The 2nd North Carolina Affair

     As the Federal Government began pioneering the idea of placing the black man in uniform, the Confederate States had denounced any recognition of these men as legitimate military forces and if captured should be returned to slavery or summarily shot. War Department General Order No. 352 dated July 30th 1863, had prohibited such activity calling these acts a "relapse into barbarism and a crime against the civilization of the age."

     Major General John J. Peck had read an article in the Petersburg Register about the advance on New Berne, North Carolina. It was reported that a black U.S. Soldier had shot and killed a Confederate Colonel from across the river. This along with a copy of the War Department's order was forwarded to the headquarters of Major General George E. Pickett. It having been believed that the Confederate Commander had no knowledge of an act such as this, Peck was going to hold off execution on a rebel soldier until he learned of his counterpart's corrective action.

     Two days later the major general commanding U.S. Forces in the New Berne area had provided General Pickett with a list of fifty three soldiers of the U.S. Government who were believed to be in his hands. All members of the 2nd North Carolina Infantry, asking that like treatment be provided for these soldiers as any other prisoners of the army.
     The response to these messages was terse. The Rebel Officer had found the newspaper article so ridiculous he almost supposed it unworthy of consideration, however the general informed him, had he found any negro who had killed an officer of his, he would have immediately executed him. Pickett continued to inform his federal counterpart that in the recent operations before New Berne he had captured roughly 450 officers and men of the U.S. Army, and proposed that if General Peck hang one of his soldiers, he would return the favor by hanging ten of his.

     The list of fifty three soldiers of the 2nd North Carolina Infantry provided to General Pickett was returned back to Peck informing him that the men were convicted by court martial for desertion, and have already been executed. These having been loyal to the United States, and brought into the Confederate Army by a merciless conscription, they deserted at the first opportunity, and took the oath of allegiance joining the Federal Service.
     Major General Peck had forwarded these communications up through channels and informing General Pickett the blood of those soldiers was on his hands. The acts were an outrage and reckless. He promised Pickett now that the disposition of these soldiers was known, he would under order of the President of the United States go forth and execute the rebel soldiers in his possession.

     The act was most heinous and totally contrary to civilized warfare. Major General Benjamin Butler, commanding 18th Army Corps could not see a right where a forcible conscription subjected a soldier to execution when deserting the rebel rank and file to take up oath with the United States. He was right. By the rules of war their oaths to the United States government should have been recognized, instead, their fate would only be recognized by a hanging standoff of brutality.

Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2001

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a new feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar2.com