MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps
APRIL 1861--NOVEMBER 1863
FAREWELL TO WEST VIRGINIA--BURNSIDE IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE OHIO
Desire for field service--Changes in the Army of the Potomac--Judgment of McClellan at that time--Our defective knowledge--Changes in West Virginia--Errors in new organization--Embarrassments resulting--Visit to General Schenck--New orders from Washington--Sent to Ohio to administer the draft--Burnside at head of the department--District of Ohio--Headquarters at Cincinnati--Cordial relations of Governor Tod with the military authorities--System of enrolment and draft--Administration by Colonel Fry--Decay of the veteran regiments--Bounty-jumping--Effects on political parties--Soldiers voting--Burnside's military plans--East Tennessee--Rosecrans aiming at Chattanooga--Burnside's business habits--His frankness--Stories about him--His personal characteristics--Cincinnati as a border city--Rebel sympathizers--Order No. 38--Challenged by Vallandigham--The order not a new departure--Lincoln's proclamation--General Wright's circular.
My purpose to get into active field service had not slept, and soon after the establishment of a winter organization in the district, I had applied to be ordered to other duty. My fixed conviction that no useful military movements could be made across the mountain region implied that the garrisons of West Virginia should be reduced to a minimum and confined to the duty of defending the frontier of the new State. The rest of the troops might properly be added to the active columns in the field. McClellan had been relieved of command whilst I was conducting active operations in the Kanawha valley, and Burnside suffered his repulse at
Fredericksburg within a few days after I was directed to make my headquarters at Marietta and perfect the organization of the district. I was therefore at a loss to choose where I would serve, even if I had been given _carte blanche_ to determine my own work. Enough was known of the reasons for the President's dissatisfaction with McClellan to make me admit that the change of command was an apparent necessity, yet much was unknown, and the full strength of the President's case was not revealed till the war was over. My personal friendship for McClellan remained warm, and I felt sure that Hooker as a commander would be a long step downward. In private I did not hesitate to express the wish that McClellan should still be intrusted with the command of the Potomac army, that it should be strongly reinforced, and that by constant pressure upon its commander his indecision of character might be overcome. Those who were near to McClellan believed that he was learning greater self-confidence, for the Antietam campaign seemed a decided improvement on that of the Chickahominy. The event, in great measure, justified this opinion, for it was not till Grant took command a year later that any leadership superior to McClellan's was developed. Yet it must be confessed that we did not know half the discouragements that were weighing upon the President and his Secretary of War, and which made the inertia of the Eastern army demand a desperate remedy.
My personal affairs drifted in this way: the contest over the lists of promotions, of which I knew next to nothing, prevented any action on the request for a change of duty, and the close of the session of Congress brought the official notice that the promotion had expired by legal limitation. [Footnote: March 24th; received the 30th.] The first effect was naturally depressing, and it took a little time and some philosophy to overcome it; but the war was not ended yet, and reflection made the path of duty appear to be in the line of continued active service.
To form a new department for General Schenck, West Virginia was detached from the Department of the Ohio and annexed to Maryland. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxv. pt. ii. p. 145.] This was a mistake from a military point of view, for not only must the posts near the mountains be supplied and reinforced from the Ohio as their base, toward which would also be the line of retreat if retreat were necessary, but the frequent advances of the Confederate forces, through the
Shenandoah valley to the Potomac, always separated the West from any connection with Baltimore, and made it impossible for an officer stationed there (as General Schenck was) to direct affairs in the western district at the very time of greatest necessity.
Another important fact was overlooked. The river counties of Ohio formed part of the district, and the depots on the river were supplied from Cincinnati. Not only was Gallipolis thus put in another department from the posts directly dependent on that depot as a base of supplies and the principal station for hospitals, but the new boundary line left me, personally, and my headquarters in the Department of the Ohio. I at once called the attention of the War Department to these results, sending my communication in the first instance through General Wright. He was in the same boat with myself, for his rank had also been reduced on the 4th of March, but he thought the intention must have been to transfer me with the district to the Eastern Department. On this I wrote to Washington direct, asking for definite orders. I also wrote to General Schenck, telling him of General Wright's supposition that I was transferred with the district, and inquiring if he had any definite decision of the question. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 159, 160.]
