MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps_
NOVEMBER 1863-JUNE 1865
HALLECK, AND SHERMAN--JOHNSTON AND MR. DAVIS
Grant's desire for activity in the winter--Scattering to live--Subordinate movements--The Meridian expedition--Use of the Mississippi--Sherman's estimate of it--Concentration to be made in the spring--Grant joins the Potomac Army--Motives in doing so--Meade as an army commander--Halleck on concentration--North Carolina expedition given up--Burnside to join Grant--Old relations of Sherman and
Halleck--Present cordial friendship--Frank correspondence--The supply question--Railway administration--Bridge defences--Reduction of baggage--Tents--Sherman on spies and deserters--Changes in Confederate army--Bragg relieved--Hardee--Beauregard--Johnston--Davis's suggestion of plans--Correspondence with Johnston--Polk's mediation--Characteristics--Bragg's letters--Lee writes Longstreet--Johnston's dilatory discussion--No results--Longstreet joins Lee--Grant and Sherman have the initiative--Prices in the Confederacy.
The threshold of the new campaign is a fit place to pick up the threads of the relations of Sherman to his superiors and his subordinates, and to notice the manner in which he laid out the responsible work before him.
Grant had no thought of suspending operations in winter, further than circumstances should make it imperative. As soon as the siege of
Knoxville was raised, he applied himself earnestly to the question, What next? His first choice would have been to start from Chattanooga as a base, and make the Confederate Army his object. The insuperable obstacle to this was the impossibility, at the time, of supplying the forces already collected on the upper Tennessee. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 503.] The railroad to Nashville must be practically rebuilt and made much more efficient than it was, or both Thomas's and Foster's armies would be tied fast without the possibility of advancing. To make it possible to feed Sherman's auxiliary force, he sent it down the river to Bellefonte, some thirty miles below Bridgeport, opened steamboat communication with it, and set it at work repairing the railway from Nashville to Decatur and from Decatur to Stevenson. This would furnish an additional line to Chattanooga when completed, and would make an accumulation of stores there a possibility. He saw the risks involved in this scattering of forces, but he had no choice; they must scatter to live. He did not mean that the army should be inactive, however; as early as the 7th of December, 1863, he wrote quite fully to
Halleck suggesting a movement from the lower Mississippi on
Mobile, using for this purpose the forces that would be relieved from guarding the lines about Chattanooga. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 349.]
By the middle of the month he had begun to organize a cavalry force under Gen. W. Sooy Smith, to move against Forrest in West Tennessee, and was giving shape to other plans of activity. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 429, 431, 473.] Sherman had taken a short leave of absence to visit his family upon the death of one of his sons, a bright lad, whose loss was a severe bereavement. On his return to duty, he was directed to go down the Mississippi, visit the important posts of his department, and take steps to suppress guerilla interference with the navigation of the Mississippi. Before leaving his command, he had suggested an active movement of part of his army in northern Alabama, to break up the railroad in the neighborhood of
Corinth, whilst he himself led a force up the Yazoo River to attack Granada from the south, with a similar purpose. He thought he could do this and get back in time to take part in the "plan of grand campaign" which Grant was studying. In the same letter he said he deemed Sooy Smith "too mistrustful of himself for a leader against Forrest," and suggested Brigadier-General Joseph A. Mower, of whose energy and courage he had a high opinion. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 445.]
On the subject of the necessity of protecting the river navigation by every means, Sherman expressed himself in superlatives, as he was apt to do, but his meaning was plain and sensible. He said to
Logan, to secure its safety "I would slay millions. On that point I am not only insane, but mad," and will convince the natives that "though to stand behind a big cotton-wood and shoot at a passing boat is good sport and safe, it may still reach and kill their friends and families hundreds of miles off." [Footnote: _Id._ vol. xxx. pt. iii. p. 459.] Out of this discussion came finally his suggestion of an extensive movement from Vicksburg upon Meridian for the purpose of destroying the railway lines, especially in the vicinity of the latter place, and of isolating the region bordering on the Mississippi, so that a small force could garrison it and protect commerce. The suggestion was adopted by Grant. With Sherman's column the cavalry under Sooy Smith was to co-operate. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 473, 527.]
Meridian was made the objective point of this movement, though Grant intimated to
Halleck that if Sherman found it would not too greatly prolong the subordinate campaign, he might
march on Mobile. [Footnote: _Id._, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 100.] When the march began, Sherman allowed it to be given out that he would
attack Mobile, but this was to deceive the enemy. In his correspondence with
General Banks he limited his task to that which has been stated, though he asked Banks to help him keep up the notion that Mobile was aimed at, as it would deter the enemy from heavily reinforcing
General Polk by the garrison there and by troops sent from Atlanta. "I must return to the army in the field in Alabama in February," said he, "but propose to avail myself of the short time allowed me here in the department, to strike a blow at Meridian and Demopolis." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 114.] In this view the movement was a success, notwithstanding the failure of the cavalry column to co-operate. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 498.] The biographer of
General Polk disputes the importance and the permanence of the interruption of railway communication in Mississippi; [Footnote: Leonidas Polk, Bishop and General, vol. ii. p. 309.] but it is certain that no important hostile movement from that region was made again till Hood's campaign against Thomas a year later, and that was seriously if not fatally delayed by the want of railway communication between Florence or Tuscumbia and the interior of the Gulf States.
