No North Carolina Troops to Murder Her Southern Brethren
Below, Governor Zebulon Vance presents his reasons for not entertaining peace proposals with the North in a letter to John Haughton — lawyer, planter, and former State senator with strong unionist sympathies. Prior to Lincoln’s invasion of the South, Vance also held strong unionist sympathies.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"
No North Carolina Troops to Murder Her Southern Brethren:
“Executive Office, Raleigh, 17 August, 1863
To: John H. Haughton, Esq.
My dear Sir, Your letter of the 15th is recd, and I take the first moment allowed me by pressing business to reply.
You ask my opinion more especially “as to the best means of obtaining a speedy, lasting just and honorable peace.” National disputes can of course only be settled by negotiations or by war, by reason or by brute force. The former requires the assent & concordance of both parties, and either party refusing to negotiate can force the other into hostilities, or an absolute abandonment of all its pretensions. This I conceive was precisely our case in the beginning of our troubles.
The claim of the Southern States to withdraw from the union and form a separate government for themselves was deemed so inadmissible by the Federal government that no proposition whatever to negotiate would be listened to. Commissioners from the seceding States were even refused an audience of the Federal authorities. War therefore, or a total abandonment of all claim to the right of separation was the only alternative – Declining to yield this right….the States then [out] prepared for war and the President of the United States called for volunteers to crush them into submission.
North Carolina refused to furnish her quota of troops to murder her Southern brethren….severed the tie that bound her to [the] union by the unanimous voice of the peoples’ delegates & solemnly pledged her blood and treasure to the common course of Southern independence. This was the issue plain and unmistakable, then – the terms of the North were, lay down your arms and submit; [the terms] of the South – let us alone.
The whole world understood it. Is it not the same today?
There is therefore no escape from the conclusion, that should the North cry peace, it would indicate an intention to yield [the claims of the South], and should the South cry peace it would imply submission to the North. Are we ready for this?
Have the stout hearts of our soldiers and the patient sufferings of [our] people already reached that valley of humiliation which good old Bunyan located but one stage from the valley of the Shadow of Death?
God knows my dear Sir, that I would gladly lay down my life to restore peace to my country on terms of honor and safety, and would prefer the distinction to all the honors a grateful people could heap upon me. But as the matter stands and has stood from the beginning, I can only look upon propositions of peace coming from us, no matter how pure and patriotic the motive which induces them, as involving national dishonor, ruin and disgrace.
I can sympathize deeply with [our peoples’] sufferings under the desolating scourge of civil war waged with such bloody and vindictive cruelty, and do not wonder at their seeking for relief. But how any one can think there [is any prospect] for an honorable peace by negotiations, I am at a loss to know. But recently Vice President [Alexander H. Stephens] was sent to seek an interview with the Federal authorities to see if some more humane method of conducting the war could not be devised. Even this mission of mercy & civilization was treated with [scorn/indifference] and he was sent back without a chance to consult the proper authorities.
Suppose the State should be unanimous in the determination to make propositions to our enemies, how could it be done? What do we propose? Why sir the whole thing is [perfectly] absurd….except upon the supposition that we desire to submit….
I trust in God my countrymen will not be led blindfolded to their destruction. What would be the result of submission? To say nothing of the question of honor, it implies with absolute certainty….In short the fate of the conquered, with the fierce and vindictive passions engendered by civil strife goading on our conquerors, is what we should expect.
Reconstruction, if possible, would be little better; but it is a physical and moral impossibility. As soon would I think of resurrecting the bones of our gallant soldiers scattered from Gettysburg to New Orleans and invest them with living flesh, as to undertake [reconstruction the union as it once was] founded on mutual good will and sustained by a constitution limiting the powers and defining the rights of each member [State].
That mutual good will has [now] given way to fierce hatred and bloody hostility, and [the old] constitution torn into a thousand shreds and laughed at a waste papers. You might indeed reconstruct the territory of the old union, but the soul, the living principal of accord and nationality will not be there.
And this too, would for a time give our afflicted country peace….[as the] prisoner has peace in his dungeon, and if his soul be sufficiently ignoble may hear complacently the rattle of his chains. Such I feel assured, is not the peace the brave and high-minded people of [North Carolina] want…..
With whom would we again enter into this national wedlock, and take upon these ties of [unity and] common fellowship? With men who have slaughtered our sons and brothers in battle, murdered our citizens in cold blood, burnt our homes into cinders, stolen our property and inflicted upon our mothers, [sisters and] daughters the crowning outrage of humanity, and now send against us our own slaves armed and ready to surfeit their savage natures in brutality and murder! These people we are to receive again as brothers, red handed, reeking with the slaughter of our people and the desolation of our country, and sit as quietly down together in all peace and amity as one great and happy family!
To them we are expected to say, welcome thou slayer of my son, thou [gallant] murderer of my father, thou thief of all my goods, incendiary of my home, ravisher of my daughter….to this home you have made desolate and to this shelter I have built upon the ashes of our home you have] burned!!
Can any true son of North Carolina be found whose crawling, creeping soul would so grovel in the dirt of degradation and [so] lick the vile dust from the boot of a master? Mat God pity him [if there be]! Why is this idea even talked of?
Sir, our only hope for national honor, for happiness, for peace itself lies in a cordial undaunted and & vigorous prosecution of the war until our enemies offer us peace. The State of North Carolina by a solemn ordinance of her convention formally and forever dissolved her connection with the old government, [entered] into a compact with the new, and pledged her blood and treasure to the support of the common cause – in accordance with this solemn pledge….the best and bravest of her sons rushed to arms and for nearly thirty months have met the [almost] overwhelming numbers of the foe and driven him back upon a hundred fields of slaughter, with a gallantry and devotion which have excited the admiration of the world.
And now with the battle half won, must all this energy, this bravery, noble devotion and patriotic self-sacrifice be thrown away? Shall timid souls…drive our people to despair and crucify afresh the spirits of our heroic dead, and put their noble souls to open shame? God of his infinite mercy forbid!
I say the battle is half-won & why? Because Sir the North gives unmistakable signs that she finds it quite as difficult to keep up the strife as we. The blood which flows through the streets of her cities, the bold and defiant tone of her press and politicians towards Lincoln’s administration, the thousands of Federal bayonets gleaming throughout the land to enforce conscription and “preserve order,” as they significantly term it….all show that they are having their troubles also.
If our impatient, suffering people would only have more trusting faith, write cheerfully to their sons in the army, hold meetings all over the country, to devise means for the assistance of the poor and to induce the [poor and] tired and disheartened deserters to return to their colors, and sin no more, and [to] resolve to fight and suffer yet awhile longer, trusting the issue with God, in His own good time our deliverance will come — Such are my impressions of our public duty, hastily given – You or any one else may see them.
Very truly yours, Z.B. Vance”
(The Papers of Zebulon Baird Vance, Volume II, 1863, Joe A. Mobley, editor, NCDAH, 1995, excerpt, pp. 242-247)
No Troops To Murder Southern Brethren
No North Carolina Troops to Murder Her Southern Brethren