Tag Archives: John Letcher

Hunter Terrorizes the Shenandoah Valley

June 8, 1864 – Brigadier General George Crook’s Federals from West Virginia joined forces with Major General David Hunter’s Army of the Shenandoah and prepared to drive southward “up” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley from Staunton.

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The day after his victory at Piedmont, Hunter became the first Federal commander to lead a force into the key town of Staunton. From there, Hunter was to join forces with Crook and move south to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad at Lynchburg. Federal troops destroyed all warehouses, barns, mills, workshops, and railroad factories in their path. They then looted and pillaged Staunton and vicinity, causing seething resentment among Valley residents.

Upon learning of Piedmont, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, detached Major General John C. Breckinridge to return west and take the Valley back. However, Breckinridge had just 2,100 men in two brigades to reinforce the 4,000 Piedmont survivors in protecting the vital railroad junction at Lynchburg.

Meanwhile, Crook’s Federal Army of the Kanawha joined with Hunter, giving the combined force 18,000 men and 30 guns. Both Crook and his cavalry commander, Brigadier General William W. Averell, urged Hunter to continue south to Lynchburg as ordered, but Hunter opted to instead advance on Lexington to the southwest and then march through the Blue Ridge at the Peaks of Otter to get to Lynchburg.

Hunter’s new “Army of West Virginia” headed out of Staunton on the 10th. In response to harassment from Confederate partisans, Hunter directed his troops to live off the land, which included looting civilian homes and farms. Breckinridge reported that Hunter was moving up the Valley to either Lexington or Lynchburg, but his force was too small to stop the Federals.

President Jefferson Davis asked Lee to clear the Federals out of the Valley, but Lee said he could only do so by detaching an entire corps in the face of the opposing Army of the Potomac. Lee concluded, “If it is deemed prudent to hazard the defense of Richmond… I will do so.”

Crook’s Federals reached Lexington around 12 p.m. the next day and entered the town after driving off a small Confederate cavalry force. Hunter stopped to visit the grave of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson before ordering his men to burn the Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson had taught before the war. Hunter accused the school administrators of teaching a “treasonous” curriculum and sending cadets out to fight Federal troops at New Market. Hunter did not know that Lee had buried George Washington’s silver beneath VMI for protection.

Hunter set up headquarters in the VMI superintendent’s home, the only building on campus not burned. He also directed his troops to burn Washington College and turn the main building into a horse stable. Outraged, Virginia Governor John Letcher publicly called on the citizens to oppose “the vandal hordes of Yankee invaders.” When Hunter learned of this, he ordered Letcher’s Lexington home burned for issuing “a violent and inflammatory proclamation… inciting the population of the country to rise and wage guerrilla warfare on my troops.”

The looting and destruction continued for three days, during which a Federal soldier wrote, “Many of the women look sad and do much weeping over the destruction that is going on. We feel that the South brought on the war and the State of Virginia is paying dear for her part.” But during this time, Hunter suffered two setbacks:

  • Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry, assigned to join him in the drive on Lynchburg, was stopped by Confederate horsemen under Major General Wade Hampton.
  • Confederate partisans led by Colonel John S. Mosby continuously raided Hunter’s supply lines, forcing him to wait at Lexington until all his cavalry could come up.

These setbacks gave Breckinridge more time to prepare defenses at Lynchburg.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

On the night of the 12th, Lee decided on a daring gamble. He would detach Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Second Corps from his army and send it west. These Confederates would absorb Breckinridge’s force, secure Lynchburg, and drive Hunter’s Federals out of the Valley. Early was to then move north “down” the Valley and cross the Potomac River into Maryland. From there, he would turn southeast and threaten Washington.

This would leave Lee’s Confederates dangerously outnumbered against the Army of the Potomac, but Lee hoped that Early’s offensive would compel Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to detach forces, or even withdraw the army altogether, to protect Washington. It may even provoke Grant into launching a hasty attack that could give Lee an opening to destroy his force.

Early received written orders to move out at 3 a.m. on the 13th. He was “to strike Hunter’s force in the rear, and, if possible, destroy it; then to move down the Valley, cross the Potomac near Leesburg in Loudon County, or at or above Harper’s Ferry… and threaten Washington City.”

