The Confederate General-in-Chief

January 26, 1865 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law creating the military rank of general-in-chief of all Confederate armies.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Many had predicted that Davis would veto the measure because it infringed on his constitutional duties as military commander-in-chief. Also, Davis had opposed the original bill, which provided for reinstating Joseph E. Johnston to command the Army of Tennessee. But this revised bill omitted the Johnston provision, so Davis approved it in the spirit of compromise with the Confederate Congress.[1]

With the Confederate war effort growing bleaker by the day, southerners had been clamoring for change in the Davis administration, especially in the way that Davis tended to micromanage the military. Earlier this month, the Virginia General Assembly had approved a resolution calling for making General Robert E. Lee the general-in-chief of all armies to promote military efficiency, revive soldier morale, and “inspire increased confidence in the final success of our arms.” Davis resisted the idea but thanked the Assembly for the “uncalculating, unhesitating spirit with which Virginia has, from the moment when she first drew her sword, consecrated the blood of her children and all her natural resources to the achievement of the object of our struggle.”[2]

Knowing that Lee would be reluctant to accept such a position considering his heavy responsibilities commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, Davis asked if he would be interested in the post if offered. Lee answered that he would “undertake any service to which you think proper to assign me,” but added, “I must state that with the addition of the immediate command of this army I do not think I could accomplish any good.”[3]

Despite Lee’s reservations, the Confederate Congress proceeded in taking the army commander-in-chief title away from Davis and passing the bill creating a general-in-chief. After thinking it over, Davis signed it into law three days later. Secretary of War James Seddon quickly recommended Robert E. Lee for the new post, and Davis endorsed Seddon’s recommendation by nominating Lee. On the same day, Congress confirmed Davis’s nomination, and Lee became the first and only Confederate general-in-chief.[4]

Accepting the new job with grace, Lee wrote to Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, “I am indebted alone to the kindness of His Excellency the President for my nomination to this high and arduous office…” Lee then wrote to Davis, “I know I am indebted entirely to your indulgence and kind consideration for this honorable position… If I can relieve you from a portion of the constant labor and anxiety which presses upon you, I shall be more than compensated for any present burdens.” Promoting Lee came too late to affect the war’s outcome.[5]

—–

  • [1] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16079-16089
  • [2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16049-16069; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 626
  • [3] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 626-27; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16059-16069
  • [4] White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 57132-57143; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16079-16089; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 629-30
  • [5] White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 57132-57143; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16079-16099; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 630
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2 thoughts on “The Confederate General-in-Chief

  1. […] Confederate Senate confirmed the appointment of Robert E. Lee as general-in-chief of all Confederate […]

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  2. […] the Senate confirmed Lee’s appointment, in accordance with the act of the Confederate Congress passed on January 26. Lee ostensibly took overall command of all Confederate armies away from Davis and his military […]

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