Tag Archives: James A. Seddon

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid: Confederates Ponder Retaliation

March 5, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis held a cabinet meeting at Richmond to discuss what measures should be taken in response to the controversial Federal raid on Richmond.

Two days after Colonel Ulric Dahlgren was killed in the failed raid on Richmond, his father, Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, came to Washington to ask his personal friend President Abraham Lincoln for information about his son.

Lincoln was aware that Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal command had fled to Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federal army at Fort Monroe after the raid, but nobody at Washington knew of Dahlgren’s death yet. Lincoln wrote Butler, “Admiral Dahlgren is here, and of course is very anxious about this son. Please send me at once all you know or can learn of his fate.”

Meanwhile, the South seethed with rage upon learning that papers on Dahlgren’s body called for liberated Federal prisoners of war to burn Richmond and kill top Confederate government officials. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, sent the photographic copies of these documents to Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, and asked if he or his superiors had any prior knowledge of this plot.

Meade assured Lee that neither he nor the Lincoln administration “had authorized, sanctioned, or approved the burning of the city of Richmond and the killing of Mr. Davis and Cabinet.” Meade also forwarded Kilpatrick’s statement on the matter, which asserted that nobody higher in rank than Dahlgren knew of the plot.

There was no evidence to disprove Meade’s claim. However, Lincoln’s approval of the raid (without necessarily approving the raid’s specific objectives) indicated his urgency to end the war by any means necessary. As news of the raid spread across the North, the northern press took a much different view than the South. The New York Times called the raid a “complete success, resulting in the destruction of millions of dollars of public property.” But the paper either did not know or willfully omitted Dahlgren’s controversial intentions.

Southerners branded Colonel Dahlgren a war criminal, and his body, which had been buried in a shallow grave in Richmond, was unearthed and put on display. A correspondent from the Richmond Examiner reported that the body was–

“Stripped, robbed of every valuable, the fingers cut off for the sake of the diamond rings that encircled them. When the body was found by those sent to take charge of it, it was lying in a field stark naked, with the exception of the stocking. Some humane persons had lifted the corpse from the pike and thrown it over into the field, to save it from the hogs. The artificial leg worn by Dahlgren (who lost his leg at Gettysburg) was removed, and is now at General Elzey’s headquarters. It is of most beautiful design and finish.

“Yesterday afternoon, the body was removed from the car that brought it to the York River railroad depot, and given to the spot of earth selected to receive it. Where that spot is no one but those concerned in its burial know or care to tell. It was a dog’s burial, without coffin, winding sheet or service. Friend and relative at the North need inquire no further; this is all they will know–he is buried a burial that befitted the mission upon which he came. He ‘swept through the city of Richmond’ on a pine bier, and ‘written his name’ on the scroll of infamy, instead of ‘on the hearts of his countrymen,’ never to be erased. He ‘asked the blessing of Almighty God’ and his mission of rapine, murder and blood, and the Almighty cursed him instead.”

Lieutenant Colonel John Atkinson led the burial party, with instructions from Davis not to reveal the burial site. Kilpatrick’s Federal troopers destroyed property, including a grain mill, in King and Queen County near Carlton’s Store, in retaliation for Dahlgren’s death.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Confederate press called for retribution, and Davis met with his cabinet on the 5th to discuss what the administration should do about it. Most members present favored executing the prisoners taken from Dahlgren’s command, but Davis was firmly opposed. According to Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin:

“A discussion ensued which became so heated as almost to create unfriendly feeling, by reason of the unshaken firmness of Mr. Davis, in maintaining that although these men merited a refusal to grant them quarter in the heat of battle, they had been received to mercy by their captors as prisoners of war, and such were sacred; and that we should be dishonored if harm should overtake them after their surrender, the acceptance of which constituted, in his judgment, a pledge that they should receive the treatment of prisoners of war.”

Secretary of War James A. Seddon asked Lee for advice since he had greater experience in dealing with prisoners. Seddon wrote in part, “My own inclinations are toward the execution of at least a portion of those captured at the time Colonel Dahlgren was killed. The question of what is best to be done is a grave and important one, and I desire to have the benefit of your views and any suggestions you may make.” Lee responded:

“I cannot recommend the execution of the prisoners that have fallen into our hands. Assuming that the address and special orders of Colonel Dahlgren correctly state his designs and intentions, they were not executed, and I believe, even in a legal point of view, acts in addition to intentions are necessary to constitute a crime. These papers can only be considered as evidence of his intentions. It does not appear how far his men were cognizant of them, or that his course was sanctioned by his Government. It is only known that his plans were frustrated by a merciful Providence, his forces scattered, and he killed. I do not think it, therefore, to visit upon the captives the guilt of his intentions. I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity.”

Davis ultimately agreed, and Dahlgren’s men were not executed.

