On November 12, 1903, the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association appointed a committee to investigate and report on the various claims made about North Carolina’s involvement in the Civil War.
The following spring the group received the committee’s report, boasting that North Carolinians indeed had been “First at Bethel, Farthest at Gettysburg, Farthest at Chickamauga, and Last at Appomattox,” as a popular saying coined by editor and state Supreme Court Justice Walter Clark suggested.
Specifically, the saying refers to claims that:
- The First North Carolina Volunteers were instrumental at the Battle of Bethel in Virginia, and that Henry Lawson Wyatt from Edgecombe County was the first solider to die in a major Civil War conflict,
- North Carolina soldiers advanced the greatest distance during Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg,
- The 58th North Carolina Troops advanced far behind enemy lines at the Battle of Chickamauga and
- Company D of the 30th North Carolina Troops fired the last shots at Appomattox before Lee’s April 1865 surrender
Just as Gov. Charles B. Aycock sought to redeem the state from a legacy of ignorance, the members of the association sought to raise the cultural awareness of citizens. Early leaders made it their task to “correct printed misrepresentations about the state.” J. Bryan Grimes, who took office as Secretary of State when Aycock was governor, persuaded the Literary and Historical Association to answer perceived slights.
The specific claims the report sought to prove were intended to counter competing claims made by Virginians. A substantial publication on the topic, with documentation and first-hand accounts, appeared in 1904 under the auspices of the North Carolina Historical Commission.
Though the group endorsed all four claims, we know now that they aren’t easily provable.
The full report is available online through the State Library’s State Publications Digital Collection.