“War Governor of the South”: North Carolina’s Zeb Vance in the Confederacy

“War Governor of the South”: North Carolina’s Zeb Vance in the Confederacy. By Joe A. Mobley. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005. xiv, 264 pp. ISBN 0-8130-2849-3.)

This is the nineteenth volume in the series New Perspectives on the History of the South, edited by John David Smith. Joe A. Mobley’s biography of the enigmatic Zebulon Vance (1830–1894) lives up to the series’s promise of historiographical reinterpretation by reevaluating Vance’s actions while Confederate governor of North Carolina (1862–1865). Often compared with Georgia’s war governor, Joseph E. Brown, Vance has been consistently faulted for, at best, a halting cooperation, and, at worst, a sabotage, in his failure to furnish supplies and manpower to the Confederate Army. The historian Frank Owsley put forth the still dominant interpretation of Brown and Vance’s recalcitrance when he characterized the reason the Confederacy failed to win the war: “Died of State Rights” (p. xi). Mobley’s biography asserts that “the persistent Owsley portrait of Vance as the Scrooge of the Confederacy, whose miserly withholding of supplies helped bring about the Confederate defeat, is inaccurate” (p. 147). Mobley portrayed Vance as a sincere nationalist who responsibly protected the interests of his state and, in fact, prolonged the chances for Southern independence.

By Joe A. Mobley