By spring of 1864, the gubernatorial campaign had opened in earnest in North Carolina. As detailed in our previous “First Wednesdays” post, William W. Holden had announced his intention to campaign for the office of governor of North Carolina. The current chief executive of North Carolina, Zebulon Baird Vance, faced a daunting task of mounting a political reelection campaign during the course of war, which was becoming more unpopular as the days multiplied toward the season for active military operations in both Georgia and Virginia. The quest for independence was going badly for the Confederate States of America, and North Carolina citizens simply grown tired of the sacrifice in both lives and property to support a losing cause.
Governor Vance was extremely aware of the discontent of his citizens. He saw their pain and anguish over crimes being committed against unarmed civilians such as in Shelton Laurel in Madison County and bread riots over the inability of soldiers’ families to obtain basic foodstuffs during the previous year. Throughout the state, calls for a peace convention began to rise in places such as Johnston County in the east and the western regions in towns like Wilkesboro and Yadkinville. Governor Vance had to fight Confederate President Jefferson Davis to protect North Carolina’s interests during this unpopular Civil War, and now he faced another fight with the citizens of his own state. To make matters worse, President Davis supported, and the Confederate Congress passed, a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus directed at the growing discontent within the Confederacy.
Despite the political climate within the state, Vance decided to run for reelection for governor. As with Holden, Vance corresponded with key supporters such as former governor David Swain to formulate a political platform and campaign to deal with Holden and his supporters. Vance remained determined to support the idea of a separate Southern Confederacy coupled with a strong defense of North Carolina interests within that new country. Vance realized, as did others, that a return to the days prior to secession was unrealistic. Vance began his political campaign in Wilkesboro with a speech on February 22, 1864, in which he defended his support for the new Confederate nation and attacked the notion of a separate peace convention for North Carolina. Unfortunately for Holden and his political aspirations, Vance was an excellent stump speaker, and had the personal charisma to hold the attention of large audiences. His initial speech was a success, and he made additional remarks to large audiences in Salisbury, Taylorsville, and Statesville. Afterwards, Vance travelled to Virginia to speak to the North Carolina regiments in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia before returning to Raleigh on April 6, 1864.
We are highlighting the beginning of Vance’s reelection campaign in the spring of 1864 with two letters written by supporters of Governor Vance after his initial round of campaigning in the piedmont and western regions of North Carolina. In a letter dated April 2, 1864, Nathaniel Boyden gave his support to Governor Vance, but reminded him of the continued problems with the home guard and militia described as “…countless horde of worthless devils.” Boyden also expressed his concern of Governor Vance as being seen as pawn of “Richmond power” and noted that vocal support of Confederate Colonel Thomas Clingman was not helping. He wished that Clingman would “…turn his steam in some other direction.” Our second letter, addressed April 4, 1864, was written by a former soldier Walter W. Lenoir, who had lost a leg as a result of wounds suffered in combat in Virginia in 1862. He too wrote of his support for Governor Vance, and wished that his “Wilkesborough” speech be distributed to “every soldier and voter at home.”
To learn more about the peace movement in North Carolina in 1864, please be sure to attend our next “Second Mondays” lecture here in the auditorium of the Archives and History building at 12 noon on May 12, 2014. Our fellow committee member, Tiffanie Mazanek will be presenting “Peace Movement and William W. Holden.”