North Carolina

A Southern Unionist Poem, 1864

By Vikki Bynum

Many years ago, while researching my doctoral dissertation in the North Carolina State Archives, I came across a curious poem in the official papers of Civil War Governor Zeb Vance. Anonymously written in 1864, the poem celebrates the mounting victories of the Union army over Confederate forces, with its author(s) taking particular delight in taunting Governor Vance. The poem ends by lauding the courage of North Carolina’s pro-Union women as they faced down Confederate soldiers determined to learn the whereabouts of their sons and husbands.

I discovered the poem at the same time that I was researching the inner civil war that raged between Confederate and anti-Confederate forces in the North Carolina Piedmont—specifically, in the heart of its Quaker Belt, at the apex of Randolph, Montgomery, and Moore Counties (see map below). I was struck by how closely the poem fit the events of that region, particularly the clashes between Wesleyan Methodist Unionists and Confederate militia and home guard soldiers. So perfectly did the poem’s final stanza about “bold” Unionist women describe what I found in state and local records, that I quoted it in Unruly Women (p. 131).

The mass gravestone of three brothers who lost their lives in these clashes—William, John, and Jesse Hulin—with its single engraved description, “Murdered,” is pictured below.

Mass grave of William, John, and Jesse Hulin, Lovejoy Chapel cemetery, Montgomery County, NC

Grave of William, John, and Jesse Hulin, Lovejoy Chapel cemetery, Montgomery County, NC. Photograph courtesy of Elaine Reynolds

Despite how closely the 1864 poem parallels events occurring simultaneously in Montgomery County, a single place name written in its margins, “Taylorsville,” indicates that it originated in Alexander County, located further to the west and just outside the Quaker Belt (see map below).

The northern portion of Alexander County shares borders with northern Iredell and southern Wilkes counties, both considered part of the Quaker Belt, which was a hotbed of southern dissent during the Civil War. Alexander County shared in that history of dissent, despite the presence today of a monument to the Confederacy on its courthouse lawn. Like so many southern counties, Alexander’s Civil War history is far more complicated than Lost Cause histories and monuments would indicate.

In his recently published study of the Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt, William T. Auman reported that Confederate authorities were compelled to station a regiment of some 300 Home Guard soldiers in a region that included northern Alexander County. Citing numerous examples of clashes in this region, Auman described several that occurred specifically in Alexander. At one point, he wrote, two Home Guard soldiers were reported to Governor Vance as having “presented their guns at a Lady in Alexander last week.” So also were a number of Guardsmen reportedly shot by deserters.The old Union flag “waves every day,” read one letter from an Alexander County citizen to a soldier in the field. Replied the soldier, “I hope it will Wave over me bee fore long.” (From Auman, Civil War in the NC Quaker Belt)

The poem, predicting victory for the Union and its loyal southern and northern citizens and shame for Governor Vance, is printed here in its entirety, with original spelling intact:

This war is strange on every hand
We hear its song from every land
The Yankees are victorious
In every Battle they hav faught
For twelve months or there abought
They renderd themslfvs glorious

Then why will the rebbles forse Stand
And against the union armey contend
When they see thir mighty power
Reason would teach them that they was rong
And all that to thir [word smeared] belongs
If they reflect one hour

The union fast is gaining ground
In evry state and all around
We hear the men complaining
Jeff Davis they will overthrow
And to the union they will go
And stil thir caus keeps ganing

They do believe that Govner Vance
Would slip rite back if he’d the chance
Into the glorious union
If they’d promis him a pritty seat
To sit at Abriham Lincoln’s feet
He [would] quickly take communion

I could not believe that antie Zeb
Would hav turned out to be a reb
Although his actions prouved it
When he tuck holt of the govner’s chiear
Confederate caus to him was dear
For fiear that he might loose it

Then my little lawyer Zeb
Think of the blood that you hav shed
And begin to make repentance
Before your frightend ghost doeth stand
Before the judge of all the land
And hear its awful sentence

Let old Jeff davis wag along
And all that to his caus belong
They’ll travel on together
In a short time they’ll see thir fate
When thir cause is lost and it’s too late
And thir forses they can’t geather

Carolina fair and mountain land
Hath for the Union tuck a stand
Hir men ar bould and dairing
The rebble citizens doeth leave
And at thir fate doeth cry and grieve
And goes off quite desparing

Then my Union friends we’ll chiear
For glorious news we soon shall hear
[word smeared] libberty’s banner flying
The vanquisht armeys of the foe
Will soon be heard of hear no more
For they will leave a crying

Then chiear up you Union ladies bold
For of your courige must be told
How youv withstood abuses
When your property they’d take
The witty ansers you would make
That would vanish thir rude forces

—Anonymous

NC, showing Quaker Belt Counties with Alexander County shaded in red.

NC in 1860, with Quaker Belt Counties shaded in gray, and Alexander County shaded in red.

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