North Carolina Secedes! Telegraph Offices Raided!

Monday, May 20, 1861

It had been five months exactly since North Carolina’s Southern sister had seceded from the Union. In those five months, though state militia units had captured some United States arsenals and forts, the public had voted on February 28th, desiring to remain in the Union. But after Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops, North Carolina’s governor began to work in earnest to deliver his state to the Southern Confederacy. A special session of the legislature was called for May 1st.

The legislature decided to meet in convention on May 20th. This would decide the state’s loyalty. So convinced that she would leave the Union, the Confederate Congress resolved to commit her as an official State upon her secession.

On the very first day of the Secession Convention, the delegates drew up the Order of Secession. “The Union
now subsisting between the State of North Carolina and the other States, under the title of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved,” wrote the delegates, “and that the State of North Carolina is in the full possession end exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.”

With that accomplished, they quickly ratified the Confederate Constitution, declaring that “the State of North Carolina does hereby assent to and ratify the Constitution for tho Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America, adopted at Montgomery, in the State of Alabama, on the 8th of February, 1861.”1

It had taken a long time to come to this. The Order of Secession even stated that “the people of North Carolina, though justly aggrieved by the evident tendency of this election, and of these principles, did, nevertheless, abstain from adopting any such measure of separation.” However, it also mentions Lincoln’s call for troops.

These troops, resolved the Convention, were raised for the “fixed purpose of the Government and people of those States to wage a cruel war against the seceded States, to destroy utterly the fairest portion of this continent, and reduce its inhabitants to absolute subjection and abject slavery.”2

Unlike most other seceded states, however, North Carolina did not put the Order of Secession to a popular vote. Neither did it put its entry into the Confederate States of America to a popular vote. And even though the state Congress wouldn’t technically approve the resolutions until the following day, May 20th, 1861 marks the day that North Carolina both left the Union and joined the Confederacy.


Moving to Richmond!

In the Confederate capital of Montgomery, Alabama, the Southern Congress resolved to move its capital to Richmond, Virginia. There was originally some speculation that, since Virginia was so close to the Northern states, the capital may have to be moved, but even with that fear, it was decided that when the Congress reconvened, it would do so on the 20th of July, in Richmond.

On April 27, the State of Virginia invited the Confederate Congress to make Richmond its capital and a bill to that effect was first introduced on May 2nd. Throughout the month it was debated in committee and finally submitted for a vote on this date.

The states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Virginia were for it, while the remaining states of Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas were against it. The motion passed. Come July 20, 1861, Richmond would be the new capital of the Confederate States of America.3


Telegraph Offices Raided!

All United States Marshals in loyal, northern states received orders to raid telegraph offices at 3pm and to “obtain possession of any telegraphic dispatches that may have been sent or received with purposes hostile to the Government or in relation to supplies of arms and provisions purchased or forwarded to the Southern rebels.”

If these telegrams were located in files with other telegrams having nothing to do with the South, then the whole file should be taken. The Marshals were to take anything dated after January 1, 1860.

There was some word of the telegraph offices protesting, but mostly (according to official records), they were “loyal.”

In New York City, the seized telegrams were “so numerous and bulky and so systematically arranged that the marshal determined not to remove them at present and to place two deputy marshals in continual charge of the apartments in which the dispatches were found and are stored with instructions to permit no person to have access to them.”

In all, as many as 300,000 telegrams were seized.4

  1. The Military and Naval History of the Rebellion in the United States by William Jewett Tenney, D. Appleton & company, 1866. []
  2. The North Carolina Booklet Vol. 11 by General Society of the Daughters of the Revolution, Capital Printing Company, 1911. []
  3. Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861, Volume 1. []
  4. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 2, p6-8. []
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