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Chapter 22: efforts to get arms and troops.

  • Small resources and powers.
  • -- Begging for arms. -- scant results and deficient armament. -- recruiting the army. -- concentration. -- requisitions for troops. -- obstacles. -- the Tennessee troops. -- condition of the men. -- embarrassments. -- twelve-months' volunteers. -- distant control. -- difficulties of the Government. -- call for militia. -- General Johnston's urgency. -- letters to the Southern Executives. -- appeals to the Secretary of War. -- Mr. Benjamin's letters.

It has already been shown that, when the Confederate troops advanced into Kentucky and established their line of operations, it was with the confident hope that the people of that Commonwealth would promptly join them in large numbers, and also that a strong army, rallied in the South, would speedily follow to support them. The first illusion was soon dispelled. The causes of inaction in Kentucky, already made sufficiently plain in Chapter XIX., continued, and destroyed the hope of any considerable accession of volunteers from that quarter. But the disappointment was even more grievous at the want of appreciation of the danger, and of the means necessary for defense, exhibited by the Gulf States.

General Johnston fully foresaw the difficulties and dangers of his position, and his first steps on arriving at Nashville were to procure men and arms. It will be made manifest in this chapter that he neglected no lawful means to that end. In his address to the Memphis Historical Society, Colonel Munford, General Johnston's aide-de-camp, states the essential question, and answers it:

To those who ask why so able a man lost Kentucky and Tennessee, and seemed to fail, four words will answer, namely-he had no army.

Colonel Munford then, in a powerful and convincing statement of facts, which the writer has largely followed, shows that this failure to assemble an army equal to the emergency was not due to General Johnston. While the writer will have occasion frequently to employ this interesting historical monograph, it is thought best to produce the original correspondence, which conclusively demonstrates that in no point of vigilance, decision, or energy, was General Johnston at fault. The narrative of military operations is therefore postponed, and the facts in regard to General Johnston's efforts to obtain men and arms are here grouped together, that the reader may arrive at his own conclusion as to where the responsibility rests.

The only legal mode by which a Confederate general could raise troops or secure munitions of war was through the instrumentality of the State, or the General Government. Of his own motion he could do nothing. He had not the power to commission a lieutenant, to raise a company of soldiers, or to buy a gun, except through the intermediary channels of the civil service. Experience had taught General Johnston, [329] what subsequent events of the war proved to other generals, that the Southern people deeply resent any breach of legality; and, moreover, he was not the man to transcend his authority. Without compulsory power of enlistment, his only resource was to induce the Governors of States and the Confederate Administration to send him such force as he required.

Before relating his efforts to raise troops, it will be proper to show the means used by General Johnston to procure arms. This will be best done, though at the risk of some prolixity, by an exhibit of his correspondence. He arrived at Nashville on the 14th of September; on the 15th he dispatched Messrs. T. H. Hunt and D. P. Buckner, who had been prominent members of the Kentucky State Guard, and were afterward distinguished officers in the Confederate service, as special messengers to obtain arms.1 The following letter was addressed to the Governor of Alabama, a duplicate being sent to the Governor of Georgia, and a similar communication to General Bragg, commanding at Pensacola:

Nashville, Tennessee, September 15, 1861.
Sir: The condition of the defenses of our northern frontier requires every possible assistance from the South. We have men in large numbers. We are deficient in arms. I understand that your Excellency has a considerable number in your arsenal. I feel justified by the circumstances in making the strongest appeal to your Excellency's patriotism to aid me in this respect. I shall beg to rely upon your Excellency to furnish us as rapidly as possible at this point with every arm it may be in your power to provide — I mean small-arms for infantry and cavalry.

I view the matter of such urgent necessity that I send this letter by a special messenger, who will confer freely with you upon this subject.

I am, etc., (Signed)

A. S. Johnston. A. B. Moore, Governor of Alabama.

Executive Department, Montgomery, Alabama, September 23, 1851.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the 15th inst., and, fully recognizing the necessity of speedy and energetic action in the direction contemplated by your letter, regret that it is out of the power of Alabama to afford you any assistance in the way of arms. Our own coast is threatened with invasion by the Federal forces; and within the last ten days we have been called upon to arm two regiments for the defense of this State. When this is done, I shall not have one hundred stand of muskets left which are fit for use. Our cavalry and sabre arms are entirely exhausted; and I am now waiting to forward sabres to Tennessee, which I have contracted for in Georgia.

Very respectfully,

General A. S. Johnston, General C. S. A., Nashville.

Governor Brown made the following reply, from Atlanta, September 18th: [330]

Sir: Your letter of the 15th instant, in which you make the request that I will forward to you such arms as may be at my disposal for defense of our northern frontier, has been handed to me by Colonel Hunt and Captain Buckner.

In reply, I beg leave to state, and I do so with much regret, that it is utterly impossible for me to comply with your request. There are no arms belonging to the State at my disposal; all have been exhausted arming the volunteers of the State now in the Confederate service in Virginia, at Pensacola, and on our own coast — in all some twenty-three regiments. Georgia has now to look to the shot-guns and rifles in the hands of her people for coast-defense, and to guns which her gunsmiths are slowly manufacturing. I deeply regret this state of things, for to respond to your call with the arms you need would afford me the greatest gratification.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Joseph E. Brown.

The Governors of these two great States felt that their coasts were more immediately threatened, and that the defense of them was of more vital importance than an obscure and distant danger in Kentucky, and trusted to fortune for the protection of the postern to their citadel. General Bragg's reply discusses the aspects of the situation so well, for the most part, that it is here given entire:

headquarters, near Pensacola, Florida, September 27, 1861.
dear Sir: Colonel D. P. Buckner called on me yesterday in behalf of yourself and our great cause in Kentucky. His accounts of our affairs there are by no means cheering; but, with the blessing of Providence and your exertions, we yet expect a great deal in that direction.

