Tag Archives: George W. Randolph

Confederate Strategy and Dissension

November 14, 1862 – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston found himself at odds with President Jefferson Davis over strategy, and the Confederate secretary of war resigned.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston reported to the War Department ready for action after recovering from wounds suffered at the Battle of Fair Oaks. Johnston met with Secretary of War George W. Randolph, who informed him that due to General Robert E. Lee’s success with the Army of Northern Virginia, Johnston would not be getting his old command back. He would instead most likely be put in a new command overseeing the armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi. These included Braxton Bragg’s, Edmund Kirby Smith’s (though now technically under Bragg), and John C. Pemberton’s.

Johnston replied that since Vicksburg was the most likely Federal target in that theater, there should be a unified command over both banks of the Mississippi. As it stood, the west bank belonged to General Theophilus H. Holmes’s Trans-Mississippi Department, which would be beyond Johnston’s jurisdiction. Randolph said he had already asked Holmes to lead troops east, but Davis overrode him in a letter dated that same day (the 12th):

“I regret to notice that in your letter to General Holmes of October 27… His presence on the west side (of the Mississippi) is not less necessary now that heretofore, and will probably soon be more so… The withdrawal of the commander from the Trans-Mississippi Department for temporary duty elsewhere would have a disastrous effect, and was not contemplated by me.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Two days later, Randolph submitted his resignation as secretary of war, partly because of Davis’s interference in his department. In particular, Randolph had taken offense to Davis superseding his authority in regards to Holmes and Johnston. Before resigning, Randolph sent Davis’s letter from November 12 with a note: “Inclose a copy of this letter to General Holmes, and inform the President that it has been done, and that (Holmes) has been directed to consider it as part of his instructions.”

Davis, who had generally agreed with Randolph’s management of the War Department, had intervened to override Randolph because the secretary ordered Holmes to come east to reinforce Johnston himself, which would have left the Trans-Mississippi Department without a commander. Davis also expressed concern that Randolph had issued the order without Davis’s prior knowledge.

Davis requested a personal meeting with Randolph to try discussing the matter with him. Randolph declined, his resentment toward Davis’s involvement in War Department affairs finally reaching its breaking point. Davis responded: “As you thus without notice and in terms excluding inquiry retired, nothing remains but to give you this formal notice of the acceptance of your resignation.”

Major General Gustavus W. Smith, commanding Confederate forces defending Richmond, became the interim secretary of war until Davis appointed James A. Seddon of Virginia to the post. As a prominent Richmond attorney and scholar, Seddon had roughly the same high social standing in Virginia as Randolph. Seddon was also a former U.S. and Confederate congressman, and although he had no military experience, he would ably lead the War Department despite much southern criticism.

Meanwhile, Special Order No. 275 officially gave Johnston command of the Division of the West. This included Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, western North Carolina, northern Georgia, and eastern Louisiana. His primary objectives were to oversee Bragg in Tennessee and Pemberton in Mississippi.

Johnston and Davis had never cared for each other, but this intensified while Johnston was recovering because he became close friends with Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, an outspoken critic of Davis and his administration. As such, Johnston attended many social gatherings held by Wigfall and other politicians whom Davis considered enemies.

Davis may have sought to appease these enemies by making Johnston “plenary commander” of the West. The order directed Johnston to set up headquarters “at Chattanooga, or such other place as in his judgment will best secure facilities for ready communication with the troops within the limits of his command, and will repair in person to any part of said command wherever his presence may, for the time, be necessary or desirable.”

On Seddon’s first full day in his new job, Johnston repeated his request for Holmes to send part or all of his forces east. He pointed out that Holmes’s men were about 400 miles closer to the Mississippi than Bragg’s, who could not be relied upon to help defend Vicksburg if needed. Johnston then complained to the adjutant general that the forces in his new domain were “greatly inferior in number to those of the enemy opposed to them, while in the Trans-Mississippi Department our army is very much larger than that of the United States.”

Davis wanted to keep the departments on either side of the Mississippi separate because he sought to hold Confederate territory. However, Johnston contended that the 83,000 men in his department could not defend the hundreds of square miles from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi. Johnston instead sought to rely on maneuver, giving up territory as needed in favor of preserving the strength of his forces.

Johnston argued that the Tennessee River was a “formidable obstacle” that divided Bragg and Pemberton. He also questioned the provision in the order stating that Bragg and Pemberton would continue reporting directly to the War Department and not Johnston; this seemed to relegate Johnston to an advisory role rather than a position of real authority. As such, Johnston called it a “nominal and useless” job.

Johnston was expected to aid Bragg in improving his army’s morale since Bragg was despised among his officers and men. Johnston was also expected to advise Pemberton, another unpopular commander, on how best to defend Vicksburg, the area in the department under the greatest threat. Johnston’s uncertainty of his authority, his commanders’ reluctance to cooperate with each other, and the enormity of the region would make this a formidable assignment.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18420; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 235; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 785-89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287-89; 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; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170-71; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 85; 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

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The Confederate Conscription Act

April 16, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law requiring all able-bodied white men between the ages of 18 and 35 to serve at least three years in the Confederate military. This was the first national draft in American history.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

By this time, Federal forces were closing in on Richmond, New Orleans, and vital points along the Mississippi River and Atlantic coast. The Confederates had just lost thousands of men in the largest battle ever fought in America up to that time, and many men who had enlisted in the Confederate army for 12 months at the beginning of the war were about to go home.