On his first visit to Washington after he became lieutenant-general, Grant found that it was the general expectation of members of Congress that he should infuse his personal energy into the next campaign of the army in Virginia. He learned also that the President, the
General Halleck despaired of the accomplishment of this by any stringency of orders from a distance, and thought it could be done only when he should be near enough to solve questions as they arose by his personal presence and influence. As a subordinate, few men could do better service than General Meade; but he seemed to develop a caution amounting almost to inaction in the presence of the Confederate Army under General Lee. This had allowed the Richmond government to send Longstreet's corps to reinforce Bragg at the west; and it was because the grand opportunity was not improved by Meade that it became necessary to send Hooker a thousand miles with the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps to reinforce Rosecrans. Halleck expressed the sentiment of the administration and of the country when he wrote to Grant on December 13th, "As
General Meade's operations have failed to produce any results, Lee may send by rail reinforcements to Longstreet without our knowing it. This contingency must also be considered." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 396.] It was, in fact, what Longstreet strenuously urged his government to do. As late as February 17th, when it was certain that Grant would soon be in command of all the National armies, Halleck, in a long letter of which the burden was that Lee's army must be made the objective in the Eastern campaign, plainly intimated that Meade could not give the
Army of the Potomac the necessary aggressive energy. "Meade retreated before Lee with a very much larger force," he said, "and he does not now deem himself strong enough to attack Lee's present army." [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pt. ii. p. 411] After mentioning the opportunities to break or defeat the enemy which had been lost or not improved at Antietam and Chancellorsville, he adds that of Meade after Gettysburg, and continues: "I am also of opinion that General Meade could have succeeded recently at Mine Run had he persevered in his attack." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 412.] Pointing out that McClellan had operated by exterior lines, and Burnside, Hooker, and Meade by interior ones, and that all had alike failed, he argues that this does not prove anything against either line of operation, whether by the James River or by Culpepper; but the sound military principle still is to avoid scattering the eastern army by North Carolina expeditions and the like, which were then mooted, and to concentrate the forces in the east against Lee's army and fight it out to a finish. [Footnote: _Id_. p. 413.] The letter is an able one, but the reference to it is now made for the sole purpose of showing how the problem was placed before
General Grant when the supreme responsibility was cast upon him. He accepted the view so ably presented. He did not allow the proposed expedition to be made by Burnside, though he had himself favored it before; but united his troops to the army on the Rapidan. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 143.] He kept up for a time a nominal duality of organization, not putting Burnside under Meade or Meade under Burnside. This made an ostensible reason for the next step, which was to take the field there in person and try what effect his own inflexible will might have in giving an aggressive impetus to that army. It seemed to him to be a choice between that and a continued dead-lock to the end of the chapter. Thus it was that Grant gave up his own desire to continue at the head of the western armies which he had led to successive and glorious victories. Thus it was that Sherman was right in saying to him, "Like yourself, you take the biggest load." [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. p. 313.] The decision was not prompted by egotism. There was no vanity in Grant's composition. He simply saw, as he thought, that in that way decisive progress might be made, and so he quietly went that way.
Sherman's relations to Halleck had always been close and most friendly. Outside of official communications they had kept up a personal correspondence, part of which is found in the Official Records. From the day when it became apparent that Grant was to become lieutenant-general, Sherman yielded to his impulse to comfort and reassure his older friend on what must necessarily involve disappointment if not humiliation. In a long letter from the Mississippi in January, he takes pleasure in telling how he had spoken in public of Halleck's good qualities and talents. "I spoke of your indomitable industry and called to mind how, when Ord, Loeser, Spotts, and I were shut up in our stateroom, trying to keep warm with lighted candles and playing cards on the old Lexington, off Cape Horn, you were lashed to your berth studying, boning harder than you ever did at West Point." [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. p. 261.] This was on their voyage out to California during the
Mexican War. In a cordial answer (February 16th), Halleck said he expected Grant to receive the promotion, and should most cordially welcome him to the chief command, glad himself to be relieved from so thankless and disagreeable a position. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 408.] He enlarged upon its difficulties, though he did not see, apparently, that it had been in his power to take the field as Grant afterward did, and that it was by his own act that he had become "simply a military adviser of the Secretary of War and the President." He bore witness to the fact that there was more harmony in the western army than in the eastern, saying, "There is less jealousy and backbiting and a greater disposition to assist each other." [Footnote: _Ibid_.] In reply Sherman assured Halleck of his own belief that Grant would prefer to command the "army of the centre" which was to advance from Chattanooga, and did not want the position of general-in-chief at Washington. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 498.]
