Friday, May 17, 2013

Zebulon Vance, born May 13, 1830

Zebulon Baird Vance was born at the family homestead along Reems Creek in Buncombe County, North Carolina, the third child and second son of eight children. His parents were David Vance II and Mira Margaret Baird Vance.  Vance was named for his maternal grandfather, Zebulon Baird. 

Zebulon's paternal grandfather, David Vance, a teacher, lawyer, and surveyor, acquired the family farm property in 1795.  The family lived in a five-room house, and owned a relatively large number of slaves (18).  His grandfather had fought in the American Revolution and served in the North Carolina General Assembly.  His uncle was a U.S. Congressman and his father, David, was a captain in the War of 1812. 

Birthplace and Family Home of Zebulon Vance
Early observers of his childhood remembered him as a poorly disciplined extrovert.  He was a trial to "Mammy Venus", the slave who helped to rear him, as well as to his teachers, and other adults. At an early age, he acquired a substantial vocabulary of profanity which he retained and expanded throughout his life .  He was physically adventuresome and was often 
injured in escapades that showed little regard for his own safety.  The most 

serious incident was a fall from a tree that resulted in a broken thigh bone 
that was never properly set. For the rest of his life, Zebulon was forced to wear 
a special shoe and to walk with a rolling gait. 

There was a 500-volume library in the Vance home, and young Zebulon read  voraciously.  At age twelve, he was sent to study at Washington College in Tennessee, now known as Washington College Academy.  

The death of his father in 1844 forced Zebulon to withdraw from school and return home at the age of fourteen.   His mother, now a widow with seven children, sold most of the family's slaves and moved to Asheville .

In Asheville, he began to court Miss Harriette (Hattie) Newell Espy; when Zebulon began school at the University of North Carolina, they carried on an extensive correspondence.  

Zebulon at the age of 20
Zebulon determined to go to law school. At the age of twenty-one, he wrote to the President of the University of North Carolina, former Governor David Swain, and asked for a loan so that he could attend law school. Governor Swain arranged for a $300 loan from the university, and Vance performed admirably.

David Swain

He was 31 years old when the Civil War began.

Asheville, North Carolina
In 1852, Vance began practicing law in Asheville.  A few months later, Vance was first elected to public office at the age of 21, when he was elected county solicitor (prosecuting attorney).

On August 3, 1853, he and Harriette Espy were married. Vance bought a five-acre lot in the middle of Asheville with his new wife's dowry and built a home. Their first child, a son called called Espy, was born two years later, but he died soon after.  Hattie sought consolation in her religious faith.  They would subsequently have four more sons: Charles Noel (b. 1856), David Mitchell (b. 1857), Zebulon Baird, Jr. (b. 1860) and Thomas (1864).

Harriette Espy Vance
He became a state legislator at 24, a Congressman at 28.  Vance equated the Democratic Party with sectionalism which he believed dangerous to the best interests of North Carolina and the South. Determined to oppose it, he cast his allegiance with the declining Whig Party.   He continued to call himself a Whig after the party had dissolved and he had entered other campaigns as a member of the American or Know Nothing Party. 

In the sunmer of 1855, he severely criticized his cousin, James S. T. Baird, for leaving the American party. A challenge for a duel was issued by Baird and Vance apparently accepted.
Chagrined relatives stepped in at the last moment and prevented a tragedy.

Vance in 1858
Vance was elected to the House of Representatives in 1858 to fill a vacant seat. His harsh criticism of Democrats as promoters of sectionalism resulted in a hot re-election campaign against David Coleman that almost ended in a duel. Vance served in Congress from 1858 to 1861, during which time he strongly advocated maintenance of the Union. He spoke against the act of secession because he thought it unwise and dangerous, but he never denied the legal right of a state to secede. 

By the time the ordinance of secession passed in May 1861, Vance was a captain stationed in Raleigh, commanding a company known as the "Rough and Ready Guards," part of the 14th North Carolina Regiment. That August, he was elected Colonel of the 26th North Carolina.  

26th North Carolina Regiment Band
The battle of New Bern on March 14, 1862, brought Vance and his regiment under enemy fire for the first time. Approximately 4,000 Confederate troops faced 11,000 Federal soldiers that day in a battle that resulted in a complete Confederate defeat. The 26th North Carolina was stationed on the extreme right of the weak Confederate defense. The regiment was attacked by three Federal regiments under the command of General Jesse L. Reno around 8:30 in the morning.  The center of the Confederate line was easily broken, and by noon Vance's command was forced to retreat across Bryce's Creek to avoid being surrounded and captured.  Vance demonstrated his continued impetuous nature by trying to cross the strong current of the creek alone and having to be rescued by some of his own troops. His role in this battle became a matter of controversy afterward.  He had come under fire and some of his men were killed, but many contemporary accounts suggested that he had performed heroically. A popular perception existed that made the colonel into a war hero. 