Early was to leave with all three of his divisions (8,000 men) and an artillery battalion. Early renamed his corps the Army of the Valley and led it out of the Cold Harbor trenches on the morning of the 13th. The troops boarded trains and headed west to Lynchburg, just as Hunter’s Federals finally left Lexington.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 493-94; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 176; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20411; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 420-23, 425; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6359-69, 6398-408, 6522-41, 6561-91, 9314-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 451, 454-55; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7472-84; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 50-59; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 516, 519-20; 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. 738-39; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376-77, 454

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The Richmond Bread Riot

April 2, 1863 – A mob of mostly women stormed the business district of the Confederate capital demanding relief from the epidemic of shortages plaguing the Confederacy.

The winter of 1862-63 had been the worst ever for the new Confederacy. Dwindling supplies increased demand, resulting in soaring prices and civil unrest in various southern cities. This was especially true in Richmond, where the population had doubled since the war started and the armies had ravaged much of the food producing area in the state. The rising cost of necessities left many to go hungry.

Richmond Bread Riot | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Hundreds of angry citizens, mostly women, gathered at the Oregon Hill Baptist Church on Holy Thursday to express their rage. They then stormed Richmond’s business district, shouting, “Bread! Bread!” A witness recalled talking to a young woman involved in the protest:

“As she raised her hand to remove her sunbonnet, her loose calico sleeve slipped up, and revealed a mere skeleton of an arm. She perceived my expression as I looked at it, and hastily pulled down her sleeve with a short laugh. ‘This is all that’s left of me!’ she said. ‘It seems real funny don’t it? We are starving. We are going to the bakeries and each of us will take a loaf of bread. That is little enough for the government to give us after it has taken all our men.’”

Some men and boys joined the mob until it grew to about 1,000 people. Governor John Letcher and the mayor of Richmond came out to calm the protestors to no avail. They smashed store windows and doors on Main and Cary, seizing items such as flour, meal, and clothing. Ruffians and emboldened protestors soon joined forces to begin looting stores for luxury items such as jewelry, furniture, and other fineries.

Letcher dispatched state militia to restore order, and the Richmond mayor threatened to order the militia to open fire if the crowd did not disperse. The mob refused to comply, possibly because the militia consisted of acquaintances or even husbands of the rioters. President Jefferson Davis then appeared and climbed atop a wagon to be seen in the crowd. According to a witness:

“He urged them to return to their houses, so that the bayonets there menacing them might be sent against the common enemy. He told them that such acts would bring famine upon them… as it would deter people from bringing food to the city. He said he was willing to share his last loaf with the suffering people… and he trusted we would… continue united against the Northern invaders, who were the authors of all our sufferings.”

Davis yelled, “You say you are hungry and have no money. Here is all I have. It is not much, but take it.” He threw all the money from his pockets into the crowd. He then pulled out his pocket watch and said, “We do not desire to injure anyone, but this lawlessness must stop. I will give you five minutes to disperse. Otherwise you will be fired on.”

When a large crowd remained after four minutes, Davis held up his pocket watch and announced, “My friends, you have one minute more.” The rioters finally disbanded. Davis directed the police to arrest the most prominent members of the mob; they were tried and briefly jailed.

Davis unofficially asked the Richmond press to “avoid all reference directly or indirectly to the affair,” and he instructed the telegraph companies to “permit nothing relative to the unfortunate disturbance… to be sent over the telegraph lines in any direction for any purpose.” Davis feared that reports of incidents such as these would embolden Federal troops and demoralize Confederates.

Secretary of War James A. Seddon directed military authorities to order the Richmond newspapers to print no articles about the rioting because it would serve “to embarrass our cause (or) to encourage our enemies.” The lead editorial in the April 3 Richmond Dispatch was titled, “Sufferings in the North.” Meanwhile, women and other “non-draftables” continued gathering to beg for food until the City Battalion drove them off.

The Richmond Enquirer broke the press silence on the 4th, but in support of the administration. The Enquirer reported that rumors of the riot were unnecessarily harming morale because the rioters were merely “a handful of prostitutes, professional thieves, Irish and Yankee hags, gallows birds from all lands but our own… (they broke into) half a dozen shoe stores, hat stores and tobacco houses and robbed them of everything but bread, which was just the thing they wanted least.”