On Sunday the 6th, a copy of the previous day’s Richmond Sentinel was delivered to Meade’s Army of the Potomac headquarters. From this, Meade received the first definitive news that Dahlgren was dead. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“The Richmond Sentinel of March 5 has been received, which announces the capturing at King and queen (county) of a part of Dahlgren’s party, reported 90 men, and that Colonel Dahlgren was killed in the skirmish. I fear the account is true.”

Meade wrote his wife, “You have doubtless seen that Kilpatrick’s raid was an utter failure. I did not expect much from it. Poor Dahlgren I am sorry for.” When Admiral Dahlgren learned of his son’s death, he lamented in his diary, “How busy is death–oh, how busy indeed!”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-81; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10424; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 203; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 407; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6593; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202; 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), Q164

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Reconsidering the Confederate Partisan Ranger System

January 7, 1864 – Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s Confederate partisan rangers operated in northern Virginia, while calls grew louder among Confederate officers to ban the partisan ranger system.

John S. Mosby | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Throughout the winter, Mosby’s rangers operated around Warrenton, an area nicknamed “Mosby’s Confederacy.” Mosby’s men technically belonged to the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia, but under the Partisan Ranger Act, they acted independently and lived among the citizenry. Unlike many rangers who disdained military regulations, Mosby’s troopers were respected as effective members of Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry.

Mosby’s activities mainly included raiding Federal wagon trains and scouting. Federal cavalry stationed at Warrenton under Colonel John P. Taylor routinely rode throughout the countryside in search of Mosby’s elusive rangers. In early January, troopers from Colonel Henry Cole’s 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade entered Virginia via Harpers Ferry to hunt Mosby down. But when a detachment of 80 men left Rectortown, Mosby’s men pursued and attacked, killing four, wounding 10, and capturing 41.

Another Federal detachment attacked and scattered Mosby’s command, but a portion counterattacked, capturing 25 Federals and 50 horses. A separate detachment from Mosby under Lieutenant “Fighting Tom” Turner launched a surprise attack on Taylor’s Federals at Warrenton, taking another 20 prisoners. Mosby soon turned his attention back to Cole’s battalion.

Mosby led about 100 rangers to Loudon Heights, overlooking Harpers Ferry, where Cole and about 200 Federals were camped on the night of the 9th. Mosby later reported, “The camp was buried in profound sleep, there was not a sentinel awake.” However, the Federals quickly awoke and attacked Mosby’s force. Mosby ordered a charge, but the Federals inflicted numerous casualties. One of Mosby’s rangers later recalled:

“The dead and dying lay around. From the tents came forth moans of pain and shrieks of agony. Some of the combatants stood almost in reach of one another, firing into each other’s face, crying out: ‘Surrender!’ ‘No, I won’t! You surrender!’”

The Confederates ultimately drove the Federals off. Mosby reported, “Confusion and delaying having ensued from the derangement of my plans, consequent on the alarm given to the enemy, rendered it hazardous to continue in my position, as re-enforcements were near the enemy.” With the infantry at Harpers Ferry mobilizing, Mosby ordered a withdrawal.

The rangers sustained just 12 casualties (eight killed, three wounded, and one captured) while inflicting 26 (four killed, 16 wounded, and six taken prisoner). However, the Confederates were not used to either taking casualties or retreating. As such, an officer later wrote, “A sad and sullen silence pervaded our ranks and found expression in every countenance. All that we could have gained would not compensate for the loss we sustained.”

While the “Gray Ghost” and his rangers would live to fight another day, Confederate officials debated how they should be organized. More and more officers in the Confederate armies were complaining about the partisan rangers. The rangers did not have to strictly adhere to army regulations, they could live among the people, and they could enjoy the bounties they captured. Perhaps most importantly, they encouraged soldiers to desert the army in favor of this more adventurous (and less regulatory) branch of service.

General Robert E. Lee, who originally supported the partisan ranger system, urged the War Department to disband these units in 1863 due to their lack of discipline, their harassment of civilians, and their tendency to draw troops from the regular armies. Secretary of War James A. Seddon responded in November 1863 by banning all partisan ranger outfits except those commanded by John H. McNeill in West Virginia and Mosby in northern Virginia.

In December 1863, Brigadier General Thomas L. Rosser, a cavalry brigade commander under Jeb Stuart, reported that 60 of his men deserted while serving in the Shenandoah Valley. Rosser stated that the men had once belonged to a partisan unit that was forced to join the regular cavalry, and they left because they had grown tired of army regulations. Rosser also had problems working with McNeill, who often refused to follow his orders.

This month, Rosser wrote to Lee describing the partisans as “a nuisance and an evil to the service”:

“Without discipline, order, or organization, they roam broadcast over the country, a band of thieves, stealing, pillaging, plundering, and doing every manner of mischief and crime. They are a terror to the citizens and an injury to the cause. They never fight; can’t be made to fight. Their leaders are generally brave, but few of the men are good soldiers, and have engaged in this business for the sake of gain. The effect upon the service is bad, and I think, if possible, it should be corrected.”