At the beginning of April Sherman wrote again to
Halleck, expressing his belief that he could make his army a unit in action and feeling. "We have never had," he said, "and God grant we never may have the dissensions which have so marred the usefulness of our fellows whom a common cause and common interests alone ought to unite as brothers." [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. p. 222.] It was in this letter that he asked Halleck to say to the President that he would prefer not to be nominated to the vacant major-generalship in the regular army. "I have now all the rank necessary to command, and I believe all here concede to me the ability, yet accidents may happen, and I don't care about increasing the distance of my fall. The moment another appears on the arena better than me, I will cheerfully subside. Indeed, now, my preference would be to have my Fifteenth Corps, which was as large a family as I feel willing to provide for; yet I know Grant has a mammoth load to carry. He wants here some one who will fulfil his plans, whole and entire and at the time appointed, and he believes I will do it. I hope he is not mistaken. I know my weak points, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for past favors and advice, and will in the future heed all you may offer, with the deepest confidence in your ability and sincerity."
A single reference more will complete this sketch of the relations of those prominent men. The week before the opening of his campaign (April 24th) Sherman wrote again: "I see a mischievous paragraph that you are dissatisfied and will resign; of course I don't believe it. If I did, I would enter my protest. You possess a knowledge of law and of the principles of war far beyond that of any other officer in our service. You remember that I regretted your going to Washington for your own sake, but now that you are there you should not leave." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 469.] This hearty friendship and cordial comradeship lasted unbroken till Halleck's too famous advice to
Mr. Stanton after
Lincoln was assassinated, to direct Sherman's subordinates in the Gulf States and in the West not to obey the orders he might issue in pursuance of his convention with the Confederate General Johnston. That was a sore blow which shattered this lifelong friendship, though it now seems probable that had Halleck's dispatch to Stanton not been published without the rest of the correspondence, Sherman might have found possible a more innocent meaning for his words than they seemed to have when they were read by themselves. This, however, is not the place to discuss that subject. [Footnote: See Chap. L., _post_.]
In considering Sherman's means of supplying his army in the field, we must note the situation and connections of Nashville, which made it naturally the principal depot for operations in Alabama and Georgia. A hundred and eighty-six miles by rail south of the Ohio River, centrally situated as the capital of Tennessee, it was directly connected with Chattanooga by a hundred and fifty miles of railroad, and indirectly by way of Decatur, Alabama, and Stevenson, a line thirty-five miles longer. These railway connections would of themselves make Nashville an important post, but it had also the advantage of water communication with the Ohio. It lies at the southern bend of the Cumberland River, the course of which is nearly due north from the city to its mouth, and the stream is navigable for steamboats the greater part of the year. The Tennessee, a much larger river, is nearly parallel to the Cumberland in this part of its course, and a partially constructed railroad from its banks at Johnsonville to Nashville, seventy-odd miles, was completed during the winter. With these three lines of communication, there was very little danger that the great Nashville depot could run short of munitions or rations, or be seriously isolated by raids of the enemy. It was to communication between Chattanooga and Nashville that Sherman had to give his best thought and will. The War Department had sent out Colonel McCallum, the General Superintendent of Military Railways in January, and improvements had then been begun, which under Sherman's energetic command made a brilliant success of this part of the military administration through the whole campaign. [Footnote: See "Sherman" (Great Commanders Series), pp. 199 _et seq_. Also letter of McCallum to Stanton, Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pp. 143-145: Order appointing Adna Anderson general superintendent of transportation and W. W. Wright chief engineer of construction, _Id_., p. 365: Sherman's order organizing the military use of the railways, _Id_., pt. iii. p. 279.] The management of the railways in use was given to Adna Anderson, and the engineering and bridge-construction to W. W. Wright. These gentlemen were both civil engineers and experts in railroad building and management. Military rank was given them later in order to enable them to control officers and men of the army on proper occasions. Their skill and energy were of inestimable value to the army, and gave them brilliant reputations which they fully earned. They remained in their military railway duties to the end of the war, and were distinguished in the same profession in civil life to the end of their lives. When Sherman assumed command of the Division of the Mississippi, about eighty carloads a day was the limit of the capacity of the road and the delivery at Chattanooga. It was only half of what was needed to insure rapid progress of the campaign. By the 1st of May it had increased to a hundred and thirty cars a day, with exceptional days on which the delivery ran higher; but a steady average of a hundred and fifty (the needed quantity) had not been reached, and every day's advance into Georgia would increase the length of the line. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. pp. 466, 490.]
In a characteristic letter to General Thomas, Sherman explained the necessity of having the railway management directed from his own headquarters instead of those of the
Army of the Cumberland, and in one to
Mr. Lincoln he tersely repelled the idea that he was unduly hard on the inhabitants of the country and their business. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 489; and vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 25, 33.] General Meigs, the quartermaster-general, who knew the country by personal inspection, fully agreed with Sherman and wrote him on April 20th, advising him to "resist the pressure of civilians and private donations and supplies; march your troops, and devote the cars solely to transportation of military necessities.... Many civilians," he added, "can give charitable, patriotic, benevolent, and religious reasons to be allowed to go to the front; the reasons are so good that nothing but an absolute and unchangeable prohibition of all such travel will do any good." [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 434.]