It is in my power to do but little for you. We have no spare arms, and are still deficient in ammunition. I have men, and can get any number; and those who have been with us some months are well-instructed, fine soldiers. Weeks ago I offered four of these regiments to the President for an equal number of new men, believing that the cause would be advanced by such a move. This was all I could do, and all I can do now; but no reply has reached me, though I learn from an officer who has been to Richmond that the department thinks the short time my men have to serve would not justify the expense. Upon hearing this, I again wrote, requesting that I might offer the alternative to them, satisfied a very large proportion will stay “for the war.” To this I ought to hear very soon.

The mission of Colonel Buckner will not be successful, I fear, as our extreme southern country has been stripped of both arms and men. We started early in this matter, and have wellnigh exhausted our resources. Besides, there is a general apprehension of invasion this fall and winter, and every means in the country is being devoted to defense — some of it very injudiciously. Mobile and New Orleans are being fortified at great expense, when they should be defended in Kentucky and Missouri.

The unfortunate state of affairs which has caused our troops to fall back in the latter State is deeply to be deplored. We are bound to accept it as necessary, though we may not see the reason. It would have been a great diversion [331] in favor of the movements in Kentucky. In both these States all depended on rapid movement, to save our friends before the enemy could disarm and disorganize them. We fear that procrastination has cost us much; but look with great confidence to the future under your control.

Deep solicitude is felt on the subject of an appointment to the War Office. The health of the President is such that he cannot give his personal attention to the details of service; and it is essential that he should have a man of the highest abilities, and of great nerve and self-reliance.

The policy of the enemy seems now to be defensive at the North, relying on the winter to check us there, while he will operate by naval expeditions throughout the South.

Wishing you fall success in the arduous and responsible task before you, I am, most respectfully, your obedient servant,

But, that no stone might be left unturned to effect his object, the following dispatch was addressed by telegraph to the President, September 19th, from Columbus, Kentucky, by General Johnston, giving reports received from his agents in Georgia:

A steamer has arrived at Savannah with arms from Europe. Thirty thousand stand are a necessity to my command. I beg you to order them, or as many as can be got, to be instantly procured and sent with dispatch, one-half to Nashville, and the other to Trenton, on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad.

The President replied as follows:

The steamer was a merchant-vessel. We have purchased as much of the shipment as we could get, less than a sixth of your requisition; some of the lot pledged the troops already in service. You shall have what can be sent to you. Rely not on rumor.

Jefferson Davis.

The Secretary of War replied thus, more fully, but even less satisfactorily:

War Department, Confederate States of America, Richmond, September 27, 1861.
Sir: The President has communicated to me your request for small-arms supposed by you to have arrived, per Bermuda, at Savannah.

The whole number received by us was 1,800, and we purchased of the owners 1,780, making in all 3,500 Enfield rifles, of which we have been compelled to allow the Governor of Georgia to have 1,000 for arming troops to repel an attack, now hourly threatened, at Brunswick, Georgia.

Of the remaining 2,500, I have ordered 1,000 sent to you, leaving us but 1,500 for arming several regiments now encamped here, and who have been awaiting their arms for several months. I state these facts to evince our solicitude to furnish you every aid in our power, and our disposition to share with you all our resources.

We are hourly in hope of hearing of the arrival of small-arms, and the arsenal here is now turning them out at the rate of 1,000 per month. We will receive the first delivery in about ten days. I have ordered 1,200 Texan [332] Rangers under Terry and Lubbock, fully armed and equipped, to report to you for service, understanding from them that you can furnish horses, which is out of our power.

We have not an engineer to send you. The whole Engineer Corps comprises only six captains, together with three majors, of whom one is on bureau duty. You will be compelled to employ the best material within your reach, by detailing officers from other corps, and by employing civil engineers, for whom pay will be allowed.

Your obedient servant,

J. P. Benjamin, Acting Secretary of War. General A. S. Johnston, Columbus, Kentucky.

Thus, it will be seen, the only immediate result of this appeal in so many quarters for armament was 1,000 stand of arms. Late in November, 3,650 Enfield rifles were received from the War Department. The Ordnance Bureau, ably conducted by Colonel Gorgas, used energetic measures to supply munitions of war, and eventually was quite successful in the importation of siege-guns, and in the purchase and manufacture of powder and other materiel. The chief defect was a lack of small-arms. This was never fully supplied so far as General Johnston was concerned, though he received some on the eve of the battle of Shiloh.

The energetic steps taken by the State government of Tennessee, immediately after secession, now afforded a partial basis of supply. A percussion-cap factory had been started in Nashville by Mr. Samuel Morgan, a wealthy and patriotic citizen, and had done good work. Ordnance-shops and workshops had been established at Nashville and Memphis, which were transferred to the Confederate Government, and proved of the greatest service. Under the efficient command of Captains M. H. Wright and W. R. Hunt, everything possible, with the means at command, was accomplished. Twelve or fourteen batteries were fitted out at Memphis by the 1st of October. At the same date, the powder-mills at Nashville were making 400 pounds of powder a day, and this production was afterward largely increased.

The State government of Tennessee cooperated with the Confederate authorities with the utmost zeal; and General Johnston often cordially acknowledged the aid received from this source. The Governor of Tennessee, Isham G. Harris, was a man of courage, decision, resource, and executive ability. Backed by the Legislature, he forwarded with untiring energy all of General Johnston's designs for recruiting and equipping an army. Laws were passed and enforced to impress and pay for the private arms scattered throughout the State, and the utmost efforts were employed to collect these rude and imperfect weapons, and to adapt them to military uses. Though far below the necessities of the occasion, the success of these efforts, under all the [333] circumstances, was admirable. The reports of Captain Wright, under whose direction the arms were altered and repaired, show the almost insuperable difficulties of equipping an improvised army. He says:

About one-fourth of the arms brought in were without lock or stock, much worn, and utterly worthless; and these weapons, generally fowling-pieces, squirrel-rifles, etc., were very poor in quality, even when put in order.

