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With the exception of the 1920s, Americans have been at war in every decade since their declaration of independence in 1776. This memorial honors the military service and personal sacrifices of Americans in war, particularly those from this region of North Carolina. In the openings that reveal the wide vista beyond, this memorial also acknowledges those decades when service and sacrifice secured peace on the homefront.
In 1770, violence erupted across North Carolina. Frustrated with their royal government, colonists were protesting taxes, fees, governmental malpractices, and a royal governor who would not address their issues. They determined to “regulate” society themselves, angering the royal governor who raised a militia. At the Battle of Alamance in 1771, the royal troops defeated the Regulators, ending the revolt but not solving the problems for which the Regulators had fought and died.
Similar frustrations grew across the colonies, leading in 1775 to armed resistance against British troops in Boston. Just weeks after the outbreak of fighting at Lexington and Concord, Congress appointed George Washington commander in chief of a Continental Army.
By 1777, North Carolina had raised ten regiments for the Continental Army, and thousands of others had joined the militia. Thousands also formed their own Tory armies to support the British. As the Revolutionary War raged, North Carolinians found themselves in a civil war—neighbor against neighbor, and sometimes brother against brother.
Frustrated by their inability to end the rebellion in the North, the British turned their sights on the southern colonies and easily conquered the low countries of Georgia and South Carolina. When Lord Cornwallis headed northward, however, he found North Carolina more difficult to invade.
The Continental army, North Carolina militias, and privately organized independent troops slowed the British by meeting them in South Carolina. At Camden in 1780, eight hundred Americans were killed, half of whom were North Carolinians. The militias and independents were more successful, intimidating North Carolina’s Tories and hampering British military movements. Their victory at Kings Mountain forced Cornwallis into retreat.
After Nathaniel Greene assumed leadership over the Continental army in the fall of 1780, he and Cornwallis met at Guilford Court House. Although a victory for the British, the battle so weakened the British that Cornwallis decided to abandon North Carolina for Virginia, where he surrendered seven months later.
Between the summers of 1797 and 1798, the United States fought an undeclared naval war known as the Quasi-War against its former ally, France. President John Adams created a Navy Department to counter the naval advantages enjoyed by the French.
Still, the French navy seized approximately three hundred American ships during the conflict, many off the North Carolina coast.
In 1812, the United States again waged war against Great Britain. Several thousand North Carolinians fought for the regular army during the War of 1812, and several thousand more were members of local militias.
In the summer of 1813, over one hundred British warships arrived off the North Carolina coast and occupied Ocracoke Island. While the British left soon thereafter, the jarring fact of North Carolina’s lack of defense was clear.
While neither side won the war, Americans found a new sense of national pride in Andrew Jackson’s victory in New Orleans.
The war also inspired Native Americans to wage war against American settlers on the western frontiers. From Tecumseh’s Rebellion in the Old Northwest to the Creek War in the Old Southwest to the First Seminole War in Florida, North Carolina’s soldiers fought to defeat Native American resistance and secure territories for settlement.
By 1835, thousands of Americans had migrated to the Mexican territory of Texas, among them hundreds of North Carolinians. When the Mexican president tried to impose greater authority over the territories, secession movements and violence erupted in several Mexican states.
In Texas, the war ended at the Battle of San Jacinto where General Sam Houston led the Texan Army to victory against General Santa Anna, who was captured shortly after the battle. His captors forced Santa Anna to recognize the Republic of Texas in 1836.
In 1845, the United States annexed Texas, which Mexico considered part of its territory despite the Texas Revolution. Within months, war erupted between the over national boundaries and control of lands in the far West.
Much of the war was conducted by the United States troops supplemented by state regiments. North Carolina sent one regiment into service.
American armies invaded their southern neighbor, forcing the Mexicans to surrender by 1848. Mexico conceded control of Texas and ceded to the United States the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico.
The American Civil War was fought for many reasons. Some argued that the election of Abraham Lincoln threatened states’ rights. Others wanted to protect their economic investments, particularly slavery, from northern abolitionists.
Regardless of the reason, over 125,000 North Carolinians joined the war effort, comprising over one-sixth of the Confederacy’s military. The majority fought on Virginia’s battlefields. At Appomattox, one-fifth of those who surrendered under Lee were North Carolinians.
The war was devastating: over 19,000 North Carolinians were killed in battle, and another 20,000 died of disease, greater than any other Confederate state. But war conditions also took a toll in civilian deaths, and thousands of men returned home impaired by lost eyes, arms, and legs.
Other North Carolinians organized nine regiments that fought for the Union: two volunteer regiments from the east, two infantry regiments from the west, and five U.S. Colored Troops formed by free black North Carolinians. They too lost large numbers of soldiers in battle.
The longest conflict in United States history was the Indian wars that persisted from before the American Revolution through the 1880s. As Americans moved westward, they pushed out thousands of Native Americans, most of whom actively resisted their displacement.
While wars would continue, the 1870s saw the peak of the Indian Wars with the Modoc War, the Great Sioux War, the Nez Perce War, and the Ute War. The American defeat popularly known as Custer’s Last Stand occurred during the Great Sioux War.
As members of the United States Army, North Carolinians fought in these wars to acquire and secure land for American settlement.
