Wineka column on Secession Day: Rowan focal point in Civil War history

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 23, 2011

SALISBURY — One day this week, Swiss citizens Heinrich L. Wirz and Florian A. Strahm walked the streets of Salisbury delving into the history behind the Salisbury Confederate Prison.
That doesn’t surprise me. This kind of thing happens quite often. The prison story itself is incredible, stuff worthy of novels and movies. But Salisbury’s connection to the Civil War in general goes deep, starting with this date 150 years ago.
On May 20, 1861, Salisbury’s Burton Craige introduced the ordinance of secession, which meant a reluctant North Carolina was joining her sister states of the South in the Confederacy and diving headlong into the war.
With that convention vote, Gov. John W. Ellis immediately became North Carolina’s “secession governor.” He also was from Salisbury, by the way.
With every Civil War anniversary, I’m reminded how much the Civil War affected Salisbury and its residents. But it goes way beyond that.
Because of the Confederate prison and terrible conditions that would lead to the deaths of thousands of Union (and Confederate) soldiers here, Salisbury also became a permanent focal point for family histories across the United States.
Over the past week or so, I have twisted the arms of many good-hearted souls to tell the Post some of Salisbury’s Civil War history.
But we took a different approach this time, asking our friends to visit various places of interest and allow us to video their discussions. Those online videos — 10 in all — will be available on our website ( starting Sunday.
Also in Sunday’s print edition, the Post will offer a map of Salisbury with 20 points of Civil War interest and capsule descriptions of each. It’s the kind of thing you can pull out of your paper and save for a self-conducted walking tour later — or the next Civil War anniversary.
Sunday’s Insight section will have a Civil War quiz.
So by providing these things, the Post is making sure there won’t be one of my long, boring stories to muddle through. Instead, by video, folks such as Susan Waller will speak about the prison and the Salisbury National Cemetery built near the prison site.
Lib Taylor of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church describes the communion set with connections to Mrs. Jefferson Davis. Terry Holt discusses Ellis and the Salisbury Arsenal. Kaye Brown Hirst dishes on Stoneman’s Raid. Fred Evans walks through the Freedman’s Cemetery, Doug Black takes us on a tour of the Hall House, and Sue Curtis tells us about the Old Lutheran Cemetery and the Confederate Monument.
We even persuaded Post editor Elizabeth Cook to do an introduction for the other videos.
Jeremy Judd served as videographer and editor for the online project, while Jon Lakey provided all the photographs — online and in print. Post designer Andy Mooney created the two-page graphic you’ll see on Sunday, while Editorial Page Editor Chris Verner put together the Civil War quiz for Insight.
Be warned, it’s a little tough.
I just sort of tagged along, grateful to hear all stories. Think of it: Confederate President Jefferson Davis slept here one night on his flight from Union forces. When Stoneman set fire to various buildings and Confederate military supplies, piled along Main Street, the fire could be seen from Statesville.
Picture thousands of Union troops occupying Salisbury, rounding up prisoners and invading people’s homes. Imagine the frustration of not being able to feed starving Union prisoners and the piles of bodies being taken away daily on a death wagon toward the end of the war.
Sunday’s look back at the Civil War only scratches the surface, hitting the usual highlights. The real history lies in books, diaries, family letters and newspapers from the past. I recommend any of them for your summer reading list.
Rowan Museum (202 N. Main St.) also has a captivating Civil War exhibit you need to see.
History always has had a hold on Salisbury.
That’s a good thing, even if sometimes the history isn’t pretty.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@