On May 9, 1865, the Civil War came to its official end. In this undated letter following the South’s surrender, Gov. Zebulon B. Vance writes his longtime friend and Buncombe native, John Evans Brown, who was living in Sydney, Australia. The opening page of the correspondence is missing. Excerpts from the remainder of the letter will form the basis of the next two Tuesday History installments.
Thanks as always to Pack Memorial Library’s Special Collections, North Carolina Room for its assistance.
Zebulon B. Vance wrote John Evans Brown:
Of course I cannot give you much criticism upon the war, or the causes of our failure; nor can I attempt to do justice to the heroism of our troops or of the great men developed by the contest. This is the business of the historian, and when he traces the lives which are to render immortal the deeds of this revolution, if truth and candor guide his pen, neither our Generals nor our soldiers will be found inferior to any who have fought and bled within a century.
When all of our troops had laid down their arms, then was immediately seen the results which I had prophecied [sic]. Slavery was declared abolished — two thousand million of property gone from the South at one blow, leaving four million freed vagabonds among us — outnumbering in several states the whites — to hang as an incubus upon us and reenact from time to time, the horrors of Hayte [Haiti] and St. Domingo [Saint-Domingue]. This alone was a blow from which the South will not with reasonable industry recover in one hundred years.
Then too the states have been reduced to the condition of territory, then Executive and Judicial (and all other) officers appointed by the Federal Government and are denied all law except that of the military. Our currency of course is gone and with it went the Banks and bonds of the states, and with them went to ruin thousands of widows, orphans and helpless persons whose funds were invested therein.
Then Railroads destroyed, towns and villages burned to ashes, fields and farms laid desolate, home and homestead, palaces and cabins only marked to the owners eye by the blackened chimneys looming out on the landscape like the mile marks on the great highway of desolation as it swept over the blooming plains and happy valleys of our once prosperous land!
The stock all driven off and destroyed, mills and agricultural implements specially ruined; many wealthy farmers making with their own hands a small and scanty crop with old artillery horses turned out by the troops to die.
This is but a faint picture of the ruin of the country which ten years ago you left, blooming like the garden of Eden, abounding in plenty and filled with a population whose condition was the praise and the envy of all the earth! Alas, alas! To travel from New Bern to Buncombe now would cause you many tears John, unless your heart is harder than I think it is.
But thank God — though wretchedness and poverty doth abound, yet charity and brotherly love doth much more abound. A feeling of common suffering has united the hearts of our people and they help one another. Our people do not uselessly repine over their ruined hopes. They have gone to work with amazing alacrity and spirit.
Major Generals, Brigadiers, Congressmen, and high functionaries hold the plough and sweat for their bread. A fair crop was the reward of last season’s labor, and there will hardly be any suffering for next year except among the negroes, who forsaking their old masters have mostly flocked into towns in search of their freedom, where they are dying and will die by the thousands…
Next week, we will conclude Vance’s letter to Brown.