Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Completed, 1840

Raleigh & Gaston Railroad president W.R. Vass stands on
the locomotive, 1850. Image from the State Archives.

On March 21, 1840, work was completed on the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad. A week later, the Raleigh depot received 20 bales of cotton from Petersburg, Virginia, the line’s first commercial shipment on record. In June 1840, a “Grand Celebration” was held in Raleigh to commemorate two milestones, the new railroad and the new State Capitol.

Experiments in the 1830s with horse-drawn rail cars preceded the state’s first self-propelled railroad, the Raleigh and Gaston line. Gaston in Halifax County was its northern terminus and Raleigh its southern end point. Slaves were leased to lay the rails on heavy wooden planks. Setbacks with financing and materials delayed the railroad’s completion.

An ad for the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad.
Image from the State Archives.

Throughout North Carolina in the1840’s, the sound of the locomotive horn was heard, signifying a new era of unprecedented prosperity. The benefits of the Raleigh and Gaston line were apparent immediately.  The train allowed for quick transportation of goods and provided new jobs. The Confederacy used the Raleigh and Gaston heavily during the Civil War.

In 1900, the railroad was incorporated into the larger Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. The Seaboard building stands today on Salisbury Street in Raleigh as a reminder of the beginnings of rail transportation in the state.

Check out the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer for more awesome pieces of history from our transportation past.

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.

Wife Accompanies Husband into Confederate Service

Malinda Blalock holding a portrait of her husband. Image from the Avery Museum.

On March 20, 1862, Malinda Blalock disguised herself as a young man and enlisted in the Confederate army.

Malinda and her husband Keith were Unionists from Watauga County. Keith was pressured by recruiters to join the Confederate army, which he did with the intention of deserting into federal lines at the first opportunity.

Stories differ as to whether Keith was aware of Malinda’s intentions, but the more romantic version is that Keith looked over at the private walking next to him and did a double-take when he recognized his wife, who had cut her waist-length hair and donned baggy men’s clothing to become “Sam” Blalock. Sam Blalock, purportedly Keith’s brother, was described as “a good looking boy aged 16.”

Keith and Malinda served in Company F of the 26th Regiment, and they shared a tent in Kinston during training. Malinda performed all of the duties of a soldier and did not raise suspicions.

When Keith realized that they would not easily be able to desert, he obtained a medical discharge by creating a severe rash by rubbing poison oak or sumac all over his body. At that point “Sam” revealed his secret and was discharged. Keith was soon pursued as a deserter.

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Last Stand in the Carolinas at Bentonville

An illustration of the action at Bentonville. This sketch originally appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and is now held by the State Archives.

On March 19, 1865, at Bentonville, a Confederate army led by Gen. Joseph Johnston attacked the left wing of Union Gen. William Sherman’s army. General Robert E. Lee directed the Confederates to make a stand in North Carolina to prevent Sherman from joining General Ulysses S. Grant in front of Lee’s army at Petersburg, Virginia.

Union Gen. Henry Slocum, initially not realizing that he faced an entire army, pushed forward, but was driven back throughout the afternoon. Confederates led by Gen. D. H. Hill were able to flank Slocum’s troops, pouring devastating fire on them. Johnston continued his assaults throughout the evening but pulled back after realizing that the right wing of Sherman’s army, which was marching from Fayetteville toward Goldsboro, would arrive soon.

Sherman’s army of 60,000 men was divided into two wings: half were in the left wing marching through Averasboro and Bentonville and half were in the right wing marching on a parallel route to the southeast. Sherman’s objective was Goldsboro, where 40,000 additional troops and supplies would reinforce his army.

After initial success on March 19, the Confederates were unable to subdue the Union army, and early on March 22 they withdrew. The Union Army did not pursue them. The action was the largest during the Civil War in North Carolina.

Visit: Johnston County’s Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Sites will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle with re-enactments this weekend.

