First Wednesdays – “…doing anything whatsoever calculated to cause excitement…”

Toward the end of April 1865, North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance was becoming increasing irrelevant in the rapidly unfolding events in North Carolina. He was unable to participate in the surrender negotiations between Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and Union Major General William T. Sherman, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was only concerned in getting Governor Vance’s support to continue the Confederacy’s dying war of independence in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Vance was able to find an ally in General Sherman to continue his quest to remain as the Chief Executive of the State of North Carolina, however, General Sherman’s lenient terms of surrender had discredited his role in the culmination of the fighting in the Old North State. Whatever support that Vance had from General Sherman did not get carried over to the remaining Union military forces in North Carolina, particularly Major General John M. Schofield, the new military commander in the state. Events had overridden Governor Vance and he was desperate regain control politically.

On his evacuation route from Raleigh to Greensboro, North Carolina, Governor Vance could see panic everywhere. The roads were filled with deserters, military units, refugees, and recently paroled soldiers from the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The sight of full warehouses along the route of the North Carolina Railroad through piedmont North Carolina spurred Confederate soldiers to loot these facilities in the sight of quartermaster officials charged with their upkeep. Governor Vance also saw soldiers attempting to climb onto moving trains in an effort to look for food and/or plunder, and transportation westward. This lawlessness concerned Governor Vance, and fueled his fear that the state’s society was breaking down from the effects of the war.

On April 28th, Governor Vance issued one of his last proclamations as Governor of North Carolina during the American Civil War. In this proclamation, he stated that “…the country is filled with numerous bands of citizens and soldiers disposed to do violence to persons and property…” He commanded “…all such persons to abstain from any and all acts of lawlessness, to avoid assembling together in crowds in all towns and cities…” He also commanded “…all soldiers of this State to retire quietly to their homes and exert themselves together in preserving order.” In addition, Vance authorized “…the good and true soldiers of North Carolina, whether they have been surrendered and paroled or otherwise…” to form units under the command of civil magistrates to keep law and order in local communities. It is not known whether these units were ever formed or deployed within the state. Vance appealed to his fellow citizens for assistance, since as he noted “Without their aid I am powerless to do anything.”

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