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The people and places of the Tar Heel state day by day.
Updated: 15 hours 55 min ago

Startling News at Initial Bennett Place Meeting

16 hours 34 min ago

An engraving showing Johnston and Sherman meeting at Bennett Place.
Image from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library.

On April 17, 1865, Gen. William Sherman met with Gen. Joseph Johnston to discuss terms of surrender for Johnston’s forces. They met at the home of James Bennitt near what was then a rail stop, Durham Station. Once alone, Sherman handed Johnston a telegram that bore the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Accounts differ on the Confederate general’s reaction. Sherman later said that Johnston broke out in large beads of sweat and expressed hope that the Union officer did not suspect the assassination plot to have been organized by the Confederate government. Johnston later recalled saying to Sherman that Lincoln’s death “was the greatest possible calamity to the South.”

Remarkably, Sherman managed to keep the news in the telegram from his own men. Only the telegraph officer knew of the information, and Sherman swore him to silence. Sherman has just returned from a meeting with Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant where the topic was the terms of peace.

With the news, Sherman offered Johnston what he thought was Lincoln’s terms for peace. Those terms, in the wake of the assassination, were deemed too generous and rejected. Sherman and Johnston would meet again on April 26 to complete the surrender process.

Visit: Durham’s Bennett Place State Historic Site will be offering a number of programs during the next couple of weeks to commemorate the 150th anniversary of landmark surrender there.

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Physicians Form Professional Alliance, 1849

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 06:30

Doctors and nurses operate on a patient at a tonsil and adenoid clinic in
Elizabeth City circa May 1922. Image from the State Archives.

On April 16, 1849, the Medical Society of North Carolina was established after several state legislators, who were also physicians, called for a state medical convention.

The organization wasn’t the first statewide group for doctors. An earlier association had been chartered by the General Assembly in 1799 but was no longer meeting by 1805. The new organization’s goals were largely the same as its predecessor’s: to unite physicians across the state, represent their interests and to help professionalize the practice of medicine.

Edmund Strudwick, an Orange County native and surgeon, was the group’s first president. He had an excellent reputation, having served in the General Assembly and Congress, helped establish UNC’s medical school and aided in the construction of the Dorothea Dix Hospital.

The society’s first goals were creating stricter educational standards for students entering medical school, starting a medical journal, pushing for more concrete vital records laws and founding a state licensing board for doctors.

The group, now called the North Carolina Medical Society, has continued to meet annually since 1849, except for a few years during the Civil War and World War II. It now has more than 10,000 members statewide.

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Governor Ellis and Building Confederate Sentiment

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 06:30

A copy of Ellis’s letter from the State Archives.

On April 15, 1861, North Carolina governor John Ellis responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops with the often quoted statement: “You can get no troops from North Carolina.”

Although North Carolina as a state had seemed moderate during the Secession Crisis of 1861, Ellis had worked behind the scenes to align North Carolina with the budding Confederate government. In February 1861, citizens of the Old North State rejected a call for a Constitutional Convention to even consider the secession question.

Southern state after southern state declared for secession in early 1861 following South Carolina’s declaration in December 1860.  President Lincoln inherited a nation at the breaking point, and he ordered the federal fort in Charleston harbor to be resupplied.  South Carolina forces prevented the effort and fired on Fort Sumter.  Lincoln then issued a call for troops to put down the rebellion.

Ellis. Image from the State Archives.

Ellis considered Lincoln’s call to arms an unacceptable power grab, and he immediately ordered state troops to seize the federal forts in North Carolina as well as the federal arsenal at Fayetteville. He called the General Assembly into session two weeks later and rushed through a bill that called for a secession convention and authorized Ellis to send troops to Virginia. North Carolina left the Union just a few weeks later.

Though Ellis’ pithy last sentence is often quoted, the full text of his reply to Lincoln lays out a number of Constitutional justifications for secession that were popular at the outset of the war.

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Hysteria Over Day Care in Edenton

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 06:30

The first page of a 1993 story on the Little Rascals case
that appeared in Elle Magazine.

On April 14, 1989, the first arrests were made in Edenton in what would become known as the Little Rascals Day Care case. The case came amidst a nationwide flurry of prosecutions of daycare workers for alleged “satanic ritual abuse” of children.