Rosser cited three reasons why all partisan units should be disbanded:

  • Instead of roaming the countryside, their “bayonet or saber should be counted on the field of battle when the life or death of our country is the issue.”
  • They caused “great dissatisfaction in the ranks” because they “are allowed so much latitude, so many privileges. They sleep in houses and turn out in the cold only when it is announced by their chief that they are to go upon a plundering expedition.”
  • They encouraged desertion:

“It is almost impossible for one to manage the different companies of my brigade that are from Loudoun, Fauquier, Fairfax, &c., the region occupied by Mosby. They see these men living at their ease and enjoying the comforts of home, allowed to possess all that they capture, and their duties mere pastime pleasures compared with their own arduous ones; and it is a natural consequence in the nature of man that he should become dissatisfied under these circumstances. Patriotism fails in the long and tedious war like this to sustain the ponderous burdens which bear heavily and cruelly upon the heart and soul of man.”

To remedy the “melancholy” spreading among his men, Rosser urged his superiors to place “all men on the same footing.” If partisan activity was needed for the war effort, “then require the commanding officer to keep them in an organized condition, to rendezvous within our lines, and move upon the enemy when opportunity is offered.” While Rosser singled Mosby out as a “gallant officer,” he argued that Mosby’s service had little impact on the war.

Lee consulted with Stuart, who agreed with everything that Rosser wrote. Stuart contended that Mosby’s partisans were “the only efficient band of rangers I know of,” but he often used just “one-fourth of his nominal strength” while his other three-fourths were living comfortably among civilians. Stuart concluded, “Such organizations, as a rule, are detrimental to the best interests of the army at large.”

Based on this, Lee wrote, “I recommend that the law authorizing these partisan corps be abolished. The evils resulting from their organization more than counterbalance the good they accomplish.” A bill was immediately introduced in the Confederate Congress to repeal the Partisan Ranger Act.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 561; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (Series 1, Volume 33), p. 12-16, 457, 1081-83; Ramage, James A., Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby (University Press of Kentucky, 2009); Wert, Jeffry D., Mosby’s Rangers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991); Williamson, James Joseph, Mosby’s Rangers: A Record of the Operations of the Forty-Third Battalion (1909)

The Army of Tennessee: Johnston Arrives

December 27, 1863 – General Joseph E. Johnston arrived at Dalton, Georgia, to assume command of the demoralized Confederate Army of Tennessee.

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

Johnston left his Mississippi headquarters by train on the 22nd. He was replaced as commander of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana by Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk. From Enterprise, Mississippi, Polk issued his first general order, which renamed the command “The Department (and Army) of the Southwest.”

Polk’s new command consisted of just two infantry divisions under Major Generals William W. Loring and Samuel G. French, and two cavalry units under Major Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and Stephen D. Lee. These Confederates faced threats from superior Federal land and naval forces in Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico. As such, the Confederate government did not expect much success in this department.

They did, however, expect success from the once-proud Army of Tennessee. Although its interim commander, Lieutenant General William Hardee, had reported a massive lack of supplies and morale, President Jefferson Davis sent one of his own staff officers, Colonel Joseph C. Ives, to inspect the army on the president’s behalf and report on its condition. Ives, who had no practical military experience, concluded that the army was “still full of zeal and burning to redeem its lost character and prestige.”

Upon receiving this report, Davis wrote Johnston, “The intelligence recently received respecting the condition of that army is encouraging, and induces me to hope that you will soon be able to commence active operations against the enemy.” The president speculated that the defeat at Chattanooga was “not attributable to any general demoralization or reluctance to encounter the opposing army,” despite first-hand accounts to the contrary.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Noting that the latest report “presented a not unfavorable view of the material of command,” Davis continued downplaying Hardee’s somber assessment by asserting that the army had adequate artillery, and “the troops were tolerably provided with clothing.” With reinforcements and the return of stragglers, convalescents, and deserters, the army should be “perhaps exceeding in numbers than actually engaged in any battle on the Confederate side during the present war.”

Davis assured Johnston that “nothing shall be wanting on the part of the Government to aid you in your efforts to regain possession of the territory from which we have been driven.” However, Johnston needed to take the offensive quickly, “not only from the importance of restoring the prestige of the army, and averting the dispiriting and injurious results that must attend a season of inactivity, but from the necessity of reoccupying the country, upon the supplies of which the proper subsistence of our armies materially depends.”

Urging Johnston to “communicate fully and freely with me concerning your proposed plan of action,” Davis concluded by promising “that all the assistance and co-operation may be most advantageously afforded.”

Johnston arrived at Dalton on the 27th and saw a much different army than what Davis had described. After issuing an order proclaiming that he had officially taken command, Johnston inspected the camps and counted less than 37,000 effectives. According to Private Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee, the new commander–

“… found the army depleted by battles; and worse, yea, much worse, by desertion. The men were deserting by tens and hundreds, and I might say by thousands. The morale of the army was gone. The spirit of the soldiers was crushed, and their hope gone. The future was dark and gloomy. They would not answer roll call. Discipline had gone. A feeling of mistrust pervaded the whole army.”