New Bern, North Carolina
Vance was quite convinced of his own fine performance, writing to Hattie: 
"I cannot now speak of the thousand dangers which I passed through I was quite surprised at my feelings, excitement and pleasure removed every other feeling and I could not resist cheering with might and main."
Vance also led the 26th at Richmond.  The 26th regiment was ultimately destroyed at the Battle of Gettysburg, losing more than 700 of its original 800 members, though Vance at that time was no longer in military service.

Vance's older brother, Robert B. Vance, was a brigadier general in the Confederate army. 

Anti-administration opponents had established a loosely knit organization called the Conservative Party, and they picked the popular colonel to head the 1862 gubernatorial contest against Democrat William Johnston.  The campaign was fought in the press, and with the full support and vitriolic pen of William Holden, editor of The North Carolina Standard, Vance was elected in September by an overwhelming majority, more than 32,000 votes.

Vance as North Carolina Governor, 1862
In the Confederacy, Vance was a major proponent of individual rights and local self-government, often putting him at odds with the Confederate government of Jefferson Davis.   North Carolina was the only state to observe the right of habeas corpus and keep its courts fully functional during the war. Vance refused to allow supplies smuggled into North Carolina by blockade runner to be given to other states until North Carolinians had been supplied.

Jefferson Davis
Vance's work for the aid and morale of the people, especially in mitigating the harsh Confederate conscription practices, inspired the nickname "War Governor of the South." 

Later in the war, there was a sizable element of the population suffering from discontent, frustration, alarm at the growing presence of Union troops in the state, resentment of the Davis government for failure to protect them, and defeatism as the hope of victory slipped further away. Led by William Holden, who had broken ties with the Vance, the group initiated a peace movement to take the state out of the Confederacy. Holden took the issue to the voters by challenging Vance in the election of 1864, but the governor’s efforts on behalf of the people had increased his immense popularity and he was re-elected by a four to one margin.

Soon after his reelection, Vance began to sense that the days of the Confederacy were numbered. In a letter to his friend David Swain he wrote,
"I have always believed that the great popular heart is not now, and never has been in this war. It was a revolution of the Politicians; not the People." 
State Capitol, Raleigh, North Carolina during the Civil War
On April 10, 1865, having been informed that Confederate troops of General Joseph E. Johnston would soon have to evacuate Raleigh, Vance began the transfer of state records and military stores to Graham, Greensboro, and Salisbury. Two days later, with the capital unprotected and William T. Sherman's army rapidly advancing on the city from the east, he sent ex-governors David L. Swain and William A. Graham to open negotiations with the Union general. When the commissioners failed to return at the appointed time, late afternoon, the governor decided to leave Raleigh, which he did around midnight. After spending the remainder of the evening at General Robert F. Hoke's camp about eight miles from the city, he proceeded to Charlotte by rail to talk with President Davis. Vance then returned to Greensboro, where it was announced that General Johnston on April 26 had surrendered his forces to Sherman at the James Bennett farmhouse near Durham.  On receipt of this news, the governor issued his final proclamation to the people of North Carolina and then surrendered himself to Union general John M. Schofield.  The general, having no orders for Vance's arrest, told him to go to Statesville, where Harriet and their sons were staying. 

Early on the morning of his 35th birthday, May 13, 1865, Vance was arrested at his home in Statesville and transferred to Old Capitol Prison in Washington. Although no charges were ever filed, he was held there until July.  Per President Andrew Johnson's amnesty program, he filed an application for pardon on June 3, and was paroled on July 6. 

Charlotte, North Carolina
In February 1866, Vance suffered a mild stroke and was partially paralyzed for a short time.
He then began practicing law in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Among his clients was accused murderer Tom Dula, the subject of the folk song "Tom Dooley."  He also began a new career on the lecture circuit and used the money earned to maintain his family and pay old debts.

Tom Dula
Vance was formally pardoned on March 11, 1867, though no formal charges had been filed against him leading to his arrest, during his imprisonment, or during the period of his parole.  In 1870, the state legislature elected him to the United States Senate, but due to the restrictions placed on ex-Confederates by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, he was not allowed to serve. 

Around 1870, Zebulon Vance composed "The Scattered Nation," a speech he would give hundreds of times to sold-out crowds in lyceums and lecture halls all across America in years to come, including his 20 years as a U.S. senator. Drawing on its author's oratorical gifts and wide reading in ancient and biblical history, the lecture makes a powerful case against what it calls "the wickedness and the folly of intolerance."

