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

By Gordon B. McKinney | Go to book overview

21 GOVERNOR AGAIN

Zeb was understandably exhilarated by the outcome of the election. After the result became clear, he traveled to Raleigh to address a monster rally of joyous Democrats. One journalist estimated the size of the crowd that attended Zeb's speech to be ten thousand, a gigantic audience for the time, especially considering the limits of North Carolina'stransportationsystem. The address was apparently even more informal than Zeb's usual impromptu efforts. He related a number of incidents that had indicated to him that the white population of the state was beginning to heal the wounds created by the war. For example, he recounted a story that had occurred in the heavily Republican Mitchell County in the western mountains. There he had spotted a large number of horsemen on the road carrying the flag of the United States. Zeb said that he had become quite downhearted, assuming that they were Settle supporters. But when the men saw Zeb in the distance, "they raised a shout and it was the old familiar cry for Vance and Tilden."1 That Zeb told this story indicates that he felt completely vindicated by the campaign and believed that he and the state could now focus on the future instead of reexamining the painful past.

Unfortunately for Zeb, there was little time to enjoy the fruits of victory. The Democratic Party faithful had been kept out of public offices for nearly a decade, and many of them were impatient to be appointed to some appropriate place. Since the party had been out of office for so long and so many people had made major contributions to Zeb's victory, there were an unusually large number of applicants for every position in state government. Mountain politicians were particularly ardent in pursuit of places on the Board of Commissioners of the Western North Carolina Railroad. The most persistent of these applicants was William W. Stringfield of Waynesville. Stringfield had been a lieutenant colonel during the war in Walker's battalion of Thomas's legion in western North Carolina. After the war, he returned to his home in eastern Tennessee, but he was forced to move; his neighbors were hostile toward him because he had supported the Confederacy during the conflict. Stringfield then went to Haywood County, North Carolina, where his wife's family lived. After Zeb's brother Robert

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