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

By Gordon B. McKinney | Go to book overview

16 DEFEAT WITH HONOR

Many observers, probably including Zeb himself, credited the governor with securing North Carolina's allegiance to the Confederacy. In the eight months after his reelection, Zeb would seek to ensure that his state maintained its tie to the dying rebellion even when discretion might have suggested another course. Fully aware of the Southern code of honor even if he did not always observe it himself, Zeb was determined that he and his state would not be accused of violating it. Further, Zeb was aware that people in other Confederate states, especially Virginia and South Carolina, were already blaming North Carolina for many of the failings of the rebellion. Zeb's gubernatorial campaign had been framed in part to assure the rest of the South of his state's commitment to the Confederacy.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, there seemed to be little reason for Zeb to be concerned about the future of the Confederacy and the honor of his state. His electoral victory was so complete that the Davis administration finally conceded that North Carolina posed no immediate threat to the Confederacy. Davis allowed the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus to lapse. Once this major thorn in Zeb's side was removed, it ceased to be a matter of contention between the two governments. Moreover, William W. Holden wrote a generous concession editorial that promised a measure of political peace in North Carolina. Holden pledged his continued loyalty to the Confederacy and expressed his desire to avoid political discussions for the immediate future.1 With these two major challenges to his authority out of the way, Zeb seemed poised to continue his constructive efforts to achieve Confederate independence.

Along with his new status as a stalwart for Southern independence came an unwelcome dose of reality. Late in August, Zeb received a letter directly from General Robert E. Lee. Prior to the late summer of 1864, the two had usually communicated through the Richmond offices of the secretary of war or the president. Apparently Lee had been much taken with Zeb's commitment to the cause and his ability to inspire the troops during his March and April tour of North Carolina regiments, and the general had recog

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