‘The University of North Carolina in the Civil war.’ an address delivered at the centennial Celebration of the opening of the Institution, June 5th, 1895.
By Stephen Beauregard weeks, Ph. D.
I. General introduction.“First at Bethel; last at Appomattox.” Such is the laconic inscription on the new monument to the Confederate dead which was recently unveiled in Raleigh. There is an especial appropriateness in the erection of this monument by the people of North Carolina in their organic capacity, for these men died at the command of their State, and it was exceedingly proper that she should thus honor them. The heroic in history but seldom occurs. It is not often that the life of nations rises above the monotonous level which characterizes the daily routine of duty. When such periods do occur they are usually as a part of some great national uprising like the leve en masse in France under the first Napoleon, or the Landsturm in Germany in 1813. Of the American States, none can show a fairer record in this respect than North Carolina. There is little in the Colonial or State history of North Carolina that is discreditable. The key-note to the whole of her Colonial history is unending opposition to unjust and illegal government, by whom or whenever exercised. Before the colony was well in its teens it had expelled one of its governors from office, and a better man, one who was more in sympathy with the people, had taken his place; and before the colony was thirty, another governor, although one of the Lords Proprietors had been impeached, deprived of his office, and expelled the province. It was this fearlessness in what they conceived to be their rights that carried her people through the troublous period of the ‘Cary Rebellion,’ so called; enabled them to meet with a firm  hand the brow-beating and the villainies, as well as the flattery, of proprietary and royal governors and put them among the leaders in the movement that culminated in the Revolution. Then came a time of peace and calm when the people pursued the even tenor of their way, and sought in field and forum to find solution for the problems amid which their lot was cast. This period lasted for about two generations, and during it the University of North Carolina had been founded and was seeking a greater expansion. During the period from the end of the Revolution to the Civil War there are no mountain peaks in her history; the level of uniformity is hardly broken by a single event of importance, and there is little in it to attract the attention of the student of the philosophy of history. But there is a period in the history of North Carolina which stands pre-eminent. There is a time which deserves to be characterized as the heroic Peroid of the State. This is the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Let all other parts of our history be forgotten, this period of itself, though it be less than half a generation in all, will place North Carolina among the heroic in history. During those terrible years we see a renaissance of the ideas which characterized pre-eminently the men of the Colonial period. The men of ‘61 showed that the spirit of Colonial North Carolina was still abroad in the land, and their watchword became again resistance to what they believed to be unjust government, and with this as a basis they conducted a struggle for success that has few parallels in history. They sought to carry out again the program of their colonial ancestors, even to the impeachment and deposition of their governor. In the movement which led up to the war North Carolina took the part of a conservative, ambitious for peace. She sought to escape the necessity of war by all the means in her power; but, when the die was cast and war was no longer avoidable, she entered into the struggle with characteristic energy, and prosecuted it to the end, and when the end came, no State accepted the crushing defeat with more steadfast loyalty than North Carolina, or sought with more energy to build up the waste places. Then came what was worse than defeat, ‘impartial suffrage,’ which meant disfranchisement of whites and enfranchisement of blacks, then the terrors of reconstruction and negro rule broke over us like the roar of some terrible simoon, bearing in its path further humiliation, accompanied by a corrupt government, increased taxes, and a depreciation of values.  Such was the struggle through which the best men of North Carolina were called to pass in those fateful years between 1860 and 1875. These were the years on which the fate of the future in a large measure depended. Well did the brave men of that generation come to the succor of the foundering ship of State, and nobly did they rescue her from the rule of her motley crew. The best men of North Carolina were engaged in this work, and among them, most frequently as leaders, were many alumni of the University of North Carolina.
Ii. University men in public life.Before beginning to trace the career of the alumni of the University of North Carolina in the Civil War, it will be of interest for us to review briefly the influence of that institution on the nation as a whole. Before 1861 the University of North Carolina had furnished one President of the United States, James K. Polk; one Vice President, William R. King; two Presidents of the United States Senate, Willie P. Mangum and William R. King; seven Cabinet officers, John H. Eaton, (War), John Branch (Navy), John Y. Mason (Navy and Attorney General), William A. Graham (Navy), James C. Dobbin (Navy), Jacob Thompson (Interior), and Aaron V. Brown (P. M. G.) She had had two foreign ministers of the first rank, William R. King and John Y. Mason; (both to France), and three of the second rank, Daniel M. Barringer, John H. Eaton and Romulus M. Saunders, (all to Spain). She had furnished three Governors to Florida, John Branch, (Ter.), John H. Eaton, (Ter.), and W. D. Moseley; two to Tennessee, A. O. P. Nicholson and James K. Polk; and one to New Mexico, Abram Rencher. Of United States Senators, she had had Branch, Brown, Graham, Haywood and Mangum of North Carolina; A. O. P. Nicholson of Tennessee; Thomas H. Benton of Missouri, and William R. King of Alabama. Benton served for thirty years in succession; King served twenty-nine years in all, and these two records are still among the first in point of service. The University had furnished forty-one members of the House of Representatives, and included in the number James K. Polk as speaker. She had given two justices to the Supreme Court of North Carolina; two Chancellors to Tennessee; a Chief Justice to Florida; a Chief Justice to Alabama, and five bishops to the Protestant Episcopal church (Davis, Green, C. S. Hawks, Otey, Polk); besides a number of college presidents, professors in colleges and leaders in other walks of life.