Zeb Vance: North Carolina's Civil War Governor and Gilded Age Political Leader

By Gordon B. McKinney | Go to book overview
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As Zeb sought to bring order to North Carolina society and government, he found himself enmeshed in a series of policy debates and implementation discussions with the leaders of the Confederacy. Clearly, this aspect of Zeb's administration was of great significance, but it has been difficult for scholars to interpret. The sheer volume of the surviving correspondence is partly to blame. There are, for example, 235 letters from Confederate secretary of war James A. Seddon to Zeb preserved in the surviving Vance manuscripts; there are 125 from Vance to Seddon.1 In addition, Vance corresponded with Jefferson Davis as well as other military leaders, cabinet members, and Confederate officials. Nevertheless, a clear picture of the overall character of the relationship between Zeb and Confederate authorities does emerge from this mass of documentation. Everyone involved was working toward the goal of Confederate independence; Zeb almost always argued with the officials in Richmond and elsewhere about the best means to achieve this common objective.

It is important to keep in mind how few high-level personnel there were in the state and Confederate bureaucracies. Much of the correspondence between Vance and high-ranking Confederate officials would have been handled by department heads or lower-ranking staff members in a larger bureaucracy. Even where such officials existed, Zeb preferred to address his requests to the person most likely to approve his suggestions or requests. For example, early in Zeb's administration he wrote a letter to Davis that began, "Pardon me for addressing you in regard to a matter that should ordinarilycome before the Quartermaster-General." In the letter, Zeb proposed that the Confederacy consider the possibility of using cotton harnesses for horses to save leather for shoes and boots that could be worn by soldiers and civilians. Replying through his aide, Burton N. Harrison, Davis took Zeb's question seriously and informed the young governor that the military leaders knew from experience that cotton harnesses would not hold up under the extreme conditions of combat and long-distance travel.2

Zeb appears to have had three principal assistants throughout most of


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Zeb Vance: North Carolina's Civil War Governor and Gilded Age Political Leader


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