Tuesday History: Zebulon Vance in the aftermath of the Civil War, part 2

ROUGH AND READY: When fighting broke out between the North and South in 1861, Zebulon Vance became an fervent supporter of the Confederate cause. In Raleigh he organized a company of men known as the “Rough and Ready Guards.” The group later joined the 14th Regiment. Vance was elected as commander of the 26th North Carolina Regiment in August of 1861. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

This week’s post concludes Zebulon B. Vance’s undated letter to friend, John Evans Brown. For those who missed the initial post, click here. Vance writes Brown following the South’s surrender — the official end of the Civil War, May 9, 1865.  At the time of the writing, Vance is on parole. Brown is living in Sydney, Australia. 

Thanks as always to Pack Memorial Library’s Special Collections, North Carolina Room for its assistance. 

Zebulon B. Vance wrote John Evans Brown: 

Trade begins feebly to resume its channels and a beam of hope begins again to reanimate our long tried and suffering people. Our loss in men was very great. Seven tenths of the spirited and educated young men of N.C. fell in this struggle. Many old families are almost extinct in the male line. …

But I have dwelt long enough perhaps on this sad picture. After the surrender I came to this place, where Mrs. Vance had fled when Raleigh was evacuated, and sat down. In a few days I was arrested, sent to Washington City and lodged in prison. I remained there only two months when Mr. President permitted me to return home on parole. So I am here, a prisoner still.

Mrs. Vance during my confinement was seized with hemorrhage of the lungs and came near dying. She is now, however, after much suffering, mental and bodily, restored to her usual health. We are living very poorly and quietly, as I can do no business until I am pardoned or released from my parole. We have four little boys, Charles (10 years old), David (8), Zebby (3), and Thomas (3). The two oldest go to school, are studying geography, etcetera. I keep in excellent health, though trouble and anxiety have left their mark on me. I am getting very grey.

There are indications that the radical abolitionists — the South being excluded from representation in Congress — intend to force perfect negro equality upon us. The right to vote, hold offices, testify in courts, and sit upon juries are the privileges claimed for them. Should this be done, and there is nothing to prevent it, it will revive an already half formed determination in me to leave the U.S. forever.

Where shall I go? Many thoughts have I directed towards the distant Orient where you are. The idea is so possible at the least that I would be thankful to you for any information germane to the matter. Climate, soil, water courses, Government, population, etcetera, are all eagerly enquired after here.

What could I do there? Either in Australia or New Zealand? As a lawyer, grazier, merchant or what not? What would it cost me and how would I go to get there? What could I do when I sit down at the wharf at Sidney [sic] with a wife, four children and perhaps “nary red”? Tell me all about it. Should those things happen which we fear, my brother Robert (who was a Brigadier in the Southern Army) and I will go somewhere.

At present there seems to be no prospect in the stability of the govt in Mexico or vast numbers of our people would go there. Quite a lot have gone any how, your father wants to go to you, but I don’t encourage him…

If you ever get this and will answer it, I will promise you faithfully that another five years shall not elapse before I write again. When released from my bond I think of going to Wilmington, N.C., to practice law if I don’t leave the country. The mountains were torn and distracted by this war, being almost the only part of the state which was not thoroughly united. The State of Society there is not pleasant, and I don’t think I shall ever return there to live.

Murder and outrage are frequent and the absence of civil law encourages the wickedly inclined. Mrs. Vance and my mother (who is with us) beg to be kindly remembered to you. I feel at liberty also to add my own most respectful regards to Mrs. Brown and beg that she will accept them though from an unfortunate, subjugated rebel.

With every wish, and sincerest prayers, for your health, happiness and prosperity in your new and distant home, believe me my dear John, Most faithfully and unchangibly your devoted friend.

Zebulon B. Vance


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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17 thoughts on “Tuesday History: Zebulon Vance in the aftermath of the Civil War, part 2

  1. Carol

    Poor old Zeb. We used to visit his birth place out here in Weaverville. This actual letter from him is very interesting. Thanks for a great Tuesday!!!

  2. boatrocker

    Yes! more primary sources and local history.

    Lesson learned, CSA- Don’t start something you can’t finish, especially if it IS about slavery.

    Alexander Stephens, 1860-
    “Our new government is founded exactly upon (this) idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.
    This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.”

    Sorry, rebs, you all died for this ideology. Now call it ‘heritage, and not hate’.
    Now get over it, descendants of rebs. You lost, your cause was unjust, and the primary source still exists to refer to.

  3. boatrocker

    And even so, local history articles are awesome, for not being about beer, hotels, cancelled music festivals for not caring to pay bands for providing a service and as a chance for folks to read and absorb the mistakes of our ancestors and hopefully not repeat them again.

    Cue the unmoderated sock puppet hate. Thanks again, Mtn X -xoxo

  4. hauntedheadnc

    “There are indications that the radical abolitionists — the South being excluded from representation in Congress — intend to force perfect negro equality upon us. The right to vote, hold offices, testify in courts, and sit upon juries are the privileges claimed for them. Should this be done, and there is nothing to prevent it, it will revive an already half formed determination in me to leave the U.S. forever.”

    Heavens! More of that crazy talk that makes it sound as though the Civil War had something to do with slavery!

      • Hauntedheadnc

        Well, of course the Civil War was about those things, plus everything else that goes along with states’ rights, you big silly. Why, hardly anyone even noticed there even were slaves around.

  5. JT

    These old letters describing living conditions & old fashioned opinions are fascinating. Please keep publishing more of this!

  6. Don

    Peter, thanks for Robert E. Lee quote… it’s a good one… though I would be hard pressed to call it an indiscretion on his part…. just speaking to the truth…. something he was known for his entire life. After the Civil War he was an adamant federalist who would broach no talk of the lost cause or states rights…. he wouldn’t even tolerate the wearing of a confederate uniform in his presence. We forget these nuanced things…. conveniently and simple mindedly (spell check says that isn’t a word… mindedly…. I beg to differ…. lol) …and slip into broad generalizations and condemnations that degrades all of us. Don

      • Peter Robbins

        Correction: a slaveholder, sadist and traitor — with an explanation.

        • Don

          I misspoke…. Robert E. Lee was not an ardent federalist after the war… but he was without doubt -via the historical record- a committed one. You two know about committed I’m quite sure…. as your incessant trolling record over the past few years here on the MtnX without doubt leaves you just a few small steps from it…. oui?

          • Peter Robbins

            Now, now, Don. You don’t want to start making generalizations that are just going to demean us all. In my opinion, the world would be a better place if a lot more people who comment on the internet were committed.

          • boatrocker

            As everyone who posts on this site has obviously read and acknowledged a terms of service agreement in order to post (which includes trolling), therefore trolling here is impossible as the moderators would ban someone for doing that and such trolly comments would not appear here. If the qualified moderators choose not to ban a poster, it is because said posters are doing nothing wrong, oui?

            Maybe what you mean to say is “Why do I have to read comments here I don’t agree with”?

            Heck, if you don’t like actual primary source quotes posted here that directly relate to the article at hand and validate an assertion, you can say so- you’re among friends.

          • Able Allen

            Let’s keep this on topic please and not go after one another with personal attacks. You are all getting on thin ice here.

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