Twenty-nine students at the Little Rascals center accused 20 adults, including Edenton’s mayor and the sheriff of Chowan County, with 429 instances of sexual and physical abuse over a three-year period.  The children’s’ descriptions of the incidents were mind-bending. Some described incidents as involving space ships, hot air balloons, pirate ships and trained sharks.

As in other similar cases from across the country, the children’s stories were concocted through sessions with investigators and therapists, many of whom used leading and suggestive questioning techniques. Prosecutors did not produce evidence or eyewitnesses. Today social scientists consider the scandal a “moral panic,” and it has been compared to a witch hunt.

In the most notorious of the Little Rascals trials, the defendant was convicted of 99 indictments and sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms in prison. The court of appeals overturned the convictions of all seven defendants in 1995. The Little Rascals case is said to have been the state’s longest and costliest criminal trial.

The PBS program Frontline aired a series of programs on the case and still maintains a website with a variety of materials related to it..

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The Fall of Raleigh to Sherman’s Army

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 06:30

The State Capitol, circa 1861. Image from
the State Archives.

On April 13, 1865, the city of Raleigh surrendered to the army of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. The city’s loss was the latest in a growing accumulation of Confederate setbacks.

Three days earlier, Sherman began his advance towards the state capital. As the outnumbered Confederate army of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston prepared to withdraw, Governor Zebulon B. Vance decided to negotiate with Sherman for the surrender of Raleigh and a separate peace. On April 12, he dispatched former governors William A. Graham and David S. Swain to discuss terms with Sherman. The Federal commander responded favorably to the proposal regarding Raleigh, but refused to cease military operations.

By the time Swain and Graham returned to Raleigh on April 13, Vance had fled after hearing rumors they had been taken prisoner. Later in the day, Mayor William H. Harrison formally surrendered the Oak City to Brevet Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick outside of the city.

Apart from a futile violent incident involving a reckless Confederate cavalryman, the Federal occupation was accomplished peacefully. Although active campaigning continued, the inability of the Confederate military to defend Raleigh was a sign that the Civil War would soon be over in North Carolina.

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Stoneman in Salisbury, Liberator and Scourge

Sun, 04/12/2015 - 06:30

On April 12, 1865, Union Gen. George Stoneman and his forces burned the already abandoned Salisbury Prison, as well as the town’s other public buildings, industrial structures and supply depots as part of raid through western North Carolina.

The raid began on March 24 when Stoneman led 6,000 cavalrymen from Tennessee into western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia to disrupt Confederate supply lines by destroying sections of the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, the North Carolina Railroad and the Piedmont Railroad. He also sought to liberate Union prisoners-of-war held in Salisbury, cut off avenues of retreat available to Confederate armies and encourage Unionists in western and central North Carolina to rise up.

Image from the Library of Congress.

Stoneman struck Boone on March 28, then divided his force and sent part of it into Virginia. On April 12, the Federals occupied Salisbury. Stoneman moved west the next day, dividing his command again. Other than a fight at Swannanoa Gap, Stoneman and his cavalrymen encountered only bushwhackers and isolated groups of Confederate soldiers.

Stoneman’s forces approached Asheville on April 23, negotiated a truce and then rode through the streets on April 26. Two days later, part of Stoneman’s force returned to Asheville to loot. Other elements either continued to Tennessee or joined the pursuit of Confederate President Jefferson Davis into Georgia.

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Governor Thomas Holt, Textile Magnate, Friend of Education

Sat, 04/11/2015 - 06:30

Image from the State Archives.

On April 11, 1896, industrialist and Progressive Era governor Thomas Michael Holt died at age 64.

Born to a prominent Alamance County family of textile manufacturers, Holt worked in his family’s factories while climbing the political ladder. He got his start in politics as an Alamance County commissioner, before serving in both houses of the General Assembly and rising to the post of Speaker of the House.

Holt was lieutenant governor when Governor Daniel Fowle died in office in 1891, so the state’s top job fell to him. He served as governor until 1893, filling out Fowle’s term. He chose not to seek re-election for health reasons.

Throughout his career, Holt was interested in education. He helped found, among other institutions, two colleges in Greensboro and what’s now N.C. State University. He was also active in business and agriculture, serving as the North Carolina Railroad Company’s president, directing the North Carolina State Fair and transforming his family’s business into one of the leaders in the textile industry.

