February Meeting – Bernhard Thuersam on the Secession Crisis in Wilmington 1860

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, February 17 at 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

This month our speaker is Bernhard Thuersam, of Wilmington. His presentation topic will be “The Secession Crisis in Wilmington, 1860-1861,” which focuses on local people, viewpoints and events leading to North Carolina’s reluctant withdrawal from the political union of 1789. A fundamental point to be examined is prominent North Carolina Whig and Unionist Jonathan Worth’s assertion that his State was “forced out of the Union.”

Early news of the “Star of the West” relief expedition of early January 1861 sent to Fort Sumter by President James Buchanan startled Wilmingtonians who feared Forts Caswell and Johnston would be seized by federal forces. This would be a repeat of the British occupying Smithville some 80 years earlier and thus sealing off the Cape Fear River to commerce. Prominent citizens of Wilmington acted quickly.

In the postwar, the war-widowed wife of Col. William M. Parsley recalled, “In 1861, when, amid great popular excitement and enthusiasm, South Carolina seceded from the Union, the people of Wilmington were deeply stirred by conflicting emotions. Meetings were held and speakers for and against secession swayed the multitudes which attended them. A prominent secessionist was attorney Oliver P. Meares.”

Mr. Thuersam is a Wilmington historian specializing in nineteenth-century American history, especially the Civil War and Reconstruction, and often interviewed by local and international radio/television sources seeking analysis and historical perspective.

Since 2003, he has served as Director of the Cape Fear Historical Institute, an online resource of prominent people, events and history of the Cape Fear region (see: www.cfhi.net). He has served as historian for the North Carolina Azalea Festival, Chairman of the Cape Fear Museum Board of Trustees, and Chairman of North Carolina’s War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission (www.ncwbts150.org).  Mr. Thuersam regularly conducts walking tours of  “Civil War Wilmington,” “Historic Wilmington Architecture,” and “The Defense of Fort Fisher.”

A resident of Key West prior to relocating to Wilmington, Mr. Thuersam is currently researching “Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here”: Key West’s Civil War,” to be published this year.  The book follows Key West’s occupation by Northern forces in early January, 1861, subsequent martial law and loyalty oaths, and local men escaping to assist in Florida’s defense.