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Startling News at Initial Bennett Place Meeting

An engraving showing Johnston and Sherman meeting at Bennett Place.
Image from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library.

On April 17, 1865, Gen. William Sherman met with Gen. Joseph Johnston to discuss terms of surrender for Johnston’s forces. They met at the home of James Bennitt near what was then a rail stop, Durham Station. Once alone, Sherman handed Johnston a telegram that bore the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Accounts differ on the Confederate general’s reaction. Sherman later said that Johnston broke out in large beads of sweat and expressed hope that the Union officer did not suspect the assassination plot to have been organized by the Confederate government. Johnston later recalled saying to Sherman that Lincoln’s death “was the greatest possible calamity to the South.”

Remarkably, Sherman managed to keep the news in the telegram from his own men. Only the telegraph officer knew of the information, and Sherman swore him to silence. Sherman had just returned from a meeting with Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant where the topic was the terms of peace.

With the news, Sherman offered Johnston what he thought was Lincoln’s terms for peace. Those terms, in the wake of the assassination, were deemed too generous and rejected. Sherman and Johnston would meet again on April 26 to complete the surrender process.

Visit: Durham’s Bennett Place State Historic Site will be offering a number of programs during the next couple of weeks to commemorate the 150th anniversary of landmark surrender there.

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Physicians Form Professional Alliance, 1849

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Doctors and nurses operate on a patient at a tonsil and adenoid clinic in
Elizabeth City circa May 1922. Image from the State Archives.

On April 16, 1849, the Medical Society of North Carolina was established after several state legislators, who were also physicians, called for a state medical convention.

The organization wasn’t the first statewide group for doctors. An earlier association had been chartered by the General Assembly in 1799 but was no longer meeting by 1805. The new organization’s goals were largely the same as its predecessor’s: to unite physicians across the state, represent their interests and to help professionalize the practice of medicine.

Edmund Strudwick, an Orange County native and surgeon, was the group’s first president. He had an excellent reputation, having served in the General Assembly and Congress, helped establish UNC’s medical school and aided in the construction of the Dorothea Dix Hospital.

The society’s first goals were creating stricter educational standards for students entering medical school, starting a medical journal, pushing for more concrete vital records laws and founding a state licensing board for doctors.

The group, now called the North Carolina Medical Society, has continued to meet annually since 1849, except for a few years during the Civil War and World War II. It now has more than 10,000 members statewide.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Governor Ellis and Building Confederate Sentiment

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A copy of Ellis’s letter from the State Archives.

On April 15, 1861, North Carolina governor John Ellis responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops with the often quoted statement: “You can get no troops from North Carolina.”

Although North Carolina as a state had seemed moderate during the Secession Crisis of 1861, Ellis had worked behind the scenes to align North Carolina with the budding Confederate government. In February 1861, citizens of the Old North State rejected a call for a Constitutional Convention to even consider the secession question.

Southern state after southern state declared for secession in early 1861 following South Carolina’s declaration in December 1860.  President Lincoln inherited a nation at the breaking point, and he ordered the federal fort in Charleston harbor to be resupplied.  South Carolina forces prevented the effort and fired on Fort Sumter.  Lincoln then issued a call for troops to put down the rebellion.

Ellis. Image from the State Archives.

Ellis considered Lincoln’s call to arms an unacceptable power grab, and he immediately ordered state troops to seize the federal forts in North Carolina as well as the federal arsenal at Fayetteville. He called the General Assembly into session two weeks later and rushed through a bill that called for a secession convention and authorized Ellis to send troops to Virginia. North Carolina left the Union just a few weeks later.

Though Ellis’ pithy last sentence is often quoted, the full text of his reply to Lincoln lays out a number of Constitutional justifications for secession that were popular at the outset of the war.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Hysteria Over Day Care in Edenton

Elle-Article

The first page of a 1993 story on the Little Rascals case
that appeared in Elle Magazine.

On April 14, 1989, the first arrests were made in Edenton in what would become known as the Little Rascals Day Care case. The case came amidst a nationwide flurry of prosecutions of daycare workers for alleged “satanic ritual abuse” of children.

