dispatch was received by General Bragg, General Beauregard had transferred the command to him, and had departed for Bladen Springs. General Bragg thus describes the subsequent proceedings:
Prepared to move, I telegraphed back to the President that the altered conditions induced me to await his further orders. In reply to this, I was immediately notified by telegraph of my assignment to the ‘permanent command of the army,’ and was directed to send General Van Dorn to execute my first instructions.From this statement it appears—1. That General Beauregard was not, as has been alleged, harshly deprived of his command, but that he voluntarily surrendered it, after being furnished with medical certificates of his physical incapacity for its arduous duties. 2. That he did not even notify his government, still less ask permission to retire. 3. That the order, assigning another to the command he had abandoned, could not be sent through him, when he had departed and gone to a place where there was no telegraph, and rarely a mail. 4. That it is neither customary nor proper to send orders to the commander of an army through a general on sick leave, and that in this case it would have been very objectionable, as a similar order had just been sent and disobeyed. Meanwhile some other events had occurred in the Western Department which should be mentioned. The movement of the forces of the enemy up the Tennessee River, as has been stated, thus flanking some of our positions on the Mississippi River, was followed by his fitting out a naval fleet to move down that river. This fleet, consisting of seven ironclads and one gunboat, ten mortar boats (each carrying a thirteeninch mortar), a coal barge, two ordnance steamers, and two transports with troops, left Cairo on March 14th, and arrived at Hickman that evening. A small force of our cavalry left upon its approach. Columbus, as has been stated, had previously been evacuated by our forces and occupied by the enemy. In the morning the fleet continued down toward Island No.10. The island is situated in that bend of the river which touches the border of Tennessee, a few miles further up the river than New Madrid, although nearly southeast of that point. In the latter part of February a large force of the enemy under Major General Pope left Commerce, Missouri, and moved south about fifty miles to New Madrid, with the object of capturing that place. Aided by the gunboats of Commander Hollins, our small force repulsed the assaults of the enemy three times, but such was the disparity of numbers that it soon became manifest that our forces could not successfully hold the position, and it was evacuated on the night of March 13th. Its defenses consisted of two earthworks, in which about twenty guns were mounted. These were spiked and rendered unfit for use.