Tag Archives: Jefferson Davis

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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The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid Takes a Sinister Turn

March 2, 1864 – Confederates continued pursuing the Federal raiders led by Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, uncovering controversial documentation in the process.

Two Federal forces had unsuccessfully tried to raid Richmond. The main force under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick rode through Kent Court House on the way to joining Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federals at Fort Monroe, on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Dahlgren’s 500-man detachment split in two, with Dahlgren leading about 100 men southeast to rejoin Kilpatrick.

Col Ulric Dahlgren | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Fitzhugh Lee, commanding Confederate cavalry in the area, soon learned of Dahlgren’s presence. His Confederates fired on Dahlgren’s men as they crossed the Mattaponi River, but the Federals held them off long enough to get across. The Confederate pursuers used an alternate road to get in front of Dahlgren’s column as it approached Mantapike Hill, between King and Queen County and King William County.

The Confederates waited in ambush as the Federals approached on the night of the 2nd. Dahlgren saw them in the woods and yelled, “Surrender you damned rebels, or we will charge you!” The Confederates instead demanded Dahlgren’s surrender. Dahlgren drew his revolver but it misfired. The Confederates opened fire, and a Federal trooper recalled, “This stampeded us for about 100 yards, every horse in our column turning to the rear.” Another wrote:

“The next instant a heavy volley was poured in upon us. The flash of the pieces afforded us a momentary glimpse of their position stretching parallel with the road about 15 paces from us. Every tree was occupied, and the bushes poured forth a sheet of fire. A bullet grazing my leg and probably struck my horse somewhere in the neck, caused him to make a violent swing sideways.”

Dahlgren was shot five times and killed. The Federals left him behind as they rode off, and the Confederates eventually rounded up about 100 of his men. Most of the survivors from Dahlgren’s force met up with Kilpatrick that night, while some found refuge on the U.S.S. Morse, near Brick House Farm on the York River.

William Littlepage, a 13-year-old boy accompanying the Confederates, searched Dahlgren’s body and found a bundle of papers in his coat pocket. He turned them over to the troopers, who read them the next morning. The three documents included the speech that Dahlgren had planned to give to his men upon entering Richmond, a list of instructions, and a memorandum book.

The instructions included the Federals’ plan to break some 15,000 Federal prisoners of war out of Belle Island and Libby Prison. They also directed the men to disguise themselves in Confederate uniforms, gather “combustible material,” and burn Richmond. And if President Jefferson Davis was found, he must be “killed on the spot.” Dahlgren wrote, “The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city it must be destroyed and Jeff Davis and cabinet killed.”

Some historians alleged that the papers had been forged by Confederates, but a handwriting expert verified Dahlgren’s writing a century later. Several prisoners were captured in Confederate uniform carrying turpentine and other material needed to set fires. This made them saboteurs under Articles of War, subject to execution.

The discovery of these incriminating papers and the capture of Federals verifying their authenticity put a sinister twist on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid. Fitz Lee delivered the papers to Davis at Richmond, who shared them with Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin. Davis tried downplaying the issue, showing the secretary the order to kill him and his cabinet and saying, “That means you, Mr. Benjamin.” Davis asked Fitz to file the papers away. But General Braxton Bragg, Davis’s military advisor, recommended to Secretary of War James A. Seddon:

“It has occurred to me that the papers just captured from the enemy are of such an extraordinary and diabolical character that some more formal method should be adopted of giving them to the public than simply sending them to the press. My own conviction is for an execution of the prisoners and a publication as justification; but in any event the publication should go forth with official sanction from the highest authority, calling the attention of our people and the civilized world to the fiendish and atrocious conduct of our enemies.”

Chief of Ordnance Josiah Gorgas agreed with Bragg. But Seddon, along with Davis and General Robert E. Lee, were reluctant to take punitive action against the prisoners. Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper had the documents photographed and sent to the Richmond newspapers; their publication sent waves of shock, panic, and outrage throughout the South. Editors alleged that the plot went all the way up the chain of command to President Abraham Lincoln himself. An article in the Richmond Inquirer declared:

“Should our army again go into the enemy’s country, will not these papers relieve them from their restraints of a chivalry that would be proper with a civilized army, but which only brings upon them the contempt of our savage foe? Decidedly, we think that these Dahlgren papers will destroy, during the rest of the war, all rosewater chivalry, and that the Confederate armies will make war afar and upon the rules selected by the enemy.”

