150 Years Ago: Monday, May 20, 1861

While Virginia and Tennessee still need a vote by their citizens to approve of secession, the state of North Carolina now adds itself to the list of states that have left the Union. While initially the state remained pro-Union even after the election of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, the battle of Fort Sumter, Lincoln’s proclamation for volunteer troops and the blockade of the southern coastline was too much for the leadership of North Carolina to accept. A state convention had been authorized by the legislature to meet today in Raleigh to discuss the topic of secession. The delegates vote for the Ordinance of Secession; they will align themselves with the Confederate States of America.

U.S. as of May 20, 1861 (Source: TCWP)

Walker Brothers (Source: Library of Congress)

After the vote, many North Carolinian’s rushed to volunteer for the Confederate army. Two brothers (shown here, right), Henry J. (age 24, teacher) and Levi Jasper Walker (age 19) leave behind their parents and three younger siblings. They travel to Mecklenburg County to enlist in Company B, 13th North Carolina Infantry as Privates. 

The Union had lost another state to the Southern cause, but there was some good news today: Kentucky declares its neutrality. The state forbids any movement of troops by either side on their soil. Both sides, at least for now, will respect Kentucky in the hope that the citizens will eventually choose their side. While the state has not chosen a side, many citizens will choose to fight for the Union or Southern independence.

In Montgomery, Alabama, the Confederate Congress officially votes to move the Confederate capital to Richmond, Virginia. The citizens of Virginia must vote in three days to approve secession; the hope is that this move will make Virginians feel acknowledged in its history and significance to the country. Not all of the Confederate states were for the move: Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas were against it. 

Southern aristocrat Mary Chesnut eats lunch with Confederate First Lady Varina Davis. The food is up to her standards, unlike a meal she had yesterday at her hotel where she was “forced to dine on cold asparagus and blackberries, so repulsive in aspect was the other food they sent me.” During the lunch they discuss the move of the capital to Richmond, which Mary’s husband strongly opposes as Montgomery is a more central location within the Confederacy. Mary sees it differently; she feels that Richmond will provide more comfortable hotels and will be cooler in the summer.  

In Chicago, Illinois, former Senator Stephen Douglas has been battling typhoid fever for the last few weeks. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that while at one point his condition was considered “dangerous” he is now on the mend. Also in Illinois, Governor Yates receives notification from U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron to muster troops into service for three years based on the quota that was provided earlier in the month. 

U.S. Marshals raid telegraph offices throughout the northern states in an effort to obtain evidence of traitorous acts to assist the South. The government is able to obtain a large amount of important information; over 300,000 telegraph transmissions were seized.

The Quartermaster at Staunton, Virginia, Michael Harman, writes Virginia Governor Letcher suggesting an expedition to the northwest corner of the state. Harman has purchased uniforms for his men and suggests using the militia to reinforce troops in western Virginia where Union sentiment is very high.

About The Civil War Project

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. This site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or other individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.


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