The business management of the military railways was a matter of greatest importance, but it must be supplemented by an adequate system of defence. To cut the long line and interrupt the communications of the army would, of course, be the constant effort of the enemy. Every wooden bridge across a stream was a most vulnerable point. A burnt bridge meant a delay of trains till it could be rebuilt, and Sherman's estimate that he must receive at the front a hundred and fifty car-loads daily, shows how soon trouble would be caused if the steady roll of car-wheels should cease. For the freight cars of that day, ten tons made a load, and with the light locomotives and iron rails then in use, twenty or thirty cars made a full train. A system of blockhouses for the protection of the bridges had been gradually developed by the engineers of the Army of the Cumberland on suggestions made by General Halleck and others, and was under the charge of Colonel W. E. Merrill, who enlarged and improved it. This able officer was retained at the head of the defensive system, and his success in it was noteworthy. [Footnote: Colonel Merrill has given a valuable memoir on the construction and use of the blockhouses, in "Ohio Loyal Legion Papers," vol. iii. p. 389. After the war, he was for many years United States Engineer in charge of Ohio River improvements.]
With a careful system of railway work went also thorough study of the wagon trains necessary in the field to carry the baggage of the army, its ammunition, and a few days' rations, its hospital supplies, and the records and papers of all the business departments. Besides the supplies for men, the food for the teams, for the cavalry horses, and for the horses of mounted officers makes in the aggregate a bulk and weight astonishing to those who for the first time undertake the calculation. Great droves of beef cattle accompanied the march, and were coming forward on all the roads from the country in the rear where they could be bought and collected. The purchase, driving, coralling, feeding, and distributing of these made, of itself, a great business for the commissaries of subsistence. The introduction of the shelter tent of two india-rubber blankets got us rid of the regimental trains, which at the beginning of the war had been the most unwieldy of all our _impedimenta_. The two soldiers who were thus partners in the little house they carried on their backs, clubbed all their arrangements for comfort, and by working together greatly reduced the hardships of campaigning. Sherman applied the full force of his mind and the strong impulse of his personal example to discarding everything not essential to the army work, and to securing the utmost mobility in his columns. Throughout the campaign his own headquarters looked small and bare compared with those of many of his subordinates. Some writers have ridiculed this, as if it were a mere "fad" of the general; but it was both wise and shrewd to keep before the army the constant lesson that privation was necessary, and that the orders on the subject must be obeyed, since the commander set the example of obedience. It was akin to Bonaparte's marching on foot through the burning sands of Syria after his repulse from St. Jean d'Acre. It was speaking to the soldiers in the ranks a language which they understood, and which helped them in their arduous work more than proclamations.
A marked trait of Sherman's military intellect was his accurate judgment of the force of his enemy, and his freedom from the common fault of overestimating the army opposed to him. In his correspondence with General Thomas in April, discussing the preparations for the campaign and the severe reduction of burdens to a scale which was "rather the limit of our aim than what we can really accomplish," he had occasion to acknowledge the receipt of information concerning the enemy which Thomas had collected. "I read the reports of your scouts with interest," he said, but added, "I usually prefer to make my estimate of the enemy from general reasoning rather than from the words of spies or deserters." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 323.] The remark is significant. Prior to the opening of a campaign, whilst affairs are quiet, pretty reliable information of an enemy's strength and positions may usually be got; but when the time of action comes, the very air is full of excitement, and the "secret service" is apt to be a machine for self-delusion. Precedent knowledge supplemented by actual contact with the enemy is the best reliance for a capable general. His own reasoning from trustworthy data at the earlier point of departure, is, with such aids, his best guide. He knows where his enemy must be and what his force ought to be, better than his spies, or the enemy's deserters who, by a common stratagem, may be really hostile spies stuffed with the disturbing information they are sent to reveal.
In the Confederate Army changes had also been occurring under the stress of Bragg's great defeat which culminated in the loss of Missionary Ridge on the 25th of November. Dissatisfaction with the conduct of the campaign was prevalent in both military and civil circles. Lee pointed out the embarrassment which must result to Longstreet from Bragg's misfortune, especially as the retreat of the latter had been promptly followed by Grant's occupation of Cleveland. Communication between Longstreet and Bragg was thus interrupted, and unless short work was made of Burnside, Longstreet would have to retreat into Virginia or North Carolina. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 779.] In the letter to President Davis which contained these suggestions, Lee added a strong hint that
Beauregard was the most available officer of proper rank to succeed to the command of which Bragg asked to be relieved on the 29th. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. p. 682.] The unfortunate Bragg coupled with this request another; namely, that the causes of the defeat should be investigated. In his official report [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. ii. p. 665] he attributed it to a panic amongst the troops holding the apparently impregnable heights of Missionary Ridge, and he characterized the conduct as shameful. "The position was one," he said, "which ought to have been held by a line of skirmishers against any assaulting column." He declared that our troops reached the crest so exhausted by climbing as to be powerless, and that "the slightest effort would have destroyed them." One who stands on that ridge and looks down into the valley can easily agree with this opinion, and believe that no commander would order his troops to attack the position in front. The impulse of Wood's and
Sheridan's divisions to attack, and the feebleness of the resistance of the astonished Confederates, are both phenomenal, and in a superstitious age would certainly have been attributed to supernatural influences.