About the 3d of April I was directed to report in person to General Schenck at Baltimore, [Footnote: _Id_., p. 175.] and reached that city on the 4th. My relations with General Schenck had been, personally, cordial, and our friendship continued till his death, many years after the war. Whatever plans he may have had were set aside by orders from Washington, which met me at his headquarters, ordering me to report at Columbus, Ohio, to assist the governor in organizing the troops to be called out under the new enrolment and conscription law. This was accompanied by the assurance that this duty would be but temporary, and that my desire to be assigned to active field duty would then be favorably considered. It is not improbable that my report on army organization, which has been mentioned, had something to do with this assignment; but I did not ask permission to visit Washington, though within a couple of hours' ride of the capital, and hastened back to my assigned post. Besides my wish to cut my connection with West Virginia on general military theories of its insignificance as a theatre of war, my stay there would have been intolerable, since General Milroy, in whose judgment I had less confidence than in that of any of my other subordinates, was, by the curious outcome of the winter's promotions, the one of all others who had been put over my head. I could not then foresee the cost the country would pay for this in the next summer's campaign in the Shenandoah, but every instinct urged me to sever a connection which could bode no good. The reasonableness of my objection to serving as a subordinate where I had been in command was recognized, and the arrangement actually made was as acceptable as anything except a division in an active army.
It greatly added to my contentment to learn that General Burnside had been ordered to the Department of the Ohio, and would be my immediate superior. I hastened back to Marietta, closed up the business pending there, and went to Columbus on the 9th of April. The arrangement between Governor Tod and General Burnside proved to be the formation of the Military District of Ohio, including the whole State. I was placed in command of this district, reporting directly to the general, who himself conferred with the governor. My own relations to my superiors were thus made strictly military, which was a much pleasanter thing for me than direct connection with the civil authorities would be; for this involved a danger of cross-purposes and conflicting orders. Brigadier-General John S. Mason, an excellent officer, was ordered to report to me as my immediate subordinate in command of the camps and the post at Columbus, and before the end of the month Burnside directed me to fix my own headquarters at Cincinnati, where I could be in constant communication with himself. All this was done with the most cordial understanding between Burnside and the governor. Indeed, nothing could be more perfect than the genial and reasonable tone of Governor Tod's intercourse with the military officers stationed in Ohio.
My duties under the Enrolment Act turned out to be very slight. The Act (passed March 3, 1863) made, in general, each congressional district an enrolment district under charge of a provost-marshal with the rank of captain. A deputy provost-marshal supervised the enrolment and draft for the State, and the whole was under the control of the provost-marshal-general at
Washington, Colonel James B. Fry. The law provided for classification of all citizens capable of military duty between the ages of twenty and forty-five, so as to call out first the unmarried men and those not having families dependent on them. The exemptions on account of physical defects were submitted to a board of three, of which the local provost-marshal was chairman, and one was a medical man. Substitutes might be accepted in the place of drafted men, or a payment of three hundred dollars would be taken in place of personal service, that sum being thought sufficient to secure a voluntary recruit by the government. The principal effect of this provision was to establish a current market price for substitutes.
The general provisions of the law for the drafting were wise and well matured, and the rules for the subordinate details were well digested and admirably administered by Colonel Fry and his bureau. It was a delicate and difficult task, but it was carried out with such patience, honesty, and thoroughness that nothing better could be done than copy it, if a future necessity for like work should arise. There was no good ground for complaint, and in those cases where, as in New York, hostile political leaders raised the cry of unfairness and provoked collision between the mob and the National authorities, the victims were proved to be the dupes of ignorance and malice. The administration of the law was thoroughly vindicated, and if there were to be a draft at all, it could not be more fairly and justly enforced.
There was room for difference of opinion as to some of the provisions of the law regarding exemption and substitution, but the most serious question was raised by the section which applied to old regiments and which had nothing to do with the enrolment and draft. This section directed that when regiments had become reduced in numbers by any cause, the officers of the regiment should be proportionately diminished. As new regiments were still received and credited upon the State's liability under the draft, it of course resulted that the old regiments continued to decay. A public sentiment had been created which looked upon the draft as a disgrace, and the most extraordinary efforts were made to escape it. Extra bounties for volunteering were paid by counties and towns, and the combination of influences was so powerful that it was successful in most localities, and very few men were actually put in the ranks by the draft.
The offer of extra bounties to induce volunteering brought into existence "bounty-jumping," a new crime analogous to that of "repeating" at elections. A man would enlist and receive the bounty, frequently several hundred dollars, but varying somewhat in different places and periods. He would take an early opportunity to desert, as he had intended to do from the first. Changing his name, he would go to some new locality and enlist again, repeating the fraud as often as he could escape detection. The urgency to get recruits and forward them at once to the field, and the wide country which was open to recruiting, made the risk of punishment very small. Occasionally one was caught, and he would of course be liable to punishment as a deserter. The final report of the provost-marshal-general mentions the case of a criminal in the
Albany penitentiary, New York, who confessed that he had "jumped the bounty" thirty-two times. [Footnote: Provost-Marshal-General's Report, p. 153.]