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Marines Begin Flight Operations at Cherry Point, 1942

Hercules_on_Flight_Loine_at_the_Marine_Corps_Air_Station_Cherry_Point_NC

A post card showing planes lining up on the tarmac at
Marine Corps Station, Cherry Point. Image from
the UNC-Chapel Hill Library.

On March 18, 1942, flight operations began at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Craven County with the landing of a Grumman J2F “Duck” amphibian.

The base was established just a few years earlier, after the Marine Corps conducted a search up and down the U.S. East Coast for a suitable site for an air station. After Congressman Graham Barden helped secure $40 million for construction in 1941, the base grew quickly, becoming a self-contained city of 20,000 within a few months.

As the U.S. involvement in World War II ratcheted up, so did the size and scope of Cherry Point. It was the home of the 3rd and 9th Marine Aircraft Wings during the war and has been the home of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing since 1946.

Troops from Cherry Point have taken part in every major military engagement since 1941 and the base is the largest Marine airfield in the world today.

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.

Bishop John England Dedicates Fayetteville’s St. Patrick Church, 1829

St. Patrick’s Church in an unknown year.
Image from Fayetteville State University.

On March 17, 1829, Roman Catholic Bishop John England consecrated Saint Patrick Church in Fayetteville. The consecration was the first for a Catholic church in North Carolina. The following week England traveled to Beaufort County, where he dedicated St. John’s in Washington, the first Catholic church built in North Carolina.

John England. Image from the National Encyclopedia of American Biography.

Bishop England directed the Catholic Church in the Carolinas for much of the antebellum period. He arrived from Ireland in 1820 at the age 33 to take charge of the Diocese of Charleston. Owing in no small measure to his energy and steadfastness, the church took hold in North Carolina. On his arrival, small enclaves of Catholics in larger towns met in private homes and church buildings of other faiths and were served on occasion by itinerant priests.

Catholic churches were later built in Raleigh, New Bern, Wilmington, Charlotte and Edenton, all before the Civil War. The state remained part of the Diocese of Charleston until 1868 when a new vicariate was created and James Gibbons was installed as the first vicar apostolic.

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Whaling’s Demise, 1916

A sketch of whaling near Beaufort. Image from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library.

On March 16, 1916, the last whale killed by a North Carolina fisherman was caught near Cape Lookout.

Whaling was practiced in North Carolina since the colonial era, and the first evidence for whaling in what’s now the Tar Heel States comes from a 1666 commercial whaling license issued by Peter Carteret, the assistant governor of the North Carolina colony.

The industry quickly became prosperous with English and Scottish settlers establishing fisheries up and down the coast to process whales for their meat, oil and bones. North Carolinians played an active role in the industry although whaling in the Old North State was mostly shore-based as opposed to oceanic fishing seen elsewhere.

By the early 20th century, whale oil fell into disuse and the shore-based whaling industry collapsed. The decline was mostly the result of Americans turning to gasoline and kerosene for their heating and lighting needs, and to synthetic substances for greasing.

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Quaker Meeting House Site of Skirmish Prior to Guilford Courthouse

The New Garden Meetinghouse. Image from the National Park Service.

On March 15, 1781, British and American forces skirmished near the New Garden Meeting House just hours before the larger Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

In the predawn hours, Gen. Charles Cornwallis’s British army advanced north, intent on closing in on Gen. Nathanael Greene’s position near Guilford Courthouse. Greene had placed troops out in advance positions to the south and west to give him fair warning of any potential attack.

When the front line of the British army, led by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, encountered Lt. Col. “Light Horse” Harry Lee’s troops just north of the meeting house, British and American dragoons slammed into each other in a narrow lane. Sabers clanged and shots echoed as horses and men crashed to the ground. After the initial clash, the British cavalry were pushed back, across the what’s now the Guilford College campus to the meeting house where they were joined by infantry units. The two sides exchanged fire twice more before American forces retired north towards Greene’s army.

The primary effect of the New Garden skirmishes, totaling roughly two-and-a-half hours, was that Greene had time to position his main army and prepare his men, many of whom were inexperienced militia, for battle.

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