Sunday, January 25, 2015
Rebels without a Cause
At the start of 1917, the war had been over for months. It appeared to the people of the North Carolina back country that some Confederate soldiers simply had not received the memo. Chief among these rebels was on Major Tom McPherson of the 102nd North Carolina, who took control of a regiment of the division and led it into the wilderness. From the Appalachians, his regiment raided towns and ambushed Union patrols. He caused so much trouble in 1917, that White Water ordered the entire XIII Corps to the region to deal with the problem.
The story of hunting down McPherson was retold time and again, its most famous incarnation being the 1956 movie Rebel without a Cause, staring actor and future President James Dean. If one believed the movie, the violence in North Carolina ended with the death of McPherson and the surrendering of his regiment on October 14, 1917–or rather most of the regiment. Not all surrendered. Squad and platoon sized elements escaped to continue the fighting.
Instead of attacking directly, they struck from the shadow, ambushing small patrols, robbing banks and trains and murdering off-duty soldiers. The problem grew so intense in the city of Winston, North Carolina that the commander of XIII Corps asked permission to take hostages in the city. White Water rejected the request, saying it had no worked for the Germans and it would not work here. Executing civilians at random would only drive civilians into the resistance. That was part of the holdout’s plans, one that never came to fruition. Southern civilians might not like the Yankee but they remained war weary after years of a losing war.
In Charlotte, renegades preyed on the occupation force, murderer soldiers off duty throughout the city, as well as killing any civilians viewed as ‘too close’ to the Yankees. By June 1917, it was unadvised for any soldiers to be out on the street in less than squadron strength, with platoon-sized patrols a regular feature in the city. Again, the random murders sparked a request for taking of hostages and again the request was denied. However, to allow the soldiers freer reign, Charolette was declared a city under siege. While under siege, the defenders of a city can take any actions they deem necessary, though hostage taking was explicitly forbidden.
Nonviolent, or rather no casualties attacks were also launched against facilities that aided the occupiers. In October 1917, renegades sabotaged one of US Steel’s newly acquired steel mills in Asheville. Attempts to organize the steel workers failed, at least attempts by the rebels. The Labor Party and its supporters would prove more successful in the following decades. Many Southerners, especially veterans, were so pleased to have any source of income that they dared not risk it. Without a paycheck, they could not care for their families, a consideration that does not apply to the largely single men of the resistance.
The organized military resistance in North Carolina ended in February 1919, when the last of the renegades were declared killed by XIII Corps. In truth, they killed only the last fighting soldier. Many other soldiers in the renegade regiment deserted, returning to their families after years from home. Others cast off their uniforms and continued the struggle in a different guise.