A definitive retelling of the Civil War as it was fought in North Carolina has been well-documented by the writings of Avery County-based historian Michael C. Hardy.
But, what about that pivotal moment in state history just before the eruption of our nation’s bloodiest conflict?
That’s the turf of Asheboro native Steve M. Miller and the domain of his new book, “North Carolina Unionists and the Fight Over Secession” (The History Press).
Even today, secessionist pride runs deep in the South, Miller concedes. Confederate battle flags flying from pickups and monuments displaying tributes to Southern leaders not only “remind us all of the immense pride of white Southern heritage,” but point to “a common misconception that virtually all white Southerners were avid Secessionists before the war.”
Au contraire, the author tells us.
Less than three months before seceding, North Carolina voted against a plan to convene for secession. The vote was close, but many of the Old North State’s most compelling leaders believed that the state should stay in the Union.
This is not to say that pro-Union sentiments were synonymous with a belief in abolition. Although an anti-slavery attitude was prevalent in many mountain communities, many others who believed that North Carolina should remain in the United States were either slave owners or at least not opposed to the institution.
It is antithetical sentiments such as these that conspire to tangle North Carolina’s history prior to May 20, 1861 — the date the state seceded under Gov. John Ellis — but Miller’s slim volume does an admirable job combing through the complexities.
Unraveling the history of those who saw the potential for compromise with the North against those opposed to the idea of continuing unification is no small task. But in concise, accessible and well-researched prose, Miller walks us through the crisis leading to the 1861 division and a separationist conviction that would linger even after the war’s denouement.
Indeed, one of Miller’s gifts is exploring a pro-Union attitude as he documents history: “Secession and all it carried with it, including war and an uncertain future for North Carolina and the South, was a hard and painful reality of the state’s Unionists. They had fought, some since the 1830s, to see that disputes, disagreements, feuds and outright hatred toward the North did not turn into disunion and sectional violence. In the end, disunion was a train that could not be stopped, until it finally derailed in 1865.”
That the tracks upon which that train ran were laid in North Carolina is explored well and succinctly in Miller’s “North Carolina’s Unionists.” As such, it is worth getting on board for the ride.