Another evil incidental to the excessive stimulus of volunteering was a political one, which threatened serious results. It deranged the natural political balance of the country by sending the most patriotic young men to the field, and thus giving an undue power to the disaffected and to the opponents of the administration. This led to the State laws for allowing the soldiers to vote wherever they might be, their votes being certified and sent home. In its very nature this was a makeshift and a very dubious expedient to cure the mischief. It would not have been necessary if we had had at an early day a system of recruiting that would have drawn more evenly from different classes into the common service of the country.
The military officers of the department and district had nothing to do with the enrolment and drafting, unless resistance to the provost-marshals should make military support for these officers necessary. We had hoped to have large camps of recruits to be organized and instructed, but the numbers actually drafted in Ohio, in 1863, were insignificant, for reasons already stated. Three or four very small post garrisons were the only forces at my command, and these were reduced to the minimum necessary to guard the prison camps and the depots of recruiting and supply.
General Burnside had not come West with a purpose to content himself with the retiracy of a department out of the theatre of actual war. His department included eastern Kentucky, and afforded a base for operations in the direction of East Tennessee. Mr. Lincoln had never lost his eagerness and zeal to give assistance to the loyal mountaineers, and had arranged with Burnside a plan of co-operation with Rosecrans by which the former should move from Lexington, Ky., upon
Knoxville, whilst the latter marched from Murfreesboro, Tenn., upon Chattanooga. This was better than the impracticable plan of 1861, which aimed at the occupation of East Tennessee before Chattanooga had been taken, and the task was at last accomplished by the method now used. It was by no means the best or most economical method, which would have been to have but one strong army till Chattanooga were firmly in our hands, and then direct a subordinate column upon the upper Holston valley. It was utterly impossible to keep up a line of supply for an army in East Tennessee by the wagon roads over the mountains. The railroad through Chattanooga was indispensable for this purpose. But
Mr. Lincoln had not fully appreciated this, and was discontented that both
Buell and Rosecrans had in turn paid little attention, as it seemed, to his desire to make the liberation of East Tennessee the primary and immediate aim of their campaigns. He had therefore determined to show his own faith in Burnside, and his approval of the man, by giving him a small but active army in the field, and to carry out his cherished purpose by having it march directly over the Cumberland Mountains, whilst Rosecrans was allowed to carry out the plan on which the commanders of the Cumberland army seemed, in the President's opinion, too stubbornly bent.
Burnside's old corps, the Ninth, was taken from the Army of the Potomac and sent to Kentucky, and a new corps, to be called the Twenty-third, was soon authorized, to contain the Tennessee regiments which had been in
General Morgan's command, and two divisions made up of new regiments organized in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois under the last call for volunteers. To these were added several Kentucky regiments of different ages in service. General Parke, so long Burnside's chief of staff, was to command the Ninth Corps, and Major-General George L. Hartsuff was assigned to the Twenty-third. In a former chapter I have spoken of Hartsuff's abilities as a staff officer in West Virginia. [Footnote: Chap, vi., _ante_.] His qualities as a general officer had not been tried. He was wounded at the beginning of the engagement at Antietam, where he commanded a brigade in Hooker's corps. [Footnote: Chap, xv., _ante_.] That was his first service under his appointment as brigadier, and he had necessarily been out of the field since that time. My own expectation was that he would make an excellent reputation as a corps commander, but it was not his fortune to see much continuous field service. His health was seriously affected by his wounds, and after a short trial of active campaigning he was obliged to seek more quiet employment.