The next day, Johnston reported to Secretary of War James A. Seddon, “This army is now far from being in condition to resume the offensive. It is deficient in numbers, arms, subsistence stores, and field transportation.”

Seddon had authorized Johnston to commandeer the supplies of local farmers and governments for the army, but Johnston countered, “Let me remind you that I have little if any power to procure supplies for the army. The system established last summer deprives generals of any control over the officers of the quartermaster’s subsistence departments detailed to make purchases in different States.” Currently two officers were assigned to work with the states regarding supplies, “neither of whom owes me obedience.”

Johnston urged his superiors “to consider if the responsibility of keeping this army in condition to move and fight ought not to rest on the general, instead of being divided among a number of officers who have not been thought by the Government competent to high military grades.”

Regarding mobilization, Johnston stated, “I find the country unfit for military operations from the effect of heavy rains. Its condition prevents military exercises–most important means of discipline.” Besides, Johnston believed that Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Military Division of the Mississippi numbered at least 80,000 men, or more than double his total.

Nevertheless, Johnston set about changing what he could in the army. He immediately addressed the crisis of mass desertions by granting amnesty to any deserter voluntarily returning to the ranks. He then implemented a furlough system to further discourage absences without leave. From this point forward, anyone caught deserting would be shot. Johnston then saw to it that the men received their rations on time, including tobacco and whiskey twice a week. Private Watkins recalled:

“He allowed us what General (Braxton) Bragg had never allowed a mortal man–a furlough. He gave furloughs to one-third of his army at a time, until the whole had been furloughed. A new era had dawned; a new epoch had been dated. He passed through the ranks of the common soldier’s pride; he brought the manhood back to the private’s bosom; he changed the order of roll-call, standing guard, drill, and such nonsense as that. The revolution was complete. He was loved, respected, admired; yea, almost worshiped, by his troops. We soon got proud.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 27-31; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 891; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 385-86; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 448-49; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 501; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707

The Army of Tennessee: A New Commander Appointed

December 16, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis decided to appoint a bitter rival to command the demoralized Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lieutenant General William Hardee had replaced General Braxton Bragg as army commander, but Hardee made it clear that he would only accept the job on an interim basis. Thus, Davis had to find a permanent replacement. After considering several candidates, Davis summoned General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, to Richmond. Lee, who had resisted taking the job, expected to be ordered to take it. As such, he wrote to Major General Jeb Stuart before leaving, “My heart and thoughts will always be with this army.”

Lee left his headquarters for Richmond, where he took up residence in a home his wife rented on Leigh Street. There Lee learned that their Arlington, Virginia, home had been confiscated by Federal authorities under a law passed on February 6 allowing for property seizure if the owner was delinquent in taxes. This was meant to confiscate the property of Confederates such as Lee, who no longer paid taxes to the Federal government.

When Lee met with Davis, they discussed the military situation for nearly a week. During this time, Davis ruled out several candidates for the Army of Tennessee command, such as Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, General P.G.T. Beauregard, and Lee himself. This left just one more full general to consider–Joseph E. Johnston, currently commanding the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana at Brandon, Mississippi.

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

Johnston had disliked Davis ever since the president ranked him fourth on the list of full Confederate generals early in the war. The men had consistently disagreed over military strategy, with Davis favoring defending vital points in the South and Johnston favoring sacrificing vital points if it meant saving armies to fight another day. This disagreement climaxed earlier this year when Johnston refused to save Vicksburg.

Davis and Lee discussed Johnston’s strengths and weaknesses. Finally, during a dinner with the Davises, Lee announced that he supported placing Johnston in charge of the Army of Tennessee. Although Davis resisted, he noted that other high-ranking generals, including beloved Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, had also called for Johnston to take over. Appointing Johnston might also appease Johnston’s political allies, including Texas Congressman Louis T. Wigfall and other anti-administration leaders.

Davis held a cabinet meeting on the 16th to discuss the situation. Secretary of War James A. Seddon believed that Johnston could boost the army’s sagging morale, while Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin argued that Johnston’s tendency to stay on the defensive would ruin an army that needed to go on offense now more than ever. As the discussion progressed, most cabinet members gradually shifted to favoring Johnston, and Davis reluctantly agreed.

Davis telegraphed Johnston at Brandon: “You will turn over the immediate command of the Army of Mississippi to Lieutenant General Polk and proceed to Dalton and assume command of the Army of Tennessee… A letter of instructions will be sent to you at Dalton.”

Johnston would inherit a once-proud army that had become a demoralized throng. Desertions were so common that Bragg, prior to relinquishing command, had directed troops to patrol their own comrades rather than guard against the enemy. The command structure was in shambles, with one corps without a commander due to Hardee’s promotion and another tentatively led by Major General Thomas C. Hindman (after Major General John C. Breckinridge left due to charges of drunkenness on duty). Having once boasted 66,000 men, the army now had just 43,094 effectives.