The reports and inspection returns make it evident that, during most of the autumn of 1861, fully one-half of General Johnston's troops were unarmed, and whole brigades remained without weapons for months. Terry's Texas Rangers, one of the best-equipped and most efficient regiments at the front, report, October 30th, twenty varieties of fire-arms in their hands-shot-guns and Colt's navy six-shooters being most numerous. Other regimental reports show a similar state of things. This one circumstance, with the resulting confusion and diversity in ammunition, will indicate to any soldier a fruitful source of inefficiency and confusion.

The Government could not arm its troops, because of the inability of its agents to procure sufficient serviceable arms in the markets of Europe. They were there before the agents of the North, but good arms were not for sale to any considerable extent. They, therefore, made contracts for their manufacture as rapidly as was practicable. They can hardly be blamed for not buying the condemned arms offered them.

The war suddenly assumed an unexpected magnitude, and the blockade interrupted this traffic. When it is considered that the South was an agricultural country, the aptness, ingenuity, and resource it displayed in the development of the means of defense, astonished friend and foe alike. But neither by importation nor manufacture was the deficiency in number or quality of fire-arms remedied in General Johnston's lifetime. It was a constant obstacle to his success, preventing not merely military operations, but even the enlistment of troops.

It has already been shown that General Johnston was confronted by a powerful force, while his own line of defense was merely masked by Buckner's and Zollicoffer's small commands. Hence, it became his first duty to organize an army for their support. The following pages will evince that he exhausted every legal means to that end. He comprehended the magnitude of the war, and the tenacity of the assailant, as well as any man on either side. His uniform utterances bore testimony to this fact. To a staff-officer, who spoke of the struggle as an affair of one campaign, he said, “It is more likely to be a seven years war.” His correspondence, his conversations, and his scheme of preparation, all prove his conviction of the formidable character of the contest. He was equally impressed with the necessity for prompt and [334] decisive action. He felt that, to meet the enemy, he required a large number of troops, and he required them at once. It will now be shown that his measures to recruit an army were not less energetic than his attempts to obtain arms and munitions of war. The urgency of his appeals for men was in singular contrast to the apparent apathy of the people.

General Johnston's first step was to concentrate his men. Hardee's command was drawn in from Northeastern Arkansas, where it had been lying in the swamps for six months, sick and crippled, and was added to the nucleus of an army at Bowling Green. Terry's splendid regiment of Texan Rangers, which was detained in Louisiana, dismounted, was, at its own request and on General Johnston's application, allowed to report to him on condition that he would supply it with horses. It was brought to the front, and in November was on active picket-service. On Buckner's advance, about five hundred Kentuckians joined him at once; and the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Kentucky Regiments, were gradually formed and filled up. John Morgan, too, joined Buckner with a cavalry company, the origin of that famous command which so often carried consternation within the Federal lines. But, under existing arrangements, the main reliance for recruiting an army was the machinery of the State governments.

In a letter of the same date with General Johnston's assignment to command, September 10th, the adjutant-general says to him:

You have authority to call for troops from Arkansas, Tennessee, and such portion of Mississippi as may be within the limits of your command. You have also authority to receive into the service such troops as may be offered from the States of Missouri and Kentucky, and to call on the naval service for such assistance and material of war, including boats, as may be required for the defense of the Mississippi River.

General Johnston was further directed by the President, by telegram of the 13th, “to go by Nashville, confer with Governor Harris, and then decide upon the steps to be taken.”

Acting in exact conformity with these orders, he made requisitions for 50,000 men-30,000 from Tennessee, 10,000 from Mississippi, and 10,000 from Arkansas. Had they been promptly furnished, how different might have been the result! The letter to Governor Harris is here given; those to Governors Pettus and Rector were identical, except in the number of troops named, the places of rendezvous, and the clause referring to conversations about arms, which was omitted.

headquarters, Department No. 2 Columbus, Kentucky, September 21, 1861.
Sir: I have the honor to inform your Excellency that, under date of September 10, 1861, I was authorized by the President of the Confederate States to [335] call upon the Governor of Tennessee for troops for the defense of the Mississippi River, and the States included in this military department.

The defenseless condition of this department was patent, from the moment I arrived and had a hasty view of the field.

The necessity for a strong and efficient army is present and pressing. I therefore avail myself of the permission above cited, to call upon your Excellency to furnish for the service of the Confederate States 30,000 men. I would prefer volunteers for the present war, as securing better-disciplined, more skilled, and effective forces; and, if any such shall volunteer by companies, they will be gladly accepted, under the act of May 8th. But dispatch, now, is of the first importance, and therefore companies, battalions, and regiments, offering for twelve months, will be at once received.

After the full conversations I have had with your Excellency, I need say nothing more of my deficiency in arms, except that it exists to the same extent still. I beg your influence with the volunteers to induce them to bring into the field every effective arm in their possession. Rifles and shot-guns-double-barreled guns in particular-can be made effective weapons in the hands of your skilled horsemen. These arms will be replaced in the hands of the troops by uniform arms at the shortest practicable period.

I have selected the following points in your States for the rendezvous of this force, viz.: Knoxville, Nashville, Jackson, Trenton, and Memphis. At each of these places officers will be in readiness to muster in companies, battalions, and regiments, as soon as organized, for the war, or for twelve months, as they decide to serve.

At these designated places provision will be made for supplies, and the instruction of the troops will be prosecuted until they can be armed and prepared to move to the frontier. The proportion of troops to be ordered to these different points, depending upon the districts from which the volunteers are drawn, I leave to the determination of your Excellency, asking to be informed of the probable numbers you may be likely to assemble at each, in order that my preparations for their wants may be in proportion.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant, (Signed)

A. S. Johnston, General. I. G. Harris, Governor of Tennessee, Nashville.

The Arkansas troops were directed to be sent to the aid of McCulloch, for the defense of their own frontier. Major Howard, aide-decamp, was sent with orders conferring on McCulloch as large powers as General Johnston himself had for mustering, organizing, equipping, and supporting troops from Arkansas and Missouri; and he was directed to call on the supply-officers at Memphis for whatever he could not otherwise procure. All the Governors called on took steps to comply with the requisitions, but with what tardy and incomplete success will be seen hereafter.