The truth, however, seems to be that the confidence of the Confederate Army in its leader had declined so far that it lost hope when opposed to the prestige of the conqueror of Vicksburg, and was morally prepared for disaster. Mr. Davis's prompt acceptance of Bragg's retirement can only be understood in this way, for the general was with good reason reckoned a favorite with the Confederate President. Except for this loss of prestige he would have been answered as Lee was when he made a similar suggestion after Gettysburg,-that confidence was undiminished, and that neither the army nor the people wished for a change.
Bragg was directed to turn over the command to Lieutenant-General William J. Hardee, next in rank, and the evidence indicates that Hardee could have retained it, had he been willing. But, surpassed by none in ability and soldierly quality in command of a corps, he shrunk from the burden of chief responsibility for a campaign, and declined the permanent appointment. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 764.] Mr. Davis seems to have taken no notice of Lee's suggestion of Beauregard, but asked whether Lee himself could not, even temporarily, go to the West and by a vigorous campaign restore the prestige of the Army of Tennessee. Lee calmly presented the objections to this, from the point of view of the army of northern Virginia as well as that of the western army; though he submitted fully to the decision the President might reach after further consideration. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 785, 792.] Mr. Davis was convinced that it would be unwise to transfer Lee, but he did not take kindly to the idea of appointing Beauregard. The estrangement between them which began in the first campaign in Virginia had not been removed, but had rather been intensified by the fact that Beauregard had, as he thought, failed in the command of the army after
A. S. Johnston fell at
Shiloh, and now seemed to have a party of friends and supporters in the Confederate Congress who were looked upon as an organized opposition to his administration. [Footnote: For some indications of this, see Beauregard's letters to Pierre Soule and to W. Porcher Miles, Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. pp. 812, 843. Davis's Rise and Fall of the Southern Confederacy, vol. ii. p. 69.]
Whilst the subject was under consideration,
General Polk, who was a warm friend both of President Davis and of General Johnston, wrote to Mr. Davis a strong letter urging Johnston's appointment. He advocated it on the double ground of the wish of the army and of the country. He did not ignore the fact that the personal friendship once existing between Davis and Johnston had been broken, but appealed to the sense of public duty to yield to a general desire, and to motives of magnanimity to overlook personal differences. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 796.]
Beauregard and Johnston were in fact the only ones, out of the five officers of the full rank of general, who were available to take Bragg's place; for the Confederate grades were much less flexible than ours, where any major-general by assignment of the President acquired the legal right to command an army, and a superiority over him who had just laid down the power. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 835.] Mr. Davis felt the embarrassment keenly, but finally decided to appoint Johnston. On the 16th of December the latter was ordered to turn over the command of the Army of the Mississippi to Lieutenant-General Polk, and proceed to Dalton to assume command of the Army of Tennessee. [Footnote: General W. W. Mackall, who had been chief of staff to Johnston and Bragg in turn, wrote to Johnston on December 9th: "I never did believe that Mr. D. would give you your place as long as he can help it; but he can't." The letter has other piquant passages. _Id_., p. 801.]
The result of conferences with Lee, and correspondence with Longstreet and others, had been the conviction on the part of the Confederate President that the only promising military policy in the West was for the Army of Tennessee to take early aggressive action, turning Chattanooga by the east, getting between Thomas and Schofield by the occupation of Cleveland, and, if both the National commanders kept within their fortifications, move boldly over the Cumberland Mountains by way of the gaps near Kingston. As part of this plan Longstreet should advance close to
Knoxville, and join Johnston either by turning Knoxville on the east before Johnston passed far beyond Cleveland, or by the west if Johnston had got to Kingston.
This indication of the wishes of the Richmond Government was gradually developed. The earliest suggestions were of the necessity for a prompt renewal of the aggressive. Mr. Seddon, Secretary of War, in the letter informing Johnston of his transfer (December 18th), had said it was hoped that he would assume the offensive as soon as the condition of the army would allow it. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 843.] A few days later (December 23d) Mr. Davis himself wrote, quoting General Bragg as to the good effect a prompt resumption of the initiative would have on the _morale_ of the army, and
General Hardee as to the fit condition of the troops for action. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 856.] To this he added that an "imperative demand for prompt and vigorous action arises, 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."