The Richmond Whig asked:

“Are these (Dahlgren’s) men warriors? Are they soldiers, taken in the performance of duties recognized as legitimate by the loosest construction in the code of civilized warfare? Or are they assassins, barbarians, thugs who have forfeited (and expect to lose) their lives? Are they not barbarians redolent with more hellish purposes than were the Goth, the Hun or the Saracen?”

The Richmond Daily Examiner recommended:

“Our soldiers should in every instance where they capture officers engaged in raids characterized by such acts of incendiarism and wanton devastation and plunder, as this last raid has been, hang them immediately. If they are handed over as prisoners of war, they at once come under the laws of regular warfare and are subject to exchange… therefore we hope that our soldiers will take the law in their own hands… by hanging those they capture.”

Dahlgren’s body was brought to Richmond and buried in a shallow grave after being examined by Davis. An editor wrote:

“And they came and the Almighty blessed them not, and Dahlgren is dead and gone to answer for his crimes and several hundred of his partners in the plot concocted so deliberately are now our prisoners. They every one richly merit death…”

The controversy would continue.

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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 20051; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-82; 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; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 913, 915; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 405; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6593; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 471; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 417; 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

Davis Urges Suspension of Habeas Corpus

February 3, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis delivered a message to Congress asking for the authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this time, Federal military forces had begun various campaigns that included looting, pillaging, and plundering private property in the South. This had caused widespread disorder that required attention from the Confederate government. Consequently, Davis requested the same authorization that President Abraham Lincoln had assumed (without congressional consent) to apprehend and jail citizens suspected of disloyalty without trial.

In his message, Davis noted the “discontent, disaffection, and disloyalty” pervading the Confederacy, partly due to the demoralizing effects of Federal military occupation. Davis also alleged that such sentiments were rising among those who “have enjoyed quiet and safety at home.” He stated that suspending the writ was necessary to combat the rising number of Federal occupiers and Confederate dissidents, both of which tended to demoralize the people and encourage potential race wars between slaves and masters. Davis wrote:

“Must the independence for which we are contending, the safety of the defenseless families of the men who have fallen in battle and of those who still confront the invader, be put in peril for the sake of conformity to the technicalities of the law of treason?… Having thus presented some of the threatening evils which exist, it remains to suggest the remedy. And in my judgment that is to be found only in the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.”

Although the Lincoln administration had suspended the writ long ago and jailed thousands of anti-war dissidents without trial, this concept was still controversial for the Confederacy, which had been founded on the principle that states’ rights checked a potentially overreaching national government. As such, many members of the Confederate Congress opposed Davis’s request. Conversely, supporters argued that such a measure was necessary to suppress draft opposition and other “disloyal” practices.

After nearly two weeks of acrimonious debate, Congress finally approved authorizing Davis to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. The bill included a specific list of treasonable offenses, thus limiting Davis’s ability to act arbitrarily as much as possible. To further appease detractors, Davis only had suspension power until August 2.

Nevertheless, fierce critics remained, including Davis’s own vice president, Alexander Stephens of Georgia. Stephens declared that “constitutional liberty will go down, never to rise again on this continent” if Davis was empowered to suspend the writ. He called the bill a “blow at the very ‘vitals of liberty’” and accused Davis of–

“… aiming at absolute power… Far better that our country should be overrun by the enemy, our cities sacked and burned, and our land laid desolate, than that the people should thus suffer the citadel of their liberties to be entered and taken by professed friends.”

Despite opposition from Stephens and both of Georgia’s Confederate senators, the state legislature approved a resolution supporting this and all laws designed to win the war. Even so, the opposition to suspending the writ of habeas corpus remained so strong that Davis rarely exercised the power.

However, passage of the law prompted William W. Holden to suspend publication of his Unionist newspaper, the Raleigh (North Carolina) Standard. Many Confederate officials had targeted Holden as a traitor for urging southerners to rejoin the Union, and Davis could have ordered him arrested and jailed without charges.

Holden declared that “if I could not continue to print as a free man I would not print at all.” Holden then announced that he would oppose Governor Zebulon Vance in the upcoming election, but Vance turned many of Holden’s supporters against him by accusing him of treason.

