[Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War: A History of Battle and Occupation by Alex Christopher Meekins (The History Press, 2007). Softcover, photos, drawings, 3 maps, notes. Pages main/total: 134/157. ISBN: 978-1-59629-212-3 $21.99]
The last decade has witnessed an explosion in city, county, and regional studies. The myriad of reasons why are beyond the scope of this review, but these provide perhaps the best laboratory for the study of Southern Unionism and the guerrilla warfare that invariably breaks out in areas with concentrated unionist populations. Both subjects are strongly local in terms of motivating factors and characterization. Alex Christopher Meekins' study Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War is very much in this vein. The region of interest is that part of North Carolina bounded by the Chowan River (west), Albemarle Sound (south), Currituck Sound (east), and the Virginia-NC border (north).
While more regional in nature than indicated by the title, this study nevertheless directs much of its focus upon the Pasquotank River port of Elizabeth City. It's initial capture by Federal army and navy forces in early 18621 inaugurated a period of alternating occupation and economic devastation. Meekins recounts in great detail the broad destruction wrought by the guerrilla (and counter-guerrilla) warfare that engulfed the area during 1862-1865. The various strategies employed by the succession of Union district commanders to stem the violence over this period are detailed.
Significant unionist feeling in NE North Carolina led to the Federal army's recruitment of both white and black combat units. The uncertain economic viability of the region and issues of physical safety among the citizens are important elements of Meekins's study. In fact, as in many other regions of the occupied South, Union forces used economic incentives as a means to curb guerrilla attacks. Regardless of such efforts, rampant guerrilla warfare, combined with only periodic occupation by regular forces, led to a citizenry constantly under the gun, assaulted and exploited by both sides (regardless of allegiance).
The publisher has done a fine job as well; the paperback volume is sturdily constructed using quality materials and is handsomely illustrated. Written well and based almost exclusively on primary source materials, the book's strengths are abundant; however, several weaknesses are apparent. While notes indicate a deep level of original research, no bibliography or index are provided. Three maps2 are present, but, with so many locations mentioned in the text but not found on any map, much needed detail was lacking3. None of these flaws, however, would deter me from recommending this study. Beyond its role as an original, gap-filling regional history, Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War contributes significantly to the expanding literature examining broader issues of Southern Unionism [black & white] and guerrilla warfare.
1 - This event is only briefly covered. Military coverage focuses primarily on the occupation, with its attendant guerrilla warfare and cavalry sweeps.
2 - An 1893 map of Elizabeth City; and two regional, large-scale archival reproductions dating from 1867 -- one a magnification of the other.
3 - I have always been of the fervent opinion that original maps, wedded to the text, are a must for all modern studies.