Governor Pettus, of Mississippi, sent two regiments, armed and equipped, immediately, and two more at a later date. But this source of supply was soon closed by the following correspondence. On the 16th of October the Secretary of War wrote the following letter to [336] General Johnston, disapproving of his requisition on Mississippi, though it had been made in accordance with the instructions given September 10th, and heretofore quoted:

Your call for troops on Mississippi and other States will, I am informed, produce embarrassment. When General Polk was sent to take command of the department now under your orders, he was instructed that he might use his own discretion in the calls on Arkansas and Tennessee, but not to draw on Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, or Georgia, without the consent of this department. The reason for this was, that Arkansas and Tennessee had not yet been subjected to any considerable drain of men, whereas the other States mentioned had been furnishing largely since the beginning of the war, and it was desired to proportion the calls on the different States with a due regard to their numbers of men capable of bearing arms.

I much lament that we are still so straitened for arms. As soon as we can get any you shall have your full share. I shall order four thirty-two pounders at once to be sent to you, for the defense of your works at Bowling Green, or such other point as you may desire to fortify with heavy guns.

Rely on the active cooperation of this department to the full extent of its disposable moans.

Your obedient servant,

J. P. Benjamin, Acting Secretary of War. General A. S. Johnston, bowling Green, Kentucky.

General Johnston's reply was as follows:

In making the call for troops, I asked from the Governors of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas, respectively, as follows: Tennessee, 30,000; Mississippi, 10,000; Arkansas, 10,000-confining my call strictly to those States. The call upon Mississippi was small compared with that on Tennessee, as only a part of that State is within the limits of my department.

I had no means of ascertaining the relative proportion of troops furnished before by each State, nor was I aware that instructions had been given Major- General Polk to refrain from making further calls upon Mississippi. I was desirous that the furnishing of the quotas should operate as little onerously as possible upon the several States of this department.

The States, as far as I know, had previously furnished troops promptly to meet the exigencies of the Government, and I did not know that there had been any considerable disparity in proportion to population. I have asked for no troops from States other than those in this department. I have accepted the services of two regiments, by special authority of the War Department, and a few detached companies, without any special sanction, from (I believe) Alabama. Terry's regiment has joined; the other, De Yeuve's, from Louisiana, has not. I presume it could not be spared.

Being thus excluded from Mississippi, and having ordered the Arkansas contingent to report to General McCulloch, General Johnston was confined to Tennessee as a recruiting-ground. All the departments of the State government entered zealously on the work, but the immediate [337] results hardly corresponded with their efforts. Colonel Munford says:

Up to the middle of November, General Johnston mustered in only three regiments, under this call.

This, probably, does not include the men, waiting arms, in camp, when the call was made. Colonel Hamby, the Adjutant-General of Tennessee in 1876, estimated that his State contributed to that army, before the battle of Shiloh, thirty-two regiments of infantry, ten regiments of cavalry, fourteen companies of artillery, and three engineer companies — about 33,600 men, exclusive of some 6,000 men with Zollicoffer. But this estimate included the troops under General Polk. General B. R. Johnson, in charge of the organization of Tennessee troops in 1861, reported, on the 29th of November, that one hundred and twenty-seven companies had been raised under the call of 30,000 men, sixty-five of which were fully organized, and the remainder nearly ready. On Christmas-day he reported that 12,000 or 15,000 men had gone forward under the call. On the same day, Adjutant-General Whitthorne wrote him, estimating that fifty regiments were in the field from Tennessee. This must have included the troops in all quarters and in every stage of organization borne upon the rolls, militia as well as volunteers. On November 28th, Governor Rector, of Arkansas, reported five companies and a battalion as organized and ready to go to the support of McCulloch. About the same time, General Polk obtained, as a loan for a few weeks, from General Lovell, at New Orleans, two regiments, 1,500 strong.

But the organization, equipment, and condition of these troops were not such as at any time to afford an effective force. It was not possible for the Confederate States to improvise army establishments. It was hard to clothe the soldiers properly. Inspection-reports, official correspondence, and the memories of men, testify how these poorly-clad volunteers bore the chilling nights of autumn and the drenching storms of winter without overcoats, often with but a single blanket. This poor and insufficient clothing added to the ravages of camp epidemics, especially of the measles, which severely afflicted this army. Thousands of recruits were prostrated at once, often to the extent of one-half of a. command, and of those who were furloughed as convalescents a heavy percentage did not return to their regiments. The commander at Hopkinsville reported that he had scarcely enough men well to do guard-duty. Under such circumstances, effective organization was seriously embarrassed. As it advanced, and discipline improved, many of the hardships incident to raw levies were mitigated, and a better state of things ensued; but some of the difficulties were never removed.

The enthusiasm of revolution, which had drawn together its fiercest and most eager spirits to meet the first shock of arms, had begun to [338] subside. The victory of Manassas had begotten a vainglorious confidence; and the people, fondly dreaming that no necessity existed for extraordinary effort, did not urge their youth to the field. Those at the head of affairs could not arouse them to the peril of the situation and the necessity for action. In 1861 the South was exultant and careless. Ignorant of the requirements of the hour, and undisciplined by suffering, it wasted the period of preparation and the opportunity for success. Calamity was needed to stir it to its depths, and to rouse that spirit of resistance which proved equal to the sublimest efforts.

A month after Buckner's advance, the army at Bowling Green numbered only 12,000 men, 4,000 of whom were obtained not from recruits, but from the transfer of Hardee's army to that point. In his letter of October 17th to the adjutant-general, given hereafter, General Johnston concludes thus:

I will use all means to increase my force, and spare no exertion to render it effective, at any point; but I cannot assure you that this will be sufficient, and, if reinforcements from less endangered or less important points can be spared, I would be glad to receive them.

