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James T. Leach (1805-1883)

James T. Leach (1805-1883) played an important role in North Carolina’s Peace Party Movement during the American Civil War. Leach took the rhetoric of liberty that had been used to justify secession and turned it against the Confederate government.

James Thomas Leach was born in Leachburg, North Carolina in 1805. He made his fortune as a medical doctor, and by the 1850s, Leach owned a Johnston County plantation with one hundred and fifty slaves. Unlike some plantation owners, Leach opposed secession. He believed that leaving the Union was a radical and unnecessary move.

At first, Leach belonged to a very small minority. But as the war dragged on, calls for peace became more numerous and louder.  Many North Carolinians were angered by what they considered Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s dictatorial policies. They were especially upset when Davis suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1863, a move they deemed tyrannical. More than one hundred “peace meetings” were held throughout the state during the summer of 1863. 

Leach became a symbolic leader of the peace movement on May 27, 1863, when the pro-peace Raleigh Weekly Standard published one of his letters. Leach wrote that the war would end if Southern leaders “offer[ed] the olive branch of peace to those who are arrayed against us.” In the fall of 1863, Leach won a seat in the Confederate House of Representatives by calling for a “just, honorable and lasting peace.” Six of North Carolina’s ten representatives were elected on similar peace platforms.

Leach continued to agitate for peace as a Confederate congressman.  Although he was anti-war, he was not anti-slavery. He believed that peace would be possible only if the Union agreed to accept slavery as a permanent institution. Congressman Leach also criticized Jefferson Davis. When Davis suspended habeas corpus yet again, Leach wrote to his friend William Graham: “What shall we do to stay the hand of a military despotism more to be dreaded than death itself?”

North Carolina’s peace movement reached its apex in 1864, when “Peace Democrat” William W. Holden ran for governor against the incumbent “War Democrat” Zebulon B. Vance. Holden lost badly, taking less than one-quarter of the vote. This defeat ended the peace movement as a political force. Leach left public life when the Confederate congress was dissolved in 1865. He died at his home in Leachburg on March 28, 1883.



William T. Auman, “Neighbor Against Neighbor: The Inner Civil War in the Central Counties of Confederate North Carolina,” PhD dissertation, University of North Carolina, 1986; Richard E. Beringer, et al, Why The South Lost the Civil War (Athens, 1986); John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War (Chapel Hill, 2000); Marc W. Kruman, “Parties and Politics in North Carolina, 1846-1865), PhD dissertation, Yale University, 1978 “Leach, James Thomas (1805-1883)” (Accessed June 10, 2010); William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 2006).

By Will Schultz , North Carolina History Project

See Also:

Related Categories: Civil War
Related Encyclopedia Entries: John W. Ellis (1820-1861), Bunker Hill Covered Bridge, Secession, Salem Brass Band, Confederate States Navy (in North Carolina), United States Navy (Civil War activity), James Iredell Waddell (1824-1886), CSS Neuse, USS Underwriter, Warren Winslow (1810-1862), Prelude to the Battle of Averasboro, The Battle of Averasboro-Day One, Louis Froelich and Company, Louis Froelich (1817-1873), North Carolina Button Factory, CSA Arms Factory, Ratification Debates, Peace Party (American Civil War), Braxton Bragg (1817-1876), Daniel Harvey Hill (1821-1889), Battle of Bentonville, Bryan Grimes (1828-1880), Fort Hatteras, Fort Fisher, Fort Clark, Fort Macon, Daniel Russell (1845-1908), The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It, Union League, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Levi Coffin (1798 – 1877), Battle of Forks Road, Aaron McDuffie Moore (1863-1923), Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897) , Fort Anderson (Confederate), Battle of Deep Gully and Fort Anderson (Federal), Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock (1839-1903), Thomas Bragg (1810-1872), Curtis Hooks Brogden (1816-1901), John Motley Morehead (1796-1866), David Lowry Swain (1801-1868), Zebulon Baird Vance (1830-1894), Alamance County (1849), Gates County (1779), Clay County (1861), Lenoir County (1791), Union County (1842), Teague Band (Civil War), Fort Hamby Gang (Civil War), Shelton Laurel Massacre , Parker David Robbins (1834-1917), Henry Eppes (1831-1917), Washington County (1799), Hertford County (1759), Rutherford County (1779), Granville County (1746), Salisbury Prison (Civil War), Stoneman's Raid, James City, Fort York, Asa Biggs (1811 - 1878), Thomas Clingman (1812 - 1897), Matt W. Ransom (1826 - 1904), St. Augustine's College, Peace College, Election Case of Joseph Abbott and Zebulon Vance, Stephen Dodson Ramseur (1837 - 1864) , Vance Birthplace, Matthew Calbraith Butler (1836-1909), Wade Hampton III (1818-1902), The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads (March 10, 1865), Carolinas Campaign (January 1865-April 1865), William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), Confederate Surrender at Bennett's Place (April 17-26, 1865), Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (1836-1881) and the Carolinas Campaign, Joseph Eggleston Johnston (1807-1891) and the Carolinas Campaign
Related Commentary: Toward an Inclusive History of the Civil War: Society and the Home Front, Edward Bonekemper on the Cowardice of General McClellan, Freedmen’s Bank Served Blacks in Post-Civil War Economy, N.C. Played Crucial Role At Civil War’s End
Related Lesson Plans: Discussion of the Lunsford Lane Narrative
Timeline: 1776-1835 , 1836-1865 , 1866-1915

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