Vance opened with a striking comparison of the Jewish people to the Gulf Stream -- a river of people moving through the sea of nations yet never mingling with it. He went on to trace elements of such modern ideals as representative democracy and property rights to the ancient Hebrew tribal confederation, praising the lack of crime and the intelligence and strong family values he has personally seen among their modern descendants.

Standing the anti-Semitic stereotype of the mercantile, ghettoized Jew on its head, Vance showed how, when persecution forced the Jews away from agriculture and land ownership, the "scattered nation" turned its hardships into virtues by establishing a system of universal commerce, based on mutual trust, such as could never have developed among the border-bound and language-divided "consolidated nations" of the gentiles. Such arguments were eye-openers in an age when even educated Victorian Christians routinely stereotyped Jews as greedy Shylocks and thieving Fagins, refusing to allow even wealthy Jews into New York hotels -- much less into such inner sanctums for political and economic decision-makers as the New York Athletic Club and Tuxedo Park (two places where Vance gave his speech).

In 1876, Vance was elected Governor of North Carolina again, during which time he focused on education. In the first two years of his administration, railroad construction resumed; the financial structure of the state was placed on a more solid footing; and the last federal troops left the state.

In October of 1878, his mother died.  His wife, Hattie, died the following month, on November 8.   Vance's emotional reaction to this was to espouse the religious faith of his wife and to join a church for the first time in his life.

Vance as Senator
Vance was elected and served in the United States Senate from 1879 until his death in 1894.

On June 15, 1880, two years after the death of Hattie, he married his second wife, Florence Steele Martin, a widow from Louisville, Kentucky.  She had one son, Harry Martin, from her previous marriage.  Florence was a stabilizing force in his life: she was relatively wealthy and maintained complete control of her own finances. Early in their marriage, she purchased a large home for them in Charlotte and paid cash for it.  She doted on Vance; while she was always protective, she insured that he never took himself  too seriously. She criticized his speeches and his clothes, begged him to "be dignified," and once wrote, "I think you do less work than any man I ever saw."  But she also supported his efforts to build his dream house in the mountains of western North Carolina. Named "Gombroon", the house was elaborate in interior and exterior design. But it was also a working farm with a garden, 300 apple trees, and a barn for livestock.  Vance often went there to recover his health and to escape the pressures of Washington.

Vance's sons by Hattie - Zebulon, Charles, David, and Thomas - all had a series of misfortunes with which he had to deal. David and Charles had severe drinking problems; David had a short and disastrous marriage that ended with his wife's death; Zeb was stabbed and nearly killed while in the military; and Thomas had financial problems.  In addition, Vance had to wrestle with the problems of his stepson Harry Martin as he attended Georgetown University, and to comfort Florence when her mother died in 1889.

Vance himself suffered from a variety of ailments that included having a tumor lanced in 1882, having an operation in 1885, being thrown from a wagon and injured in 1887, and suffering from a severe cold during the fall of 1888.  His health began to fail in 1889 with the removal of one of his eyes. 

He traveled to Europe for several months in an effort to recover, but he remained weak throughout much of 1892.  In the winter of 1893, he went to Florida for rest and only returned to Washington in March 1894 under political pressure.  By this point, Vance's legs were paralyzed and he was growing progressively weaker. 

He died of a stroke on April 14, 1894 at his home in Washington, D.C.  He died one month before his 65th birthday.

His funeral services were held in the chamber of the United States Senate. As his funeral train moved through the state, thousands of people lined the tracks to pay their last respects to a man whom they loved and admired .

He was buried - for the first time -  in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina.  

Vance Grave
His second wife, Florence Steele Martin, refused to allow the Masonic team to perform the funeral rites they had rehearsed at Mount Hermon Lodge 118 in Asheville.  Later, she secretly had her husband exhumed and reburied in her Martin family’s plot. 

When Vance's sons found out, they took their stepmother to court, got a judgment, had their father dug up again and reburied him in the original plot.

Two years after the widely admired senator's death in 1894, noted local benefactor George W. Pack offered to donate $2,000 to help pay for a monument to Vance in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse (then located on the east side of the current Pack Square).  An obelisk was dedicated to Vance in Pack Square, Asheville; its cornerstone was laid in 1897. By 1898, the obelisk was complete.

Vance Monument
The Asheville chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy has conducted a joint ceremony with the local chapter of B'nai B'rith each year at the foot of the Vance Monument, on or about May 13, Vance's birthday.

Vance Statue in Raleigh, North Carolina
There is a statue of Vance on the south grounds of the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, and a bronze state in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C.

Vance Statue in the National Statuary Hall

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