When North Carolina joined other southern states and seceded from the United States in May 1861, university president David Lowry Swain kept the school open. Students circulated a petition calling for a temporary closure until fall term, reasoning that the conflict would be short. Swain and the board instead argued for the need to protect students from the war and their own inexperience. Most students and faculty did leave, however. As the war continued, Swain successfully argued for an exemption from the Confederate government's conscription order for younger students, maintaining that the small number would do little for the army and wreak permanent damage to the institution. Carolina managed to remain open throughout the conflict, despite dwindling numbers of faculty and students and fierce political criticism.
In the closing days of the war in spring 1865, Chapel Hill found itself in the middle of the action. Confederate forces moved through the town on their flight from General William Sherman's Union troops, who entered the village the next day. President Swain was part of a team sent by the governor to negotiate a surrender and protection for Raleigh and the university. Sherman agreed to the terms and thus spared both the capital and the university buildings. Swain's role in this earned him further political enmity, only intensified months later by his daughter's marriage to the leader of the Union brigade that occupied Chapel Hill.
Approximately 1,000 alumni and students (about 40 percent) served in the Confederate forces, and 287 died in service. Of the fourteen faculty at UNC in 1861, six also joined the war. Three of them died in service, as did four of the five university tutors. At least five alumni served the Union.
Date Established: 1861
Date Range: 1861 – 1865