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The Civil War Month by Month: May 1861

CW - 150

Civil War 150th anniversary

The Civil War 150th Anniversary

Interesting facts, links, and suggested books for each month of the Civil War.

May 1861

This Month's Events

  • 1 May. Some sixty volunteers assemble at Brevard's Station [Stanley] or in Dallas in Gaston County and organize a military company. B. F. Briggs is voted captain, Leroy W. Stowe, first lieutenant, and Isaac D. Holland, second lieutenant. This company will become Co. M, 6th North Carolina Volunteer Regiment. Eventually they become part of the 16th North Carolina.

  • 6 May. Arkansas secedes.

  • 8 May. The North Carolina legislature passes "An Act to raise 10,000 troops."

  • 11 May. Private James Hudson, a farmhand from Charlotte and a member of the Hornet's Nest Rifles (Company B, 1st NC Volunteers), dies of pneumonia -- the first of some 40,000 North Carolinians to die in the war. Disease will kill many more than combat.

  • 13 May. The 1st North Carolina Regiment is formally created with companies from 10 counties. Led by Daniel Harvey Hill, they leave for Virginia where they will become known as the "Bethel Regiment".

  • 13 May. Union General George B. McClellan becomes commander of the Department of the Ohio.

  • 14 May. With a war between the North and the South in the offing, everyone has to make decisions. The Moravian Provincial Conference at Salem, North Carolina discusses whether they should bring local children who are attending school in Pennsylvania back home. "We resolved first to talk again with their parents, to learn their wishes definitely."

  • 20 May. The Secession Convention meets in Raleigh. (On this date in 1775 the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence had been signed.) Sidney X. Johnston is the delegate from Gaston County. William Lander, representative from Lincoln County, will serve only until June 28th when he resigns. North Carolina votes to secede.

    The convention also adopts a flag: "Be it ordained by this Convention, and it is hereby ordained by the authority of the same, That the Flag of North Carolina shall consist of a red field with a white star in the center, and with the inscription, above the star, in a semi-circular form, of "May 20th, 1775," and below the star, in a semi-circular form, of "May 20th, 1861." That there shall be two bars of equal width, and the length of the field shall be equal to the bar, the width of the field being equal to both bars: the first bar shall be blue, and second shall be white: and the length of the flag shall be one-third more than its width."

    At Raleigh state militia major Stephen Dodson Ramseur of Lincolnton gives the order to fire first a 100-gun salute in honor of the state's secession and then another to mark its becoming a member of the Confederacy.

  • 20 May. Kentucky tries to stay neutral, issuing a proclamation on this day asking both sides to leave the state alone. Eventually there will be 2 governments as a Confederate group forms a "rump" government.

  • 21 May. Richmond, Virginia becomes the capital of the Confederate States.

  • 22 May. Bailey Thornsberry Brown, of the 2nd West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, is shot by Confederate pickets while recruiting. He is the first Union soldier to die in the war. (Most historians do not count Union privates Daniel Hough and Edward Galloway who were killed accidentally during the 100 gun salute at the surrender of Fort Sumter.)

  • 23 May. A company forms in Lincoln County and christens itself the "Hog Hill Guards". More prosaically they will become Company B, 23rd North Carolina.

  • 24 May. Union forces move into the Confederate States. New York Zouaves led by Elmer Ellsworth go by steamboat to Alexandria. The landing is peaceful until Ellsworth spies a large Confederate flag flying from a hotel. Ellsworth himself cuts down the flag from the roof, but as he returns downstairs, the hotel's owner fires a shotgun straight into his chest. He is the first Union officer killed in the war. A private immediately kills the landlord.

  • 30 May. At Norfolk, Virginia Confederates raise the USS Merrimac which had been scuttled and burned when the Federal forces left. She will be rebuilt as the CSS Virginia.

This Month's Fiction

Adult Fiction

Freedom, by William Safire, pub. 1987, 1125 p., call #: FIC SAF. The 20 months between Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation were perhaps the most crucial period in American history, a time when a lasting definition of American democracy was being forged by civil war. This enormous book is both an outstanding history of that critical time and a model historical novel. Over a hundred pages of notes testify to Safire's thorough research and present the carefully reasoned speculation justifying his imagining certain scenes. As a Civil War historian he is worthy of mention beside Bruce Catton or Shelby Foote. As a Civil War novelist, as the creator of a vividly compelling book, Safire is easily the equal of MacKinley Kantor, John Jakes, or Gore Vidal, and perhaps their superior. An impressive achievement, one of the very few truly significant Civil War novels.

Children's Fiction

Eben Tyne, Powdermonkey, by Patricia Beatty and Phillip Robbins, 1990, 227 p., call #: J BEA. A thirteen-year-old powdermonkey in the Confederate navy joins the crew of the ironclad Merrimack in a mission to break the Union blockade of Norfolk harbor.

This Month's Non-Fiction

Adult Nonfiction

Children's Nonfiction

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