Place of Execution
During the Civil War, neither the North nor the South was totally united over the key issues. Just as some Northerners supported slavery and secession, some Southerners were abolitionist and Unionists. These issues could split families, divide communities, and generate violence. As the "official" war progressed, quasi-military organization were formed to wage another war against soldiers and civilians alike. Ambushes and retaliation comprised the "war within the war" between 1861 and 1865.
The guerilla war in and around Elizabeth City reached a new level in February 1863. On February 9, Lt. Thaddeus Cox, Co. D, 1st North Carolina Volunteers (U.S.), rode sixteen miles into the country to bring his family to town. According to his company commander, Capt. Enos C. Sanders, "On his return he was attacked by a gang of guerillas, who came upon him from a thicket and tired a volley, killing him and a girl of four years old instantly and wounding the [nine-months-pregnant] wife so that she died on the 13th instant. Three other men of my company were wounded, 1 mortally, 1 badly, 1 slightly."
Sanders's own brother had been killed by guerillas the month before. When the bodies of Cox and his child were recovered, emotions among the Unionists here ran high. They asked Sanders to shoot all the jailed prisoners captured after the January attack, in retaliation and as an example. Sanders reported to Gen. John G. Foster, his superior, "I was not myself in favor of doing so; but when I thought the matter over deliberately I ordered one prisoner, by the name of A[ddison] White, to be brought out and shot, which was done by a brother of Lieutenant Cox, for which I hold myself personally responsible."
White was executed on the waterfront near here, and reportedly his body lay where it fell until his sister was allowed to claim it on February 17. Angry secessionists appealed to the Federal army for the arrest of Sanders. Ten months later, he was detained but never brought to trial.
"One night about sundown without trial or orders of any kind, a squad of them took [White] to the wharf & putting him up as a target, one by one they shot at him until they killed him and refusing to let his body be moved, would let no one come near it."
- Catherine Ann Devereux Edmondston, diary, Nov. 30, 1863
Major funding for this project was provided by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, through the Transportation Enhancement Program of the Federal Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century