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Leading into the gubernatorial election year of 1864, amidst an exhausting Civil War, Confederate North Carolinians faced many impending threats and frustrations: dangers from the Union controlled costal North Carolina, the massive loss of manpower in the fields at home, the devastation caused by the economic policies of tax in kind laws and seizures of private goods, and the Confederacy’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. By the end of 1863, many North Carolinians, exhausted by these hindrances, had begun organizing and rallying for peace beside William Woods Holden, the editor for the North Carolina Standard.

The peace rallies lead by Holden immediately became a rather large thorn in the side of the Confederate government as President Jefferson Davis and North Carolina Governor Zebulon Baird Vance realized the catastrophic ramifications that a full-fledged peace movement would have on the morale of Confederate soldiers. Furthermore, Holden’s thorn ran the risk of becoming a dagger in the side of Governor Vance as Holden found an open niche as Vance’s political adversary in the 1864 gubernatorial elections. However, in the months that followed Holden’s announcement to run, Vance ran an astounding reelection campaign that was able to stabilize the discontent coming from Holden’s camp and reestablish most white North Carolinians’ confidence in the Confederate government.

In a recent study focusing on the 1864 gubernatorial campaign in North Carolina, Dr. Joe A. Mobley, who is currently a professor at North Carolina State University, briefly examined the tenacious strength with which Governor Vance ran his reelection campaign and stabilized the Confederacy in North Carolina. Mobley’s retelling of Vance’s campaign emphasizes the Governor’s ability to rise from a sick, exhausted, and discouraged previous year in office to become a symbol of Confederate nationalism whose reelection proved North Carolina’s solidarity within the Confederacy.[1] It is important to note, however, that Mobley’s evidence to maintain the cohesiveness of Confederate nationalism in North Carolina came from the congratulatory responses of Vance’s fellow Confederate nationalists following his successful reelection; therefore, Mobley’s evidence focused on the writings of Vance’s supporters, who viewed his reelection as evidence that all North Carolinians wholeheartedly supported his message.  

With a deeper excavation into Vance’s campaign tactics and newspaper coverage, new evidence suggests that North Carolina voters may not have supported the incumbent Governor as much as Mobley’s evidence proposed. Instead, it is apparent that the growth of Confederate nationalism had manipulated white males, who were within the state that tallied the greatest number of war deserters, to vote for the continuation of the war as a means to publically protect their honor from the stigmas tied to desertion or Reconstructionism. This manipulation was one of many that led North Carolinians to desire the “honorable peace,” which Governor Vance contended could be obtained by continuing the fight for independence. In opposition to Governor Vance’s vision of honorable peace, Vance claimed that Holden and his protesters supported a “dishonored peace,” brought about by simply giving up and withdrawing from the war.

Dr. Wilfred B. Yearns Jr., in his book which focused on the Reconstructionist peace movement in the Confederacy, expressed some confusion when presented with the notion of the just and honorable peace that Confederate politicians began to hold as a slogan following the protests of 1863. Yearns claimed that the just and honorable peace desired by Confederate nationalists was a “vague platform” on which candidates began running in 1864. [2] Although Yearns’ book does an excellent job at addressing the Reconstructionist peace movement in the Confederate States, his research was lacking in an understanding of the just and honorable peace platforms declared by the Confederate nationalist politicians. This work will act as a supplement to both Mobley and Yearns’ work by defining the just and honorable peace sought after by Confederate nationalists while taking an objective perspective of the events leading up to the gubernatorial election of 1864.

In an attempt to clarify the honorable peace movement which was building throughout the Confederacy in 1863 to 1864, this essay will attempt to dissect Vance’s definition of an “honorable peace,” both through his correspondences and through the articles in his editorial, the Raleigh Weekly Conservative. Furthermore, this essay will endeavor to understand how Vance’s stance for an “honorable peace” led him to an overwhelming victory in North Carolina. In tandem with the understanding of Vance’s definition of an honorable peace, this essay will attempt to recognize the ways that Vance viewed the opposing theory for peace, which he set out to define using slanderous actions against his political opponent, whom he portrayed as a dishonorable Reconstructionist.

Vance’s argument that labeled Holden as a Reconstructionist was made simple as Holden was the leader of a massive peace movement in 1863 which, according to Yearns, was the strongest call for a reunification with the United States that the Confederacy had endured to date.[3] Meanwhile, Governor Vance was enduring the new hardships that were presented after the Union invaded Eastern North Carolina and had appointed Edward Stanly, a former North Carolinian, to be the Military Governor of the Eastern part of the state. With these pressing issues, it was without a doubt important for the North Carolina Confederacy to build a strong understanding of Confederate Nationalism, built upon trust and honor.

[1] Joe A. Mobley, “My Life Popularity and Everything Shall Go into This Contest,” in War Governor of the South: North Carolina’s Zeb Vance in the Confederacy (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005), 113 & 125-126.

[2] Wilfred B. Yearns Jr., “The Peace Movement in the Confederate Congress,” in The Georgia Historical Quarterly 41, no. 1 (March 1957): 7.

[3] Yearns, “The Peace Movement in the Confederate Congress,” 7.