The Richmond city council approved a motion stating that the incident had been “in reality instigated by devilish and selfish motives,” but a week later the council members quietly approved allocating $24,000 to feed the citizens. This helped quiet the growing unrest. However, similar outbreaks occurred in Augusta, Columbus and Milledgeville in Georgia, in Salisbury, North Carolina, and in Mobile, Alabama.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 134-36; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 103-04; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 271; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 163-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 277; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 334; 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. 617-18; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 199

The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

May 15, 1862 – Confederate batteries repulsed the advance of a Federal naval fleet on the James River, which helped ease some of the panic spreading throughout the Confederate capital of Richmond.

The day after crewmen of the C.S.S. Virginia destroyed their vessel, they assembled under their commander, Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones, at Drewry’s Bluff. Once owned by a man named Drewry, this was a 100-foot-high eminence on the north bank of a sharp bend in the James, about seven miles from Richmond. It was officially known as Fort Darling, and it was the last stronghold preventing Federal naval forces from reaching Richmond via the James River.

Confederate gun overlooking Drewry's Bluff | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate gun overlooking Drewry’s Bluff | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The crewmen were assigned to help man the eight heavy cannon on the bluff. The overall fort commander, General George W.C. Lee (oldest son of Robert E. Lee), had directed the guns’ placements, as well as the placement of obstructions (including the C.S.S. Jamestown) in a narrow point of the river. The C.S.S. Patrick Henry, a civilian steamer with heavy guns, was stationed in front of Drewry’s Bluff.

The fortification of Fort Darling was a joint effort by the Confederate army, navy, and marines, led by both Commander Ebenezer Ferrand of the navy and General William Mahone of the army. After working tirelessly in the rain for two days, the Confederates commanded all potential river approaches.

The Federal James River Flotilla, led by Commander John Rodgers, began moving up the James toward the Confederate capital on the 14th. The flotilla consisted of the ironclads U.S.S. Monitor and Galena (a new corvette), and the wooden ships U.S.S. Aroostook, Naugatuck, and Port Royal. The crews had orders from Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough to “get up to Richmond, all with the least possible delay, and shell the city to a surrender.” The navy hoped to capture Richmond as it had captured New Orleans the previous month.

Panic swept Richmond as residents realized that they were now under threat from Federal army forces on the Peninsula and naval forces on the James. Alarm bells rang in the capital as the ships continued upriver on May 15, with Confederate sharpshooters firing on them from rifle pits on shore. In a public meeting outside City Hall, Virginia Governor John Letcher declared:

“Some one said to me the other day, that the duty of surrendering the city would devolve either upon the president, the mayor, or myself. I said to him if the demand is made upon me, with the alternative to surrender or be shelled, I shall reply, bombard and be damned!”

Richmond Mayor Joseph C. Mayo told his constituents:

“I say now, and will abide by it, when the citizens of Richmond demand on me to surrender the capital of Virginia and of the Confederacy to the enemy they must find some other man to fill my place. I will resign the mayoralty. And when that other man elected in my stead shall deliver up the city, I hope I have physical courage and strength enough left to shoulder a musket and go into the ranks.”

A committee met with President Jefferson Davis to get his assurance that the Confederate government would help local officials defend the city to the end. The meeting was interrupted by a message stating that Federal warships were coming up the James River. Davis told the committee members, “This manifestly concludes the matter.”

The vessels came in sight around 7:35 a.m., with the Galena and Monitor emerging from the fog in the lead. As the Confederate gunners opened fire, the Galena dropped anchor about 600 yards from Fort Darling and began firing back. The gun noise rattled windows in Richmond.

Action at Drewry's Bluff | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Action at Drewry’s Bluff | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

With the three wooden ships staying out of range, the Monitor steamed past the Galena to draw fire but could not elevate the guns in her revolving turret high enough to hit the Confederates on the bluff. The Monitor moved back downriver, near the wooden ships, to find her range. But from that distance, her smoothbore Dahlgren guns were less effective. The Monitor also drew too much water to become fully engaged. This allowed the Confederates to focus primarily on the Galena.

