Zeb's bitterness at what he perceived as the betrayal of the Southern Unionists quickly prompted him to action. On May 3, 1861, he joined the second military unit raised in Buncombe County, which was known as the Rough and Ready Guards. The enthusiasm that filled this unit with slightly more than one hundred men was duplicated elsewhere in Buncombe County. Although volunteering in some parts of western North Carolina lagged, Asheville and its immediate surroundings contributed soldiers to the Confederacy in large numbers. By February 1862, nearly nine hundred men from Buncombe County had volunteered their services; a greater proportion of the county's total population volunteered than in all but four other counties of the state. Soon after the Rough and Ready Guards were organized, Zeb was selected by the men to be their captain.1 In all likelihood, he had recruited the men with the understanding that he would assume the leadership role.
Several days later, the newest unit of the North Carolina state troops marched off to war. Zeb's brother Robert reported three decades later that "the streets were crowded with people, friends and admirers of the company." As the group of young men marched out of the city on South Main Street, they paused at the Swannanoa River and followed it for several miles before camping. That night Zeb returned home, and he rejoined his men the next day mounted on a horse from his own residence. On his way out of town, he paused at the top of Beaucatcher Gap and sorrowfully surveyed the beauties of the mountains for what might have been the last time. Then he rode on to rejoin his troops. They traveled by foot to reach the railroad in Burke County and then proceeded on to the small community of Statesville. The company remained there for several days while Zeb made a quick trip to Raleigh to learn about the future disposition of his men.2
Zeb wrote to Hattie on May 18 describing the reception that he and his men received in Statesville. For all concerned, the war was still a very romantic affair, and Vance's description captures the celebratory atmosphere well: "The people of Statesville have been Kind to us beyond description—My camp has been filled with cake & all sorts of good things ever since I came, and such piles of flowers, you never saw as grace my tent. I