He died at his family home in Haw River and is buried in Graham.

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Mycologist Moses A. Curtis of Hillsborough

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 06:30

Image from Popular Science.

On April 10, 1872, prominent botanist, author and Episcopal priest Moses A. Curtis died in Orange County.

Born in Massachusetts, Curtis attended Williams College before beginning his ministry in Wilmington. He soon moved to Raleigh to teach at what’s now St. Mary’s School and worked at a parish in Washington for a short time before coming to St. Matthew’s Church in Hillsborough in 1841. He would remain there for much of the rest of his life.

A dedicated priest and talented musician and composer, Curtis is best known for his contributions to botany, particularly in the field of mycology, the study of fungi. He was widely considered a national authority on the subject at the time and corresponded with other well-known scientists of the day including Asa Gray, H. W. Ravenel, William Sullivant, Edward Tuckerman and A. W. Chapman. He contributed to numerous publications and regularly identified specimens harvested on expeditions by others.

Curtis reported eating forty different species of mushrooms collected within two miles of his house and believed that if people had a better knowledge of edible fungi, food shortages for southern armies during the Civil War would have been less severe.

He is buried at St. Matthew’s in Hillsborough.

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W. H. Thomas’s “Legion of Indians and Mountaineers”

Thu, 04/09/2015 - 06:30

Image from the State Archives.

On April 9, 1862, William Holland Thomas joined the Confederate army and brought his Cherokee recruits with him. Thomas’s Legion, as Thomas and his men came to be known, was a Civil War unit unlike any other. Made up of both whites and Cherokees, the Legion fought in western North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

A native of Waynesville, Thomas became close to the Cherokees at an early age and was adopted into their tribe. He studied law and successfully represented the tribe against the federal government during Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal efforts.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Thomas recruited soldiers from the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee to serve in the Confederate army. His Legion was made up of several infantry and artillery units, including an Indian Battalion. After fighting throughout the region, Thomas’s Legion was given the task of protecting the local people in the North Carolina mountains, a task made especially difficulty by the high concentrations of active Union sympathizers in the area.

Members of Thomas’s Legion. Image from the State Archives.

Toward the end of the war, Thomas negotiated the surrender of his troops in Waynesville. When his men returned home, the region was still a no-man’s-land with pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions skirmishing throughout the area.

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Poor Naomi Wise, “Sacrificed to the Beast in Man”

Wed, 04/08/2015 - 07:23

On April 8, 1808, Jonathan Lewis was arrested for the murder of Naomi Wise. Wise, an orphan, cook and an occasional field hand noted for her beauty and her innocence, lived in the household of William Adams in Randolph County. Lewis was a frequent visitor to the Adams house.

Courting Naomi while promising marriage to another woman, Lewis led the pregnant Wise to the Deep River and pushed her off a bluff, drowning her. Jailed in Asheboro, he escaped and made his way to Ohio. He was eventually tracked down by a bounty hunter and returned North Carolina, where he was acquitted of murdering Wise for lack of evidence. Legend has it that he confessed to the crime on his deathbed.

Much of what we know of the murder comes from an account by Braxton Craven, president of nearby Trinity College, who researched the story. Craven based his 1851 retelling of crime on the memories of local residents. Lewis, by Craven’s account, was a “merciless wretch, a hyena.”

The site of Wise’s death came to be known as Naomi Falls. The story was brought to people nationwide largely through the folk ballad, “Naomi Wise,” which was a favorite of Doc Watson’s.  Like “Tom Dooley” and “Frankie and Johnny,” the song relates the story of a North Carolina murder with drama and pathos.

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First Marriage for Stephen A. Douglas Carried Heavy Baggage

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 06:30

On April 7, 1847, U.S. senator, congressman and Illinois state Supreme Court judge Stephen A. Douglas married Martha Drennan Martin in Rockingham County. Martin was the daughter of Robert Martin, a planter who owned a large amount of property and slaves in North Carolina and Mississippi.

Educated at a Philadelphia finishing school, Martin met Douglas on a family visit to Washington, D.C., when North Carolina congressman and future governor David Reid introduced her to Douglas, his close friend. The two married shortly thereafter.

