Ambivalence: Attempts to Preserve the Union
While Durham’s Station had just emerged from its rural landscape, this part of North Carolina was emblematic of the dichotomies that shaped the state and the nation before and after the Civil War.
Residents of what is now the single-city county of Durham disagreed over states rights, slavery, tariffs, and agrarianism, but through leaders like U.S. Senate president pro tem, Willie P. Mangum, they shaped national compromises to preserve the Union.
When those compromises melted and southern states began to secede from the Union in 1860, no place more than Durham reflected North Carolina’s ambivalence. White subsistence farmers lived without geographic separation with skilled freed blacks next to one of the largest plantations in the South.
Durham reflected both the unionist, peace movement, anti-slavery attitudes prevalent to the west, combined with the plantation pro-slavery and secessionist tendencies to the east.
Secession: The War
6th North Carolina buckle
North Carolina was the last to secede but provided the most troops for the Confederacy and, in the end, suffered the most casualties. Durham residents served in companies of the 6th North Carolina and other units that saw the bloodiest battles of the war from Manassas (aka Bull Run) to Cemetery Hill (Gettysburg) to the battles leading to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
The last picket battles in North Carolina, and some of the last of the war, took place in Durham, leading to a truce between Generals Sherman and Johnston and the end of Sherman’s March through the Carolinas.
At what is now commemorated by Bennett Place Historic Site, the two Generals attempted to arrange the surrender of the entire Confederacy in the wake of President Lincoln’s assassination. Accepted by President Jefferson Davis, it was rejected by Union leaders bitter over the assassination and bent on revenge, but many experts believe the huge surrender of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida effectively ended the Civil War.
Durham’s future leaders came home from the war and rapidly launched North Carolina and the South into the industrial revolution and beyond, with tobacco factories including the largest trust in the World, textile factories, hydroelectric technology, universities, medical schools, and the bio-tech, hi-tech, pharma manufacturing and research, healthcare and nanotechnology of today.
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Tobacco Factory, 1910
|Durham Streets, 1950s||Durham Skyline Today|