Last Signal Station
— Carolinas Campaign —
( Preface : )
The Carolinas Campaign began on February 1, 1865, when Union Gen. William T. Sherman led his army north from Savannah, Georgia, after the March to the Sea. Sherman's objective was to join Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia to crush Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Scattered Confederate forces consolidated in North Carolina, the Confederacy's logistical lifeline, where Sherman defeated Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's last-ditch attack at Bentonville. After Sherman was reinforced at Goldsboro late in March, Johnston saw the futility of further resistance and surrendered on April 26, essentially ending the Civil War.
North Carolina's official Civil War experience began and ended here. In April 1861, Governor John W. Ellis rejected President Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers to suppress the "rebellion" with the words, "You can get no troops from North Carolina." A special convention met in the capitol's Commons Hall and on May 20 adopted a secession ordinance that was celebrated with a 100-round artillery salute.
After Ellis's untimely death on July 7, Zebulon B. Vance was elected governor and led the state from his office here until April 12, 1865. For a time, the capitol also served as a supply depot - the only Southern capitol to serve that purpose. Captured U.S. regimental flags hung from the legislature's balconies.
On April 12, 1865, Vance's emissaries, former governors David L. Swain and William A. Graham, surrendered the capitol and Raleigh to Union Gen. William T. Sherman. The 75,000-man Federal army entered the city the next day. Union soldiers discovered coastal lighthouse lenses stored in the capitol, and one soldier stole the state's 1789 copy of the Bill of Rights.
U.S. Army Signal Corps Lt. George C. Round established a signal station atop the capitol dome on April 14, after almost losing his life the previous night when he accidentally jumped onto the rotunda skylight and partially fell through it. On the evening of April 26, after Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's surrender, Round sent an "extraordinary message" from the dome with colorful rockets - "Peace on Earth Good Will to Men" - believed to be the "last signal message of the war." Sherman's army departed early in May, and North Carolina's legislature repealed the secession ordinance in October 1865, while under military occupation.