General Johnston had from the first felt the embarrassments of distant control in many minor matters. It now touched him in a point which he believed to be vital, and which proved so. On the 25th of October, more than a month after his requisitions on the Governors, the Secretary of War addressed him the following letter, laying down as the policy of the Confederate Government certain restrictions on enlistment that did as much to obstruct the organization of this army as any other assignable cause. M3r. Benjamin presents his line of action, and the reasons for it, with his accustomed force:

Confederate States of America, War Department, Richmond, October 25, 1801.
my dear General: . . . There is another point connected with your proclamation calling for troops, of which I was not aware at the time, and which I fear is going to give us great embarrassment.

From the beginning of the war we have been struggling against the enlistment of men for a less period than the war or three years. We were tolerably successful, although this policy was strongly combated in some of the States. This struggle lasted, however, only so long as the States had arms to furnish. When armed men were offered for twelve months, necessity forced their acceptance, for we were deficient in arms. But the admirable ardor of our people in defense of their rights is such, that now, when they can no longer get arms from the Governors of States, they offer us their services “for the war,” if we will arm them. I have about 10,000 men now in camps of instruction awaiting arms, and am daily adding to their number; but in Mississippi and Tennessee your unlucky offer to receive unarmed men for twelve months has played the deuce with our camps.. I have just heard from Hon. Wiley P. Harris, a member of the Congress from Mississippi, that several “war” regiments, [339] nearly completed, have been broken up, and the men are tendering themselves for twelve months.2

There is this unfortunate result also. We are on the eve of winter. These men will be in camp four or five months, fed and paid by us, transported at great cost, provided with clothing, and then, when fairly able to do us service, we shall have to muster them out, and transport them back home at great expense.3 However, I need not dilate to a man of your military knowledge on the vast advantage of “war” enlistments over those for twelve months.

Now our Treasury is sorely pressed, and I want to avoid the very heavy drain that will be caused by accumulating all these twelve months men, whose term of service may possibly expire without our arming them, for we shall certainly give arms on all occasions to the “war” volunteers in preference. Of course, I want to avoid every appearance also of running counter to your measures. It occurs to me, therefore, that all further embarrassments will be best avoided by some proclamation from yourself, in which you could announce that you were now satisfied that the people of Kentucky were prepared to take up arms in defense of their liberties in much greater numbers than you had anticipated, and that it was no longer necessary to appeal to her sister States of the South, etc., etc. I beg you will act promptly in this or some other manner, as shall seem to you best, but to get rid of the twelve months unarmed men, and I will engage to furnish you as many for the war as you can arm. It is not men we lack, but muskets. In the mean time I inclose you a copy of a circular letter prepared by me, which will put you in possession of our policy about accepting troops, etc., so that we may preserve uniformity and regularity in all our movements. I am, with great regard, yours truly,

The circular accompanying this letter states: 1. No unarmed troops can be accepted for a less period than during the war. 2. Unarmed troops (infantry) offered for the war are accepted by companies, battalions, or regiments, and when mustered into service are ordered into camp of instruction until equipped for the field.

General Johnston, on November 2d, issued orders to all mustering-officers, and wrote to the Governors, directing them to disband the unarmed twelve months volunteers, and informed the Secretary of his action. But, on the 5th, he wrote to him to say he would suspend the order for fifteen days. This was in consequence of Governor Harris's strong hope of arming these troops. [340]

Colonel Munford, in his historical address already mentioned, sums up the consequences of Mr. Benjamin's order as follows:

General Johnston believed the war would be protracted, and wished to call out troops to serve during the war. He was advised, however, by leading men with whom he consulted, not to call for war-men; that the enemy had already a considerable army in the field in his immediate front, and were in such a state of forwardness with their preparations that it was all-important he should lose not a moment in getting troops; that to volunteer for twelve months was a habit familiar to the popular mind; that most of these men would reenlist if needed; and that his most successful course would be to follow what seemed the established practice ....

The Governors of the three States promptly responded to the call, camps were established, and volunteering began. It progressed, however, much more slowly than was anticipated. It must be confessed that, after the first spasm of excitement upon the breaking out of the war, the popular ardor seemed to cool down. This fact was so clear, that General Johnston one day said to me: “I am disappointed in the state of public sentiment in the South. Our people seem to have suffered from a violent political fever, which has left them exhausted. They are not up to the revolutionary point.” I replied, “The logic of your remark, general, is that you doubt our success?” He looked at me gravely for a moment, and said, “If the South wishes to be free, she can be free.”

Just at this juncture (the middle of November) an order was received from the Secretary of War, Mr. Benjamin, notifying General Johnston that no more twelve months volunteers would be armed by the Confederate Government, or mustered into service, and that he must communicate this information to the Governors of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas, that they might disband such volunteers of that description as were then in camps. He obeyed the order at once, though, for obvious reasons, he deeply regretted the necessity. In Arkansas and Mississippi the camps were at once broken up; but Governor Harris, of Tennessee, refused to comply, saying: “Not a man shall be released. If the Confederate Government has no use for them, I know Tennessee will soon need every one of them, and not a camp shall be broken up.” He also, through his adjutant-general, Whitthorne, addressed an energetic protest to the Government against the enforcement of the order.

Many ill effects were produced by it. It not only extinguished General Johnston's hopes of being able to assume the offensive, or of even successfully maintaining the line of defense he had chosen, but lulled the country into a false sense of security at a time when it should have been roused as with a trumpet. It also caused it to be bruited abroad, and generally believed, that General Johnston had all the troops he wanted. It went from lip to lip, “He has notified the Governors that he will receive no more men.”

