Governor Ellis died in July, 1861, and was succeeded by Henry T. Clark, Speaker of the Senate. According to regular precedent, his right to the seat would expire with the election in August, 1862, but his successor could not under the law be installed until January, 1863. The convention therefore provided that the new governor should be installed in September and continued Governor Clark in office until that time. The campaign began at once. Most prominent among the leaders of the conservative party was W. W. Holden who was generally thought to desire the office himself. He was out of the question, and the conservatives sought without success to induce William A. Graham to be a candidate. The press, with the exception of the Standard, favored a general nominating convention and no contest, but Holden was opposed, desiring a campaign, and carried his party with him. When a contest was clearly inevitable, the secessionist element nominated William Johnston of Mecklenburg through the press. The conservatives were still casting about and finally the name of Zebulon B. Vance was suggested by the Fayetteville Observer, after some agreement of the leaders and the party accepted him. He was at the time colonel of the Twenty-Sixth Regiment.
In the press the campaign was one of extreme bitterness. Apart from Vance's speeches in the army the candidates took little part in it. There was no real issue. It was really a campaign fought on the personality of the leaders. This was frankly the case so far as the conservatives were concerned. But the original secessionists or "confederate" party saw, or appeared to see, in the success of the conservatives, a complete surrender to the North. They adopted as a platform the resolutions of confidence passed by the convention, p40 and placed a summary of them upon their ticket which was as follows:
An unremitting prosecution of the war; the war to the last extremity; complete independence; eternal separation from the North; no abridgment of Southern territory; no alteration of Southern boundaries; no compromise with enemies, traitors, or tories.
Jeff. Davis, Our Army, And The South.
Even out of the Confederacy the campaign attracted interest and in the North it was declared that the election of Vance would be a Union victory. But the people could not be convinced that Vance was untrue and gave him a majority of thirty-three thousand, something hitherto unheard of in the state. In his inaugural, Vance outlined his policy and pledged himself to a vigorous and unrelenting prosecution of the war. He won at once the confidence of his late opponents and thereafter there was little doubt of his position.a
The campaign had focussed attention on the question of loyalty and there was much fear of widespread disloyalty, but it is not likely that many people at this time desired a return to the Union. That a small number actively desired such an eventuality and steadily plotted to secure it is undoubted. Nor is there room to doubt that dissatisfaction with conditions and with the Confederate Government was widespread and growing. Failure to protect the coast, the establishment of the military prison at Salisbury with its numerous political prisoners, the general feeling that North Carolina and North Carolinians were discriminated against, the impressment of arms, the rigorous collection of the tithe, and an even more rigid enforcement of the conscription laws, — all these combined to make the Confederate Government increasingly and, in time, bitterly unpopular. Economic conditions also grew worse rapidly, and disloyal act and utterance became less rare. A large number of deserters were present in the state by 1862 and the number steadily increased as time passed. They were most numerous in Randolph, Chatham, Catawba, Yadkin, Iredell, Forsyth, Guilford, and Wilkes. In the last there was in 1863 a regiment organized and under arms. Attempts to arrest deserters in most cases failed and they were a menace to unity for the rest of the war.
p41 Disloyalty in the East was largely confined to the coast region which was left almost entirely unprotected. When Federal occupation came every inducement was offered to those who remained at home to cast their lot with the Union. There was in the North a strong conviction that the people of North Carolina were still at heart loyal to the United States and that if the opportunity were offered they would return to their allegiance. Two attempts were made during the course of the war to secure restoration. Both were in reality foreign to the people, but one was professed to be entirely local in its origins. The other was avowedly a military movement by the President of the United States.
Governor John Willis Ellis
The first attempt was made by a small group of men, few p42 if any, natives of the state. A so‑called constitutional convention was held at Hatteras in November, 1861, which declared the ordinance of secession null and void, elected one Marble Nash Taylor governor, and ordered a congressional election. When this was held, one Charles H. Foster was chosen. Both the convention and election were absurd frauds and all efforts to secure any recognition by Congress of this so‑called Hatteras Government failed.
