The Civil War in North Carolina

Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

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        It would exceed the limit prescribed for this sketch, to detail the ability and fidelity with which he discharged all these important trusts. But justice to truth and unparalleled energy compels the observation, that to him does the country owe the usefulness, if not the existence of this railroad, so important, and then so vital to the state, as the only one leading to the capital. It had become dilapidated; it had injured the state, and ruined many of its innocent stockholders. Under his active superintendency, it sprung at once into activity, usefulness and profit, while his genial and frank manners, his prompt and stern sense of right, won the respect and affection of all with whom its multifarous concerns brought him in contact. Here he felt and thought was the appropriate sphere of his usefulness.

        But the congressional district had become disorganized. Private feud and personal ambition had lost to our national councils a representive from the metropolitan district, who reflected the voice of a majority of the people. Without any solicitation on his part and against his inclinations, he was nominated, in 1855, as a candidate for congress. The opposition was well organized and run their strongest man, who was well and favorably known, of acknowledged genius, and of indefatigable energy. Mr. Branch was elected by a handsome majority. Such was the acceptability of his conduct that he was again elected in 1858, without opposition, and again in 1859, by an overwhelming majority.

        Did the limits of this sketch allow, ample material is afforded by the records of the nation, to show his industry, ability, fidelity and usefulness, as a member of the national councils. Important and delicate positions were occupied by him. As a member of the committee on foreign affairs, his celebrated report on Cuba marked him as one of the statesmen of the age, and is referred to now as unquestioned and reliable authority on a subject, which in the future, may again become an important question in national policies. Such a powerful sentinel at our very post--gate, should, by either stratagem, force or purchase, be brought within our lines. Loved by many and respected by all of his associates in congress, his influence in the house was unbounded. Such was his stern sense of justice, his unsuspected integrity and vigilant sagacity, that those twin Cerebus of the treasury, John Letcher and George W. Jones, often asked his advice, heeded his opinion and followed his counsel.

        On the death of Aaron V. Brown, post-master-general in Mr. Buchanan's cabinet, he was telegraphed as to his inclinations to occupy that important department, but being from home, no answer was returned. On the resignation of Honorable Howell Cobb, as secretary of the treasury, he was, on December 2, 1860, appointed by the president to succeed him. This was also declined. The clouds had become dark and heavy in our southern sky, and Mr. Branch had resolved upon his course. He joined the standard of the south as a private in the ranks of the Raleigh volunteers.

        The governor of the state solicited him to take the position of quartermaster and pay-master-general of the North Carolina forces. These troublesome and intricate duties he discharged with energy and fidelity. But he preferred more active service, and was appointed colonel of the thirty-third regiment; and after organizing it with great energy, went at its head into the field. He was soon promoted by the president to the command of the 4th brigade, in the confederate army, and assigned to duty at New Berne. Here on March 14, 1862, with an inadequate force, some of them raw-militia, with hastily and ill-constructed fortifications, he withstood for more than four hours the well appointed and fully equipped forces, under General Burnside, more
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