Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina

Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina

Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina

Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina

Synopsis

In the spring of 1862, Union forces marched into neighboring Carteret and Craven Counties in southeastern North Carolina, marking the beginning of an occupation that would continue for the rest of the war. Focusing on a wartime community with divided allegiances, Judkin Browning offers new insights into the effects of war on southerners and the nature of civil-military relations under long-term occupation, especially coastal residents' negotiations with their occupiers and each other as they forged new social, cultural, and political identities.
Unlike citizens in the core areas of the Confederacy, many white residents in eastern North Carolina had a strong streak of prewar Unionism and appeared to welcome the Union soldiers when they first arrived. By 1865, however, many of these residents would alter their allegiance, developing a strong sense of southern nationalism. African Americans in the region, on the other hand, utilized the presence of Union soldiers to empower themselves, as they gained their freedom in the face of white hostility. Browning's study ultimately tells the story of Americans trying to define their roles, with varying degrees of success and failure, in a reconfigured country.

Excerpt

As soon as the Civil War ended in the spring of 1865, northern journalist Sidney Andrews embarked on a tour of the recently defeated southern states. As he made his way through the coastal towns of Beaufort and New Bern, North Carolina, that summer Andrews was struck by the Janus-faced loyalty of local whites, many of whom had lived quietly under Union occupation for the previous three years. He described a puzzling irony in the region: “The North Carolinian calls himself a Unionist, but he makes no special pretence of love for the Union.” Andrews already detected a streak of southern nationalism in the Beaufort-New Bern region only weeks after the southern nation had been laid to rest. He sensed that white professions of Unionism were fragile at best. the journalist employed an apt metaphor to describe the waning strength of national allegiance in the region and state, proclaiming that the North Carolinian “wears his mask of nationality so lightly there is no difficulty in removing it.”

Indeed, many North Carolinians, but especially whites in the BeaufortNew Bern region, had been wearing masks and changing one for another for the previous five years. Local whites had professed themselves Unionists before the war. Though New Bern residents began calling for secession soon after Abraham Lincoln’s election, their Beaufort neighbors maintained a steady conditional Unionism until Lincoln summoned troops on April 15, 1861. Then residents of both towns removed their Union masks and eagerly put on Confederate ones. Only a year later, when the Union army arrived to occupy the region, many of those same residents, on being promised enhanced economic benefits coupled with the social status quo antebellum, quietly put their Confederate masks into storage and donned the old, familiar Union masks once again. However, by the time Andrews visited in 1865, he sensed that many of those same residents had already taken their Confederate masks down from the attic and dusted them off. If the new postwar Union included emancipation, enfranchisement, and education for . . .

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