General Matt W. Ransom, North Carolina Unionist

General Matt W. Ransom, North Carolina Unionist

 
General Matt W. Ransom of North Carolina was among the prewar unionists in the South abandoned by Lincoln and his purely sectional party.  They counseled Lincoln to let Fort Sumter go and allow a cooling-off period to restore harmony to the country, rather than precipitate an unnecessary crisis and war.  This former Unionist bravely led his men at Seven Pines, Malvern Hill [wounded], Sharpsburg, Boone’s Hill, Suffolk, Plymouth, Drewry’s Bluff [desperately wounded], Fort Steadman, Five Forks, and many other Petersburg-area battles.  
 
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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General Matt W. Ransom, North Carolina Unionist
 
“Union men in the South have ever been of the opinion that [Lincoln’s call for troops after Sumter] was a great blunder, and that it solidified the entire South, driving Virginia and North Carolina into the new Confederacy . . . the fall of Fort Sumter and the call for North Carolina to furnish her quota of troops to invade South Carolina totally changed the aspect of affairs. 
 
All over the State courageous and patriotic men had been loudly pleading the cause of the Union.  At that very time a union and peace assemblage had gathered in Wilkesboro and earnest men were making stirring appeals for the old flag. 
 
[Zebulon] Vance, now fast growing into a popular idol, was in the very act of imploring the God of Nations to avert the awful catastrophe of civil war, and had both hands uplifted to High Heaven, when suddenly someone in the crowd read the telegram announcing the capture of Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops. In describing the scene thereafter, Governor Vance said, “When these hands of mine were lowered, they fell by the side of a secessionist.”
 
In his heart he despised the extremists of both sides.  The appeal to a higher law than the Constitution to abolish slavery smote on his ear like a fire bell in the night. The assertion that the Constitution of our country was a league with the devil and a covenant with hell he resented with all the bitterness of his nature . . . [though] above all Ransom and other old line Whigs, and some Democrats as well, knew that sooner or later slavery had to go.  The civilized world was against it.
 
One of the finest spectacles this world has seen, or will see, is the conduct of Robert E. Lee, Matt W. Ransom, and other men who loved the union with all the intensity of their nature, when the time for fighting was at hand. It was not their war. They were against it. 
 
But when war actually came, Ransom and the other peace men went to the front, fought bravely and made no complaints. “If we must fight,” they said, “we will fight strangers. We will not fight our brothers and neighbors.”
 
Such conduct is an attribute of very high virtue, and it is the foundation stone upon which the men of the South are this day laying broad and deep a civilization most attractive and enduring. 
 
Ransom was opposed to slavery and favored its gradual abolition.  Our Constitution might have guaranteed slavery in its every line, but this would not have prevented its downfall.  He thought that the war was useless and a crime.  Vainly he hoped to avert civil war and its horrors . . . as member of the Legislature from Northampton County in 1861 he was most active in securing the passage of a bill creating a [Montgomery] Peace Commission, with instructions to repair to the capital of the new Confederacy and to restore the relations of the seceding States to the Union . . . but their task was a vain one.
 
[Ransom] resigned his seat [and] volunteered as a private soldier in the ranks, bade farewell to these historic halls [of the Legislature] and went forth to defend his native State. On the 8th of May, 1861, he was commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel of the First Regiment of Infantry, and from this date until April 9, 1865, when Appomattox put an end to Southern hopes, whenever duty called, or danger was the thickest, this brave man could always be found.”
 
(Unveiling of the Bust of Matt Whitaker Ransom, Address of Robert W. Winston, January 21, 1911; North Carolina Historical Commission, 1911, pp. 10; 16-19)
 
 
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