Zebulon Baird Vance

From Academic Kids

Portrait of Zebulon B. Vance

Zebulon Baird Vance (May 13,1830--April 14,1894) was an American Civil War hero and three-time Governor of North Carolina. A prodigious writer, Vance became one of the most influential southern leaders of the Civil War and post-bellum periods.



Zebulon Vance was born on May 13, 1830, in Buncombe County, North Carolina, the third of eight children. His family is known to have owned some slaves. At age twelve he was sent to study at Washington College in Tennessee, now known as Washington College Academy. The death of his father forced Vance to withdraw and return home at the age of fourteen. It was during this time that he began to court the well-bred Miss Harriet Espy by letter.

In order to improve his standing, Vance determined to go to law school. At the age of twenty-one he wrote the President of the University of North Carolina, former Governor David L. Swain, and asked for a loan so that he could attend law school. Governor Swain arranged for a $300 loan from the university, and Vance performed admirably. By 1852 Vance had begun practicing law in Asheville, and was soon elected county solicitor. By 1853, he and Harriet Espy were married, and they would subsequently have four sons.

Ante-Bellum Career

At the age of twenty-four Vance ran for a seat in the State House of Commons as a Whig, beating a man twice his age. He was defeated in 1856, but went on to win election to the United States House of Representatives. This was the last time Vance would be defeated in an election.

At the age of twenty-eight, Vance was the youngest member of Congress. While in Congress, Vance was a staunch supporter of the Union and states' rights. In March of 1861, however, when indications were that the North Carolina legislature was going to vote for secession, he resigned his seat and returned home.

Civil War

By the time the ordinance of secession had passed in May, Vance was a captain stationed in Raleigh, commanding a company known as the "Rough and Ready Guards," part of the Fourteenth North Carolina Regiment. That August, Vance was elected colonel to the Twenty-sixth North Carolina. The Twenty-sixth engaged in battle in New Bern in March of 1862, where Vance conducted an orderly retreat. Vance also led the Twenty-sixth at Richmond. The Twenty-sixth was ultimately decimated at the Battle of Gettysburg, loosing more than 800 of its original 900 members.

In September of 1862, Vance won the gubernatorial election. In the Confederacy Vance was a major proponent of individual rights and local self-government, causing him to be seen as a maverick by the Confederate government. For example, North Carolina was the only state to observe the writ of habeas corpus and keep its courts fully functional during the war. Also, Vance refused to allow supplies smuggled into North Carolina by blockade runners to be given to other states until North Carolinians had their share. Vance's work for the aid and morale of the people, especially in mitigating the harsh Confederate conscription practices, inspired the nickname "War Governor of the South."

After the War

Like many other Southern politicians, Vance was arrested and imprisoned in the Old Capitol Prison Camp at the end of the war. Following his parole in 1865, he returned to practice law in Charlotte. In 1870 he won election to the United States Senate, but was denied admission because he had not yet been pardoned.

Vance was governor again from 1877 to 1879, a period marked by the death of his beloved wife, Harriet Vance. As governor Vance led an effort to increase educational facilities and teacher training. At the end of his term as governor, he again ran for and won a position in the Senate.

As a Senator, Vance was a dynamic and controversial speaker who often packed the galleries. He was a popular and effective arbitrator of tensions between North and South.

The Senator married again in 1880 to Florence Steele Martin of Kentucky.

He died in Washington, DC on April 14, 1894, and after services in the Senate Chamber was buried in Asheville.


About Vance

"He was the Mount Mitchell of all our great men, and in the affections and love of the people, he towered above them all. As ages to come will not be able to mar the grandeur and greatness of Mount Mitchell, so they will not be able to efface from the hearts and minds of the people the name of their beloved Vance."

-- T. J. Jarvis, Governor from 1879 to 1885

By Vance

"The great popular heart is not now and never has been in this war. It was a revolution of the politicians, not the people."


"A vale of humility between two mountains of conceit."

Supposedly said by Vance about North Carolina. The two mountains of conceit are Virginia and South Carolina. Some argue that Vance was referring to Georgia instead of South Carolina.


There are several monuments dedicated to Vance:

Several locations in North Carolina bear Vance's name:

External links

Preceded by:
(first term)
Henry Toole Clark
Governor of North Carolina
1862-1865, 1877-1879
Succeeded by:
(first term)
William Woods Holden
Preceded by:
(second term)
Curtis Hooks Brogden
Succeeded by:
(second term)
Thomas Jordan Jarvis
Preceded by:
Augustus Summerfield Merrimon
Senator from North Carolina
Succeeded by:
Thomas Jordan Jarvis
Served in Senate alongside: Matt Whitaker Ransom

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