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North Carolina Union Soldiers - part one
It was awhile back when I was researching some ancestors that I came across an interesting character in my family.

Listed in some places as Wright Stephen Batchelor and others as Stephen Wright Batchelor, this old fellow joined the Confederate Army as a private in 1862 at age 33.

He was captured at Bristoe Station in Virginia in 1863 but managed to get released in 1864 when he took the Oath of Allegiance and joined the U.S. Army. He promptly deserted, in Wisconsin and managed to WALK back to his unit within a month. He was at Appomattox when Lee surrendered to Grant.

This prompted an interest in finding out just how many North Carolina citizens joined the Union Army and actually served. After all, despite the best efforts of revisionists, not all Southerners were secessionists, slave owners or incredibly evil people.

Few people realize that our state was a reluctant participant in the Civil War. As much as anything, it would seem prudent when the states on your southern, western and northern border secede, it might be in your best interest to do the same. That did not change the fact that many North Carolinians were loyal to the United States and had no intention of serving in the rebellion.

However, you rarely hear mention or read stories of these men. It is not hard to understand why when passions still can run hot about the war that ended 142 years ago. Some today would consider any Unionists traitors, so we can only consider that would have been the case even more so in years past.

It should be noted that 85 Union Army regiments were raised from Southern states (not counting Colored regiments). Tennessee alone provide 51 units, North Carolina, just four units. From Eastern North Carolina, about 1,300 men are documented as having served against their home state.

It is also worth noting that most North Carolinians desiring to serve the Union left the state prior to secession to join the U.S. Army or were on active duty in the Army and decided to remain in service. So, far more than eight regiments worth of men — white and black — served the Union cause.

[Note: The First, Second and Third North Carolina Colored Infantry Regiments, and the First North Carolina Colored Heavy Artillery — totaling over 5,000 men — also served during the war, but several units were sent out of state and either reformed and incorporated into other regiments.]

North Carolina's four regiments were the First and Second North Carolina Volunteer Infantry and the Second and Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry. The two mounted units were stationed in Knoxville, Tennessee and saw service mostly in the N.C. and Tennessee mountains. The other two regiments were raised and served in the eastern part of the state for the entire war.

The first questions to be answered when considering these men have to be: Who were they? Why did they fight? What were their beliefs?

Many of the men were small farmers who resented a war brought on by their richer planter-neighbors. Many were simply loyal to their country and considered the majority to be treasonous. Later on, still more joined for good old-fashioned reasons: money.

In 1862, bouties for joining in addition to pay were $100; by 1863 that figured had increased to $300. For many in our part of the country, that amounted to more than a year's pay.

Things were further complicated economically by the circumstances of the time. The Union occupied much of the coast of North Carolina by the end of 1861, essentially making it a "safe" area for Unionists. This would later turn out to not be so true.

Also, Northern men could avoid the draft by paying a substitute to serve in their place — this made occupied areas like Eastern North Carolina a fertile place for agents who were looking substitutes for the wealthy.

Active combat was generally avoided for these men, and they typically performed home guard duties such as garrison work, scouting, and reconaissance. They were usually attached to "regular" army units. This created an opportunity to "sit out" the war in relative safety, and many deserters later in the war — particulary after Gettysburg — took advantage of it.

Of course, all of this upside carried one huge risk — capture meant probably execution.

Next week: Service, vengeance and postscripts of the North Carolina Union soldiers.

(Sources: Eastern North Carolinians in the Union Army:The First and Second North Carolina Union Volunteer Regiments By Dr. Donald E. Collins; The Forgotten Sons: North Carolinians in the Union Army by Gloria Hicks; North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865, A Roster.)

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