Civil War 150

This program was originally scheduled  in March but has been rescheduled due to bad weather.

The Forsyth County Genealogical Society will meet at 

6:30 PM, April 1, 2014 in the Auditorium of the Forsyth County Public Library, 660 W. 5th Street, Winston-Salem, NC. 

Social at 6:30, Program at 7:00. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Martha R. Brown, Winston-Salem author, will discuss her research and writing techniques in creating the historical novel “Holding Sweet Communion” which is based on her great-grandfather’s Civil War letters.  Mrs. Brown is a graduate of Agnes Scott College with a Master’s Degree from Duke University.  Books will be available for purchase.


So we woke up this morning to find the government shutdown beginning. I thought I knew what that meant. “It won’t affect me,” I said. “Because I only work with the past.”

Smugness = dumbness, I quickly learned. Here’s how.

The phone rings. Some guy is interested in finding out if his ancestor served in the Civil War. He has no idea if he did, or on which side. There is a standard answer to that question.

We go to the National Park Service’s database known as “Soldiers & Sailors”. There we type in a name and the database gives us a list of all people with that name who served on the Union or Confederate side in the war.

If it is a common name, that can lead to a bit of work, but eventually we will probably narrow it down to the person in question and be given important information such as units served in and thence to more specific information. Usually works like a charm.

So I asked the caller for the name of his ancestor, as I navigated to “Soldiers & Sailors”, only to be confronted with this:

There are other ways to get at this problem, but they will require a lot more work, which cannot be done on the phone. So the patron suffers and we resign ourselves to who knows how long without the “Soldiers & Sailors” database. Hooray for politics!

The Forsyth County Genealogical Society will hold its regular monthly meeting in the Auditorium of the Main Forsyth County Library at 660 West 5th Street in Winston-Salem on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012.  Please join us at 6:30 PM for refreshments. The program starts at 7:00 PM. The meeting is free and open to the public.

 Michael C. Hardy, the 2010 North Carolina Historian of the year, will speak on

“Bringing the War Home: The Civil War in Forsyth County.”

 Mr. Hardy is the author of sixteen books.  His latest release is “Civil War Charlotte: Last Capital of the Confederacy”. He is one of North Carolina’s best-known Civil War historians.  Not only does he have numerous books and articles to his credit, but he also writes and edits a blog on North Carolina during the war years.  His latest book, “Civil War Charlotte: Last Capital of the Confederacy” was released by The History Press in June 2012.  He is an eight-time winner of the Willie Parker Peace History Book Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians, and was recently presented the Jefferson Davis Gold Medal by the North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  In 2010, the North Carolina Society of Historians honored him as the North Carolina Historian of the Year.  He lives in western North Carolina with his wife Elizabeth and their children, Nathaniel and Isabella.  You can learn more by visiting his web site at

The following press release came out today.

Civil War Online Resources Take Center Stage at Free Aug. 8 Talk


RALEIGH — “The baby toddles about all day only takes two little naps I made her a pair of shoes and she can walk first rate in them she is just gone to sleep…”  A wife delivers news of their family to her soldier husband in October 1864, in a letter held in the Civil War materials at the North Carolina State Archives.  


How can you find such a letter? 


Join archivist Ashley Yandle at 10:30-11:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 8, as she demonstrates Web sites, online catalogs and blogs focusing on the Civil War that are available through the State Archives’ Web site at “An Introduction to Online Civil War Resources” will be held in Room 208 of the State Archives building, 109 E. Jones St., Raleigh, N.C. 27601.


In observance of the American Civil War sesquicentennial ( the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources ( has planned more than 250 events – talks, re-enactments, exhibits – statewide. The Civil War wrought great hardship upon the state and nation. North Carolina suffered at least 35,000 deaths and felt more than its share of pain. The nation and state survived the war years, 1861-1865, but at great price.  


The talk will touch briefly on tools helpful to genealogists whose search for family history take them through this time period, and will also include information about family letters, governors’ correspondence and other Civil War materials in the Archives’ collection. These online tools can help both novice and advanced researchers to identify and explore the lives of ordinary North Carolinians, as well learn more about actions taken by government officials during this tumultuous time.


Many of North Carolina’s military records, like those of other southern states, were taken during the war and are now maintained by the National Archives in Washington, D.C. However, several types of records including some state agency, court and pension records can be found at the State Archives, and many of them have been scanned and digitized for easy access.


