Monday, October 10, 2022

Booknotes: Treason on the Cape Fear

New Arrival:
Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861 by Philip Hatfield (35th Star Pub, 2022).

Southern secessionist hopes that federal property in their states could be transferred to state ownership through peaceful negotiation (as naive as that seems in hindsight) were quickly dashed after both sitting president James Buchanan and President-Elect Abraham Lincoln pledged to defend those holdings. That rebuff sparked a wave of fort and arsenal seizures across states both already seceded and as yet undecided on the matter. Impetus came from multiple levels of authority, from governors down to jittery local governments and militia. In North Carolina, the most immediate and contentious disputes over federal property revolved around the coastal forts. That story is the topic of Philip Hatfield's Treason on the Cape Fear: Roots of the Civil War in North Carolina, January-April 1861.

From the description: "Shortly after South Carolina’s secession on December 20, 1860, President James Buchanan announced his intention to strengthen southern coastal forts. This agitated North Carolina’s southeastern coastal residents’ already tense mood, with fears of imminent invasion. However, when the Wilmington Journal falsely reported that Buchanan had sent two U.S. steamers carrying heavy artillery and soldiers to secure Fort Caswell, located south of the port city on the Cape Fear River, tensions escalated to the point of no return."

An odd, and perhaps unique, situation unfolded in North Carolina. More from the description: "On January 10, 1861, Wilmington city leaders ordered three hundred local militia deemed “The Cape Fear Minutemen” to capture Fort Caswell and Fort Johnston, without authorization from the Federal government, a blatant act of treason. Despite this, no legal action was taken as North Carolina Governor John W. Ellis simply apologized to President Buchanan and ordered the militia to immediately surrender the forts. Following the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, however, Ellis ordered the militia to recapture the forts, and this time no apology was given." The next month, North Carolina formally seceded, and the forts were incorporated into coastal defense arrangements under Confederate authority.

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