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  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. 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  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.