Twenty-nine students at the Little Rascals center accused 20 adults, including Edenton’s mayor and the sheriff of Chowan County, with 429 instances of sexual and physical abuse over a three-year period.  The children’s’ descriptions of the incidents were mind-bending. Some described incidents as involving space ships, hot air balloons, pirate ships and trained sharks.

As in other similar cases from across the country, the children’s stories were concocted through sessions with investigators and therapists, many of whom used leading and suggestive questioning techniques. Prosecutors did not produce evidence or eyewitnesses. Today social scientists consider the scandal a “moral panic,” and it has been compared to a witch hunt.

In the most notorious of the Little Rascals trials, the defendant was convicted of 99 indictments and sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms in prison. The court of appeals overturned the convictions of all seven defendants in 1995. The Little Rascals case is said to have been the state’s longest and costliest criminal trial.

The PBS program Frontline aired a series of programs on the case and still maintains a website with a variety of materials related to it..

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

The Fall of Raleigh to Sherman’s Army

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The State Capitol, circa 1861. Image from
the State Archives.

On April 13, 1865, the city of Raleigh surrendered to the army of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. The city’s loss was the latest in a growing accumulation of Confederate setbacks.

Three days earlier, Sherman began his advance towards the state capital. As the outnumbered Confederate army of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston prepared to withdraw, Governor Zebulon B. Vance decided to negotiate with Sherman for the surrender of Raleigh and a separate peace. On April 12, he dispatched former governors William A. Graham and David L. Swain to discuss terms with Sherman. The Federal commander responded favorably to the proposal regarding Raleigh, but refused to cease military operations.

By the time Swain and Graham returned to Raleigh on April 13, Vance had fled after hearing rumors they had been taken prisoner. Later in the day, Mayor William H. Harrison formally surrendered the Oak City to Brevet Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick outside of the city.

Apart from a futile violent incident involving a reckless Confederate cavalryman, the Federal occupation was accomplished peacefully. Although active campaigning continued, the inability of the Confederate military to defend Raleigh was a sign that the Civil War would soon be over in North Carolina.

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Stoneman in Salisbury, Liberator and Scourge

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On April 12, 1865, Union Gen. George Stoneman and his forces burned the already abandoned Salisbury Prison, as well as the town’s other public buildings, industrial structures and supply depots as part of raid through western North Carolina.

The raid began on March 24 when Stoneman led 6,000 cavalrymen from Tennessee into western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia to disrupt Confederate supply lines by destroying sections of the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, the North Carolina Railroad and the Piedmont Railroad. He also sought to liberate Union prisoners-of-war held in Salisbury, cut off avenues of retreat available to Confederate armies and encourage Unionists in western and central North Carolina to rise up.

Image from the Library of Congress.

Stoneman struck Boone on March 28, then divided his force and sent part of it into Virginia. On April 12, the Federals occupied Salisbury. Stoneman moved west the next day, dividing his command again. Other than a fight at Swannanoa Gap, Stoneman and his cavalrymen encountered only bushwhackers and isolated groups of Confederate soldiers.

Stoneman’s forces approached Asheville on April 23, negotiated a truce and then rode through the streets on April 26. Two days later, part of Stoneman’s force returned to Asheville to loot. Other elements either continued to Tennessee or joined the pursuit of Confederate President Jefferson Davis into Georgia.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Governor Thomas Holt, Textile Magnate, Friend of Education

Image from the State Archives.

On April 11, 1896, industrialist and Progressive Era governor Thomas Michael Holt died at age 64.

Born to a prominent Alamance County family of textile manufacturers, Holt worked in his family’s factories while climbing the political ladder. He got his start in politics as an Alamance County commissioner, before serving in both houses of the General Assembly and rising to the post of Speaker of the House.

Holt was lieutenant governor when Governor Daniel Fowle died in office in 1891, so the state’s top job fell to him. He served as governor until 1893, filling out Fowle’s term. He chose not to seek re-election for health reasons.

Throughout his career, Holt was interested in education. He helped found, among other institutions, two colleges in Greensboro and what’s now N.C. State University. He was also active in business and agriculture, serving as the North Carolina Railroad Company’s president, directing the North Carolina State Fair and transforming his family’s business into one of the leaders in the textile industry.

He died at his family home in Haw River and is buried in Graham.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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