Onset of Civil War

1860 - 1862

Forsyth Rifles for web

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The changes that took place in 19th Century Salem transformed the Moravian community into a town rooted in the culture of North Carolina and the American South. The creation of a militia company in 1831, the construction of textile mills in the 1830s and 1840s, the discontinuance of slave regulations in 1847, and the end of the lease system in 1856 broke down the power of the Moravian theocracy and allowed the outside world to influence the thoughts and activities of the former congregation town. It was these changes that allowed a formerly pacifist, theocratic society to devote itself to participation in the Civil War. The story of Salem becomes the story of Forsyth County in the war.

During the election of 1860 Forsyth County abandoned its democratic leanings of earlier years and supported John Bell, a third party candidate for President. Bell favored preservation of the Union, but was sympathetic to the concerns of Southerners. Upon Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 the people of Salem became anxious for news of what would happen next.

Once North Carolina seceded from the Union on May 20, 1861, Salem immediately began preparing the first volunteer companies for action. The Forsyth Rifles under Captain Alfred Belo, and the Forsyth Grays under Captain Rufus Wharton were the first two companies to enlist in late May. On June 17 the companies marched into town and met in front of the Main Hall where they heard an address and received prayers from the Moravian Bishop, George F. Bahnson, and a Methodist minister, Mr. Doub, as a send-off to war. These men would soon participate in the battle of First Manassas and go on to fight in major battles throughout the war.

Several others quickly followed the first two companies. Three additional companies enlisted in 1861, followed by four in 1862, and following Conscription Acts by the Confederate Government, a company of Senior Reserves and a company of Junior Reserves enlisted in 1864, making a total of eleven companies fighting for the Confederacy from Forsyth County. The regimental bands of the 21st, 26th, and 33rd North Carolina Troops also consisted of men from Forsyth County. The 71st Regiment of Home Guards operated in the Salem area.