Tag Archives: Jefferson Davis

Davis Demands Confederate Independence

January 8, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis responded to a letter from North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance urging the Confederate government to try negotiating peace with the U.S. to ease the growing discontent in his state.

Near the end of 1863, Vance wrote Davis about the mounting dissatisfaction among the people in his state regarding the war. Vance wrote, “I have concluded that it will be impossible to remove it except by making some effort at negotiation with the enemy” to relieve “the sources of discontent in North Carolina.”

Vance acknowledged that negotiations must only be conducted on the basis of Confederate independence, and if these “fair terms are rejected” as anticipated, then “it will tend greatly to strengthen and intensify the war feeling, and will rally all classes to more cordial support of the government.”

He then referred Davis to President Abraham Lincoln’s recent Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, under which 10 percent of a state’s eligible voters could form a new, Unionist state government to rule over the other 90 percent. Vance was concerned that the mounting dissension in North Carolina could produce the requisite 10 percent who would want to return to the Union.

Vance stated “that for the sake of humanity, without having any weak or improper motives attributed to us, we might, with propriety, constantly tender negotiations.” He wrote, “Though statesmen might regard this as useless, the people will not and I think our cause will be strengthened thereby.” The purpose of Vance’s letter was to get Davis to ask the U.S. to negotiate peace, knowing that the U.S. would reject the request. Vance could then use this rejection to show North Carolinians that it was the U.S., not the Confederacy, that was unwilling to talk peace.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis’s response did not seem to acknowledge Vance’s true purpose. Instead, the president explained that he had always wanted peace, and had even sent envoys to negotiate peace with the U.S., only to be rejected. No peace could be had that would return the southern states to the Union because, Davis wrote, “Have we not just been apprised by that despot (Lincoln) that we can only expect his gracious pardon by emancipating all our slaves, swearing allegiance and obedience to him and his proclamation, and becoming in point of fact the slaves of our own negroes?”

Appealing to the patriotism of Vance’s state, Davis asked, “Can there be in North Carolina one citizen so fallen beneath the dignity of his ancestors as to accept, or to enter into conference on the basis of these terms?” He acknowledged that some may consider negotiating a return to the Union, but even the “vilest wretch” would not accept emancipation as a condition of their return.

Regarding Lincoln’s amnesty proclamation, Davis argued:

“If we break up our Government, dissolve the Confederacy, disband our armies, emancipate our slaves, take an oath of allegiance binding ourselves to obedience to him and disloyalty to our own States, he proposes to pardon us, and not to plunder us of anything more than the property already stolen from us, and such slaves as still remain.”

Lincoln’s decree only sought to “sow discord and suspicion” by pledging to “support with his army one-tenth of the people… over the other nine-tenths.” This would “excite them to civil war in furtherance of his ends.” No, Davis would not negotiate peace on those terms. He would only negotiate on the basis of Confederate independence and maintaining slavery. He concluded:

“To obtain the sole terms to which you or I could listen, this struggle must continue until the enemy is beaten out of his vain confidence in our subjugation. Then, and not till then, will it be possible to treat of peace. Till then, all tender of terms to the enemy will be received as proof that we are ready for submission, and will encourage him in the atrocious warfare which he is now waging.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 450, 454; 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. 696-97

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Cleburne Proposes Black Recruitment

January 2, 1864 – Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, one of the best division commanders in the Confederate Army of Tennessee, wrote an extraordinary letter proposing that the Confederacy induct slaves into the military.

Gen P.R. Cleburne | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Cleburne was one of the most respected officers in the Confederate army, having earned the nickname “Stonewall Jackson of the West.” In a paper he presented to his fellow officers, Cleburne declared that the Confederacy could very well lose the war. He argued that this was due to the growing manpower shortage in the armies, dwindling supplies and resources, and “the fact that slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war, has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.”

According to Cleburne, the Confederacy could only rely on its own population for manpower, while the North could pull from its “own motley population,” emancipated and confiscated slaves, and “Europeans whose hearts are fired into a crusade against us by fictitious pictures of the atrocities of slavery.”

