Acts of Unionism
It is important to remember that in the early nineteenth century, a person’s idea of the word “Union” depended upon their socio-economic class, race, gender, and region. Elite white male unionists in eastern North Carolina felt that the Union consisted of security and privilege. Edward Stanly, a North Carolinian from New Bern, served in the U.S. House of Representatives (The North Carolina Civil War Experience). On June 28, 1851, the Greensboro Patriot, a newspaper from Greensboro N.C., recited a debate that had taken place between Stanly and Democrat Thomas Ruffin. In that debate Stanly argued that maintaining the Union actually preserved slavery (Greensboro Patriot 1851). He gave the division between the United States and Canada as an example, stating that no one gets their slaves back from Canada, because Canada is considered foreign territory and that country does not support slavery. He went on to say that if the Southern states were to secede, then the Union would be to the Confederate states like Canada is to the United States, meaning that the slaves would escape to the Union and never be returned to their masters (ibid). Stanly joined forces with the Confederacy once Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which illustrates even further how he defined the Union (The North Carolina Civil War Experience). Just like Stanly’s abandonment of the Union cause can explain his unionist views, examining the Confederates ideology does the same. Judge William L. Harris, a Georgia native, stated, “[The Northern people] have demanded, and now demand, equality between the white and negro races, under our constitution…” (Dew 2001, 29). Harris believed that the Union was suppose to be a source of white southern power. According to Harris, the constitution and the Union had the obligation to support white supremacy, enforce slavery in non-slaveholding states through the fugitive slave law, and allow the expansion of slavery. He goes on to say that if white southerners wanted to avoid negro equality, then “secession is inevitable” (Dew 2001, 29). Southern unionist beliefs varied in many ways. After examining accounts of Unionism within Watauga County, North Carolina, it became apparent that clumping those residents together and stating that they had the same unionist ideology would be false. Each individual had their own notion of what the Union meant.
One of the most significant loyalist was Lewis Bitting Banner. He was born in 1805 in Surry County, North Carolina. In 1856, Lewis B. Banner, his wife Nancy Meadow Flippin, and their seven children moved to Watauga County, North Carolina where their eighth child was born. He bought two hundred acres along the Elk River in what would be Avery County today. In 1860, people referred to that piece of land as Banner’s Elk. Lewis’s main occupation was tanning animal skins and hides. When he moved to Banner Elk, he built his own tannery along with a house for his family, and several homes for his slaves. He owned seventeen slaves at the beginning of the Civil War. His slaves were known to be very devoted and loyal to him because he treated them well. When the war was over, he not only granted them their freedom, he bought land for them to live on and they continued working for him. During the Civil War, three of Lewis’ sons, William Durritt, Samuel Henry, and Joshua Albert, fought for the Union army. Even though Lewis was living in North Carolina at the time, he consistently supported the Union cause. He defied the Confederacy by assisting in the Underground Railroad for Union soldiers who were escaped prisoners of the Rebel army, and men fleeing Confederate enlistment. Other supporters like Daniel Ellis, Keith and Melinda Blalok, and Harrison Church were also involved. Local residents led these escapees through Blowing Rock, over Grandfather Mountain, and into Banner Elk. From there, one of the guides previously mentioned would guide them to safety into Kentucky and Tennessee. Whenever Lewis was not the guide, he would feed and shelter the soldiers until their guide came along. A laurel thicket by the river was coined the Land of Goshen, after the biblical region by the Nile River in Egypt that served as a haven for the Israelites until the exodus. Many escapees hid in the thicket for protection. In January 1865, the Union army began a raid on the Confederate Home Guard Camp along Cove Creek in Sugar Grove. After the Unionists captured the 11th Battalion North Carolina Home Guard, they returned to Banner Elk with their prisoners and stayed nearby until they sent the prisoners into Tennessee. In 1883, Lewis B. Banner passed away. He is buried in the Banner Elk Community Cemetery along with several of his former slaves (Great Banner Elk Heritage Foundation).
The story of Lewis B. Banner indicates that unlike previously mentioned Edward Stanly, Lewis did not believe that the Union had to support slavery. He believed that the United States laws and constitution were set up to protect the citizens. If he did not believe that, he would have began to support the confederacy after Lincoln abolished slavery.
John Horton lived in Boone, North Carolina (Watauga County) during the Civil War. He was about 47 years old at the start of the war and 62 when he made his claim. In his Southern claim on August 7 1876, he had David Norris to testify in favor of his loyalty to the Union. During that testimony Norris made this statement:
I have heard of [John Horton] doing all he could for the union cause, but nothing against it. I heard when his son James W. Horton went into the confederate service that he refused to a[i]de him in any way in his outfit, and that he was so much opposed to his [son] going that he said that he hoped the first union soldier he came up with, would shoot him down (Norris 1871, 2).
James W. Horton entered the service because of the Confederate Conscription Act that was enacted April 16, 1862. At first, this act stated that all healthy men between the ages of 17 and 35 were eligible to serve a three-year term in the Confederate army. By February 1864, that range had widened to the ages of 17 and 50. Although James was required by law to serve, his father, John Horton, was opposed. John was a strong supporter on the Union army, and tried to persuade his son with “urgent protestations” (Horton 1871, 5). When John was asked about whom he voted for in the election of 1860, he assured the interrogator that he voted against every candidate that was “forcing secession” (Horton 1871, 6). John Horton’s opposition to the Conscription Act, and his use of the word “force” to describe secession indicates exactly why he supported the Union. John sided with the cause of the federal army, because he thought that freedom did not truly exist within the confederacy. He felt that because of the political inequalities within North Carolina, he did not have the political influence that the U.S. Constitution awarded him. John Horton knew that if he supported the Confederacy, the inequalities that existed politically would continue and probably worsen. In other words, he knew that the Union provided him with more political influence and would grant western North Carolina with more internal improvements.
Rittenhouse Baird of Watauga County also aided union soldiers. One soldier in particularly was W. R. Shull. Around 1863, the Rebel army had sentenced Shull to be shot, so Baird put himself in danger by trying to protect him. Baird signed a petition and kept him in his own home. In the end, the Rebel army did not carry out the sentence (Baird 1878, 2) Baird’s story indicates that his idea of the Union consisted of the right to one’s beliefs without the fear of violence. It also shows his belief in the protection that the U.S. laws provided. If he did not believe in the importance of laws, he would have fled with the Union soldier instead of legally writing out a petition, signing it, and turning it over to an official. He saw the chaos and violence that was ensuing over unionist ideology, and he knew that the U.S. constitution awarded him the right to his beliefs.