After the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor in 1898, the American public demanded a response. The Spanish-American War lasted a mere six months but resulted in the United States’ acquisition of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and perpetual lease of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
North Carolina organized three regiments to fight in the war: the Third Regiment of North Carolina Volunteers comprised of black infantry, and two white regiments. None saw action because the war ended so quickly.
Still, some North Carolinians fought and died as United States regulars in naval action and at the Battle of San Juan.
By 1917, the sinking of American ships, with the loss of American lives, caused the United States to join the Allies in their war against the Central Powers, which had been raging since 1914.
Training camps were established throughout the nation, with Forts Bragg, Greene, and Polk in North Carolina. Over 86,000 North Carolinians went off to war, some playing roles in major action. The Thirtieth Division helped to break the Hindenburg Line, and the Eighty-First or “Wildcat” Division took part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in the last days of the war.
WWI was the first modern war, employing new technologies like howitzers, airplanes, chemical warfare, and U-boats. German U-boats cruised the North Carolina coastline, and one shelled and sunk the Diamond Shoals Lightship in 1918.
Over 53,000 Americans died in World War I: 2,375 of them from North Carolina. Many others were casualties, carrying with them the wounds of war for the remainder of their lives.
On 7 December 1941, Japanese planes swooped down on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the United States into war with the Allies against the Axis powers.
Some 362,000 North Carolinians, including 7,000 women, entered the armed services during WWII. Another 4,000 women served in auxiliary organizations like the WAC and WAVES.
North Carolinians served in every important battle zone from Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima in the Pacific theater to the invasion of North Africa in 1944. They also protected the North Carolina coast—“Torpedo Junction”—from German U-boats. They landed on the beaches of Normandy on “D-Day,” 6 June 1944, and swept across France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, defeating the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. Finally, on 8 May 1945, the Germans surrendered, and four months later, the Japanese surrendered as well.
More than 291,000 Americans were killed in WWII, more than 7,000 of them from North Carolina. Their service and their families’ sacrifices on the homefront made them “The Greatest Generation.”
At the end of WWII, the Allies divided former Axis powers and their colonies, including Korea which had been controlled by Japan. The 38th parallel became a political border between Communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea. The situation escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces invaded the south in 1950.
As the first military conflict of the Cold War (1947-1991), the Korean War engaged the United Nations and the United States in an effort to “contain” Communism. While both sides saw military success, the war resulted in an armistice and the establishment of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, which has since been patrolled by Korean, American, and United Nations troops.
The Korean War was the first in which black and white Americans served in integrated troops. Additionally, women served active duty as nurses and in supply units.
American casualties totaled slightly over 54,000. Of these, 784 came from North
The Vietnam War was the second major conflict of the Cold War. The conflict began in the 1950s as a colonial war in which the Vietnamese fought against France, with the support of American military advisors. When France withdrew, the United States feared a Communist takeover and escalated involvement in the early 1960s, part of their wider strategy of containing Communism.
Rumors of attacks on American warships prompted Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964, giving the President power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war. In order to defend U.S. Air Force bases, Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam in 1965. This marked the beginning of the American ground war.
In 1968, the North Vietnamese surprised the Americans with the Tet Offensive, shocking the American public into questioning the war and their government.
Intent on ending the war, President Richard Nixon began to withdraw troops, hoping to empower South Vietnam to defend itself through a policy of Vietnamization. To provide time for the South Vietnamese, the United States bombed the neutral nations of Laos and Cambodia to destroy North Vietnamese bases and supply lines. The invasions sparked nationwide protests, and when four students were killed at a protest at Kent State in 1970, anti-war sentiment grew.
The United States began drastically reducing troops. Still, not until North Vietnam’s capture of Saigon in April 1975 did the United States evacuate South Vietnam. The two states reunified under Communist rule the following year.
The Vietnam War left the United States traumatized. The nation had spent over $150 billion in a losing effort that cost more than 58,000 American lives, over 1,600 of which were North Carolinians. Additionally, more than 150,000 were wounded, at least 21,000 were permanently disabled, and thousands remained missing-in-action.
Throughout the Cold War, Iraq had allied with the Soviet Union. So, in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the United States interpreted it as an attack on democracy and freedom.
In order to keep Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia, the United States led a United Nations coalition in a brief but effective military campaign to retake Kuwait. The Air Force opened the campaign with extensive aerial bombing in mid-January 1991. One week later, the Marines repelled Iraqi forces in the Saudi town of Khafji. And over the final four weeks, the Army undertook a ground campaign.
While only 294 Americans died in the Persian Gulf War, nearly 250,000 veterans suffered from Gulf War Syndrome.
The Persian Gulf War was also the first to be extensively televised.
The September 11th attacks on the United States in 2001 were the first foreign aggression on American soil since WWII. In response, the United States initiated Operation Enduring Freedom less than a month later, invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban who had harbored and given aid to the 9/11 terrorists
Since the Persian Gulf War, Iraq had been considered a sponsor of terrorism and became an immediate target of the War on Terror. The Iraq War began in 2003 and ended in 2011.
In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States established new governments in order to minimize future terrorists’ activities. Over 3,000 Americans died on 9/11, and over 5,900 Americans sacrificed their lives to ensure such an attack would not happen again.