Johnston's reply (January 2d) was a presentation of the difficulties in the way of action. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxii. pt ii. p. 510.] He said that Bragg and
Hardee had made the considerable reinforcement of the army a precedent condition of resuming the offensive. His conclusion was that without large reinforcements there was "no other mode of taking the offensive here than to beat the enemy when he advances and then move forward." A fortnight later he said: "My recent telegrams to you have shown, not only that we cannot hope soon to assume the offensive from this position, but that we are in danger of being forced back from it by the want of food and forage, especially the latter." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 559.] The shortness of forage he attributed to bad management of the Georgia Railroad, owned by the State. Supposing this were remedied (as a little later he said it was), he compared the advantages of two routes of advance into Middle Tennessee,--one by Rome, Gunterville, and Huntsville, the other by East Tennessee through the Cumberland Mountains. He pronounced in favor of the former, which would turn the mountains by the south and save the task of surmounting them. If, whilst this was going on, the National army should push for Atlanta, two or three thousand cavalry could, he thought, prevent it from reaching that place in less than a month. Large reinforcements were, however, essential for any aggressive movement. He was willing to try the East Tennessee route and unite with Longstreet, if he were satisfied that the country could furnish the provisions and forage for the march. To both of these routes, he preferred one which should make a base still farther west, in northern Mississippi.
At the beginning of February he reviewed the situation as he then believed it to be, and concluded that it was impracticable to assume the offensive from northern Georgia. He advised the collection of as large an army as possible in northern Mississippi, with a bridge equipage for the passage of the Tennessee. This army, he thought, should be larger than his and Folk's united. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 644.]
Sherman's Meridian expedition now interrupted the discussion of plans for a month, except that Mr. Davis suggested a movement of Johnston's army to strike Sherman's column in cooperation with
General Polk. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 729.] Assuming that Sherman was aiming at Mobile, Johnston declared it impossible to strike him before he should establish a new base. Hardee's corps was, however, put in motion to reinforce Polk. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 769.] Beauregard was ordered to send ten thousand men from his department on the southern seacoast to Johnston, if possible, but he reported that it was not practicable. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 772.]
It must be said that making the correspondence a personal one on the part of Mr. Davis, instead of carrying it on through the War Department, was a waiving of etiquette, and thus it was also a step toward a cordial and frank understanding. It must equally be noted that General Johnston's tone remained that of cold formality, and his letters do not show the hearty readiness to bend his views to meet those of the President which is always apparent (for instance) in the letters of General Lee. The situation was not one in which a general may say, "I need certain supplies, equipment, transportation or pontoon bridges, and must have them before I can move." The Confederate cause was unquestionably in great straits, and calling for men and means was a good deal like Glendower's call, "Will they come?" Every commanding officer was expected to act with what he had or could get, were it much or little. Very warm friends of Johnston saw that his attitude was one likely to increase estrangement. General Polk, the mutual friend who had probably thrown the casting influence which gave Johnston the command, wrote to him through a confidential intimate of both (Colonel Harvie, Johnston's inspector-general), suggesting that he take private steps toward a reconciliation with Mr. Davis. He urged the general, as he had urged the President, that private feeling and personal pride should be sacrificed to the cause in which both were engaged. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 593.] The appeal seems to have failed, and cold formality continued to be the tone of Johnston's communications with the government. About the first of March Mr. Davis dropped the correspondence, turning it over to General Bragg, now his chief of staff.
Johnston had written to Bragg (February 27th) that the President's letters had given him the impression that a forward movement was intended _in the spring_; but if this were so, much preparation would be necessary, and large reinforcements and equipment. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 808.] He assumed that Longstreet was to unite with him, if the President's plan had not changed. This treatment of the matter as problematic and intended only as a plan for the spring, must be admitted to be somewhat exasperating to Mr. Davis, as the pressure from Richmond since the 18th of December had been for immediate aggressive action, and had been so emphatically put that to speak of it as creating only "an impression" sounded very like a sneer, and was unfortunate if not so intended.
Bragg answered in good temper, and after disposing of the matters of business, he added: "The enemy is not prepared for us, and if we can strike him a blow before he recovers, success is almost certain. The plan which is proposed has long been my favorite, and I trust our efforts may give you the means to accomplish what I have ardently desired but never had the ability to undertake. Communicate your wants to me freely and I will do all I can to give you strength and efficiency. We must necessarily encounter privations and hardships, and run some risk; but the end will justify the means." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 592.]
This, of course, implied prompt action whilst Grant's forces remained scattered and were still suffering from the dearth of supplies which had so nearly approached starvation and nakedness. Schofield's forces were at Knoxville, over a hundred miles northeast of Chattanooga. Part of Sherman's were on the Meridian expedition or now returning to Vicksburg on the Mississippi. Another part, under Logan, were about Huntsville, as far to the southwest as Schofield was to the northeast. In this condition of things a quick blow at Thomas would find him isolated. He could be turned by the north before Schofield could join him if he stayed in his fortifications, and he could be fought on equal terms in the field if he came out of his lines. This made the southern opportunity. To wait for spring was to wait for Grant and Sherman to concentrate the now scattered armies, to have them clothed and fed, and to have the horses and mules ready for a campaign. It is no wonder the government at Richmond thought it worth while to "encounter privations and hardships and to run some risk."
