The Tar Heel nickname has a long and proud history in North Carolina. It dates back to the mid-18th century when the state was a major producer of turpentine, tar, and other materials from its abundant pine trees. During the Civil War, North Carolina soldiers adopted the term as an expression of state pride and it soon became widely known as the “Tar Heel State”. The term “Tar Heel” was first used by North Carolina soldiers during the Battle of the Seven Days in late June 1862 near Manchester, Virginia.
After Union forces seized Roanoke Island and captured two thousand prisoners, some Virginia newspapers blamed North Carolina for breaking ranks and fleeing battle. This damaged the state's pride and led to the adoption of the term “Tar Heel” as an award for those who successfully defended their entry. The term “Tar Heel” is also associated with the University of North Carolina's men's basketball program, which has been one of the most dominant in college basketball. The team's success can be traced back to its star player, Davis, who helped lead North Carolina to the Final Four in 1990-91 and had a great year in 1991-92, averaging 21.4 points.
The term “Tar Heel” is also linked to North Carolina's most important industry before the 20th century: turpentine. Turpentine is another word for tar or pitch, which was produced in large quantities in North Carolina. Eastern North Carolina was an area of “flexible loyalties” during the Civil War, as Judkin Browning points out, and it wasn't immune to this new cotton boom either. Today, North Carolina is still known as the “Tar Heel State” and its citizens are proud of their nickname.
It is a reminder of their state's history and its role in defending its entry during the Civil War. It is also a reminder of the University of North Carolina's success in men's basketball and its star player Davis.