New “Governments” for Kentucky and North Carolina

November 18, 1861 (Monday)

The state of Kentucky had an identity crisis. On one hand, the legislature was largely pro-Union. The Governor, Beriah Magoffin, was, by now, pro-Secession. When the Confederate forces under General Polk entered Kentucky, the state legislature passed a resolution that Magoffin demand the Rebel forces to leave the state. At first, Magoffin called for both Union and Confederate troops to leave, but the legislature rejected this idea, reiterating that it was only the Confederates who had to go. Magoffin vetoed the bill and the legislature overrode him, with more than two-thirds voting against the Governor.

A week later, the legislature placed General Robert Anderson of the Union Army in charge of expelling the Rebels (something he was planning to do anyway).1

Since then, pro-Southern Kentuckians called for a secession convention, called the “Sovereignty Convention,” to be held in Confederate-occupied Russellville, near the border of Tennessee. The convention was presided over by Henry Cornelius Burnett, a lawyer, Kentucky Representative, and newly-enlisted Colonel of the 8th Kentucky Infantry (CS).

In Russellville, 116 delegates from all sixty-eight counties met on this date. Their objective was to pass an ordinance of secession, establish a new, Confederate government, and pave the way to becoming the next Confederate state.2

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A Sham Convention and Sham Government for North Carolina

Another, seemingly impromptu convention was held at Hatteras, North Carolina. This southern state came late to the secession table, so it’s no real surprise that there were large pockets of Unionists within its borders.

Colonel R. C. Hawkins, Union commander at the Chicamocomico Races had been relieved of his command following the odd little battle. Nevertheless, he was convinced that enough Union sympathy existed in North Carolina to possibly form a Unionist government, similar to what western Virginia had established.

Hawkins’ ideas weren’t completely unfounded. Especially in the eastern part of the state, the pro-Secessionists had already left home for the war. Those who remained were mostly Unionists. Some, upon the authority of President Lincoln, were formed into the 1st North Carolina Union Regiment, and helped to garrison the forts on Cape Hatteras.

Two men, Charles Henry Foster and Marble Nash Taylor, fancied themselves leaders of the pro-Unionist faction. Foster, a resident of Maine for most of his life, had received permission from Washington to establish a provisional Unionist government in North Carolina. On this date, it finally met.3

According to the minutes of the convention, all forty-five counties were represented. This, however, wasn’t quite true. While in Washington, Foster had gathered signatures of former residents of the North Carolina counties, allowing him to act as their proxy. In reality, no more than eight people showed up for the convention.

It’s not surprising, then, that Marble Nash Taylor was appointed governor and Charles Henry Foster to be elected Senator of the Second District on November 28. They (all eight of them) then declared the North Carolina Ordinance of Secession null and void.

Jumping, slightly ahead, Foster won the election, 268-0. All of the voters came from Union-held Hatteras Island. The entire Second District actually contained over 9,000 voters. This whole farce would do little more than gain some headlines.4

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The News Spreads; Lincoln Writes to Everett

News of the capture of James Mason and John Slidell, Confederate envoys to England and France, broke large this morning. While a few papers published on Sundays, the majority did not. On this date, a Monday in 1861, papers across the east, as well as some in the west, thanks to the transcontinental telegraph line, told of the exploits of Captain Charles Wilkes and the USS San Jacinto capturing the Rebels off the deck of the British Trent.

The North was jubilant. President Lincoln wrote to Edward Everett, a Massachusetts politician and orator who would share a somber stage with the President almost exactly two years from this date, of the news.

He was joyous over the success at Port Royal, and closed the letter with the exclamation: “And the capture of Mason and Slidell!”5

In the South, the Richmond Daily Dispatch honed in on the real news. The capture of Mason and Slidell was but “a small loss to the Southern Confederacy.” Everything actually hinged upon “the treatment it may receive from the British Government.” Reasoning that “the deck of a British vessel is as sacred as British soil,” it followed that to board a “British vessel forcibly and carry off persons, is as great an insult to British sovereignty, as to send armed men to London and to capture ambassadors assembled amid her Court.”

Richmond knew that the Union would have a very difficult time fighting wars against the South and the British. This could, if it played out just right, prove to be a great boon for the Confederacy.6



  1. “Kentucky and Secession” by Thomas C. Mackey, appearing in Sister States Enemy States edited by Kent T. Dollar, The University Press of Kentucky, 2009. []
  2. “The Alleged Secession of Kentucky” by A.C. Quisenberry, appearing in Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 15, 1915. []
  3. The Civil War in North Carolina by John G. Barrett, Chapel Hill Press, 1963. []
  4. The Civil War on the Outer Banks by Fred M. Mallison, McFarland, 1998. []
  5. Letter to Edward Everett from Abraham Lincoln, November 18, 1861, as found in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 5. []
  6. Richmond Daily Dispatch, November 18, 1861. []
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2 thoughts on “New “Governments” for Kentucky and North Carolina

  1. Re: “A Sham Convention and Sham Government for North Carolina”

    Interesting how hard they worked to make it appear legitimate when it clearly was manufactured. I wonder, how long was it before people began disputing this? Sort of reminds me of today’s Occupy Wall Street movement. A few noisy people come out and claim they represent 99% of the population… yet most folks I know are tired of the whole mess and wish these protesters would go home or get a coherent message.

    1. I don’t think it was ever really taken seriously by any but a few, especially the North Carolina Unionists (though, as we’ll hopefully see, NC had quite a few Unionists inside its borders). Washington did not recognize it, really. As for Kentucky, there was more of an even divide, sort of like Missouri. Richmond did recognize it, and one of the stars on the flag was for Kentucky.

      Period politics only, please.

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