The day after Davis appointed Johnston, Hardee reported that the army was in such poor condition that it was “necessary to avoid a general action.” If the Federals, currently at Chattanooga, moved to confront him, Hardee stated that “a retrograde movement becomes inevitable.” Hardee continued:

“The question of supplies, both for men and animals, presents a source of infinite trouble. This will be still more complicated by a retrograde movement from this point. Our deficiency of supplies would become aggravated to an alarming extent. I am inclined to think that forces are disposed from Mississippi to North Carolina, along different localities, which, if concentrated, would swell the ranks of this command very largely.”

Seddon tried to downplay Hardee’s report in his instructions to Johnston, writing:

“It is apprehended the army may have been by recent events somewhat disheartened and deprived of ordnance and material. Your presence, it is hoped, will do much to inspire hope and re-establish confidence, and through such influence, as well as by the active exertions you are recommended to make, men who have straggled may be recalled to their standards, and others, roused by the danger to which further successes of the enemy must expose the more southern States, may be encouraged to recruit the ranks of your army.”

Through “vigorous efforts,” the government expected Johnston to restore “the discipline, confidence, and prestige of the army,” as well as “its deficiencies in ordnance, numbers and transportation.”

Seddon then turned to the issue of farmers and state governors refusing to cooperate with central government demands to turn over their crops and supplies for the war effort. He warned that Johnston would “find deficiencies and have serious difficulties in providing the supplies required for the subsistence of the army… the discontents of producers and the opposition of State authorities to the system of impressments established by the law of Congress have caused” these difficulties.

To combat this, Johnston was authorized to use “all means to obtain supplies from the productive States,” and “to rouse among the people and authorities a more willing spirit to part with the means of subsistence for the army that defends them.”

Regarding the Federals controlling Tennessee, “It is not desirable they should be allowed to do so with impunity, and as soon as the condition of your forces will allow it is hoped you will be able to assume the offensive. Inactivity, it is feared, may cause the spirit of despondence to recur and the practice of straggling and desertion to increase.”

However, Seddon ultimately left it to Johnston’s “experience and judgment… to form and act on your own plans of military operations,” and he assured “the fullest disposition on the part of the Department to sustain and co-operate with them.”

The next day, Davis wrote Johnston, advising in part, “The difficulties of your new position are realized and the Government will make every possible effort to aid you…” However, what little aid the Confederate government could provide was rapidly dwindling.

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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 20705-14; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 353; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 887; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 384; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6557-69, 6581; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 447-48; 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), Q463

The Confederate Congress Assembles

December 7, 1863 – The fourth session of the First Confederate States Congress opened in Richmond.

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

The members of Congress assembled amid very trying times for the Confederacy. The armies had suffered many setbacks (especially in the West), the blockade was strangling the economy, and foreign nations had yet to recognize Confederate independence. President Jefferson Davis submitted his annual message to Congress, which was read to both chambers on the 8th. In his message, Davis declared:

“Grave reverses befell our arms soon after your departure from Richmond. Early in July, our strongholds at Vicksburgh and Port Hudson, together with their entire garrisons, capitulated to the combined land and naval forces of the enemy. The important interior position of Jackson next fell into their temporary possession. Our unsuccessful assault on the post at Helena was followed, at a later period, by the invasion of Arkansas; and the retreat of our army from Little Rock gave to the enemy the control of the important valley in which it is situated.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Despite this, Davis announced that Federal advances had “been checked,” and “the resolute spirit of the people soon overcame the despondency.” In particular, he applauded the ongoing efforts to maintain Charleston:

“The determined and successful defense of Charleston against the joint land and naval operations of the enemy, afforded an inspiring example of our ability to repel the attacks even of the iron-clad fleet, on which they chiefly rely…”

Trying to shine a positive light on the defeat at Gettysburg, Davis explained that General Robert E. Lee had been–

“… determined to meet the threatened advance on Richmond by forcing their armies to cross the Potomac and fight in defense of their own capital and homes. Transferring the battle-field to their own soil, he succeeded in compelling their rapid retreat from Virginia, and, in the hard-fought battle of Gettysburg, inflicted such severity of punishment as disabled them from early renewal of the campaign as originally projected.”

Davis congratulated the Army of Tennessee for its stunning victory at Chickamauga, which he called “one of the most brilliant and decisive victories of the war.” However, he lamented the subsequent defeat at Chattanooga:

“After a long and severe battle, in which great carnage was inflicted on him (the enemy), some of our troops inexplicably abandoned a position of great strength, and by a disorderly retreat compelled the commander to withdraw the forces elsewhere successful, and finally to retreat with his whole army to a position some 20 or 30 miles to the rear.”