General Johnston, as an old soldier, as a regular officer, was fully aware of the disadvantages of accepting twelve months volunteers. In his requisition he had said:

I prefer volunteers for the war, as securing better disciplined, more skilled, and more effective forces. But dispatch, now, is of the first importance; and, therefore, companies, battalions, and regiments, offering for twelve months will be at once received. [341]

It was a choice of evils. There was a wide-spread prejudice against an indefinite term of service. Thousands would enlist for twelve months where hundreds only would enlist for the war. But, having once entered the service, these same volunteers were retained in it, some by reenlistment for the war at the end of their term, the others by force of the conscript act.

Even if General Johnston had made a mistake, it was one sanctioned by the practice and precedents of every State, and of every army in the field, and should have been overlooked by his superiors. The enforcement of the order annulled all of his arrangements for enlistment, unsettled the views of recruits, and delayed, and, it may even be said, prevented the organization of an army adequate to the emergency. General Johnston's hope lay in the rapid assemblage of a large army. The Administration hesitated at the expense of the force demanded, and at the difficulties of armament. It still relied on the achievement of independence through diplomacy. General Johnston trusted to the diplomacy of the sword alone.

No censure is implied in these remarks on the Secretary of War, much less on the President. No man, no cabinet of councilors, is infallible. Differences of opinion exist among the wisest. In this case, they were inevitable from the different standpoints of the parties. The writer can bear testimony to the zeal, patriotism, and versatile talents, of Mr. Benjamin. Mr. Davis's cordial affection and confidence were too often and too clearly demonstrated for a doubt to rest upon the loyalty of his friendship to General Johnston. Nevertheless, both the importance and the danger of the situation in Tennessee were underestimated by the Confederate Government. The extreme Southern States entered on the war under the idea that, as the right of peaceable secession was theirs, no serious attempt at conquest would be made, and its political leaders adhered to this opinion till the vastness of the actual war dispelled the illusion. Mr. Davis, indeed, better foresaw the magnitude of the contest, and had predicted and endeavored to prepare for a long and great war; but at this time he was rather the chairman of a junta modeled for counsel instead of action, than the real ruler of the country. His marked individuality gradually asserted itself, but when he became permanent President it was too late. Hence we find the preparations for defense in 1861 by no means equal to the ability or opportunities of the South.

But, apart from these general considerations, it was natural for the Administration to regard the defense of Tennessee as of secondary importance. The political reasons for holding the capital, the early pressure upon that point, and the great host marshaling under McClellan at Washington, induced the Government to hazard every other interest for the protection of Richmond. The Gulf States would [342] scarcely consider any other danger than that to their sea-coast, and this influence was so powerful at Richmond that troops were left in them to defend lines of no general importance. In a parliamentary and confederated government it is almost impossible to ignore local interests for the sake of the general welfare, even when all is at stake. If the President had left bare the coast to concentrate in Tennessee, he would have encountered the opposition of the State governments, alienation of sympathy in the exposed districts, and the hostility of Congress. It was a difficult problem. The Government had to conduct a great war and a political campaign at the same time. It was the error of the Administration not to have perceived that the defense of Tennessee was vital, and that it was in more immediate peril even than Virginia — that a stab in the back is as fatal as one in the breast. Still, it must be remembered that the Government was in great difficulties, and that the primary cause of want of troops was the apathy of the Southern people.

It is no more than just to Mr. Benjamin to say that his letters to General Johnston convey the constant assurance of cooperation to the extent of his means; and, with his sanguine temper, the danger not being under his direct observation, he naturally expected these to be equal to the occasion when it should arise. Again, the fearful odds against the Confederacy required that heavy risks should be taken somewhere, and it was a matter of judgment, and to some extent of chance, where these could be best assumed.

In a letter to Mr. Benjamin, November 15th, in allusion to these matters, General Johnston says:

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the reception of your telegram of this date, and to express the gratification which the announcement of soon being provided with a few thousand Enfield rifles affords me.

I shall endeavor, as far as practicable, in the urgency for immediate armament, to give those arms into the hands of the troops for the war, who are now in service and not efficiently armed, and then distribute the remainder among the volunteers for shorter periods.

I have not been able yet to ascertain how many men have joined the different rendezvous under the call upon the Governor of Tennessee; so far as heard from, I believe, not a large fraction of the number called, and very poorly armed. Under the belief that by proper exertions many of them might be furnished with arms, and at the request of the Governor, I suspended my order for mustering out the unarmed men, for fifteen days, in Tennessee. The call upon Mississippi not being approved, the order for the discharge of the unarmed there was not suspended; except for those at the rendezvous, I shall further extend the time to give the opportunity of arming them if possible.

Thirty-six hundred and fifty rifles and 112,000 pounds of ammunition were soon after received. [343]

But this condition of affairs could not continue. The military pressure became so great, and an increase of force so urgent, that further delay was impossible. All the information received, and all other indications, pointed to a speedy advance in force by the enemy. General Johnston determined, therefore, to attempt a levy en masse in his department, by a method always popular in those States-subject, however, to the condition prescribed by Mr. Benjamin's order in regard to arms. Accordingly, on November 19th, he made a requisition on Governor Harris:

To call forth every loyal soldier of the militia into whose hands arms can be placed, or to provide a volunteer force large enough to use all the arms that can be procured. A volunteer force is more desirable, if it can be raised as promptly as the militia, as more economical and producing less inconvenience to the citizen; but now time is of the first importance, that I may cover the homes of your citizens, and save them from the sufferings always attending an invasion.

The same call was made on the Governors of Alabama and Mississippi.

General Johnston requested also that the troops of North Alabama, and slave-laborers recruited in the same region, should be sent forward to Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River; thus indicating, as clearly as it was possible, that it was to guard its own gate that the military force of the State was drawn upon.

On the 29th of November, General Johnston says to the secretary:

We are making every possible effort to meet the forces the enemy will soon array against us, both on this line and at Columbus. Had the exigency for my call for 50,000 men in September been better comprehended and responded to, our preparations for this great emergency would now be complete.

