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If Unionists won the General Assembly convention and North Carolina was to remain in the Union, why did they secede?  The Unionists victory showed that North Carolinians did not wish to leave the Union.  The problem was the Unionists’ argument in the convention hinged on Lincoln not using force against the Southern states in rebellion.  Then Lincoln began to build up the federal army to crush the Southern rebellion and he called upon troops from all the states in the Union, which included North Carolina.  North Carolina refused to send troops that would be used to fight their neighbors.  On April 12, 1861 shots were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.  North Carolinians were outraged that Lincoln used the army against the Confederate States of America which they did not believe he would do.  Even many Unionists were livid about the attack at Fort Sumter; many felt that Lincoln had betrayed them and their trust.  This action crushed the Unionists argument that Lincoln would not force the Southern states back into the Union and reopened the topic for discussion.  On May 20, 1861 the General Assembly hosted a convention in Raleigh where they passed the secession ordinance.[1]  North Carolina had now joined the other Southern states in a rebellion against the Union even though only months before the state had been overwhelmingly pro-Union.

It is hard to imagine that even if North Carolina would not have seceded with the attack on Fort Sumter that they could have remained in the Union.  Geographically it would have been very difficult for North Carolina; unlike the other slave holding states, North Carolina was not bordered by non-slave holding states.  North Carolina was cut off from the rest of the Union by Confederate states.  Harris talks about how the secession of the other Southern states put pressure on North Carolina, but none more so than Virginia.  Once Virginia seceded, North Carolina was cut off from the Union.  If Virginia would have remained in the Union it would have been easier for North Carolina to remain in the Union.  The Wilmington Herald posted the quote, “The State that secedes must pass through a baptism of blood, in which the garment s of her surrounding sisters will be freely dipped.”[2]  When the other states seceded, North Carolina became the sister who was freely dipped into a pool of blood. 

[1] Harris, Coming of the Civil War, 50-56.

[2] Harris, Coming of the Civil War, 35, 38.