The last three weeks of April would be the most difficult of Zeb's life. The Confederacy was falling apart, and he had to find a way to reconcile his duty to the people of North Carolina with his loyalty to the Confederate government. This task would ultimately prove to be impossible, and Zeb would remain sensitive about the events of these weeks to the end of his life. It was distressing to Zeb to find that he was no longer in control of events. There were two large armies in the vicinity of Raleigh, and neither was likely to be persuaded that Zeb needed to be consulted. In addition, there were civilians who sought to influence Zeb's actions. Several times during the ordeals of April 1865, Zeb was accused of committing treason against the Confederacy, and he rejected the charges as false. But as he would note later, the Confederacy had virtually ceased to exist at the time he was supposed to have betrayed it.
On April 9, David L. Swain traveled to Hillsborough and met with William A. Graham to discuss whether there was a way for North Carolina to escape the fate of South Carolina. Graham proposed that North Carolina should seek a separate peace, and Swain agreed. Graham suggested, among other things, that Zeb should send a commission to General William T. Sherman to request an armistice. The next day, Swain brought Graham's proposals to Zeb for consideration. Zeb refused to act on the ideas, saying that he needed to consult with General Joseph E. Johnston. When Zeb asked the Confederate general his opinion, Johnston replied that he thought Zeb should obtain the best terms that he could. As soon as he received this message, Zeb sent for Graham. In the meantime, he contacted General Sherman in an attempt to shield Raleigh from the ravages that had been visited on Columbia, South Carolina. He pleaded for protection for the "Charitable Institutions" and the "Capitol of the State with its Libraries, Museum and much of the public records."1
Graham arrived before the sun was up on April 12 and soon met with Swain and Vance. The three of them composed a letter to Sherman that followed the formula developed earlier by Graham. It said, in part, "I have to request, under proper safe-conduct, a personal interview, at such time as may be agreeable to you, for the purpose of conferring upon the subject