Call (919) 807-7385 for additional information.

The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources is the state agency with the mission to enrich lives and communities, and the vision to harness the state’s cultural resources to build North Carolina’s social, cultural and economic future. Information on Cultural Resources is available 24/7 at


The Civil War was the first war widely covered with photography. The Freedom, Sacrifice, Memory exhibit provides images of historic figures, artifacts, and documents that brought the reality of the war from the battlefront to the home front, then and now,” explains Deputy Secretary Dr. Jeffrey Crow of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

The exhibit will commemorate the bravery and resiliency of North Carolinians throughout the Civil War with stimulating images gathered from the State Archives, the N.C. Museum of History and State Historic Sites. A total of 24 images will be displayed by the N.C. Department of Culture Resources in 50 libraries throughout the state from April 2011 through May 2013. A notebook will accompany the exhibit with further information and also seeking viewer comments.


The collection depicts African Americans, women and militiamen, including images of artifacts and official documents. More than 5,000 North Carolina blacks are documented as having served in the U.S.C.T. for the Union Army and Navy. Despite resentment from Confederates, African Americans dutifully served, paving their way to freedom.

Find out more about North Carolina’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the War at the North Carolina Civi War Sesquicentennial website.


This is an ongoing series. If you are new to the series, you might want to begin with the first post on January 13, 2011. To make it easier to navigate the series, I have created a new category called Civil War 150. That category will appear at the top of each post. To go to all of the posts in the series, simply click on Civil War 150.


In 1861, the citizens of Forsyth County had limited sources for news. There was no e-mail, no Facebook, no Twitter, no TV, no radio, no telephone. They had five basic ways of getting information: Word of mouth, mail, flyers, public meetings and newspapers. Since the newspapers were connected to the telegraph system, they usually had the latest information first.

Most newspapers of the times were political weeklies. Most of the time their chief interests were promoting their political party of choice and providing entertainment in the form of poetry, essays, short fiction, occasional novel serializations and “travel” pieces. If you knew your literature and your politics, you could figure out a newspaper’s political orientation from reading the entertainment selections. For all, news not connected to politics took a definite back seat.

In 1861, Forsyth County had two political weeklies. The older of the two, the People’s Press, based in Salem, was identified with the Whig Party. The Whig Party formed around 1830 in opposition to Andrew Jackson’s new Democratic Party. They favored a stronger Congress and a weaker President and strong tariffs on international trade. Whig leaders included Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and, in Illinois, a young Abraham Lincoln. Between 1841 and 1853, four Whigs held the presidency: William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. But by 1850, the party was falling apart over the issue of slavery. Fillmore was expelled from the party and by 1856 the party essentially did not exist. But newspapers like the People’s Press continued to espouse Whiggish ideas for some time to come.

The Western Sentinel, based in Winston, was a wholehearted Jacksonian Democratic organ, which made them a natural enemy of the People’s Press. The party was an evolution of the Democratic-Republican Party founded by Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Its founding fathers were Jackson and Martin Van Buren, favoring a strong President and a weak Congress, unrestricted foreign trade, and, for a time, slavery. But in the 1850s, the issue of slavery fractured the Democrats just as it had the Whigs. In the run-up to the 1860 election, the party split into three parts: the Northern Democratic Party, the Southern Democratic Party and the Constitutional Union Party, a southernish/borderish compromise between the other two.

In the 1860 election, the three parts of the former Democratic Party won about 60% of the popular vote. But Abraham Lincoln’s new Republican Party, which got almost none of the popular vote in the slave states, won the most populous states and 180 electoral votes, almost 60% of the total. The old, “original” Democratic Party got just 12, dead last. Needless to say, the Western Sentinel went with the Southern Democrats.

Since almost all of the local information in this series is derived from these two publications, a closer, more personal look at the people behind them is in order.

The People’s Press, Salem, NC  1851-1892

Johann Christian Blum, a Salem Moravian, was an entrepreneur. In the 1820s, he arranged to establish a branch of one of North Carolina’s preeminent banks, the bank of Cape Fear, in Salem. There were problems which led to his being forced out, but the branch continued into the middle of the 19th century under other management until, like most southern banks, it folded near the end of the Civil War.

About the time that his association with the bank was ending, he decided to go into the printing business. In 1827 he  bought a 17 year old second hand Ramage printing press in Philadelphia and announced that he would begin publishing a newspaper to be known as the Weekly Gleaner. In those days, the Moravian Church was still the governing body in Salem. They were not comfortable with a newspaper published outside their control. Blum promised not to publish anything critical of the local government, but his newspaper lasted barely a year.