When her father died, Martha inherited a 2,500 acre-plantation in Mississippi and slaves. Douglas was designated as the property manager and received income for his services. When Martha died shortly after childbirth in 1853, her inheritance passed to Douglas.

As a senator from the free state of Illinois, Douglas tried to distance himself from the plantation and its slaves, which were causing him political problems, by hiring a manager. His political fortunes didn’t improve, and thanks in large measure to a Republican wave that year, he lost the presidency to Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Douglas is still widely remembered for engaging Lincoln in highly publicized debates that year.

After the elections, Douglas traveled the South to try to encourage unity behind Lincoln and avert the coming Civil War. He died in June 1861, shortly after the outbreak of the conflict.

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Camp Greene, Charlotte’s Massive WWI Installation

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 06:30

A 1947 postcard depicting soldiers learning how to use rifles at Camp Greene.
Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I.

That summer, Major General Leonard Wood, charged with selecting sites for new military camps, visited Charlotte as part of a tour of prospective locations in North Carolina. Wood chose the Queen City as the site for Camp Greene, a 2,300-acre military training facility for the Army.

Named for Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene, the camp was constructed in 90 days, and by December it was a temporary home to nearly 60,000 soldiers.

The camp boosted Charlotte’s fledgling economy and the city’s population of 45,000 witnessed a major increase in jobs and wealth as restaurants, shops and other amusements directed at the soldiers were constructed. Unfortunately, the camp also spread communicable diseases. The winter of 1917 proved incredibly harsh and hundreds of soldiers and citizens succumbed to pneumonia. The following year, the influenza epidemic struck the camp and the city.

Many men who trained at Camp Greene ultimately were deployed to France and saw some of the heaviest fighting of the war. At the war’s end, the camp was dismantled, and it was closed officially in June 1919.

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Petty Patriarch Passes

Sun, 04/05/2015 - 06:30

Lee Petty in front of his trademark number 42 car. Image from NASCAR.

On April 5, 2000, stock car racing legend and NASCAR pioneer Lee Petty died in Greensboro. He was 86.

It wasn’t until age 35 that Petty began his racing career, driving a borrowed 1946 Buick Roadmaster in NASCAR’s first “strictly stock” race in June 1949 in Charlotte. That same year, Petty established a garage in a repurposed reaper shed on his family’s farm in Randleman. Over the course of his career, Petty claimed 50 wins, including three NASCAR championships and the top spot at the inaugural Daytona 500 in February 1959.

A serious wreck during a 1961 qualifying race at Daytona left Petty with a punctured lung and a badly broken leg. He recovered but only participated in six more races before his retirement in 1964. Though his racing days were behind him, Petty continued to manage his garage. Eventually he was joined by his sons, Richard and Maurice, and grandson, Kyle. Known as Petty Enterprises, the complex grew to 16 buildings, including racing workshops and fabrication facilities.

Petty’s son Richard went on to become a seven-time NASCAR champion and claimed a record 200 career victories, including seven Daytona 500 wins.

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Valvano’s 1983 Championship Stuff of Memories for Wolfpack Fans

Sat, 04/04/2015 - 09:29

Coach Jim Valvano and members of the N.C. State men’s basketball team celebrate after their 1983 championship win. Image from the State Archives and copyright the News & Observer.

On April 4, 1983, the North Carolina State University Wolfpack won the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

After a series of unlikely and often last minute wins that began during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament weeks earlier, the “Cardiac Pack,” under the leadership of head coach Jim Valvano, culminated its run with a barn burner over the University of Houston Cougars. The Cougars were nicknamed “Phi Slama Jama” for their expertise in slam dunking basketballs over the heads of opponents, so chances were slim that the underdog Wolfpack would pull off the upset.

One Washington Post sports reporter wrote, “Trees will tap-dance, elephants will drive at Indy and Orson Welles will skip lunch before North Carolina State finds a way to beat Houston.” But find a way they did. Both State’s first and last shots were dunks, and that last shot came just as the buzzer sounded, clinching the victory for the Pack, 54-52.

The images of Lorenzo Charles making the basket and Coach Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug have become iconic in sports culture, and both are fitting tributes to two extraordinary individuals who are no longer with us.

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