Commander Rodgers reported that “balls came through, and many men were killed with fragments of her own iron.” The Galena sustained large holes in her deck from the plunging fire of shot and shell. The Patrick Henry connected with an 8-inch solid shot through the Galena’s bow port, and the ship was also running low on ammunition. At 11:05, Rodgers ordered her to withdraw, after a shot sparked a fire.

Meanwhile, the Port Royal took a hit on the forward wheel and another below the waterline, forcing her to fall back. The Naugatuck took heavy punishment and was rendered useless when her 100-pound Parrott gun exploded upon firing. The Aroostook stayed out of range.

The rest of the flotilla followed the Galena when she withdrew downriver, and the Confederates hollered three cheers for their victory. Richmond residents also celebrated, but only briefly because Major General George B. McClellan’s army still threatened them from the Peninsula.

The Federals lost 13 killed and 11 wounded aboard the Galena, along with three others wounded on the wooden ships. Some Federals had been killed or wounded by sharpshooters on the riverbanks. Paymaster William Keeler of the Monitor, which was hit three times but sustained no casualties, went aboard the Galena and later wrote his wife:

“Here was a body with the head, one arm & part of the breast torn off by a bursting shell, another with the top of his head taken off the brains still steaming on the deck, partly across him lay one with both legs taken off at the hips & at a little distance another completely disemboweled.”

The Galena sustained 50 hits, with 18 piercing the four-inch plating and reaching the wooden hull. The Monitor captain reported that “the action was most gallantly fought against great odds, and with the usual effect against earthworks. It was impossible to reduce such works, except with the aid of a land force.”

Corporal John B. Mackie of the Galena’s Marine Guard later became the first U.S. marine awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, for bravery under fire in this battle. Navy Department General Order No. 17, dated July 10, 1863, allowed U.S. marines to be eligible for the award.

The Confederates lost seven killed and eight wounded. After the victory, President Davis wrote his wife Varina:

“The panic here has subsided and with increasing confidence there has arisen a desire to see the city destroyed rather than surrendered. The great temporal object is to secure our independence and they who engage in strife for personal or party aggrandisement, deserve contemptuous forgetfulness.”

The Federal repulse was sudden and surprising to many who expected the ships to easily bypass the obstructions and batteries. But the Federals did benefit somewhat from the incursion: they had forced the Confederates to obstruct the river, which prevented them from going down just as it kept the Federals from coming up. It also revealed an ideal spot for a Federal army landing, just 10 miles from Richmond, if McClellan opted to move his supply base from the York to the James. Few knew at the time how important Harrison’s Landing would become.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 128-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13705-14; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 401-02; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 170-71; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 416; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 151, 153; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3418-30; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 296; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211-13; 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. 427; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 109; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 330-31, 383-85; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 640-41; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 504; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 227, 571

Davis Calls for Confederate Conscription

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

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (28 Mar 1862); McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 430; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 613-14

“Stonewall” Jackson Resumes Command

February 4, 1862 – Virginia Governor John Letcher dispatched Congressman Alexander Boteler to Winchester to persuade Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to withdraw his resignation from the Confederate army.

Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The day after Jackson submitted his request to either return to the Virginia Military Institute or resign from the army, Boteler, representing a district in the Shenandoah Valley, stormed into the office of Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin with the letter in hand. When Boteler protested the order prompting Jackson’s letter, Benjamin sent him to President Jefferson Davis.

Boteler showed Jackson’s letter to Davis, who said, “I’ll not accept it, sir!” The congressman then met with Letcher, who had not yet received Jackson’s request to help him get his job back at V.M.I. Enraged, Letcher publicly berated Benjamin and his staff and demanded that the secretary not accept Jackson’s resignation. Benjamin agreed. Letcher then sent Boteler to Winchester.

Meanwhile, General Joseph E. Johnston, Jackson’s superior, received his message of January 31 and a second message from Jackson asking Johnston to countermand Benjamin’s order. Johnston, who did not want to lose such a valuable officer, waited a few days before finally forwarding both messages to the War Department. During that time, Johnston wrote a personal letter to Jackson pleading with him to reconsider.

Acknowledging that Jackson was right to resent such an order, Johnston explained that he too had experienced difficulties in dealing with the administration. Nevertheless, “The danger in which our very existence as an independent people lies requires sacrifices from us all who have been educated as soldiers.” He assured Jackson that he was writing “not merely from warm feelings of personal regard, but from the official opinion which makes me regard you as necessary to the service of the country in your present position.”