Blum’s Ramage press is still in working condition and is on display at the Blum House in Old Salem. A Ramage Press was used to print the first copies of the Declaration of Independence.





By then he had already begun publishing Blum’s Farmers and Planters Almanac. Since it did not contain any controversial material, it became an immediate success. It is still published today in Winston-Salem by the Goslen family.

Blum purchased the local paper mill and made his own ink. The almanac and a vigorous job printing business assured success. By the time of Blum’s death in 1854, his sons, Levi and Edward had taken over the business. In 1851, they founded the Salem People’s Press.

The People’s Press was published in the Blum house on Main Street in Salem. This photo was taken sometime before Main Street was paved in 1890.


The Western Sentinel, Winston, NC   1856-1912?

John Wesley Alspaugh was born on July 22, 1831 to John and Elizabeth Lashmit Alspaugh. His father was the minister for nearly 56 years of the Methodist Episcopal Church, since merged with Centenary Methodist Church, which was located at the corner of Liberty and Seventh Streets in the town of Winston.

Alspaugh graduated from the Union Institute (later Trinity College, now Duke University) in Trinity, NC in 1855 and studied law in Greensboro under the noted judge Robert Dick.  He then opened a law office in Winston. To supplement his income, he took a part time job with the weekly Western Sentinel. Within a year, he was co-editor of the paper, and in 1859 became the editor and proprietor. An avid southern patriot, he steered his newspaper into the mainstream of the secessionist movement.

Brown’s School was founded in Trinity, NC in the 1830s as a Methodist institution. It was renamed in 1839 as the Union Institute after local Quakers helped save it from bankruptcy. In 1859 it was again renamed as Trinity College. In 1890 the Duke family agreed to invest heavily in the school, which moved to Durham, NC in 1892 and became Duke University.

He was already involved in politics, serving from 1858 through the end of the Civil War as chief clerk of the North Carolina Senate. After his retirement as editor and publisher of the Western Sentinel in 1872, he continued to practice law and also became a founder, in 1876, of the First National Bank of Winston, serving as cashier until 1892, when he became president.

He was also deeply involved in the affairs of Trinity College, serving as a trustee from 1869 until his death and helping to rescue the chronically bankrupt school long before the Duke family got involved. He helped to finance many local Methodist churches, and is buried in the Mt. Tabor Methodist Church cemetery.

But irony is one of the chief features of human existence. And irony was certainly no stranger in John Alspaugh’s life, because the 1860 census tells us that he was living in what is now the Washington Park neighborhood. Other members of his household were listed as George W. Sites, his 27 year old copy editor, and Bedford Copeland, his 18 year old printer.

The original 1860 US Census form shows that John W. Alspaugh and Constantine Banner, avowed enemies regarding secession, were neighbors in what is now the Washington Park neighborhood.


The irony arrives as a neighbor. Alspaugh’s residence is listed as census number 1440. The next residence is 1441. That would be the home of one Constantine Banner. You may recall that earlier we published a speech, delivered by Mr. Banner at the mass meeting on December 29, 1860, in which he bitingly questions the sanity of South Carolina’s decision to secede from the union.

Just imagine the chat between those neighbors over the next few months.



John W. Alspaugh, lawyer, banker, politician and publisher of the Western Sentinel.

A series of technical problems have caused a long delay in this series. For that, I apologize. To get caught up, we will be going pretty fast in the next couple of updates. This one will cover from mid-January to the first week of March, 1861. The next one, sometime next week, will bring us up to the beginning of May, 1861. To read the series in order, go back to the first entry, dated  January 13, 2011.

Following the secession of South Carolina on December 20, 1860 there was a lot of talk, but little action, over the next three weeks. The unanimous Union vote at the Forsyth County courthouse on December 29, 1860, and many others across the state and in other southern states made it seem as if matters might be settled amicably after all. The Palmetto State stood alone.

But those who were determined to leave the Union were hard at work throughout the South, arguing, pleading, planting rumors, making promises. On January 9, the telegraph lines across the nation sprang to frantic life. Mississippi had seceded. The next day, Florida went out. And the next day, the 11th, Alabama.

The disunionists ratcheted up their pressure. On January 19, Georgia seceded. A week later, Louisiana followed suit. And on February 1, Texas, which had been a part of the United States of America for barely 15 years, voted to leave.