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References

Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 331; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 950; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 394, 398; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 460-61, 465; 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. 435, 692-93, 697-98; 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

Confederates Target New Bern

January 20, 1864 – Confederate commanders looked to take back a key point on the North Carolina coast to better feed their armies.

Federal forces had captured New Bern, one of North Carolina’s largest cities, in early 1862. Since then, the Confederates made sporadic attempts to take it back, but by this time, it had become an important objective because the Federal warehouses there could feed the Confederate armies through the winter.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

New Bern was especially important to General Robert E. Lee, whose Army of Northern Virginia was finding it increasingly difficult to sustain itself in ravaged, war-torn Virginia. If Confederate forces could seize the town, they could use the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad to transport the foodstuffs and supplies north into Virginia.

Now that the Federal and Confederate armies in northern Virginia had gone into winter quarters, Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis, “The time is at hand when, if an attempt can be made to capture the enemy’s forces at New Berne, it should be done. I can now spare troops for the purpose, which will not be the case as spring approaches.”

Lee acknowledged that the Federal garrison at New Bern had been strongly fortified, but it “has been so long unmolested, and experiences such a feeling of security, that it is represented as careless.” So were the Federal gunboats patrolling the nearby waters.

Lee stated, “A bold party could descend the Neuse (River) in boats at night, capture the gunboats, and drive the enemy by their aid from the works on that side of the river, while a force should attack them in front.” To do this, and to secure the “large amount of provisions and other supplies” there, “a bold naval officer” and experienced men would be needed. Lee asked, “Can they be had?”

Davis responded two days later, “Your suggestion is approved, but who can and will execute it?” Davis stated that a naval fleet could not be assembled any time soon. He also suggested that Lee should lead the New Bern operation himself:

“You could give it form, which would insure success… without your personal attention, I fear such failures as have elsewhere been suffered… It would be well to send the brigade, and if circumstances permit, you had better go down; otherwise, I will go myself, though it could only be for a very few days, Congress being in session.”

Lee waited over two weeks to reply, “until the time arrived for the execution of the attempt on New Berne.” Without acknowledging Davis’s offer to personally lead the troops in the attack, Lee stated he would take command, “but I consider my presence here (in northern Virginia) always necessary, especially now, when there is such a struggle to keep the army fed and clothed.” Lee also reiterated the need for a gunboat fleet, writing, “With their aid I think success would be certain.”

Confederate Gen George Pickett | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Leadership ultimately devolved upon Major General George Pickett, who had taken command of the Department of North Carolina last fall. Pickett’s force would consist of 13,000 infantrymen, 900 cavalry troopers, and 17 guns. Lee worked with Brigadier General Robert F. Hoke, Pickett’s second-in-command, to develop the attack plan. It began with 14 naval cutters under Commander John T. Wood clearing the Federal gunboats off the Neuse River, thus “driving the enemy from their guns” on shore. Pickett would then launch a three-pronged advance:

  • An infantry force, Brigadier General Seth M. Barton’s 600 cavalry, and 14 guns would attack New Bern from the southwest, below the Trent River.
  • An infantry force, Colonel James Dearing’s 300 cavalry, and three guns would advance from the northeast and capture Fort Anderson, across the Neuse from New Bern.
  • Hoke’s division, joined by Pickett, would advance on New Bern from the northwest.

In addition to these joint army-navy operations, Brigadier General William H.C. Whiting, commanding Confederates at Wilmington, would move 35 miles southeast to attack the Federal garrison at Morehead City. Lee wrote Pickett, “Everything will depend upon the secrecy, expedition, and boldness of your movements.” Lee recommended troop placements and authorized Pickett to abort the attack if necessary. He then stated, “If successful, everything in New Berne should be sent back to a place of security.”

From there, Lee urged Pickett to oversee “the enemy driven from Washington, Plymouth, &c., and much subsistence for the army obtained.” Offering more specifics, Lee instructed, “If you have to use the telegraph, merely say, ‘The day is’–name the day of the month; he (Whiting) will comprehend. Commit nothing to the telegraph that may disclose your purpose.”

Lee directed Hoke to personally deliver the instructions to Pickett and “explain to him fully the plan of operations.” As Hoke moved his Confederates south into North Carolina, he was to coordinate efforts with draft officials “to get conscripts and recruits.”

The mobilization began on the 30th, and Pickett’s forces began arriving outside New Bern the next day. The operation continued into February.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 393; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 524

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

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