1864: Benjamin Franklin Hoover to Zebulon Baird Vance

This 10 August 1864 Confederate stamped folded letter was written by 46 year-old Benjamin Franklin Hoover (1818-1884)—a circuit court clerk residing in Asheboro, Randolph county, North Carolina. His letter was addressed to North Carolina’s Governor, Zebulon Baird Vance, who did his best to uphold law and order in the state though it was populated by residents with sharply divided loyalties. Hoover’s purpose was to inform the Governor of the depredations being committed chiefly by Confederate deserters in his part of the state and pleading with the Gov. to do something about it though he could offer no suggestions.

Deaths were not confined to the battlefields

According to Hoover’s request for amnesty in July 1865, he claimed never to have been “a soldier nor officer at any time during the late rebellion nor participated in it in any way whatever.” He divulged that his only role during the war was to serve as a “Sub-Fitting Agent” in Randolph county under Capt. Lewis Hilliard which I believe were the Senior Reserves organized in 1864.

According to the US Army’s provost marshal general, it is estimated that 23,000 North Carolina troops deserted during the Civil War—nearly one quarter of the total for the entire Confederacy. This figure is disputed, however, and the causes for desertion in North Carolina are explored in a great little article published by NCPedia entitled “Civil War Desertion,” by Michael Thomas Smith. One of the reasons for desertion in the western counties of the state mentioned in this article was the breakdown of law and order in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One of the best articles on the problems with deserters specifically in Randolph county can be found in a blog post by L. McKay Whatley (see Civilian Casualties of War, 1863) in which the author points out that since Asheboro had no local newspaper published during the war, “events were only known when residents wrote to other newspapers, in Fayetteville, Greensboro, or in Raleigh. Most events were never recorded in the news at the time they happened and many stories are virtually impossible to confirm. Such stories survived, if at all, as oral history.” This article contains a tale involving the Bray family who are also mentioned in the following letter.

The back of the stamped folded letter is powerfully initialed by Vance and the letter is franked by a Confederate 10 cent stamp (Scott #12) cancelled by an Asheboro handstamp.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Ashboro, North Carolina
August 10, 1864

To His Excellency, Z. B. Vance

The state of affairs in this county is assuming a most deplorable aspect, and to give you some of the reasons that induce me to come to this conclusion, it will mention a few of the unlawful and outrageous acts committed by the deserters within the last few days. We have had any amount of stealing going on all the time—but for the last month or six weeks, armed parties of deserters have been going about even in the daytime compelling citizens to give up their arms and ammunition, and such other articles as they the deserters might want. The sheriff, while collecting his taxes was threatened to be waylaid and robbed—many good and quiet citizens are this time in great fear, not only of being robbed, but of being murdered or burnt up with all they have in the still and dead hour of the night.

On the day of the Election, a squad of the Home Guard was sent to an election precinct to prevent the deserters from voting. The voting was prevented by the officer saying to the man at whose house the election was held that he—this man—would prevent the deserters from coming to the election, and if he did not prevent them from coming up, that the Home Guard, upon the deserters coming in sight, would burn his house, it being well known that this man at whose house this election was held had a son who is a deserter, in the party who contemplated the attack—this man being understood to be a most cruel, blood-thirsty and savage man. During the day, 30 or more deserters, armed, were seen not more than 300 yards from this election—and the Home Guard, by having a man or two in it who had friends among the deserters got information that that the Home Guard would be attacked if it returned home by the usual road, had to avoid this and come in a very different direction.

On the day of the Election, H. McCain, Senior, an aged and crippled man was attacked in his own home and most rudely and abusively treated by 3 armed deserters and compelled to give up his gun, &c. On the next day these same 3 men, it is supposed, went to the house of a militia officer, knocked his wife down, tore up some of the officer’s property, stole his leather, and said to this officer’s wife that in 90 days she should be begging bread.

We have also just heard here of the killing of three of the Reserve Force just below Carthage—one of the men killed being from this neighborhood. And on last Saturday a large number of armed deserters were at the home of Bray—a reserve now on duty. They tore his clock from the wall, threw it on the floor and stamped it to pieces.

On yesterday a squad of the Home Guard, coming to this place for commissary stores from Franklinsville, was fired on from the rear, one of the Guard mortally wounded and three others wounded, shot through the arms, shoulders, &c.

We need more men and better men to manage our military affairs. We can never hope for better times here until we have more energetic and braver men at the head of our home forces. I have no suggestions to make, but I am satisfied that 3/4ths of the men who are now liable for duty in this county are well convinced that nothing can be done unless a change is made.

If the Home Guard officers lower than the field officers would suggest men to command and take charge of them, then we may hope that some good may be done and not until then. This desertion has been palliated and temporized with until it has such a hold and influence here that all good men fear that much blood will have to be shed before things are quieted here.

Exempts, details, &c., as a general thing, connive at, and cause desertion. If it be possible, send our folks help and that too, soon, as it is badly needed. I am sir, your obedient servant, — B. F. Hoover

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