At the close of an important letter, written to the secretary on Christmas-day, General Johnston uses the following language:

Efforts have been incessantly made by me for the last four months to augment my force in the different army corps to an adequate degree of strength; but, while the Governors of States have seconded my appeals, the response has been feeble, perhaps because the people did not feel or understand the great exigency that exists.

I have again to-day urged most earnestly the Governors of Mississippi and Tennessee to send me reinforcements; for a company now is worth a regiment next year; and if our force can be increased to one-half that of the enemy, the frontier of Tennessee will be safe, and shall be successfully defended here.

In conclusion, I would respectfully request that the Government will earnestly and zealously aid me in my efforts to procure additional reinforcements, by communications addressed to the Governors of Mississippi, Tennessee, and elsewhere; and that every influence should be brought to bear to convince them and their gallant people that a decisive battle must probably be fought here for [344] the freedom of the South, and that every man sent forward here is of importance to the Confederacy.

With great respect, your obedient servant, (Signed)

A. S. Johnston, General C. S. A.

General Johnston did not permit the Executives of the Southern States to remain ignorant of his weakness and of the vast interests imperiled by a tardy or inadequate response to his demands. He made known to them the strength of the enemy, his own weakness, and the scope of his designs, with unreserved frankness. Under the pressure of distress, he was obliged to abandon that silence which is so important an element of military success, and disclose his entire situation in many quarters. It is proper to say, however, that no indiscretion enabled the enemy to profit by this.

The following is his letter to the Governor of Mississippi:

headquarters, Western Department, Bowling Green, Kentucky, December 24, 1861.
Sir: On assuming command of this department it was my chief object to collect a sufficient force to shield the valley of the Mississippi from the enemy, and assure its safety. Calls were made by me upon the Governor of Mississippi and other States of the Confederacy for troops; but, notwithstanding the patriotic efforts of the Governors, the response has not been such as the emergency demands; and, in consequence, there is not now a force at my disposition equal to the emergency of my situation.

It was apprehended by me that the enemy would attempt to assail the South, not only by boats and troops moving down the river, to be assembled during the fall and winter, but by columns marching inland threatening Tennessee, by endeavoring to turn the defenses at Columbus. Further observation confirms me in this opinion; but I think the means employed for the defense of the river will probably render it comparatively secure. The enemy will energetically push toward Nashville the heavy masses of troops now assembled between Louisville and this place. The general position of Bowling Green is good and commanding; but the peculiar topography of the place, and the length of the line of the Barren River as a line of defense, though strong, require a large force to defend it. There is no equally defensible position as this place, nor line of defense as the Barren River, between the Barren and the Cumberland at Nashville; so that this place cannot be abandoned without exposing Tennessee, and giving vastly the vantage-ground to the enemy. It is manifest that the Northern generals appreciate this; and, by withdrawing their forces from Western Virginia and East Kentucky, they have managed to add them to the new levies from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and to concentrate a force in front of me variously estimated at from 60,000 to 100,000 men, and which, I believe, will number 75,000. To maintain my position, I have only about 17,000 men in this neighborhood. It is impossible for me to obtain additions to my strength from Columbus; the generals in command in that quarter consider that it would imperil that point to diminish their force, and open Tennessee to the enemy.

General Zollicoffer cannot join me, as he guards the Cumberland, and prevents the invasion and possible revolt of East Tennessee. Notwithstanding [345] these adverse circumstances, relying upon the firm purpose that animates the hearts of my troops to maintain the cause of the country, I will not relinquish my position without a battle; and your Excellency can well conceive the momentous importance of my situation. If troops are given to me — if the people can be made to feel how much suffering and calamity would be avoided by the presence now in my camp of 10,000 or 15,000 more brave men, so that I could attack the enemy, and not, from a disparity of force, be compelled to await it — it seems to me that the same generous ardor that induced them to embark in the great struggle for our independence would give me such succors that victory would be certain. I therefore ask that, for the coming struggle, every man shall be sent forward. A decisive battle will probably be fought on this line; and a company on that day will be more than a regiment next year. If the enemy does not attack, the North embarrassed at home, menaced with war by England, will shrink foiled from the conflict, and the freedom of the South will be forever established. If, however, the battle of independence is to be fought here, the history of Mississippi and the character of her gallant people compel me to believe that they would be among the first and stanchest to stand by their brethren in arms.

I have intrusted this letter to the care of the lion. the Chief-Justice of your State, Judge Smith, to deliver, with my request to inform your Excellency of all such details as are of importance, and to urge upon you the necessity of sending forward to this place every armed man that can be spared from Mississippi at the earliest moment.

With great respect, your obedient servant,

A. S. Johnston, General C. S. A. His Excellency J. J. Pettus, Governor of Mississippi.

A letter to the same purport was addressed to Governor Harris, with a full recognition of “the energetic and efficient cooperation” he had all along received from him. The following extract is from General Johnston's letter of January 5, 1862, to the secretary:

I desire to ask your attention to the vast and methodized preparation of the Northern Government to carry on the war against the Confederacy with a purpose as inflexible as malignant.

Their large and well-appointed army, only now held back till the highest point of efficiency is attained by instruction and discipline, must make every patriot contemplate its forward movement with apprehension for the safety of the country, unless, awakened to the peril that menaces it, we make a corresponding effort to meet their forces and beat them back, by an immediate development and application of all the military resources of the South, both of material and men, to that purpose. The rapid and energetic concentration of the force of the country to meet the mighty exigencies of the present movement must be brought to bear to sustain our cause, which every one feels will justify every sacrifice for its attainment.

In the great questions of liberty and national existence, the magnitude of them will, I hope, suggest to the wisdom of the representatives of the people the necessity of augmenting the Executive authority sufficiently to meet the occasion, which now urgently calls for its exercise.

If necessary, let us convert our country into one vast camp of instruction for [346] the field, of every man able to bear arms, and fix our military establishment upon a permanent basis.

