, was established at Raleigh, where they were organizod and drilled.

There was no longer any division among the people, no doubt whatever as to their intent. Whatever may have been deemed advisable as to secession previously, there was but one mind now as to coercion, and especially as to the requirement that North Carolina should be a party to it, against which we protested with our utmost energy and resisted with our utmost ability. Let that be borne in mind. With us it was not so much an assertion of the right of secession, though that we did not deny, as an emphatic denial of the right of coercion.

On the 17th of April Governor Ellis issued his proclamation summoning the legislature to meet on the 1st of May in extra session. In this proclamation, as in his reply to Cameron, and in his subsequent message to the legislature, he dwells especially and earnestly [286] uwon the illegality, the unconstitutionality, of the acts of the United States authorities. He says:

“I am informed that Abraham Lincoln has made a call for 75,000 men to be employed in the invasion of the peaceful homes of the South, and for the violent subversion of the liberties of a free people, constituting a large part of the population of the late United States: And whereas, this high-handed act of tyrannical outrage is not only in violation of all constitutional law, in utter disregard of every sentiment of humanity and Christian civilization, and conceived in a spirit of aggression unparalleled by any act of recorded history, but it is a direct step toward the subjugation of the whole South, and the conversion of a free Republic, inherited from our fathers, into a military depotism, to be established on the ruins of our Constitution of Equal Rights. Now therefore,” &c.

And he adds: ‘And I furthermore exhort all good citizens throughout the State to be mindful that their first allegiance is due to the sovereignty that protects their homes and dearest interests, as their first services are due for the sacred defense of their hearts, and of the soil which holds the graves of our glorious dead.’

Whether the Governor over-estimated the effects at the South of the success of the Federal armies, let those who lived through the dark years of Reconstruction answer.

There was no authority granted the President in the Constitution to levy war against a Sovereign State. The war power is vested in Congress, and even that is forbidden to be exercised against a State. Such power was sought to be established in the convention that framed the Constitution of the United States and was refused emphatically. There was no warrant for the call upon North Carolina. In his message to the legislature, the Governor says:

The right now asserted by the constituted authorities to use military force for the purpose of coercing a State to remain in the Union against its will, finds no warrant in the Constitution, and still less in the principles on which our Republican institutions are based.

Alluding to the Act of Congress of 1795, he says further: ‘The coveted powers which Congress had refused to confer were usurped, and whilst commissioners from the Confederate States were at the seat of Government urging a peaceful settlement of all questions in dispute, and striving to avert from the country the calamities of war—whilst the people were being deluded by daily protestations from the President of his firm resolve to preserve the peace, and we were in momentary expectation of hearing that Fort Sumter at [287] Charleston had been evacuated, a secret expedition was fitted out and steathily dispatched to commence the war by an attempt to throw reinforcements into that fortification. To high criminality in involving the country was added base perfidy in exciting hopes and expectations to be dashed at the moment of fruition.’

In the meantime Forts Macon at Beaufort, and Caswell and Johnston near Wilmington were taken possession of and garrisoned (by the Governor's order) by State troops; defences were erected at New Inlet, Ocracoke, Hatteras and elsewhere on the coast, and an inpromptu navy—a mosquito fleet as it was called—for the defense of the sounds was organized. The United States Arsenal at Fayetteville, in which were stored large quantities of small arms—most of them of antiquated patterns—a battery of light artillery and other munitions of war, was seized, its contents appropriated to arming and equipping the troops and its garrison sent North.

The legislature, having met promptly, passed an act, with scarcely any opposition, calling a convention of the people to consider the question of secession. The convention met in Raleigh on the 20th of May, 1861, the anniversary of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, and on the same day passed by unanimous vote the following ordinance:

We, the people of the State of North Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the ordinance adopted by the State of North Carolina in the convention of 1789, whereby the Constitution of the United States was ratified and adopted, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly, ratifying and adopting amendments to the said constitution are hereby repealed, rescinded and abrogated.

We do further declare and ordain that the Union now subsisting between the State of North Carolina and the other States under the title of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved, and the State of North Carolina is in the full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.

There was no dissenting voice, and the next day the ordinance was formally signed by every member of the convention—120 in number.

This convention of the people—the highest authority, the origin and foundation of all law and authority known to a republican form of government—was elected especially to determine upon the question [288] of secession. It resolved upon it unanimously, and it was not therefore necessary to submit it to a vote of the people. To that ordinance every North Carolinian was bound to conform.

It is profitable to note how strictly in accordance with law and precedent, and in what orderly manner, those grave proceedings were conducted—and it may not be amiss to draw a parallel.

On the 12th of April, 1776, North Carolina, through her representatives then assembled at Halifax, first of all the thirteen colonies, authorized her delegates to the Continental Congress to unite in any measure looking to a separation of the colonies from the mother country and to the establishment of independence, thus, as it were, assuming and ratifying the declaration and resolves of Mecklenburg, made in May of the year previous. Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, in that Congress—afterwards Governor and Vice-President—as may be seen in his letter in the American Archives—did not call that action treasonable, but approved it warmly, and wrote his people urging like action on their part. So in May, 1861, North Carolina in convention assembled at Raleigh, by solemn ordinance, without one opposing vote, revoked the ordinance of 1789, withdrew from the association of States and by the same authority that had conferred, in like manner recalled all powers theretofore delegated to the United States. In both instances the step was taken through the lawful authorities duly constituted, after mature consideration, calmly, without outbreak or violence. In both cases the act was one of sovereignty, having been an assumption of power by the colony, whereas it was a resumption merely on the part of the State of powers previously delegated. Now is it not monstrous to call that treason and rebellion in a sovereign State which in a mere colony is termed patriotism and maintenance of right? Such epithets, as so often flippantly applied, are not only untrue but they are absurd. A whole nation, acting through all its people, cannot be guilty of treason. To indict a people for conspiracy and rebellion is as impossible as the crime itself.

