Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Zebulon Vance Papers: "Fight the Yankees and fuss with the Confederacy"

The Papers of Z.B. Vance, Vols. 1-3
I couldn't resist the sale.  As a result, these three volumes showed up at my door recently. Published by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, the titles are the result of decades of work by historians Frontis W. Johnston, Gordon McKinney, Richard M. McMurry, and Joe A. Mobley. Johnston edited the first letterpress volume, which appeared in 1963.  McKinney and McMurry worked to transfer all the Vance Papers onto 39 microfilm reels.  Mobley then assumed responsibility for the project in 1991 and piloted the 2nd (1995) and 3rd (2013) letterpress volumes to publication, bringing the published collection through 1865. Mobley also wrote an excellent biography of Vance in 2005, which focuses on the war years. (War Governor of the South: North Carolina's Zeb Vance in the Confederacy (Univ. Press of Florida)).

At the helm of North Carolina’s war effort during much of the conflict, Zebulon Baird Vance presented an imposing figure with his six foot, two-hundred pound frame, and his tuft of thick, black hair. He was a natural, engaging politician, whose charm and wit were difficult to match. He was also a commanding speaker. Historians have found an enigmatic figure in Vance. Initially a unionist like many in the upper south, he strongly embraced the Confederate cause once the bell of secession rang. As Governor during much of the war, he often quarreled with authorities in Richmond. He took issue with Confederate policies that limited individual rights in his state as well as with measures that hamstrung North Carolina's efforts designed, in his view, to win the war. His frequent clashes with President Jefferson Davis have led some over the years to label him an obstructionist to the Confederate war effort.

Z. B. Vance
However, despite appearances, Vance remained a Confederate nationalist throughout the conflict and kept his eye on the broad picture and his focus on preserving the Confederacy's defining institution.  In an unpublished autobiography prepared after the war and brought to light by Joe Mobley a few years ago, Vance candidly explained, “I concluded therefore to go with my state and to fight - not for secession - not for the Confederate States [as] an object desirable in itself - but to avert the consequences - the abolition of Slavery." See Mobley, Joe A., “Zebulon Vance: A Confederate Nationalist in the North Carolina Gubernatorial Election of 1864,” The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. LXXVII, No. 4 (October 2000).  Thus, his many disagreements with officials in Richmond appear to reflect discord about tactics, not overall goals.  Indeed, his platform during the 1864 gubernatorial election was sometimes referred to as: "Fight the Yankees and fuss with the Confederacy."

These volumes are heavy. I look forward to spending more time with them over the next few months.