All these factors led to a growing call for conscription, which had been intensely debated in the Confederate Congress. Opponents argued that it violated the same civil liberties southerners had seceded to uphold. Some claimed that forcing men into the army showed weakness by indicating that volunteerism alone was no longer enough to maintain the war effort.

Supporters invoked the same arguments they had rejected when northerners made them before the war, citing the constitutional powers of Congress “to raise and support armies” and “provide for the common defense, as well as to make laws “necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” They also contended that conscription would provide the military with the manpower desperately needed to secure Confederate independence.

Ultimately, new Secretary of War George W. Randolph persuaded enough congressmen to approve the bill, and then he persuaded Davis to sign it into law. Thus, the Confederacy took the first and most expansive step toward centralizing state and national armies.

State officials would administer the draft, and draftees would be allowed to elect their own company, battalion, and regimental officers. The number of draftees would be proportional to the number of residents in each state and county. A regular recruiting system was also introduced to counter battlefield losses with continuous recruitment.

Soldiers preparing to return home after serving 12 months were now told they had to stay on for another two years or the war’s end, whichever came first. The three total years of service began on the soldiers’ original enlistment dates. Davis initially resisted extending one-year enlistments to three years, but he finally resolved that it was a necessary measure.

Politicians hopeful that the prospect of a draft would stimulate more volunteerism added a provision giving draftees 30 days to volunteer instead. Men could also pay a $500 commutation fee to evade the draft. This clause applied to pacifists such as Quakers and Mennonites; it also aimed to enable skilled laborers and the wealthy to continue serving the Confederacy in non-military capacities.

Another provision allowed for men to hire substitutes to serve in their place from “persons not liable for duty,” usually those outside the specified age range or foreigners. The substitute clause was based on the English tradition of assuming that those who could afford to hire a substitute could be more useful to the war effort outside the army. “Substitute brokers” became a lucrative profession as a result. This provision caused such widespread resentment among those who could not afford to hire a substitute that it was eventually repealed.

The original Conscription Act offered no exemptions from the draft other than commutation or substitution. Realizing that this could deplete the southern workforce, Congress enacted an amendment five days later that included exemptions for many classes and professions, including government workers, war industry laborers (i.e., those working in textiles, mines, foundries, etc.), river ferrymen and pilots, telegraph operators, hospital employees, apothecaries, printers, clergymen, and educators.

These exemptions invited fraud, as many new schools quickly opened, along with pharmacies that featured “a few empty jars, a cheap assortment of combs and brushes, a few bottles of ‘hairdye’ and ‘wizard oil’ and other Yankee nostrums.”

Men who owned 20 or more slaves were also exempted from the draft so they could maintain supervision of farm production and defend against potential slave uprisings. This became known as the “Twenty Negro Law.” It only applied to states that had laws requiring white men to oversee and police their slaves. Many criticized this provision as favoring plantation owners.

Governors Joseph E. Brown of Georgia and Zebulon Vance of North Carolina were among the most virulent critics of the Conscription Act. Brown declared that no “act of the Government of the United States prior to the secession of Georgia struck a blow at constitutional liberty… as has been struck by the conscription act… at one fell swoop, (the act) strikes down the sovereignty of the States, tramples upon the constitutional rights and personal liberty of the citizens, and arms the President with imperial power.”

It was not surprising that Georgia and North Carolina accounted for 92 percent of all exempted government workers in the Confederacy. Even Davis’s own vice president, Alexander H. Stephens, became an outspoken opponent of this measure.

Many who supported the Conscription Act blamed Davis for making it necessary because of his strategy to stay on the defensive and protect many static points at once. Davis countered that “without military stores, without the workshops to create them, without the power to import them, necessity not choice has compelled us to occupy strong positions and everywhere to confront the enemy without reserves.”

The Confederate press generally supported the new law but did not hesitate to expose its weaknesses. Despite resentment to government coercion, many saw this as necessary to meet the wartime emergency. The law affected nearly every Confederate family in some way, even though nearly half of those drafted never served.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 484-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 Apr 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 158, 160, 163; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 155-56, 245, 767; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 394-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 136, 139; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3310; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 73-74; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 197, 200; 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. 430-32; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 372-73; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 613-14; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 129; 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), Q262

Davis Calls for Confederate Conscription

March 28, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis submitted a special message to the Confederate Congress urging members to approve conscription.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

In mid-March, Davis replaced interim Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin with George W. Randolph. With many one-year army enlistees about to end their service, Randolph persuaded Davis to support a national military draft. Congress had tried avoiding a draft by passing a law offering bounties and furloughs to volunteers, but General Robert E. Lee, Davis’s military advisor, called the measure “highly disastrous.” Lee voiced support for a new law “drafting them ‘for the war.’”

In his brief message, Davis asserted that “all persons of intermediate ages not legally exempt for good cause, should pay their debt of military service to the country, that the burdens should not fall exclusively on the most ardent and patriotic.”

States’ rights supporters objected to conscription, arguing that such government infringement on individual liberty is what had prompted secession in the first place. Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas called on these opponents to “cease this child’s play… The enemy are in some portions of almost every State of the Confederacy… Virginia is enveloped by them. We need a large army. How are you going to get it?… No man has any individual rights, which come into conflict with the welfare of the country.”

The conscription debate continued into April. Anticipating approval of a draft, Virginia Governor John Letcher allowed the state militia to be absorbed into the Confederate army. This began a system in the Confederate military in which militiamen were assigned to preexisting regiments; this allowed green soldiers to serve alongside (and learn from) more experienced men. The system differed from the Federal military, in which new regiments were created for new recruits, often keeping the green troops separated from the veterans.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (28 Mar 1862); 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. 430; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 613-14