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From Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, series 1, volume 51, part 2, p. 712-713

Hanover Junction

May 22, 1863


To His Excellency Z.B. Vance:


          Dear Sir: Inclosed you will find a couple of letters sent by people at home to induce soldiers to desert [letters not included]. Colonel Singeltary[1] tells me he has forwarded others to you. General Lee telegraphs me that men from our State are deserting every day, carrying off guns and ammunition. I fear the thing has gone to such an extent that requires the axe to be laid to the root of the tree. It might easily have been prevented in the beginning had Generals Johnston[2] and Beauregard[3] been disciplinarians. Unfortunately they were not. I can attribute these desertions to but one cause, the unfortunate state of public opinion at home, produced, I am convinced, by a small but very active portion of the community. We have watched closely for some months the course of certain newspapers, and of a majority of the Legislature I regret to say that I have not seen from either a single word calculated to aid us in our efforts to save the community from subjection to the worst of all tyrannies. They utter nothing but declamations calculated and intended to make us dissatisfied, not only with the Confederate Government, but the Confederate cause; to impress us with the hopelessness of the struggle, and thus to unnerve us preparatory to submission. That the majority of the people have no sympathy with these papers I am convinced since my campaigns in the enemy’s lines near Washington and New Berne. Those people, with a few vile exceptions, are true and did everything to encourage us to bear with the privations entailed upon us by the hard necessity of the times since my arrival among the troops of this army. I am equally convinced that when the war is over, and our true soldiers return to their homes, there will be a bitter day of reckoning with the enemies behind us. But that is not sufficient for the present. A certain class of soldiers is influenced by this condition of public opinion. They are told, as you see by the letters, that they can desert with impunity; that the militia officers will not do their duty; that they can band together and defy the officers of [page 713] the law, while their comrades are fighting the enemy. If the rascals went to work at home, one could understand the sympathy they meet with, but it is a notorious fact that they give themselves up to idleness and thieving, thus inflicting double injury upon their country.

          The result of all this upon our regiments is demoralizing to an extent you can scarcely conceive. The torrent of North Carolina blood shed in the battles of last summer washed out the stain left upon the State by the defeats of Roanoke[4] and New Berne[5], and I found her on my return highest among the high. I regret to say that the suspicion cast upon her by the misconduct of a few unworthy sons has undone everything. I sympathize with every party in its efforts to arrest the first step of our Government toward despotic power, and even abuse of the Confederate Government I consider a matter of comparative indifference, though it had as well be left out, but I have no manner of sympathy with those who overlook their country in their opposition to a government or a party. I would rather see the whole State desolated as Virginia is than dishonored by a feeble effort to look back on its escape from the Yankee Sodom. I write this to you because you are the only person in the State having sufficient influence, as I think, to reform matters. It is absolutely necessary to bring the public opinion again to the condition of patiently and manfully meeting those trials which every people struggling for independence must meet; and so far as the army is to convince them that a man who meanly deserts them in the face of the enemy will be met at home with scorn and speedily returned to deserved punishment. I found in Duplin a company organized for this express purpose, and there was consequently only one straggler in the county, and he hid in Holly Shelter Swamp. Cannot similar organizations be made in the rest of the States? The great majority of my brigade would shoot a deserter as quick as they would a snake, but our place is here and not in the rear. Unless something of the sort is done I fear the conscript call will be extended to forty-five, which is unnecessary as well as unadvisable. I sent fifty men into Randolph to bring back all deserters, dead or alive, but I fear they will meet with poor success until the citizens can be induced to take an active part in the matter. Nor can I spare men for such a purpose. If a strong arm is required I doubt not that General Hill will furnish the men, as we have nearly as many troops in North Carolina as the Yankees have, since the discharge of their two-years’ men. I assure you we need every man with his colors, if a peace is to be conquered this summer.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, 

J. Johnston Pettigrew[6]

Brigadier General.


[1] Thomas Chappeau Singletary (1840-1873) was colonel of the 44th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. Jordan, comp., North Carolina Troops, 10:396.

[2] Joseph E. Johnston, co-leader of the victorious battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, and the first commander of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1861.

[3] Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, the first commander of Confederate forces in northern Virginia, and co-leader of the victorious battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

[4] Union forces captured Roanoke Island on February 8, 1862.

[5] Union forces captured New Bern, North Carolina, on March 14, 1862.

[6] James Johnston Pettigrew (1828-1863), native of Tyrrell County, North Carolina, and renowned scholar, became a brigadier general in May 1862. He was badly wounded and captured at the Battle of Seven Pines on May 31, 1862, but recovered and rejoined the Confederate army in August 1862. He would die from wounds received on July 14, 1863, during the retreat from Gettysburg.

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