Lee had been in Richmond and was in accord with this plan. He wrote to Longstreet on the day after the date of Bragg's letter just quoted, urging him to drop all other schemes and to unite in influencing Johnston to adopt it. "If you and Johnston could unite and move into Middle Tennessee," he said, "it would cut the armies of Chattanooga and Knoxville in two and draw them from those points, where either portion could be struck at as opportunity offered.... By covering your fronts well with your cavalry, Johnston could move quietly and rapidly through Benton, cross the Hiwassee, and then push forward in the direction of Kingston, while you, taking such a route as to be safe from a flank attack, would join him at or after his crossing the Tennessee River. The two commands, upon reaching Sparta, would be in position to select their future course; would necessitate the evacuation of Chattanooga and Knoxville, and by rapidity and skill unite on either army." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 594.]
There were no doubt difficulties in the way--when are there not? But we who were in Grant's command are glad that we were not called upon to meet the enemy under this plan of campaign vigorously executed. We did not lack faith that we could defeat it, but we were much better pleased to have the enemy await the completion of our own preparation and allow us to take the initiative. It cannot be denied that it was based on sound strategy. With his usual considerateness, Lee said that Johnston and Longstreet on the ground should be better able to judge the plan and to decide; but he urged it with much more earnestness than was common in his letters. That Johnston rejected it must be admitted to be very strong evidence that he lacked enterprise. His abilities are undoubted, and when once committed to an offensive campaign, he conducted it with vigor and skill. The bent of his mind, however, was plainly in favor of the course which he steadily urged,--to await his adversary's advance, and watch for errors which would give him a manifest opportunity to ruin him.
Longstreet had written to Johnston on the 5th of March that Mr. Davis had directed a conference between them on the practicability of uniting their armies between Knoxville and Chattanooga, with a view to the movement into Middle Tennessee. Longstreet thinks he can make his part of the movement, but must leave the question of supplies to Johnston after they unite. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxiii. pt. ii. p. 587.] Lieutenant-General John B. Hood, who had been assigned to a corps in Johnston's army, wrote to Mr. Davis on the 7th that the army was well clothed, well fed, with abundant transportation, in high spirits, anxious for battle, and needing only a few artillery horses. A junction with Longstreet's army he thought would make it strong enough to take the initiative, and he strongly supported the plan of moving before Grant could concentrate. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 606.]
Johnston wrote to Bragg on the 12th that no particular plan of campaign had been communicated to him. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 613.] He does not appear to have telegraphed a brief inquiry on this subject, but wrote at some length in regard to his requirements before he could be in condition to take the field. He referred to his first opinion in favor of a defensive campaign as unchanged. The ordinary course of mail seems to have required about a week for a letter to reach Richmond. It happened that on the same day Bragg at Richmond was writing to Johnston outlining the plan of campaign mentioned above, adding that it was intended to throw a heavy column of cavalry into West Tennessee as a diversion, and that if by rapid movement Johnston could capture Nashville, Grant would be in a precarious position. The President, on assurance of the immediate execution of the plan, would order to him 5000 men from General Polk, 10,000 from Beauregard, and Longstreet's command estimated at 16,000, but which was really nearer 20,000. Putting these reinforcements and Johnston's own army at lowest figures, his column would amount to 75,000 men. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 614.]
After posting his letter of the 12th, Johnston went on an inspection tour to Atlanta, and there on the 13th he received and answered Longstreet's letter of the 5th. He pronounced impracticable the plan submitted to them, and reiterated his fixed opinion that it was best to wait for Grant's advance. In any event, he thought a forward movement should "wait for the grass of May." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 618.] He argued that it was better to let the enemy's forces advance, and fight them far from their base and near his own. Bragg, on the other hand, had urged the recovery of the populous region of Middle Tennessee as necessary both for obtaining army subsistence and forage, and for the recruitment of the ranks. Both these resources he estimated very highly, and as Tennessee was still claimed as a seceding State, the Confederate conscription laws would be enforced there. On the other hand, every movement in retreat cut off a part of their area for supplies and men, was discouraging to the army, and was followed by numerous desertions of soldiers whose families were within our lines.
In answering Longstreet, Johnston had said that he would execute zealously any plan the President would order; but he evidently insisted on definite and formal commands if he were to depart from his preconceived views to which he held tenaciously. On the 16th of March he wrote again, this time in answer to Bragg's of the 7th. After telling of the impossibility of collecting artillery horses in northern Georgia, he mentions Longstreet's letter to him, to say that he thinks the point of junction suggested is too near the enemy, and that his army should have an accumulation of eighteen or twenty days' supplies before entering upon such a movement. They must also have ordnance stores for a campaign, and wagon trains to carry it all. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 636.] Two days later he received Bragg's full letter of the 12th sent by the hand of Colonel Sale as special messenger, and he now answers by telegraph. He says that Grant is back at Nashville, and is not likely to stand on the defensive. To meet at Dalton his expected advance, the reinforcements that had been spoken of must be sent at once. "Give us those troops," he says; "and if we beat him we follow. Should he not advance, we will thus be ready for the offensive. The troops can be fed as easily here as where they now are." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 649.] Next day he elaborated the same ideas in a letter, adding the suggestion before made by him that the line of advance by way of North Alabama was a preferable one to the route through East Tennessee.
