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Governor Z. B. Vance. [from the times-dispatch, May 8, 1904.]

Story of the last days of the Confederacy in North Carolina.

Historical fact vs. Fiction.

How injustice was done this gallant war executive.

The story told by my friend, Major A. B. Stronach, in his interesting narrative of a ‘Boy Rear Guard,’ in the Raleigh, N. C., Post, of April 17, 1894, of the attempt on the part of certain patriotic? citizens to persuade Governor Vance, our great war Governor, to be false to his oath of office, and surrender to General Sherman this city and State upon his entrance into the former on the morning of the 13th of April, 1865, has a sequel! Perhaps I am one of the few now living who can furnish the data from which the future biographer of that great man may correct history.

The appointment by Governor Vance of a commission to negotiate with General Sherman terms for the surrender of this city, that would save it from the fate of Columbia, had preceded the efforts to force Governor Vance to remain at his office in the Capitol on that fatal day and receive and surrender to General Sherman the Capital of the State. As I understand it, this commission, consisting of Governor William A. Graham, Governor Swain and others, had not as yet returned from their mission, as I will be able to show. I was at the time a member of Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton's staff, who, with the cavalry under his command, was moving on the Middle road toward the town of Hillsboro, General Wheeler moving by the Chapel Hill road with the cavalry of his command, of course, both protecting the rear of General Joseph E. Johnston's army, then falling back before Sherman, and having his magnificent cavalry under General Kilpatrick in advance.

Our force was engaged in constantly skirmishing, as we fell back slowly before him, and for the two days consumed in this march from Raleigh to Hillsboro, we were barely out of sight of each other. I had repeatedly warned General Hampton of an old disused [165] stage road, which left the city at that time by what is known as St. Mary's street, and ran due north from the Hillsboro street road. It is now known as the ‘Upper Durham road,’ and comes back into the Hillsboro road again at a point some fifteen miles from the city. I say that I had repeately warned General Hampton of the existence of this road, fully expecting that Kilpatrick would have flanked us, though, strange to say, he did not, and seems to have been in ignorance of it. Not so, however, the commissioners, Governors Graham and Swain! Returning from their mission to Sherman, and finding the army of General Johnston had fallen back on Hillsboro, they proceeded by the old stage road, known, of course, to them, and did successfully flank both armies, and actually caught up with us at the point where the roads forked.

General Hampton.

We had stopped for the night at Strayhorn's, nine miles from Hillsboro. This was a long, low farm house on the south side of the Hillsboro road, the stables, barns and lot being on the north side of the road. Here the staff horses were being fed and attended to, the officers of the staff doing their own feeding and such rubbing as the horses got. My servant, ‘Lambert Owens,’ who had followed me faithfully throughout the war, and was as good a Confederate soldier as we had, though the blackest negro I ever saw, was engaged with my horses, which was the reason I was able to be sitting on the veranda of the Strayhorn residence and talking to the chief. Raising my eyes, and looking up the road, I exclaimed:

“Yonder comes the commissioners!” when General Hampton rose from his seat to walk out to the front gate, saying simply, ‘Introduce me.’ I went out with him as they drove up and did as he had requested. The conversation that ensued was of an ordinary character. It was evident, however, that Governor Graham, who was spokesman, was detailing the facts of his recent visit to Sherman with a reserve, and I, who had known and honored them both from my boyhood, could easily guess what it was. He did not tell Gen. Hampton of what had passed at his interview with Sherman. They drove on, and we returned to our seat on the porch, when General Hampton, turning to me with a puzzled expression, asked ‘what do you think of all this?’ I answered, laughingly, that I had ‘expected him to have asked them in!’ He instantly exclaimed, suspiciously, ‘What do you mean?’ I replied, ‘Why, couldn't [166] you see that Governor Graham had a letter in his pocket to Vance?’

In a moment the soldier was alive in him, and with an order in a sharp and decisive voice: ‘Go and get your horse, sir,’ he went into the house and began to write hurriedly. Calling for an orderly to accompany me, I soon reported for duty. He gave me two letters, one for Governor Graham and one to General Joseph E. Johnston. My verbal instructions were “to overtake Governor Graham and give him that letter” (of course a demand for the letter he had for Vance). If, not, to follow him to Hillsboro and if possible secure it before its delivery to Governor Vance. If I failed to do so, take Governor Graham on an engine to General Johnston at Haw River and deliver him with the second letter. The night was very dark and stormy and I could not ride as rapidly as I should have done, and, therefore, I did not overtake the Rockaway, but on my arrival went immediately to the station to secure an engine, and wire Haw River. Meeting Major Johnson, the quartermaster of the cavalry corps at the station, I told him of my disagreeable duty and begged him to accompany me; arriving at Governor Graham's residence we were promptly admitted, and found the Governor with Mrs. Graham in the sitting-room. He said: ‘My dear, you had better retire, as these gentlemen doubtless wish to see me on business.’ I silently handed the Governor General Hampton's letter. He read it; his face flushing angrily. Drawing himself up to his full height, he exclaimed: ‘I am ready to accompany you, sir!’ I said: ‘Governor, had you not better hand me that letter?’ He replied: ‘I have already delivered it to Governor Vance, sir!’ His whole manner then instantly changed and laying his hand on my shoulder he said in a feeling voice: ‘I understand, I know how you feel your position.’ I returned to the station, but having failed in my mission, did not feel it liberty to take the engine, but proceeded on my horse to General Johnston at Haw River in accordance with instructions to report facts, through rain, mud and the darkest night I ever saw. I rode the eighteen miles, arriving at daylight.