Furthermore, the growing “prejudice against slavery” had given the Federals the moral advantage in the contest, encouraged valuable slave labor to not only leave the South but to fight against it, and compelled European nations to refuse to recognize Confederate independence. Consequently, Confederates now faced “the loss of all we now hold most sacred–slaves and all other personal property, lands, homesteads, liberty, justice, safety, pride, manhood.”

Cleburne argued that retaining the institution of slavery for labor purposes had become pointless because slaves could now flee their masters in search of freedom, or be confiscated by Federal occupation forces at any time. This made slaves “comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information.”

President Jefferson Davis had recently signed a bill into law limiting the number of exemptions to the Conscription Act in the hopes of drafting more able-bodied white men into the military. But Cleburne argued that this would only bring in those who did not want to serve, otherwise they would have already volunteered. Instead, Cleburne recommended:

“Adequately to meet the causes which are now threatening ruin to our country, we propose, in addition to a modification of the President’s plans, that we retain in service for the war all troops now in service, and that we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom with a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war.”

Since Great Britain and France were reluctant to recognize a slave-owning nation, this would mean that “the sympathy and interests of these and other nations will accord with our own, and we may expect from them both moral support and material aid.” If both North and South embraced emancipation, the North would immediately become the aggressor in the conflict, looked upon as seeking to subjugate the South. This would be “a complete change of front in our favor of the sympathies of the world.”

For northerners joining the Federal army to free the slaves, “that source of recruiting will be dried up.” Also, “it will leave the enemy’s negro army no motive to fight for, and will exhaust the source from which it has been recruited.” Cleburne then declared:

“The idea that it is their special mission to war against slavery has held growing sway over the Northern people for many years, and has at length riped into an armed and bloody crusade against it. This baleful superstition has so far supplied them with a courage and constancy not their own. It is the most powerful and honestly entertained plank in their war platform. Knock this away and what is left? A blood ambition for more territory…. Mankind may fancy it a great duty to destroy slavery, but what interest can mankind have in upholding this remainder of the Northern war platform?”

Guessing that the Federal “negro army” would “desert over to us,” Cleburne wrote:

“The immediate effect of the emancipation and enrollment of negroes on the military strength of the South would be: To enable us to have armies numerically superior to those of the North, and a reserve of any size we might think necessary; to enable us to take the offensive, move forward, and forage on the enemy.”

To Cleburne, emancipation “would remove forever all selfish taint from our cause and place independence above every question of property. The very magnitude of the sacrifice itself, such as no nation has ever voluntarily made before, would appall our enemies… and fill our hearts with a pride and singleness of purpose which would clothe us with new strength in battle.”

Only the Confederacy could “change the race from a dreaded weakness to a (source) of strength. We can do this more effectually than the North can now do, for we can give the Negro not only his own freedom, but that of his wife and child, and can secure it to him in his old home.” To do this, “we must immediately make his marriage and parental relations sacred in the eyes of the law and forbid their sale.” Cleburne wrote:

“If, then, we touch the institution at all, we would do best to make the most of it, and by emancipating the whole race upon reasonable terms, and within such reasonable time as will prepare both races for the change, secure to ourselves all the advantages, and to our enemies all the disadvantages that can arise, both at home and abroad, from such a sacrifice.”

Cleburne finally concluded:

“It is said slaves will not work after they are freed. We think necessity and a wise legislation will compel them to labor for a living. It is said that slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties. It may be imperfect, but in all human probability it would give us our independence. No objection ought to outweigh it which is not weightier than independence.”

The proposal had been endorsed by 12 of Cleburne’s brigade and regimental commanders. The idea of slave emancipation was not new; it had been debated in the southern press for over a year. In one example, the Jackson Mississippian editorialized:

“Let not slavery prove a barrier to our independence. Although slavery is one of the principles that we started to fight for… if it proves an insurmountable obstacle to the achievement of our liberty and separate nationality, away with it!”

However, this was the first time that a high-ranking Confederate military officer had proposed such a thing. While most southerners viewed slavery and independence as one in the same, Cleburne’s letter asserted that one may have to be sacrificed for the other.