So seven were out. Those who had been planning and promoting secession for years had made certain calculations. They needed the seven already out and and a few more, specifically North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and Arkansas.

That was based on simple demographics, combined with current military theory. If the disunionists could get what they sought, the Union would have about a 2 ½ or 3 to one advantage populationwise. If war was on the horizon, the secessionists had no intention of doing anything other than defending. And current military thinking required a better than 3-1 advantage for the attacking side. So if all the “projected” states joined the disunionist cause, the unionists would have to think twice or more before attacking.

Following the huge meeting at the courthouse in December, with its unanimous unionist vote, the Winston based Western Sentinel, supporter of the local and national Democratic Party, had muted its disunion leanings. But this surge in secessionist momentum encouraged the Sentinel to speak out more strongly. Unfortunately, the Sentinels for this period are missing, but we know pretty much what they were writing, at least in tone, based on the response from the Whig oriented Salem People’s Press.

John W. Alspaugh, publisher, The Western Sentinel 

The two newspapers descended to petty sniping. The Sentinel published its first openly secessionist article, then crowed that the People’s Press had not even responded. The Press replied that the “gentleman’s exchange” had broken down and that they had had to make considerable effort just to get a copy of the Sentinel. The Sentinel said that they had delivered a copy to the Press. The Press said that they had not. Did! Did not! Did! Did not! Now boys, stop that!

But the focus of real attention was on the Peace Congress in Washington, which was struggling desperately to find a last minute compromise, and the state conventions, a prerequisite for secession. There was little hope that the Peace Congress would succeed, so the strategy of the Unionists was to forestall, or at least, delay, a statewide convention on secession.

Note that the Peace Congress was doomed from the start, because the seven states that had already seceded were not present. The best that the Peace Congress could come up with was to draw an east-west line at 36 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude that would preserve the current laws on each side of the line regarding slavery from coast to coast in perpetuity. So the focus on preventing a state convention was the only reasonable alternative.

For a moment, the Unionists thought that they had won, but that turned out not to be the case, because rumors and threats set in motion by the disunionists were beginning to have an effect.

In reality, the legislature had voted to hold a statewide referendum on whether or not to hold a convention to consider secession. And just in case the referendum called for a convention, the legislature had instructed each county to designate two representatives to such a convention by January 28, 1861.

At this point, local relationships began to become a bit strained. The local Unionists suspected that the disunionists…the “courthouse crowd”…were up to some hijinks.

The courthouse was, of course, in Winston, home of the secessionist Western Sentinel. And even though the Winston courthouse and the square in Salem were less than a mile apart, information did not flow as freely between those two points as one might imagine. Was someone in Winston giving out false information about the date of the meetings in hopes that the Unionists who read the People’s Press might not show up for the crucial meeting that would select Forsyth County’s delegates to a possible secession convention?

They need not have worried. At the second countywide mass meeting, two men were selected by an overwhelming majority to represent Forsyth County at any such convention that might occur. One was Rufus Patterson, who had so ably chaired the original mass meeting. The other was Thomas J. Wilson, the first non-Moravian to be allowed to live on Salem property. Both were strong Unionists.

T.J. Wilson, elected along with Rufus Patterson to represent Forsyth County in any future secession convention. A lawyer, he later served as mayor of Winston and in many other roles of civic responsibility.

In the end, all the angst was for nothing. Because on February 28 North Carolina held a referendum on whether or not to call a convention to consider secession. But the vote was not really about a convention. Everyone understood that approval of a convention would have been an automatic vote for secession. The result was a margin of 651 out of 96,000 cast against the convention. In New Hanover county, the vote was 4-1 in favor of a convention. In some other eastern counties , the margin was as high as eight to one. But moving west from Raleigh, the vote shifted to no convention. And the farther west you went, the stronger the no convention vote became. The Salem People’s Press jubilantly published the results, beginning with Forsyth County:

Even more important was the election of representatives who would have attended a convention had such an event been approved. There, the vote statewide showed 74 Unionist delegates and only 46 for disunion.

In his monumental TV series, Ken Burns used the song “The Battlecry of Freedom” throughout. That song was not written until 1862, but if it had been around in 1861, the anti-secessionists in North Carolina would have been singing its best line “The Union forever, hoorah boys, hoorah.”