Noting that the Confederacy had made no progress in obtaining foreign recognition, Davis accused Great Britain of duplicity because it declared neutrality but continued both trading with the United States and honoring the Federal blockade.

Davis addressed financial issues by proposing a restriction in the amount of Confederate paper money in circulation as a means to stem the widespread inflation and lower the cost of living. He also recommended tax increases to help finance the war effort.

Davis next reviewed the army’s condition:

“Though we have lost many of the best of our soldiers and most patriotic of our citizens–the sad and unavoidable result of the battles and toils of such a campaign as that which will render the year 1863 ever memorable in our annals, the army is believed to be, in all respects, in better condition than at any previous period of the war.”

The troops were “now veterans, familiar with danger, hardened by exposure, and confident in themselves and their officers.” According to Davis, the Confederate army “has not been equaled by any like number in the history of the war.” However, Davis acknowledged the growing problem of manpower shortages by stating that “no effort must be spared to add largely to our effective force as promptly as possible.” This should be done by–

“… putting an end to substitution, modifying the exemption law, restricting details, and placing in the ranks such of the able-bodied men now employed as wagoners, nurses, cooks, and other employees, as are doing service for which the negroes may be found competent.”

By replacing “not only enlisted cooks, but wagoners and other employees in the army, by negroes, it is hoped that the ranks of the army will be so strengthened for the ensuing campaign as to put at defiance the utmost efforts of the enemy.” As for the navy, Davis commended the sailors and seamen who did their best to defend the coast, from the James River to the Rio Grande.

Davis called attention to the Federal government’s “barbarous policy” of refusing to exchange prisoners of war (which was partly due to the Confederacy’s refusal to exchange black Federal troops), and the detention of Confederate troops in prison camps. Davis regretfully announced that the Confederacy would soon have to establish prison camps of their own to deal with the tens of thousands of prisoners that the Federals refused to exchange.

Davis condemned the Lincoln administration’s approval of mass destruction throughout the South:

“The frontier of our country bears witness to the alacrity and efficiency with which the general orders of the (Federals) have been executed in the devastation of farms, the destruction of the agricultural implements, the burning of the houses, and the plunder of everything movable.”

Although his administration had always demanded that Confederate forces refrain from attacking civilians on northern soil, Davis stated, “These considerations have been powerless to allay the unchristian hate of those who, long accustomed to draw large profits from a union with us, cannot control the rage excited by the conviction that they have by their own folly destroyed the richest sources of their prosperity.”

There seemed no hope for a negotiated peace that would end the war with Confederate independence because the Federals “refuse to listen to proposals for the only peace possible between us… We now know that the only reliable hope for peace is in the vigor of our resistance.”

Regretting “the savage ferocity which still marks the conduct of the enemy in the prosecution of the war,” Davis stated that the Federals’ wrath had been particularly severe against “the unfortunate negroes” because they “forced into the ranks of their army every able-bodied (black) man that they could seize, and have either left the aged, the women, and the children to perish by starvation, or have gathered them into camps, where they have been wasted by a frightful mortality.”

Davis argued that the Federals treated blacks in the South “with aversion and neglect,” and “in all localities where the enemy have gained a temporary foothold, the negroes, who under our care increased six fold in number since their importation into the colonies of Great Britain, will have been reduced by mortality during the war to not more than one half their previous number.” This information was supposedly provided by “the negroes who succeeded in escaping from the enemy.”

While acknowledging that “The hope last year entertained of an early termination of the war has not been realized,” Davis stated, “The patriotism of the people has proved equal to every sacrifice demanded by their country’s need.” He concluded: “God has blessed us with success disproportionate to our means and, under his divine favor, our labors must at last be crowned with the reward due to men who have given all they possess to the righteous defense of their inalienable rights, their homes, and their altars.”

In his annual report, Secretary of War James A. Seddon acknowledged having suffered major defeats, particularly in Mississippi, as well as dwindling army manpower due to combat, capture, illness, and desertion. Seddon seconded Davis by urging Congress to repeal the Conscription Act provisions that allowed for exemptions and the purchase of substitutes.

In late December, Congress responded by repealing the provisions allowing draftees to hire substitutes. The practice had been corrupted to the point that substitutes often deserted the army and sold themselves multiple times to the highest bidders; some made as much as $6,000 ($300 in gold), or three years’ wages for a skilled laborer. Substitution had been an American military tradition before the war, but popular furor against the practice compelled Congress to end it after 20 months.

Davis also approved a measure modifying the vastly unpopular tax-in-kind to reduce waste and corruption by allowing cash payments equal to the tax fee at impressment prices. A bill introduced by Senator Robert W. Johnson of Arkansas limiting cabinet members to two-year terms did not pass; this was part of the growing effort in Congress to curtail Davis’s executive power.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 140; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 8565-77; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351-52; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 102-03, 742-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381, 386; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 443-46, 449; 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. 431-32, 603; 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), Q463

Vicksburg: Confederate Hardships Increase

June 13, 1863 – The soldiers and civilians besieged in Vicksburg endured severe hardships as the Confederate high command argued over whether to hold or abandon the city.