Confederate officers outside Cleburne’s division expressed shock and outrage at such an idea, which they unanimously rejected. One officer called it a “monstrous proposition… revolting to Southern sentiment, Southern pride, and Southern honor.” A corps commander said that it was “at war with my social, moral, and political principles.” Another general maintained that “we are not whipped, & cannot be whipped. Our situation requires resort to no such remedy… Its propositions contravene the principles upon which we fight.” General Howell Cobb argued:

“I think that the proposition to make soldiers of the slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began. You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”

Major General William H.T. Walker was so offended that he considered Cleburne’s letter treasonous and secretly forwarded it to President Davis. The president read the document and issued a statement:

“Deeming it to be injurious to the public service that such a subject should be mooted, or even known to be entertained by persons possessed of the confidence and respect of the people, I have concluded that the best policy under the circumstances will be to avoid all publicity, and the Secretary of War has therefore written to General (Joseph E.) Johnston (commanding the Army of Tennessee) requesting him to convey to those concerned my desire that it should be kept private. If it be kept out of the public journals its ill effect will be much lessened.”

Cleburne’s letter did not resurface until the Official Records of the war were being compiled a generation later. Some claimed that the letter cost Cleburne any chance of future promotion. However, the idea would come up again later in the year, and this time Davis would not be so quick to dismiss it.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 27; 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. 953-54; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 15758-15768; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 387; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 39; 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. 832-33; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 253

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

Bragg Leaves the Army of Tennessee

December 2, 1863 – General Braxton Bragg turned the Confederate Army of Tennessee over to Lieutenant General William Hardee, and President Jefferson Davis began looking for a permanent army commander.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the last day of November, Bragg’s request to be removed from command had been granted. Bragg notified his superiors that he would relinquish command on December 2 at Dalton, Georgia. In the meantime, he submitted “a plain, unvarnished report of the operations at Chattanooga, resulting in my shameful discomfiture” via special messenger. The report included a personal letter to his friend, President Davis, who had supported him:

“The disaster admits of no palliation, and is justly disparaging to me as a commander. I trust, however, you may find upon full investigation that the fault is not entirely mine… I fear we both erred in the conclusion for me to retain command here after the clamor raised against me…”

Bragg charged that Major General John C. Breckinridge had been drunk throughout the three days of battle at Chattanooga and called him “totally unfit for any duty” during the withdrawal. Bragg alleged that Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham was “equally dangerous.” This further demonstrated that Bragg’s demise was at least partly due to his inability to accept responsibility for mistakes and to instead blame his subordinates.

In an emotional ceremony, Bragg passed command to Hardee on the 2nd. Although most of the officers and men in the army despised Bragg and celebrated his departure, he issued a farewell address to them: “The announcement of this separation is made with unfeigned regret. The associations of more than two years, which bind together a commander and his trusted troops, cannot be severed without deep emotion.”

Confederate Lieut Gen William Hardee | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hardee, who had no desire for army command, only agreed to replace Bragg temporarily. He stated that while he appreciated “this expression of (Davis’s) confidence… feeling my inability to serve the country successfully in this new sphere of duty, I respectfully decline the command if designed to be permanent.” Hardee announced to his new army:

“The overwhelming numbers of the enemy forced us back from Missionary Ridge, but the army is still intact and in good heart… Only the weak and timid need to be cheered by constant success. Let the past take care of itself; we can and must secure the future.”

Before leaving, Bragg wrote a second letter to Davis, in which he still called himself “General, Commanding” at “Headquarters Army of Tennessee.” Bragg rhetorically asked, “What, then, shall be our policy?” He then boldly offered unsolicited military advice:

“The enemy has concentrated all his available means in front of this army, and by sheer force of numbers has triumphed over our gallant little band… Let us concentrate all our available men, unite them with this gallant little army, still full of zeal and burning to redeem its lost character and prestige, and with our greatest and best leader at the head, yourself, if practicable, march the whole upon the enemy and crush him in his power and glory…”

Bragg concluded, “I believe it practicable, and trust that I may be allowed to participate in the struggle which may restore the character, the prestige, and the country we have just lost.” Bragg then left the army and headed to Richmond to await further orders. Despite Bragg’s questionable record as military commander, Davis would soon find a new job for him in the administration.

