Monday, February 18, 2013

February 19, 1863 (Thursday): Trouble In N.C

Stereo Imagine, Judge R. F. Armfield (

YADKINVILLE, N. C., February 19, 1863.
   DEAR SIR: We have had a startling occurrence in this county, of which you have doubtless heard before this time, which has greatly exasperated every intelligent and good citizen of the county. I mean the murder of two of our best citizens, magistrates of the county, by a land of deserters and fugitive conscripts. The circumstances are these: There has been a strong feeling against the conscript law among the uninformed part of the citizens here ever since its passage. Many of that class swore that they would die at home before they would be forced off, and when the time came for them to go perhaps nearly 100 in this county took to the woods, lying out day and night to avoid arrest; and although the militia officers exerted themselves with great zeal, yet these skulkers have always had many more active friends than they had and could always get timely information of every movement to arrest them and so avoid it. The militia officers have been able to arrest very few of them. This state of affairs has encouraged the dissatisfied in the army from this county to desert and come home, until, emboldened by their numbers and the bad success of the militia officers in arresting them, they have armed themselves, procured ammunition, and openly defied the law. They have even sent menacing messengers to the militia officers, threatening death to the most obnoxious of them and all who assist them. Last Thursday 12 of the militia officers came on 16 of these desperadoes in a school-house about 4 miles from this town, armed, fortified, and ready for the fight. The firing immediately commenced; which side first fired is not positively certain, but from the best information I can get I believe it was those in the school-house. They finally fled, leaving 2 of their number dead and carrying off 2 wounded, after killing 2 of the officers. In the school-house were found cartridges of the most deadly and murderous quality, made of home-made powder (one of the men known to have been among them has been engaged in making powder). Four of the conscripts who were in the fight have since come in and surrendered and are now in jail here, but the leaders and the most guilty of them are still at large; and the section of the country in which they lurk is so disloyal (I grieve to say it), and the people so readily conceal the murderers and convey intelligence to them, that it will be exceedingly difficult to find them, even if they do not draw together a large force than they have yet had and again give battle to the sheriff and his posse. But my principal object in writing this letter is to ask you what we shall do with those four murderers we have and the other if we get them? Suppose we try them for murder, do you not believe that our supreme court will decide the conscription act unconstitutional and thus leave these men justified in resisting it execution? I believe they will, and tremble to think of the consequences of such a blow upon the cause of our independence. It would demoralize our army in the field and bring first the horror of civil war to our own doors and then perhaps subjugation to the enemy, which no honorable man ought to want to survive. I think I know Judge Pearson's opinion on the conscription act, and I believe that he is just itching to pronounce it unconstitutional. Suppose these men get out a writ of habeas corpus and have it returned before him and he releases them (which he would be bound to do if he holds that they were only resisting the execution of an unconstitutional law with such force as was necessary to repel force from their persons), do you not believe it would produce a mutiny in the army of the Rappahannock; and if it did not, how would you get another conscript to the field or keep those there who have already gone, or who could keep the loyal and indignant citizens at home from executing vengeance on these infamous murderers and traitors to the country? These are considerations which alarm me, and I would like to know what you think of them. Please write to me, and I will receive your opinion as confidentially as you may desire and ask. could these men, and ought they if they could, be turned over to the Confederate courts to be tried for treason? Could the military authorities, and ought they to, deal with them? I hope you known I am conservative and for the rights of the citizens and the States, but for my country always, and for independence at all hazards.
     Your obedient servant,

     R. F. ARMFIELD.

Series I., Vol. 18, Part 1, Pages 886-887.

Armfield, a judge, was concerned that in the process of bringing in deserters in Western North Carolina that other judges in the state would rule the draft unconstitutional.  In fact Judge Pearson, referenced here, did intervene on behalf of deserters throughout the war.  He would be rewarded with a prominent role in the post war government in North Carolina. This document highlights how little support the Confederacy enjoyed in western N.C. and eastern Tennessee.

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