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.

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