Meanwhile, since Hardee made it clear that he would only lead the Army of Tennessee on an interim basis, Davis had to hurry to find a permanent commander. The list of generals to choose from was very short, even if he did not rule out those he personally disliked. The day after Hardee took over, Davis wrote General Robert E. Lee in northern Virginia. He explained the situation and asked, “Could you consistently go to Dalton, as heretofore explained?”

Davis had asked Lee to head the Army of Tennessee in September, and Lee demurred. Now Lee did so again, not wanting to leave his Army of Northern Virginia. He answered, “I can if desired, but of the expediency of the measure you can judge better than I can. Unless it is intended that I should take permanent command, I can see no good that will result, even if in that event any could be accomplished. I also fear that I would not receive cordial co-operation.”

Lee explained that if he left, he would have to turn his army over to Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, who was “too feeble to undergo the fatigue and labor incident to the position.” Lee then warned Davis that the Federals sought to invade Georgia “and get possession of our depots of provisions and important manufactories.” He proposed giving General P.G.T. Beauregard (currently heading the Charleston defenses) command of the army and reinforcing it with troops from Mississippi, Mobile, and Charleston. Lee added:

“I think that every effort should be made to concentrate as large a force as possible, under the best commander, to insure the discomfiture of (Ulysses S.) Grant’s army. To do this and gain the great advantage that would accrue from it, the safety of points practically less important than those endangered by his army must be hazarded. Upon the defence of the country threatened by General Grant depends the safety of the points now held by us on the Atlantic, and they are in as great danger from his successful advance as by the attacks to which they are at present directly subjected.”

However, Davis loathed Beauregard and would not consider giving him command of the Army of Tennessee. Davis also would not consider the highest-ranking general in the Confederacy, Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, because he had performed administrative duties throughout the war and was too old for field command. This left just one viable option, and to Davis’s dismay, it was someone who had been hostile toward him almost since the war began.

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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. 349-50; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 868-69, 878; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 380; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6544-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 441-43

Northern Virginia: Meade Looks to Advance

November 21, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade received intelligence that his Federal Army of the Potomac now held a major numerical advantage over General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Meade therefore looked to launch another offensive.

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Following the Bristoe campaign in October, Meade had settled his army into camps between the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, presumably until the spring. However, this changed when a detailed report, partly derived from information provided by Confederate deserters, stated that Lee had less than 40,000 effectives in his army, while Meade had 84,274.

Lee actually had 48,586 effectives, but Meade still vastly outnumbered him, and his Federals had been emboldened by their recent, albeit minor, victories at Bristoe and Rappahannock stations. Moreover, the report indicated that Lee’s two corps were spread out across 35 miles and unable to guard the lower fords on the Rapidan. Meade therefore planned to hurry his five infantry corps down the Rapidan, move down the Orange Turnpike, and overwhelm Lee’s right and rear before the remaining Confederates came up in support.

While Meade planned, Lee hosted President Jefferson Davis for a four-day military conference at Lee’s headquarters. Lee once more stressed the importance of having shoes for his barefooted men, as well as adequate food, clothing, and shelter for the upcoming winter. On the night of the 24th, Lee received word that Meade had requisitioned large amounts of rations for his troops, indicating he would soon be in motion again.

Lee alerted his outposts. Guessing that Meade would cross the Rapidan and try advancing through either the Wilderness or Spotsylvania toward the Richmond & Fredericksburg Railroad, Lee prepared to move his army to block the Federals. A cavalry clash near Ely’s Ford on the 25th seemed to confirm Lee’s guess.

Meade had planned to move out on the 23rd, but rains turned the roads to mud. He announced to his corps commanders, “On account of the unfavorable appearances of the morning,” the advance would not begin until the 24th. But rain caused postponements for another two days, during which time Federal cavalry reported that the major thoroughfares were still passable. The troopers also noted that Confederates were not guarding Ely’s Ford on the Rapidan.

On the 25th, Meade issued orders for the movement to begin the next morning, Thanksgiving Day. The Federals were to make a wide swing around the Confederate right to land on the enemy flank and rear. Meade explained that speed and stealth were of the utmost importance, therefore each man would carry 10 days’ rations and leave their supply trains behind.