By mid-June, over 200 Federal guns bombarded the people of Vicksburg around the clock from land, while gunboats from Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron shelled them from the water. A Confederate major described the siege:

“One day is like another in a besieged city–all you can hear is the rattle of the Enemy’s guns, with the sharp crack of the rifles of their sharp-shooters going from early dawn to dark and then at night the roaring of the terrible mortars is kept up sometimes all this time.”

Only a few yards separated the opposing armies at some points on the siege line, and sharpshooters killed many men who made the mistake of stretching too far above their fortifications. Since the Federals had cut all supply lines going into Vicksburg, the city residents soon faced a shortage of food and other essentials. Many resorted to eating horses, mules, household pets, and even rats as they sought refuge from the shelling in hillside caves. Some people moved in among the troops in the strongly protected trenches.

Hillside caves at Vicksburg | Image Credit: betweenthegateposts.blogspot.com

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate army, received a message from his superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, on the 13th. The message was dated May 29, having been delayed by cut telegraph wires. Johnston wrote:

“I am too weak to save Vicksburg. All that we can attempt is, to save you and your garrison. To do this, exact co-operation is indispensable. By fighting the enemy simultaneously at the same point of his line, you may be extricated. It will be impossible to extricate you unless you co-operate and we make mutually supporting movements. Communicate your plans and suggestions, if possible.”

By the time Pemberton received this message, he was trapped in Vicksburg and unable to coordinate anything with Johnston. He responded two days later in the hope that Johnston could make a move without mutual support:

“The enemy has placed several heavy guns in position against our works, and is approaching them very nearly by sap. His fire is almost continuous. Our men have no relief; are becoming much fatigued, but are still in pretty good spirits. I think your movement should be made as soon as possible. The enemy is receiving reinforcements. We are living on greatly reduced rations, but I think sufficient for 20 days yet.”

Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis asked General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma, if he could either take the offensive or send reinforcements to Vicksburg. Also, Secretary of War James A. Seddon sent an urgent request for Johnston to do all he could to save both Pemberton and Vicksburg.

Johnston replied to Seddon, “The odds against me are much greater than those you express. I consider saving Vicksburg hopeless.” This shocked the high command at Richmond and reminded them of Johnston’s similar pronouncement against Richmond in the spring of 1862. Seddon replied the next day, trying to impress upon Johnston that Vicksburg was too important not to fight for, with or without Pemberton:

“Your telegram grieves and alarms me. Vicksburg must not be lost without a desperate struggle. The interest and honor of the Confederacy forbid it. I rely on you still to avert the loss. If better resources do not offer, you must hazard attack. It may be made in concert with the garrison, if practicable, but otherwise without; by day or night, as you think best.”

Johnston countered that Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals besieging Vicksburg had received a number of reinforcements “at least equal to my whole force.” Pemberton again urged Johnston to do something to try breaking the siege, writing on the 19th:

“I hope you will advance with the least possible delay. My men have been 34 days and nights in the trenches, without relief, and the enemy within conversation distance. We are living on very reduced rations, and, as you know, are entirely isolated. What aid am I to expect from you?”

On the 20th, Seddon again urged Johnston “to follow the most desperate course the occasion may demand. Rely upon it, the eyes and hopes of the whole Confederacy are upon you, with the full confidence that you will act, and with the sentiment that it were better to fail nobly daring than, through prudence even, to be inactive… I rely on you for all possible to save Vicksburg.” Seddon’s plea came despite Johnston’s previous assertions that trying to save Vicksburg would mean sure destruction and leave both Mississippi and Alabama open to Federal conquest.

Three days later, Pemberton received a message from Johnston via courier:

“Scouts report the enemy fortifying toward us and the roads blocked. If I can do nothing to relieve you, rather than surrender the garrison, endeavor to cross the river at the last moment if you and General (Richard) Taylor (in western Louisiana) communicate.”

But moving across the river would be impossible due to the patrolling Federal ironclads. Moreover, Taylor’s Confederates were moving down the Teche to threaten New Orleans, too far to help Pemberton. The next day, Pemberton sent a message to Johnston proposing that Johnston contact Grant and offer “propositions to pass this army out, with all its arms and equipages,” in exchange for giving the Vicksburg to the Federals.

Johnston rejected this, explaining that Grant most likely would not agree to such a deal. In addition, Johnston stated that “negotiations with Grant for the relief of the garrison, should they become necessary, must be made by you. It would be a confession of weakness on my part, which I ought not to make, to propose them. When it becomes necessary to make terms, they may be considered as made under my authority.” Thus, if Pemberton surrendered to Grant, Johnston would approve.