In forwarding Jackson’s messages to Benjamin, Johnston added a note to the resignation letter stating that he did not “know how the loss of this officer can be supplied.” Johnston also added a note to the second message: “Respectfully forwarded to the Secretary of War, whose orders I cannot countermand.”

Boteler arrived at Jackson’s headquarters on February 6. By that time, Jackson had received many letters from supporters urging him to remain army commander, but he was still determined to resign. Boteler pleaded with Jackson to reconsider; Jackson agreed only if he could be assured that politicians “sitting at a desk 300 miles away” would not interfere with him.

Unable to give such an assurance, the congressman instead told Jackson that he had an obligation as a Virginian to defend his home state. Jackson angrily countered that he and his family had made great sacrifices in this war, and he would always be ready to defend Virginia “even if it be as a private in the ranks.” Eventually Jackson calmed down and realized, “If the Valley is lost, Virginia is lost.” He agreed to withdraw his resignation.

Jackson wrote to Governor Letcher explaining his decision. Still disagreeing with Benjamin’s order, he added that “if the Secretary persists in the ruinous policy complained of, I feel that no officer can serve his country better than by making his strongest possible protest against it, which, in my opinion, is done by tendering his resignation, rather than be a willful instrument in prosecuting the war upon a ruinous principle.”

His statement notwithstanding, Jackson retained his army command, and Benjamin indirectly withdrew his earlier orders. This became a moot point a day later when Federal forces reclaimed Romney, the object of Jackson’s January campaign. Benjamin settled the feud between Jackson and Brigadier General William W. Loring by promoting Loring to major general and transferring him to a command in southwestern Virginia. The secretary received intense criticism for his role in this affair.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 58-59; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 122; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 224; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 103; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 740-41; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 447-48

“Stonewall” Jackson Resigns

January 30, 1862 – An order from Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin prompted Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to submit his resignation from the Confederate army.

Maj Gen "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

Maj Gen “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

As Jackson’s superiors received word of the privations suffered by his men at Romney, they questioned the wisdom of keeping them there. Jackson’s superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, sent him a message before even learning of the hardships the troops faced, denying his request for reinforcements and urging him to concentrate his army “to oppose an enemy coming from Harper’s Ferry, Williamsport, or the northwest.” Johnston further opined that it was “imprudent… to keep your troops dispersed as they now are… The enemy might not only prevent your concentrating, but interpose himself between us, which we must never permit.”

On January 29, Johnston received the letter written by Benjamin asking him to look into the rumors about mistreatment in Jackson’s army. Johnston, who knew nothing of this beforehand, responded:

“Without being entirely certain that I understand the precise object of apprehension in the Valley District, I have dispatched the acting inspector general of the department to see and report without delay the condition of Major-General Jackson’s troops.”

That same day, Brigadier General William B. Taliaferro, a brigade commander in Brigadier General William W. Loring’s army at Romney, arrived at Richmond to deliver the protest against Jackson signed by 12 officers. Taliaferro met with President Davis, who had already heard rumors of immense suffering at Jackson’s hands. Davis legitimized Taliaferro’s breaking the chain of command by accepting the petition. Davis then asked to meet with Secretary of War Benjamin:

“It will be necessary to act promptly. Have you been notified of the return of General Jackson to Winchester and the withdrawal of the brigade with which he undertook the service from which he is reported to have retired, leaving only those who were sent to re-enforce him? Will confer with you at your pleasure.”

The men met the next day. Based on the accounts of suffering they had heard, along with rumors of a Federal effort to separate Jackson at Winchester from Loring at Romney, Davis directed Benjamin to telegraph Jackson that evening: “Our news indicates that a movement is being made to cut off General Loring’s command. Order him back to Winchester immediately.”

The rumors turned out to be false. Brigadier General Frederick Lander commanded Federal forces at Cumberland, Maryland, and although he knew that Loring was isolated and wanted badly to attack him, his superiors had ordered him to maintain a defensive posture along the Potomac River.