Major General William French’s III Corps was to cross the Rapidan at Jacob’s Ford, opposite Mine Run, with Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps following. Major General Gouverneur Warren’s II Corps was to cross farther downstream at Germanna Ford. Major General George Sykes’s V Corps would cross even farther down at Culpeper Mine, followed by Major General John Newton’s I Corps. The five corps would then unite, with French in the lead, and move west to hit the Confederate right with overwhelming force.

The Federals mobilized at 6 a.m., a half-hour before sunrise, on the 26th. A heavy fog hid their movement from the Confederates as they moved down their assigned paths to the Rapidan fords. However, French’s corps started late and experienced traffic delays. Upon reaching Jacob’s Ford, engineers did not bring enough pontoons to span the river. Consequently, French did not cross until near sundown. By day’s end, French, Warren, and Sykes had crossed the Rapidan, but the element of speed was lost, as Meade had covered only half the distance he expected to cover that day.

The element of stealth was also lost when Confederate signalmen atop Clark’s Mountain, along with cavalry, spotted the movement. Lee had expected the Federals to attack the Richmond & Fredericksburg Railroad, but their movement against his right worked even more to his advantage. He held strong positions, and the Federal delays gave him time to shift more troops to that sector of his line.

Lee pulled elements of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps east to bolster the Second Corps under Major General Jubal Early (temporarily replacing the ailing Lieutenant General Richard Ewell) on the right. Lee directed Early to cross Mine Run and move east to face Meade’s advance.

Early’s three divisions moved along three parallel roads leading to Robertson’s Tavern, with Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s men the farthest north (the Confederate left), Major General Robert Rodes in the center, and Brigadier General Harry Hays’s men moving along the Orange Turnpike to the south. Hill’s corps moved about a mile south on parallel roads.

Meade directed the Federals to begin moving at 7 a.m., with French holding the right (unknowingly moving directly toward Johnson), Warren holding the center on the Orange Turnpike (unknowingly moving toward Hays), and Sykes holding the left (unknowingly moving toward Hill). Sedgwick and Newton were in reserve.

French and Warren were supposed to converge at Robertson’s Tavern, but French took a wrong fork in the road and had to countermarch for several hours. Warren’s corps reached the tavern unsupported, where they were confronted by Hays’s Confederates around Locust Grove. French informed Meade that he was waiting for Warren, but Meade’s chief of staff, Major General Andrew Humphreys, responded:

“What are you waiting for? No orders have been sent you to wait for General Warren anywhere upon your Route… He is waiting for you. The commanding general directs that you move forward as rapidly as possible to Robertson’s Tavern, where your corps is wanted.”

French finally came up on Warren’s right and met resistance from Johnson’s Confederate division near Payne’s Farm. French deployed his lead division under Brigadier General Joseph B. Carr to face Johnson as both he and Hays began linking with Rodes in the middle.

The Confederates repelled two Federal charges and then counterattacked. As Johnson reported, “The resistance of the enemy was stubborn, but he was steadily driven back for a considerable distance through the woods and pursued across an open field.” The Confederates soon advanced into heavy woods and became disorganized. They were then hit by heavy Federal canister fire. Johnson ultimately withdrew and repelled more Federal attacks before nightfall ended the fighting.

The Confederates lost 545 men, including Brigadier Generals George Steuart and John M. Jones (both wounded). On their right, Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry barely held Sykes at bay. As Stuart’s line appeared to be breaking and the Federals were about to turn the Confederate flank, Hill’s corps arrived to link with Early and drive the Federals back. Lee then pulled his main force back to defenses on a ridge along the west bank of Mine Run.

Federal losses were unrecorded, but this engagement ruined the element of surprise that Meade so desperately needed. Meade blamed French for his delays crossing the Rapidan on the 26th and taking the wrong road on this day. With Lee entrenched behind Mine Run, Meade now could only attack (and most likely fail) or retreat.

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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 19153; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 346; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 873-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 378; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6488, 6499-511; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 497; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 438-39; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 563-64