Meanwhile, Davis sent a desperate message to Bragg and General P.G.T. Beauregard in South Carolina asking them to send troops to Vicksburg or else “the Missi. will be lost.” Johnston’s efforts to disrupt Grant’s supply lines in his rear had no effect. Johnston finally began moving his five divisions to confront the seven under Major General William T. Sherman protecting the Federal rear, but this also had no effect on those besieged in Vicksburg.

Near month’s end, Pemberton received a letter from his troops:

“The emergency of the case demands prompt and decided action on your part. If you can’t feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is, than suffer this noble army to disgrace themselves by desertion… Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and hunger will compel a man to do almost anything… This army is now ripe for mutiny, unless it can be fed…”

Explaining that the men were down to just “one biscuit and a small bit of bacon per day,” the letter was signed “Many Soldiers.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 413-15, 422, 425; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 311, 317; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139, 142; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 365, 369, 371; 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. 634-36

Hooker Tries Learning Lee’s Intentions

June 5, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker struggled to learn General Robert E. Lee’s true intentions as the Confederates moved around the Federal right in northern Virginia.

Federal Major General Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Sonofthesouth.net

During the night, Confederate deserters came into the Federal lines claiming to have belonged to Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This was Hooker’s first indication that Longstreet had rejoined Lee after besieging Suffolk last month. Hooker notified President Abraham Lincoln that the Confederate army had been unified “for no other purpose but to enable the enemy to move up the river, with a view to the execution of a movement similar to that of Lee’s (Maryland campaign) last year.”

Hooker supposed Lee might “cross the Upper Potomac,” but he believed Lee truly intended to “throw his army between mine and Washington.” Hooker then asked, “As I am liable to be called on to make a movement with the utmost promptitude, I desire that I may be informed as early as practicable of the views of the Government concerning this army.”

Hooker wanted to preëmpt Lee’s supposed offensive by crossing the Rappahannock River and attacking the remaining Confederate defenders west of Fredericksburg. He proposed “to pitch into the enemy’s rear,” and asked, “Will it be within the sphere of my instructions to do so?”

As Hooker awaited a reply, Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps conducted the probing mission that Hooker had ordered. The Federals crossed the Rappahannock and approached the Confederate defenses that scouts and balloonists had claimed were abandoned. If the defenses proved weak, it could indicate that Lee was moving north in earnest. Only Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps remained in the defensive works.

Confederate sharpshooters quickly repelled Federal troops wading across the river near Deep Run. Sedgwick then directed engineers to lay pontoon bridges so more men could cross. Once the bridges were set, the Federals charged across the river and, under fire, seized the enemy rifle pits. They then advanced toward the nearby woods, but hidden Confederates drove them back. Sedgwick, unaware that he had faced just Hill’s men, reported that Lee’s army remained at Fredericksburg in force.

Despite Sedgwick’s claim, Hooker still believed that Lee’s main movement was to the north. He directed several reconnaissances to determine Lee’s true intentions. By this time, Lincoln had responded to Hooker’s request to attack Fredericksburg; the president warned Hooker against such an action, arguing that if Lee left a small force behind, it could be because he wanted Hooker to attack it.

Lincoln had “but one idea which I think worth suggesting to you, and that is, in case you find Lee coming north of the Rappahannock, I would by no means cross to the south of it… I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs, front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other.”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck also responded, asking, “Would it not be more advantageous to fight his movable column first, instead of first attacking his intrenchments, with your own forces separated by the Rappahannock?” Halleck reminded Hooker that while the army’s main goal was to destroy Lee’s army, it was also required to guard Washington and Harpers Ferry. With that in mind, Halleck warned, “Lee will seek to hold you in check with his main force, while a strong force will be detached for a raid into Maryland and Pennsylvania.”

Meanwhile, Major General Jeb Stuart conducted a grand review of his Confederate cavalry at Brandy Station. Five brigades totaling 8,000 troopers with flying colors rode past dignitaries, ladies, and other spectators assembled in grandstands, carriages, and railroad cars. At Stuart’s request, Secretary of War James A. Seddon also attended. A staff officer later wrote:

“Eight thousand cavalry passed under the eye of their commander, in column of squadrons, first at a walk, and then at the charge, while the guns of the artillery battalion, on the hill opposite the stand, gave forth fire and smoke, and seemed almost to convert the pageant into real warfare. It was a brilliant day, and the thirst for the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of war was fully satisfied.”

Several ladies fainted at the impressive sight. But not all Confederates appreciated the show. Brigadier General William “Grumble” Jones, recently attached to Lee’s army from the Shenandoah Valley, had “a disdainful air, for he hated the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of war.” His men, like their commander, “grumbled at the useless waste of energy, especially that of the horses.”

That night, Stuart held a grand ball attended by the ladies and his officers. By that time, Longstreet’s lead division under Major General John Bell Hood was at Culpeper Court House, and all Confederates except for Hill’s corps had left Fredericksburg.

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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 18977; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 292; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 436-37, 447; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 304-05; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5696; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 362; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 286, 307-08