December 8, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis planned to leave Richmond and inspect the Confederate military situation in Tennessee and Mississippi.
Davis informed General Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg, Virginia, that he intended to personally inspect the Western Theater on the 8th:
“In Tennessee and Mississippi the disparity between our armies and those of the enemy is so great as to fill me with apprehension. I propose to go out there immediately, with the hope that something may be done to bring out men not heretofore in service, and to arouse all classes to united and desperate resistance. God may bless us, as in other cases seemingly as desperate, with success over our imperious foe. I have been very anxious to visit you, but feeble health and constant labor have caused me to delay until necessity hurries me in the opposite direction.”
Despite battling illness, Davis wanted to see things for himself in the West. He also wanted to silence critics who said he was not devoting enough attention to that theater of operations. Fearful that his departure from Richmond might panic residents into thinking the Confederate government was abandoning the capital, Davis left with just one armed guard along with Custis Lee and his nephew, Joe Davis.
The train brought Davis west through Lynchburg and Wytheville before stopping at Knoxville, headquarters of Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederate Department of East Tennessee. Davis delivered a speech in which he called “the Toryism (i.e., Unionism) of East Tennessee greatly exaggerated.” After meeting with Smith, Davis reboarded the train and continued to Chattanooga, arriving there that night.
Davis met with General Joseph E. Johnston, the newly appointed commander of the Western Theater. Johnston again insisted that Davis pull troops from the Trans-Mississippi Department to reinforce Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Army of Mississippi defending Vicksburg. This frustrated Davis, who again insisted that Johnston pull troops from General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee to help Pemberton.
Davis traveled 90 miles to Murfreesboro on the 11th to meet with Bragg and inspect his army there. A huge crowd serenaded Davis, who announced that Richmond would stay safe, Tennessee would be reclaimed, and foreign nations would ultimately recognize Confederate independence.
At Bragg’s headquarters, Davis approved one of Johnston’s recommendations by promoting John Hunt Morgan to brigadier general for his recent successes raiding Federal lines. General William J. Hardee had urged Davis to make Morgan a major general, but Davis said, “I do not wish to give my boys all their sugar plums at once.”
Davis reviewed the Army of Tennessee over the next two days and was pleased to see that the men were not as demoralized as feared. He then met with Bragg and his top commanders. Without consulting Johnston, Davis directed Bragg to transfer Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s 9,000-man division to Pemberton.
Bragg protested that this would render him unable to take the offensive in Middle Tennessee. And with Morgan raiding near Kentucky and Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry in western Tennessee, Bragg could not hope to regain Nashville. In fact, it might encourage Major General William S. Rosecrans to attack Murfreesboro since he had 65,000 Federals near Nashville and another 35,000 guarding supply lines to Louisville.
Davis countered that Pemberton needed the men more because Major General Ulysses S. Grant was threatening Vicksburg. He told Bragg, “Fight if you can and fall back beyond the Tennessee.” Both Bragg and Johnston continued protesting, but since the Mississippi River was more important than Middle Tennessee, they complied. Back at Chattanooga on Sunday the 14th, Davis reported to Secretary of War James A. Seddon at Richmond:
“Returned to this place from Murfreesboro last night. Found the troops there in good condition and fine spirits. Enemy is kept close to Nashville, and indicates only defensive purposes. Cavalry expeditions are projected to break up railroad communications between Louisville and Nashville, and between Memphis and Grant’s army. Johnston will go immediately to Mississippi, and will, with the least delay, reinforce Pemberton by sending a division, say 8,000 men, from the troops in this quarter…”
Davis left Chattanooga on the 16th to inspect Pemberton’s forces in the president’s home state of Mississippi.
Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 241; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 798; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 5-10; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 239; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 294-96; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 575-76; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 85-88, 90; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462