The establishment of my headquarters at Cincinnati threw me once more into close personal relations with Burnside, and enabled me to learn his character more intimately. His adjutant-general's office was on East Fourth Street, and most of the routine work was done there. The general had his own quarters on Ninth Street, where he had also an office for himself and his aides-de-camp. My own office and the official headquarters of the district were on
Broadway below Fourth, in the house now occupied by the Natural History Society. There was thus near half a mile between us, though I was but a little way from the adjutant-general of the department, through whose office my regular business with the general went. Burnside, however, loved to discuss department affairs informally, and with the perfect freedom of unrestrained social intercourse. When he gave his confidence he gave it without reserve, and encouraged the fullest and freest criticism of his own plans and purposes. His decisions would then be put in official form by the proper officers of the staff, and would be transmitted, though I was nearly always personally aware of what was to be ordered before the formal papers reached me. He had very little pride of opinion, and was perfectly candid in weighing whatever was contrary to his predilections; yet he was not systematic in his business methods, and was quite apt to decide first and discuss afterward. He never found fault with a subordinate for assuming responsibility or acting without orders, provided he was assured of his earnest good purpose in doing so. In such cases he would assume the responsibility for what was done as cheerfully as if he had given the order. In like manner he was careless of forms himself, in doing whatever seemed necessary or proper, and might pass by intermediate officers to reach immediately the persons who were to act or the things to be done. There was no intentional slight to any one in this: it was only a characteristic carelessness of routine. Martinets would be exasperated by it, and would be pretty sure to quarrel with him. No doubt it was a bad business method, and had its mischiefs and inconveniences. A story used to go the rounds a little later that soldiers belonging to the little army in East Tennessee were sometimes arrested at their homes and sent back as deserters, when they would produce a furlough written by Burnside on a leaf of his pocket memorandum-book, which, as they said, had been given by him after hearing a pitiful story which moved his sympathies. Such inventions were a kind of popular recognition of his well-known neglect of forms, as well as of his kind heart. There was an older story about him, to the effect that, when a lieutenant in the army, he had been made post-quartermaster at some little frontier garrison, and that his accounts and returns got into such confusion that after several pretty sharp reminders the quartermaster-general notified him, as a final terror, that he would send a special officer and subject him and his papers to a severe scrutiny. As the story ran, Burnside, in transparent honesty, wrote a cordial letter of thanks in reply, saying it was just what he desired, as he had been trying hard to make his accounts up, but had to confess he could do nothing with them, but was sure such an expert would straighten them. In my own service under him I often found occasion to supply the formal links in the official chain, so that business would move on according to "regulations;" but any trouble that was made in this way was much more than compensated by the generous trust with which he allowed his name and authority to be used when prompt action would serve the greater ends in view.
My habit was to go to his private quarters on Ninth Street, when the regular business of the day was over, and there get the military news and confer with him on pending or prospective business affecting my own district. His attractive personality made him the centre of a good deal of society, and business would drop into the background till late in the evening, when his guests voluntarily departed. Then, perhaps after midnight, he would take up the arrears of work and dictate letters, orders, and dispatches, turning night into day. It not unfrequently happened that after making my usual official call in the afternoon, I had gone to my quarters and to bed at my usual hour, when I would be roused by an orderly from the general begging that I would come up and consult with him on some matter of neglected business. He was always bright and clear in those late hours, and when he buckled to work, rapidly disposed of it.
He did not indulge much in retrospect, and rarely referred to his misfortunes in the Army of the Potomac. On one or two occasions he discussed his Fredericksburg campaign with me. The delay in sending pontoons from Washington to Falmouth, which gave Lee time to concentrate at Fredericksburg, he reasonably argued, was the fault of the military authorities at Washington; but I could easily see that if his supervision of business had been more rigidly systematic, he would have made sure that he was not to be disappointed in his means of crossing the Rappahannock promptly. As to the battle itself he steadily insisted that the advance of
Meade's division proved that if all the left wing had acted with equal vigor and promptness, Marye's heights would have been turned and carried. It is due to him to repeat that in such discussions his judgment of men and their motives was always kind and charitable. I never heard him say anything bitter, even of those whom I knew he distrusted.
At the time I am speaking of, Cincinnati was in a curious political and social condition. The advance through Kentucky of Bragg and Kirby Smith in the preceding year had made it a centre for "rebel sympathizers." The fact that a Confederate army had approached the hills that bordered the river had revived the hopes and the confidence of many who, while wishing success to the Southern cause, had done so in a vague and distant way. Now it seemed nearer to them, and the stimulus to personal activity was greater. There was always, in the city, a considerable and influential body of business men who were of Southern families; and besides this, the trade connections with the South, and the personal alliances by marriage, made a ground of sympathy which had noticeable effects. There were two camps in the community, pretty distinctly defined, as there were in Kentucky. The loyal were ardently and intensely so. The disloyal were bitter and not always restrained by common prudence. A good many Southern women, refugees from the theatre of active war, were very open in their defiance of the government, and in their efforts to aid the Southern armies by being the bearers of intelligence. The "contraband mail" was notoriously a large and active one.
Burnside had been impressed with this condition of things from the day he assumed command. His predecessor had struggled with it without satisfactory results. It was, doubtless, impossible to do more than diminish and restrain the evil, which was the most annoying of the smaller troubles attending the anomalous half-military and half-civil government of the department. Within three weeks from his arrival in Cincinnati, Burnside was so convinced of the widespread and multiform activity of the disloyal element that he tried to subdue it by the publication of his famous General Order No. 38. The reading of the order gives a fair idea of the hostile influences he found at work, for of every class named by him there were numerous examples. [Footnote: The text of the order is as follows:
"General Orders. No. 38.