The telegram was answered from Richmond whilst the longer letter was on its way. The answer conveyed the information that Grant would not personally lead the western army, but would turn over its command to Sherman. It also briefly noted the fact that Johnston had not accepted the aggressive policy on which the large reinforcements were made conditional. [Footnote: I do not find this dispatch in the Official Records. It is given in Johnston's "Narrative of Military Operations," p. 298.] He replied that his dispatch expressly accepted taking the offensive, and the only difference was as to details. He therefore repeats the urgent request that the troops be sent at once. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 666.]
It is not easy to accept his interpretation of his former dispatch. Waiting indefinitely to see whether the National army would advance, and declaring the administration plan impracticable, hardly looks like assuming the initiative. It was not a difference as to details. The very gist of the subject under discussion was a prompt advance against the parts of our army before they could be united for any purpose. The question would naturally arise, What might happen in the places from which troops were drawn, if they were not used by Johnston immediately? The latter had already said to Longstreet that his requisitions on the commissaries and quartermaster's departments for supplies and wagon-trains were so large as to make filling them "a greater undertaking than anything yet accomplished by those departments, and if they succeed, it will not be very soon." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 618.] Yet these were only part of the conditions which he considered essential to any advance.
There seems to have been no rejoinder to Johnston's last telegram, and the subject was dropped. Longstreet was persuaded by his correspondence with Johnston that the combined movement could not be made, and turned to the scheme (already mentioned), of mounting his troops and making an expedition from southwestern Virginia into Kentucky. This was decisively rejected by the Richmond government. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 748.] Grant was now known to be in Virginia, inspecting the commands there and preparing for an active campaign. Concentration on both sides, and not further morselling of armies was to be the wholesome order of the day, and Longstreet was soon ordered to report to Lee. Between Bragg and Johnston correspondence was limited to the current business of the army, and general plans of campaign were not again mentioned. In April, Johnston became uneasy at the silence which indicated that the President regarded it unprofitable to discuss plans with him, and sent Colonel B. S. Ewell of his staff to Richmond to make explanations in person. He was politely received, and his visit no doubt tended to relax a little the strain in the relations between Mr. Davis and Ewell's chief; but it was too late to accomplish what had been hoped for in January. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. pp. 839, 842.] Spring had come, and Sherman's concentration was in progress; indeed it was almost completed. Ewell reported to Johnston again on the 29th of April. On the 1st of May Schofield was at the Hiwassee River in touch with the left wing of Thomas's army, whilst
McPherson was closing in on the right.
The certainty that Grant was in Virginia had brought the Confederate government to the conclusion that Lee must be reinforced by Longstreet and by whatever troops Beauregard could spare. The Atlantic coast States were thus to supply Lee with men and means. About four thousand men were to be immediately added to Johnston's army, mostly drawn from Mobile. Polk's infantry would be sent to him also, if, as was nearly certain, Sherman's advance on Atlanta should prove to be our great effort in the West. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 841.] The doubt whether one of our columns might not move through Alabama made it necessary to continue to the last moment ready for either event. The Gulf States would then become the feeders of Johnston's army in the campaign.
The very unsatisfactory relations between Mr. Davis and General Johnston cannot be overlooked if we would judge intelligently the events of the Atlanta campaign. It may be that the general was right in thinking a winter advance impracticable, though Lee's concurrence in the President's plan is no small argument in its favor. It is, nevertheless, the indisputable province of a government to determine, in view of the whole situation, political and military, whether continued operations are necessary. The army is organized for the sole purpose of reaching the ends at which its government aims in the war. The expenditure of life and treasure should be stopped and the government should sue for peace, unless its armies can be relied upon to act in hearty subordination to its view of the existing exigencies. The general should meet it with absolute ingenuousness and the promptest and clearest decision. He should act at once or ask to be relieved in time to let another carry out the plan. Mr. Davis, like
Mr. Lincoln on several occasions, had reason to feel that a prolonged discussion had in fact thwarted him, and that he had not the cordial service he might fairly expect.
One of the results of the financial embarrassments of the Confederacy was the great and growing depreciation of its paper currency. Its officers in the field found their pay a merely nominal pittance, and those who had no independent fortune were reduced to the greatest straits. Interesting evidence of this has been preserved in petitions forwarded to the War Department in February, asking that rations might be issued to them as to the private soldiers. The scale of prices attached to their petition was that at which the government sold the enumerated articles to its officers, and was supposed to show the average cost and not a market price fixed by the retail trade. They paid for bacon $2.20 per pound, for beef 75 cents, for lard $2.20, for molasses $6 per gallon, for sugar $1.50 per pound, for a coat $350, for a pair of boots $250, for a pair of pantaloons $125, for a hat from $80 to $125, for a shirt $50, for a pair of socks $10. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 658.] Their statements were verified and approved by their superiors, and General Johnston, in forwarding the petitions, said that at existing prices the pay of company officers was worth less than that of the private soldiers. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 661.]