Edgecombe/Guilford lawyers, citizens in Civil War, an anniversary today

henrywyattToday is the anniversary of the fatal wounding of Tarboro’s Henry L. Wyatt at the Battle of Bethel, the first battle of the Civil War (that’s Bethel, Virginia). Wyatt was the first Confederate soldier to die in that War. He was a member of the Edgecombe Guards, under the command of Tarboro lawyer, Col. John L. Bridgers, who later commanded Ft. Macon.

Wyatt was wounded on June 10th, 1861; he died the next morning. Turns out, there’s a debate about whether he actually was the Confederacy’s first Civil War casualty. (Funny, that’s not something you hear discussed a lot in Edgecombe County.)

There’s a nice contrast between Edgcombe County – which supported secession virtually unanimously (in a county-wide vote, only 17 voted against secession) – and Guilford County, which opposed it.

In North Carolina’s secession convention, Guilford lawyer John Gilmer, whom Lincoln had invited to join his cabinet (now famous as the Team of Rivals), was a leading advocate for the union. Edgecombe lawyer and judge, George Howard, chaired the convention and voted to secede. Then, following the firing on Ft. Sumter, President Lincoln called for troops, and Gilmer famously said to Howard, “We are all one now.”

Which led to calling out the Edgecombe Guards under Bridgers and Wyatt’s early death. Guilford on the other hand, became a haven for conscientious objectors and deserters from both armies. It supplied its full share of Confederate troops, and some union soldiers (white and black), as well.

I have gotten interested in the contrasts between the two counties and the roles played by lawyers from both places. A Distant Mirror: How 19th Century Lawyers from Guilford and Edgecombe Counties Are Models for the Next Generation of Lawyers and Firms Worldwide.

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