Jackson was shocked and outraged upon receiving Benjamin’s order on the morning of the 31st. It breached military protocol because not only should such an order have come from Johnston and not Benjamin, but it revealed that Loring had gone over his head to Richmond. Even worse, Jackson knew that rumors of Federals advancing to cut him off from Loring were false. He had considered his Romney campaign a success, and he expected Loring to hold that town as part of a larger plan to retake western Virginia. This order questioned not only his authority, but his competence as a commander.

Adhering to military guidelines, Jackson issued orders for Loring’s forces to abandon Romney and return to Winchester. This left his forward units at Bath unprotected, and they soon withdrew as well. Jackson then replied to Benjamin:

“Your order requiring me to direct General Loring to return with his command to Winchester immediately has been received and promptly complied with.

“With such interference in my command I cannot expect to be of much service in the field, and accordingly respectfully request to be ordered to report for duty to the superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, as has been done in the case of other professors. Should this application not be granted, I respectfully request that the President will accept my resignation from the Army. I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, T. J. JACKSON, Major-General.”

The response was sent through Johnston, who received it the next day. Jackson then wrote to Virginia Governor John Letcher, asking for his help to return to the teaching job at V.M.I. he had held before the war. The controversy over losing such a valuable commander continued into next month.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 58-59; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 8053; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 118-19; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 224; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 103; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 740-41; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 447-48

The Confederate Capital Relocation

May 20, 1861 – The Provisional Confederate Congress approved a measure relocating the national capital from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia.

The new Confederate Capitol at Richmond | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The new Confederate Capitol at Richmond | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Legislators hoped that moving to Richmond would strengthen Virginia’s support for the Confederacy. President Jefferson Davis had initially opposed such a move because Richmond was much closer to the U.S. than Montgomery. However, he acknowledged that Virginians had made a tremendous sacrifice to join the Confederacy, knowing their state would be a prime invasion target. Thus, Davis endorsed the bill.

The next day the Provisional Congress approved a resolution “that this Congress will adjourn on Tuesday next, to meet again on the 20th day of July, at Richmond, Virginia.” Davis was authorized to move his executive department from Montgomery to Richmond at any time before July 20, and if any change in the war should “render it impolitic to meet in Richmond,” Davis could call Congress into session at any other place of his choosing.

Most members of Congress agreed that placing the Confederate government in Richmond would gain them a military and psychological advantage. However, it would also place them within near the mounting conflict in northern Virginia, and protecting Richmond would become a key military strategy that left the Confederacy vulnerable in other military theaters.

On May 27, President Davis and other Confederate officials boarded the rear coach of a train to move the executive department from Montgomery to Richmond. Fellow passengers did not know Davis was on the train until people cheered him from station platforms along the journey, hailing him as “Jeff Davis” and “the old Hero.”

Davis arrived to a two-gun salute on the 29th, and Richmond became inundated with government officials soon thereafter. Prominent Virginians such as Governor John Letcher and other dignitaries greeted Davis at the station with a carriage drawn by four white horses.

Letcher and the Richmond mayor traveled with Davis to the Spotswood Hotel, where the president delivered a speech from the hotel balcony. Davis later inspected troops at the fairgrounds and delivered another speech. He called his audience “the last best hope of liberty… The country relies on you. Upon you rest the hopes of our people; and I have only to say, my friends, that to the last breath of my life I am wholly your own.” The Richmond Daily Enquirer reported, “The mantel of (George) Washington falls gracefully upon his shoulders. Never were a people more enraptured with their Chief Magistrate than ours are with President Davis.”

Shortly after arriving in Richmond, Davis received a briefing on the state’s military situation. Currently three armies guarded the three most important (and vulnerable) regions:

  • General Joseph E. Johnston guarded the Shenandoah Valley from Harpers Ferry
  • General P.G.T. Beauregard guarded northern Virginia from Manassas
  • Generals Benjamin Huger and John B. Magruder guarded the seaward approach to Richmond from Norfolk and the Virginia peninsula between the York and James rivers

The Blue Ridge Mountains separated Johnston and Beauregard, the two commanders closest to Washington. However, their troops were close enough to each other to join forces if needed.

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Sources

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5952, 5962; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 45-46; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 55; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 32; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2580; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 76-77, 79; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 630-32; 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), Q261