In May, 1862, President Lincoln appointed as military governor of North Carolina with the rank of brigadier-general, Edward Stanly, of California, a native of North Carolina, who had been formerly one of the most prominent whig leaders in the state, noted for a strong hatred of secession and an equally strong devotion to the Union. He had been speaker of the House of Commons, attorney-general, and for several terms a member of Congress. Stanly had left the state when opposition to secession was strong throughout it and he could not believe that sentiment had greatly changed. He came at once to New Bern, now in the hands of Federal troops, and undertook the thankless task of leading the people back to the Union. Unable to make any headway, he found his position hopeless. Almost immediately, too, he involved himself in a bitter series of quarrels with a group of New Englanders who had started a school for negroes and were also busily engaged in sending slaves to the North. These disagreements put him in the bad graces of the radical element in Congress, led by Charles Sumner. By this time Stanly was deeply disgusted with his task. He was still heart and soul for the Union but he conceived a violent hatred of the conduct of those who were fighting for it in eastern North Carolina. He declared the Federal troops "guilty of the most shameful pillaging and robbery that ever disgraced an army in any civilized land." He had held an election for Congress the fall after his appointment but the successful candidate was not seated and it was clear by now that his mission was a failure. Accordingly, on January 15, 1863, he resigned with a letter of protest to the President against the emancipation proclamation. He went to California, notifying the President that he was ready to serve in North Carolina p43 when needed, but he was never called on and never returned to the state.
Until 1863 the voicing of peace sentiment had been individual only. The Standard and the Raleigh Progress, both formerly violent secession papers, but now equally intense in their disloyal opposition to the Confederate government, served as clearing houses for the exchange of disloyal sentiment. But in the spring of 1863 a Virginian was appointed to collect the tithe in the state. The outburst of indignation which followed was of so threatening a nature that Governor Vance secured the removal of the collector. In the meantime, however, with this appointment as a pretext, the Standard had called upon the people to meet and express their opinion on the state of the country. A week later Holden editorially took strong ground for peace. As a result nearly a hundred public meetings were held, distributed among about forty counties, at all of which resolutions prepared by Holden were adopted. The whole movement had been carefully planned by Holden, who was plotting to secure the withdrawal of North Carolina from the Confederacy and its return to the Union.
When the news of these happenings reached the army, there was a storm of abuse from the North Carolina troops and a demand for the suppression of seditious agitators. At home public feeling was almost as strong. The efforts of Vance, Graham, and Hale, the chief conservative leaders, to check Holden were fruitless since Holden confidently believed that the masses were with him and that he would not be harmed. Vance was particularly opposed to the meetings and finally issued a proclamation that doubtless would have proved utterly unavailing if the movement had not spent its force and if General R. F. Hoke's brigade had not been ordered into the state just at this time, supposedly to keep an eye on the situation. Then the meetings ceased and Holden contented himself with keeping the Standard full of communications intended to keep the question of peace uppermost in the minds of the people and to stimulate hostility to the Confederate government. As a result, a brigade of Georgia soldiers passing p44 through Raleigh sacked the Standard office and attempted to mob Holden who, however, escaped. The next day the press and other property of the State Journal, a strong war paper, were destroyed by a mob composed of Holden's sympathizers.
The fall election showed strong peace feeling in the state, and five of the Congressional representatives were from the Standard's candidates. During the winter the feeling grew and talk of a convention was frequent. Holden now determined upon another series of peace meetings and urged Vance to support the demand for a convention. The latter indignantly refused and the friendly relations between the two soon ended. Holden still hoped to control the governor and the resolutions adopted at the peace meetings which followed all endorsed him, but Vance soon made it clear that he would have no part in such a program. Just at this time he was engaged in an acrimonious correspondence with President Davis in which on the whole he fared badly.
Late in February, immediately after the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the Standard suspended publication. On March 3d Holden issued an extra to announce himself a candidate for governor. In May he resumed the publication of his paper and began to work actively for election. His following seemed large and many of Vance's supporters were downcast, little realizing the power of the man. Holden was, it is true, a man of the people and strong with the masses. He was an old and experience political leader who was noted for his fine touch upon the pulse of popular sentiment. But he failed to realize how much he had personally helped to create and mould the peace sentiment, and, believing that it had originated with the people, he thought their minds could not be turned from it. He still wrote powerfully and was read widely but a new power had arisen in North Carolina politics — the oratory and personality of Vance. For Vance was himself a man of the people and he had won the love and affection of the people by his efforts to relieve suffering and to preserve civil liberty. Committed to the cause of the South, he had gained the support of those who had opposed him in 1862, and he had not lost the main body of the conservatives.
p45 The campaign was one of intense feeling in which the issue in a sense came to be the withdrawal of the state from the Confederacy. Excitement was increased by the discovery of the existence of a secret and treasonable society, called the Heroes of America, but known commonly, on account of its badge, as the Red Strings. It actively supported Holden and the combination of issue and method greatly weakened him. The election resulted in the success of Vance by a largely increased majority and the peace movement as an open movement ended. Sentiment for peace continued and was intensified as the end drew near.
a For details of Vance's wartime tenure see "Zebulon B. Vance as War Governor of North Carolina, 1862‑1865" (Journal of Southern History, III.1
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