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE OHIO, CINCINNATI, OHIO, April 13, 1863.
The commanding general publishes, for the information of all concerned, that hereafter all persons found within our lines who commit acts for the benefit of the enemies of our country, will be tried as spies or traitors, and, if convicted, will suffer death. This order includes the following classes of persons: Carriers of secret mails; writers of letters sent by secret mails; secret recruiting officers within the lines; persons who have entered into an agreement to pass our lines for the purpose of joining the enemy; persons found concealed within our lines, belonging to the service of the enemy; and, in fact, all persons found improperly within our lines who could give private information to the enemy; and all persons within our lines who harbor, protect, conceal, feed, clothe, or in any way aid the enemies of our country. The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department. Persons committing such offences will be at once arrested with a view to being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be distinctly understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this department. All officers and soldiers are strictly charged with the execution of this order, By command of Major-General Burnside, LEWIS RICHMOND, Assistant Adjutant General."]
It was no doubt true that the Confederate authorities had constant correspondence with people in the Northern States, and that systematic means were used to pass information and contraband merchandise through the lines. Quinine among drugs, and percussion caps among ordnance stores were the things they most coveted, and dealers in these carried on their trade under pretence of being spies for each side in turn. But besides these who were merely mercenary, there were men and women who were honestly fanatical in their devotion to the Confederate cause. The women were especially troublesome, for they often seemed to court martyrdom. They practised on our forbearance to the last degree; for they knew our extreme unwillingness to deal harshly with any of their sex. Personally, I rated the value of spies and informers very low, and my experience had made me much more prone to contempt than to fear of them. But examples had to be made occasionally; a few men were punished, a few women who belonged in the South were sent through the lines, and we reduced to its lowest practical terms an evil and nuisance which we could not wholly cure. The best remedy for these plots and disturbances at the rear always was to keep the enemy busy by a vigorous aggressive at the front. We kept, however, a species of provost court pretty actively at work, and one or two officers were assigned to judge-advocate's duty, who ran these courts under a careful supervision to make sure that they should not fall into indiscretions.
So long as the hand of military power was laid only on private persons who were engaged in overt acts of giving aid and comfort to the rebellion in the ways specified in Order No. 38, there was little criticism. But the time came when General Burnside seemed to be challenged by a public character of no little prominence to enforce his order against him. The Vallandigham case became the sensation of the day, and acquired a singular historical importance. The noise which was made about it seemed to create a current opinion that Burnside's action was a new departure, and that his Order No. 38 was issued wholly on his own responsibility. This was not so. In the preceding year, and about the time of his Emancipation Proclamation, the President had also proclaimed against treasonable practices in very emphatic terms. He had declared that "all rebels and insurgents, their aiders and abettors, within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to rebels against the authority of the United States, shall be subject to martial law and liable to trial and punishment by courts-martial or military commission." [Footnote: Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. vi. p. 98. See also Order No. 42 of General Burbridge, commanding District of Kentucky. Official Records, vol. xxxix. pt. ii. p. 27.]
Burnside's order was in strict accordance with this authority, and he had no ultimate responsibility for the policy thus proclaimed. He was simply reiterating and carrying out in his department the declared purpose of the administration. Even in the matter of newspaper publications, his predecessor, General Wright, had felt obliged, upon Bragg and Kirby Smith's invasion of Kentucky, to put a stop to treasonable editorials and to the publication of military information likely to benefit the enemy. He issued a circular on September 13, 1862, notifying the publishers of the Cincinnati papers that the repetition of such offence would be immediately followed by the suppression of the paper and the arrest and confinement of the proprietors and writers. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xvi. pt. ii. p. 514. See a characteristic letter by
Sherman on this subject, _Id_., vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 765: "Now I am again in authority over you, and you must heed my advice. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press, precious relics of former history, must not be construed too largely. You must print nothing that prejudices government or excites envy, hatred, and malice in a community. Persons in office or out of office must not be flattered or abused. Don't publish an account of any skirmish, battle, or movement of an army, unless the name of the writer is given in full and printed. I wish you success; but my first duty is to maintain 'order and harmony.'" (To editors of "Memphis Bulletin.")] It is necessary to keep these facts in mind if we would judge fairly of Burnside's responsibility when it was his fortune to apply the rule to a case attracting great public attention.