150 years ago today, South Carolina troops opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Those present had little idea of what that meant. Click below to see the Charleston Post & Courier’s coverage of today’s events.

The Beginning

Our series has been delayed by a number of technical and other problems. It will resume in a few days.

For an explanation of this series, please see the first installment, posted January 13, 2011.

In the weeks following the secession of South Carolina, chaos reigned throughout the nation. Rumors ran rampant. At the People’s Press, the Blums did, as always,  what they could to check the accuracy of their reporting.

One early rumor had it that President Lincoln had dispatched federal troops to put down the rebellion in South Carolina, and that they would be occupying Fort Fisher in North Carolina.

But with only the busy telegraph lines linking them to the outside world, the Blums must have felt overwhelmed. So they resorted to grouping some of the most alarming rumors together in a column titled “Important, If True”.

The first of these was partly true, partly false. The Star of the West had indeed been dispatched to deliver supplies to the besieged federal troops at Fort Sumter. Not having had time to form an actual army, the citizens of Charleston summoned cadets from the Citadel. Apparently they had been well drilled in artillery practice, because they scored at least three hits on the Star of the West. But the ship was not sinking. It had, in fact turned back and was headed out to sea with minimal damage. Today, in each graduating class at the Citadel, the “best drilled” cadet receives the Star of the West award.

The Florida story was a bit premature. The others were a mishmash. The New York story was silly. The story from the Raleigh newspaper was simply bizarre. The Pennsylvania petition was mostly true, a move on the part of the citizens of Philadelphia to offer conciliation on one of the most burning issues of the day.

About two thirds of the “secession” stories reported locally mentioned the Fugitive Slave Acts, federal laws requiring non-slave states to cooperate with slave states in the recovery of runaway slaves. Abolitionists in the north had pushed through state laws guaranteeing the freedom of all residents of their states in an attempt to “nullify” the federal laws. These nullification attempts were a primary cause of the secession movement. Despite later attempts to cast secession as a states rights issue, the southern states actually opposed states rights in regard to the Fugitive Slave Acts. The Pennsylvanians were simply doing their part to try to fend off secession by urging repeal of their own nullification laws.

Ironically, the most important real story, that Mississippi had just become the second state to secede, did not appear anywhere in the People’s Press. Perhaps the Mississippians had been a bit slow in getting their message out.

In anticipation of South Carolina’s action, the local courts had already tightened restrictions on the movements of local slaves.

But most were hoping that the problems would simply go away, and that life could continue as usual. Long term ads for local businesses continued to run in the People’s Press.

The “32-tf” annotation at the end of Brother Hall’s ad was a code used by the Blums to help them keep track of the duration and terms of their advertisers.

The results of the Salem town elections were duly reported.

And the annual town treasurer’s report was published.

Cultural events went on as scheduled.

But the Blums wanted their readers to understand that the current events were of crucial importance, so they published in full a speech given in late December at the mass meeting at the Forsyth County Courthouse by Constantine Banner.

Banner was a prominent member of the Salem Moravian congregation, a wealthy farmer who lived with his wife and three of his adult children in what is now the Washington Park area. His circa 1855 house, although much modified in the 1920s, is still standing there.

According to the 1860 US Census, Banner owned over 900 acres of land, 260 acres of which were under cultivation, valued at $15,000 ($547,00 in current value). His net worth was $20,000 ($730,00 in current value).

He owned 3 horses, 2 mules, 12 cows, and 40 pigs, valued at $800. The previous year, he had produced 325 bushels of wheat, 800 of corn, 100 of oats, 75 of potatoes, 75 of sweet potatoes, 100 pounds of butter, 1,500 pounds of tobacco and a goodly amount of hay and orchard products.

But perhaps most importantly, he was a major slave owner, at least by local standards. He owned 25 slaves, ranging in age from 1 to 70 years old, and three slave houses. So one might think that he would be in favor of secession. Read this excerpt from his speech and see what you think.

One man’s opinion. But on the same page of the People’s Press, we have this story from New York.

Constantine Banner clearly believed that the citizens of South Carolina had made a big mistake. The above article might just confirm his opinion. Did the South Carolinians really believe that they could get a loan from a New York bank to finance an army that would oppose the interests of the Union, of which New York was very much a part?

Next: The plot thickens. Mississippi, Florida and others secede, leaving the citizens of Forsyth County in a state of disarray.

Constantine Banner’s house, built around 1855, as seen in an 1890s photograph.

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