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

By Gordon B. McKinney | Go to book overview

15 RETURNED TO OFFICE

Zeb was eager to confront the new challenges posed by the Holden campaign. As a true extrovert, Zeb thrived in public settings in which he was the center of attention. He now recognized that his opponents had finally hit upon a position that could prove to be broadly popular among the electorate. From the beginning of the war, the political leadership of North Carolina had justified its defiance of the Lincoln administration by claiming that the call for troops after Fort Sumter was a violation of civil liberties. However, the imposition of conscription, the tax in kind, and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus had made the Confederate government seem to be little different from the Lincoln administration. Obviously, Holden and his allies sought to tie Zeb to the highly unpopular Davis administration and to the despised secessionists in North Carolina.

Zeb's task at Fayetteville was to make sure that he publicly distanced himself from the president and his local supporters. As was the case with the Wilkesboro speech, he left little to chance. Zeb left Raleigh on a train on Thursday afternoon, April 21. During the trip, he stopped to speak at several locations for a total of two hours; during these impromptu speeches, he apparently encouraged people to join him in Fayetteville. When he arrived at his destination, he was greeted by the mayor and a large crowd. After giving a brief speech, Zeb retired to the Fayetteville Hotel, where he met with local groups throughout the evening. Friday was an unofficial holiday in town, and all business was suspended. Throngs of people showed up from neighboring counties throughout the morning. By the time that Zeb reached the speaker's platform at half past eleven, a military band was entertaining the crowd. The local newspaper estimated its size at approximately three thousand people, an extraordinary audience for that time.1

The early part of Vance's speech was quite similar to what he had said in Wilkesboro. He told the audience that he had come to tell the truth, no matter how painful. He went on to say that the most critical time in the life of the Confederacy had been reached, and that its fate would be determined by the end of the summer. He acknowledged that everyone wanted peace, but he stated that removing the state from the Confederacy by means of a

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