Unionist communities existed throughout the Confederate South during the Civil War. “The Free State of Jones” is an exciting story with its own unique characteristics, but it was only one of many inner civil wars between Unionists and Confederates across the South.
The following excerpt from “Occupied At Home: Women Confront Confederate Forces in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt,” chapter two of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, features the Hulin family of Montgomery County, NC. The Hulins were among the best known Wesleyan Methodist Unionists of the North Carolina Piedmont, which, significantly, was the birthplace of many ancestors of the Free State of Jones uprising.
Because Unionist women in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt abetted men’s avoidance of Confederate service, many Confederate supporters viewed torture and deprivation of deserters’ wives as the product of simple necessity. Torturing the wife of guerrilla leader Bill Owens, after all, had resulted in his capture and imprisonment. In some counties, pro-secessionist millers also denied deserters’ wives government grain even though there was no official Confederate policy to that effect.
Women who sheltered male kin in the nearby woods eagerly told their side of the story. In separate letters to Governor Vance, Phebe Crook and Clarinda Crook Hulin, daughters of a Montgomery County Methodist schoolteacher and kin to numerous deserters, blasted their Confederate occupiers. Clarinda, who had three “outlier” brothers-in-law (she did not mention this in her letter), implored Governor Vance to consider the plight of farm women. “I hav three little children to werk for and I have werk[ed] for ever thing that I have to eat and ware,” she wrote. But military men sent to the region to restore order were “destroying every thing they can lay hans up on.” Troops had taken her “last hog,” and poured her molasses all over her floor. “It ant only Me they air takeing from . . . ,” she added, “they take the women’[s] horses out of the plows,” she explained, for their own use.
Ten more months of armed warfare between militia and deserters brought a more detailed letter from Clarinda’s sister, Phebe. As a single woman, Phebe Crook could not anchor her protest in the time-honored trope of the soldier’s wife or mother. She seemed eager, however, to describe herself as “a young lady that has Neather Husband, son, father, no[r] Brother in the woods” (although she did have male kin hiding in the woods). Invoking the moral authority of republicanism rather than motherhood, Crook informed Governor Vance of the “true” conditions of her community. Calling on him to “protect the civil laws and writs of our country,” she denounced the militia and magistrates of her county for arresting “poore old grey-headed fathers who has fought in the old War and has done thir duty . . . .”
Enraged by home guard who, Crook insisted, had no intention themselves of fighting in the war, she condemned their physical abuse of women and children and their burning of barns, houses, and crops, all done in the name of fulfilling the governor’s directive to force deserters in from the woods. Following such orders was merely an excuse, she wrote, for pro-Confederate men to “take their guns and go out in the woods and shoot them down Without Halting them as if they war Bruts or Murder[er]s.” Once again, Crook emphasized rights of citizenship rather than victimhood by assuring the governor that her motive for writing was that “I always like to [see] people hav jestis.”
Despite the sisters’ separate appeals to Governor Vance, they could not prevent the killing of their three brothers-in-law on January 28, 1865. Jesse, John, and William Hulin were executed along with James Atkins, who had been identified as a draft evader by Sheriff Aaron Sanders during the previous fall court term. Both the Crooks and Hulin families belonged to the county’s network of Wesleyan Methodist families who opposed slavery and refused to fight for the Confederacy.
NOTE: In addition to Long Shadow of the Civil War, this essay will appear in the anthology, Occupied Women, edited by LeeAnn Whites and Alecia Long, forthcoming from LSU Press. Readers who would like to know more about the Unionist Hulin family of Montgomery County, NC, should consult my 1992 book Unruly Women.