north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     In the waning days of the Civil War, as General Joseph E. Johnston prepared his Confederate Army for General William T. Sherman’s imminent march into Raleigh, Governor Zebulon Baird Vance arranged to leave the area in order to avoid capture by the Union soldiers. Part of his preparations involved meeting with Raleigh Mayor William H. Harrison and former governors William A. Graham and David L. Swain to draft a notice of surrender of the city in an attempt to spare it from complete destruction, a fate that had befallen many other towns at Sherman’s hands. After completing the letter, Governor Vance chose to make both Swain and Graham commissioners and entrusted the delivery of the document to them.

     On the morning of April 12, 1865, Swain and Graham, along with three members of the Governor’s staff, boarded a train headed to Sherman’s headquarters near present-day Clayton. After a brief delay, the train was escorted safely to Sherman’s location, and they delivered the letter. Swain and Graham were held by Union troops for the remainder of the day and overnight. On the morning of April 13, they were allowed to return to Raleigh with Sherman’s response, which indicated his inability to fully suspend the conflict, but with an assurance that he would be willing to work towards that end.

     During the evening of April 12, when Swain and Graham failed to return as expected, Governor Vance assumed the worst and departed Raleigh, leaving behind a letter indicating that Mayor Harrison had the authority to surrender the city. In the early hours of April 13, as Swain and Graham began their trek back downtown, Mayor Harrison and others headed to the southern Wake County area. There they met General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, commander of the approaching army, and proposed the surrender of Raleigh.

     Kenneth Rayner, a long-time Raleigh resident, made the official offer, which included a promise that no military or citizenry resistance would occur, and also requested that the city be spared from destruction. Kilpatrick agreed to safeguard the city and its inhabitants, posting guards at location where they were requested, and then headed to the State Capitol. There the flagpole was removed, and the U.S. flag was placed over the dome. General Sherman arrived a short time later and set up his office in the governor’s mansion. Raleigh had been successfully surrendered and saved from destruction.

Mark L. Bradley, This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place (2000)
Elizabeth Reid Murray, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina (1983)
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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