On the day of the passage of the Ordinance of Secession the convention passed an ordinance ratifying and assenting to the constitution of the provisional government of the Confederate States, and later other ordinances ceding to that government certain property and privileges, and vesting in it certain necessary rights and powers. North Carolina thus became one of the Confederate States and cast her lot with them for weal or woe, prepared and ready to abide the result. Afterwards the permanent Constitution of the [289] Confederate States was adopted and ratified, and on June 18th two senators and eight representatives were elected by the convention to the Confederate Congress, which, after its adjournment at Montgomery in May, was to meet in Richmond on the 20th of July, where its sessions were held thereafter.

The permanent Constitution of the Confederate States, which ‘he who runs may read,’ is itself a full and plain refutation of the ridiculous statements often made that its object was the overthrow of the principles of the Constitution of the United States. The permanent Constitution was the Constitution of the United States, with such necessary amendments as the difference of situation made necessary. Some of these amendments were significant, especially that forbidding the foreign slave trade, which was not forbidden in the Constitution of the United States; on the contrary, it was there expressly allowed (Article I, section 9) until 1808, after which its prohibition by that instrument was only permissive. The Constitution of the United States was the wisdom of our own ancestors. With it, properly construed and administered, we had no quarrel, and our only thought was to live under its provisions apart from those with whom it seemed we could not rest in peace, and against whose perversions we could not rest in peace, and against whose perversions of its powers we protested with all our energy. We never dreamed of overthrowing or destroying the old government or of molesting any State that elected to remain with it. We as fully acknowledged the right to remain, if so it seemed good, as we also claimed the right to withdraw.

On the 10th of June, 1861, less than a month after the passage of the Ordinance of Secession, was fought and won the battle of Great Bethel in Virginia, won principally by North Carolina troops under Colonel D. H. Hill. And here another parallel with revolutionary days may be of interest.

In that olden time of the first revolution our people were called upon to defend their homes, and to repel invasion; and with Richard Caswell, with Ashe and Lillington, they won the fight at Moore's Creek Bridge on the 20th of February, 1776, the first victory in pitched battle won in the territory of the thirteen colonies. There had been actions before, momentous and far reaching in their consequences, as at Bunker Hill, but it was a defeat for the Americans, also at Great Bridge in Virginia, which was only a repulse of the British Moore's Creek was a complete victory, and an utter rout of the enemy that checked the invasion of North Carolina, and gave [290] peace to the State, within its borders, for three years. So at Bethel, in 1861, the first victory in pitched battle of the United Confederacy was won by North Carolinians.

[Reference may be made to the Report of the History Committee of the Grand Camp, C. V., of Virginia, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXI, p. 347.]

A simple monument at Moore's Creek tells the story of the men who fought there. Our citizens celebrated with much rejoicing and patriotic spirit the centenary of that victory, but heaped no insults upon the memory of the brave men who fought on the other side. Only kindly admiration was expressed for gallant Scotchmen who died there. Nor is it expected of their descendants, our fellow citizens of to-day, as proof of present loyalty, that they shall condemn the action of their fathers. With General Frank Nash our kinsfolk went to death at Germantown, in the long ago. With Mad Anthony Wayne they went to that desperate bayonet charge at Stony Point; with Jethro Sumner at Eutaw Springs; with Morgan and Greene; with Davie, Davidson and Graham; with Hogan at Charleston-wherever duty called or danger was to be dared they were to be found until the end of that long struggle which ended successfully for them. Well, the swift years flew by, and in 1861 our State, whose behest we were ever taught is paramount to all, again summoned her sons to repel invasion and to uphold the right of self-government—and it cannot be too often or too strongly emphasized that they fought only to resist invasion and to vindicate the right of self-government—and in the brave old way, as in the brave old times of the past, they came at her call, and with Branch and Pender and Pettigrew, with Daniel and Whiting and Ramseur, with Hoke and with Ransom, at Newbern, at Richmond, at Manassas, and at Sharpsburg, at Fredericksburg, at Chancellorsville, at Gettysburg and at Chickamauga, in the Wilderness and at Petersburg, at Fort Fisher, Averysboro and at Bentonville, they freely offered their young lives as the last evidence they could give of their earnest conviction of right and duty. Of their fortitude under hardship, of their unflinching courage and self-sacrificing devotion you need no reminder.

Suffice it to say that in the same brave old way, learned from those who in like manner had gone forth in the first revolution, they met their sad fate, doing all that men could do to maintain their [291] cause—unlike their ancestors in only this that they failed in their undertaking. And shall we not hold the men of these later days, our own kindred and neighbors, in loving memory too, and forever preserve the record of their matchless deeds? Let the mute eloquence of many memorial shafts throughout the South make answer. The women of the South in their bereavement, sorrow and poverty did not forget gratitude, and everywhere have placed lasting mementoes of the self-oblation of all Confederate dead—grander than their prototypes the modest column at Moore's Creek, or the simple stone to Sumner at Guilford, or the humble tomb that in the churchyard of St. James at Wilmington marks the resting place of Cornelius Harnett, by as much as our strife was greater than theirs.

Lament them not; no love can make immortal,
     The span that we call life,
And never heroes entered heaven's portal
     Throa fields of grander strife.

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