Midnight conference.

General Hampton occupied the house on the left side of the Hillsboro road, midway between the dirt road and the railroad—now the Southern—as his headquarters. It was three miles from the town, and owned and occupied by the family of Dr. Dickson, they having kindly given up to us the whole of the lower floor, retiring [167] to the rooms on the second floor. It was an old-fashioned house, the entrance being immediately upon the main or sitting room. Around this room we, the staff, slept, General Hampton occupying a small shed room in the rear. We also ate in this room, when we had anything to eat, and all the work of the adjutant-general, Major McClellan, was done here. But the long, old-fashioned family table was generally bare. It was in this room and around this table that, as we sat at supper one night in that fated April month of the year 1865, that General Hampton said to the officers of his staff: ‘Gentlemen, a council of war is to be held here to—night at 12 o'clock—you will take to the grass.’

That night a train came down the railroad from Haw River, a little before 12 o'clock, having on board General Joseph E. Johnston and staff, General Breckenridge, the Secretary of War; Judge Reagan, the Postmaster-General; Governor Vance, Mr. Leo D. Heartt, executive clerk, and others whose names I do not now recall. They were immediately conducted to the house, one hundred yards from the railroad.

At this council there were present, beside those named above, Generals M. C. Butler and Wheeler, of the cavalry corps, and others that I am now unable to remember. The object of this council was, of course, to decide on the terms of surrender of the army, and the purpose of holding the same at night to conceal, as far as possible, its object from the men of the command. As it was, many heard of it the following day, and left for home.

We rolled up in our blankets and were asleep under the trees in front of the house when the council was over, far into the small hours of the night. Some one pointed me out to Governor Vance when he came out of the council room, and he came and, without awakening me, got under my blanket beside me, preferring the open air and grass with a friend to the company of men who had treated him so cruelly at the council board, as I was afterwards to learn from his own lips. About daylight I awoke from cold, and rousing up, found that some fellow had appropriated all of my blanket and left me in my shirt-sleeves, my coat being under my head. Seeing it was Vance, I carefully covered him up, and filling my pipe sat and watched him, tenderly thinking of all his weariness and the great care that was weighing him down. When day came I did manage to secure for the Governor of my State a tin basin with water to wash his face, but he had to wipe it with his handkerchief.


Vance's anger.

After breakfast he proposed a walk. When out of sight and earshot he turned on me and said in a tone of cruel mortification and wrong: ‘I came here to explain that Sherman letter, and they wouldn't hear me. Me in communication with the enemy, me making terms for my State unknown to the authorities! Of all men, sir, I am the last man they can accuse of such infamy!’ Poor fellow — as the tears rolled down his cheeks—the strong man in his agony, mortification and shame put upon him by those whom he had served so grandly and so nobly! As he covered his face with his hands the words Et tu Brute came with force to my mind. For four long weary years we had fought and struggled and given our all for the cause that now was lost—but God forgive me, as I gazed on this strong man in his agony of the shame put upon him, I felt all the bitterness of resentment, and for the first and only time, I, a soldier of the Confederacy, was untre and disloyal to its colors.

With one little story of this last meeting of the leaders of our cause, I will conclude this story of a letter! At dinner time we had these gentlemen for our guests. Of all the miserable faces I ever saw, that of General Wade Hampton was the worst as the hour of dinner approached. He was absolutely without even Marion's rations, the potatoes with which he dined the British officer! Calling for my horse, I said: ‘General, I think I can find relief in town among my friends; wait until I return.’ I rode over to Colonel Cadwalladar Jones's. This beautiful old home of a hospitable race—noted for a century for all that was grand and good in human nature—and I laid the situation in the strongest language I could command before the venerable lady, who, bowed down in grief at the loss of a son, Robin Jones, killed at the head of his men under the command of the noble soldier who was now begging through me, bread of his broken-hearted mother with which to feed the chiefs of the cause for which he had so nobly given his life. She instantly arose to the occasion and said: ‘William, go back and tell General Hampton not to be troubled, I will have everything prepared in time and send it over.’ At the hour named a plantation wagon was driven up to General Hampton's headquarters, loaded with servants, glass, china, and such a dinner as only a Southern matron could provide. We never see them now, they live only in tradition, but the twenty-five pound turkey that graced that dinner I'll never forget this side of the grave.

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