Whenever a people will make the necessary sacrifices to maintain their liberty, they need have no fear of losing it.

On the 5th of January, General Johnston was reinforced by Floyd's brigade, which, with Maney's brigade, was sent him from Western Virginia. On January 9th he dispatched Colonel Liddell, of Louisiana, of General Hardee's staff, in whom he had great confidence, with a letter of introduction to the President. He says, “Colonel Liddell is charged with a letter from me to the Secretary of War on a subject of vital importance to my command.” He also commends him as thoroughly and confidentially informed on the condition of things at headquarters. Colonel Liddell's mission was conducted with energy and tact, and was beneficial. But it was too late; one blow after another was struck with intelligence and vigor by the Northern commanders, and a series of misfortunes followed that will be narrated in their place. These two letters were evidently written as the last resort against the impending disasters:

headquarters, Western Department, Bowling Green, January 8, 1862.
Sir: The calls made upon the Government from every assailable point on our frontier for additional force would make me hesitate to add to your embarrassment by asking for reinforcements, were the gravity of the occasion less which urges me to press upon your attention the effort about to be made by the Federal Government with a large army (estimated on reliable data at not less than 80,000) to invade the Confederacy through Central Kentucky toward Tennessee. They have justly comprehended that the seat of vitality of the Confederacy, if to be reached at all, is by this route. It is now palpable that all the resources of that Government will, if necessary, be employed to assure success on this line. The line of the Barren affords the means of a strong defense, but my force (23,000) is not sufficient to enable me to avail myself of it. I do not ask that my force shall be made equal to that of the enemy; but, if possible, it should be raised to 50,000 men.

I have hoped to be able to raise an adequate force by the aid of the Governors of the several States of this department; but, notwithstanding zealous efforts on their part, thus far I have been able to draw to this place only a force which, when compared in number to the enemy, must be regarded as insufficient. There are three or four regiments still to come forward from Tennessee, armed with guns collected from the people, and some others waiting for their arms. These men are reaching us too late for instruction; and, liable to measles, etc., they are as likely to be an element of weakness as of strength.

If the public service would permit, I beg leave to suggest that a few regiments might be detached from the several armies in the field and ordered here, to be replaced by new levies. No doubt, the strongest attack the enemy is capable of making will be made against this place; we ought not, surely, to put in jeopardy the result, by failing to meet it with a force sufficient to place success beyond hazard. With great respect, your obedient servant, (Signed)

A. S. Johnston, General C. S. A. Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of War.


The stringency with which the Secretary of War enforced his order against twelve months volunteers may be inferred from the following correspondence:

headquarters, Western Department, Bowling Green, January 12, 1862.
Sir: Adjutant-General Whitthorne, of Tennessee, has inclosed me a copy of the order issued by Acting Assistant Adjutant-General Groner, directing that no twelve months volunteer company, battalion, or regiment, shall be mustered into the Confederate service, unless armed; and, also, giving notice that General Carroll has been directed to muster out of service Colonel Gillespie's regiment.

Believing as I do that the public interest requires that the department over which you preside should fully comprehend the practical operation of this order, I beg leave to state the facts in the midst of which I have had to discharge the duties of a commander in raising forces to repel the threatened invasion.

Tennessee is generally sparsely populated. For this reason, it is often impracticable to raise even whole companies in the same neighborhood; hence, squads have sometimes been transported to some common point to form a company. The people, too, are both unwilling and often unable to subsist themselves at their own expense, after they have left their homes as volunteers, and are awaiting organization and arms. Nor will volunteers long remain together unless put under the control of law; this fact is attested by every one who has commanded volunteer forces. For these reasons it has sometimes been necessary to transport, subsist, and muster into the service, volunteers as they present themselves. Neither the Confederate Government nor the State of Tennessee was in possession of public arms to put in the hands of the men, so as to make the arming and mustering coincident. Indeed, in the great scarcity of public arms, the Legislature of Tennessee found it necessary to pass an act by which the private arms in the State could be impressed and afterward paid for. The Governor of that State and myself conferred together on that subject, and both concluded there was but one mode by which it was possible to get the volunteers and arm them; and I am happy to say that both the Governor and the Legislature of that State have most zealously and patriotically cooperated with me. These arms have. been, and still are being, gathered in from the people. Those fit for use are at once put in the hands of organized volunteers, and those arms requiring repairs have been, and are being, repaired as rapidly as possible.

While this was going on, the volunteers were being collected at the rendezvous, for the purpose of being organized and armed. These squads, companies, and battalions, were not brought together as independent organizations, but with the distinct understanding and for the express purpose of consolidation, organization, and arming. The Government thus secured their services. Otherwise they could not have been procured; and the time between mustering in and arming was profitably employed in giving the men all practicable instruction in their duties as soldiers. This, it will be readily perceived, was quite as necessary to their efficiency in the field as placing arms in their hands.

If the mustering in of these volunteers had been postponed in every instance till arms were ready to be placed in their hands, or such regiments as had been mustered in without arms had been, on that account, mustered out of service and disbanded, we would to-day have been without a force to check the advance of the enemy, and our borders would have been open to the invaders. In reference [348] to Colonel Gillespie's regiment, it is proper to state that General Carroll had reported it to me as armed, and I had ordered it to this place; and it is earnestly hoped that neither this nor any other regiment will be disbanded, for the reason that the men have not, at the day of mustering, arms in their hands. The Governor of Tennessee is using every exertion to arm all the men who volunteer, and he informs me that he has every prospect of success.

In view, therefore, of these facts, and that the enemy are immediately in my front in great numbers, and that we need every man it is possible to get, I reiterate a respectful but earnest hope that the order will not be enforced by the department. I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant, (Signed)

A. S. Johnston, General C. S. A. Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of War.

It appearing in the correspondence that Colonel Gillespie's regiment had been raised under State, not Confederate authority, the secretary promptly revoked his order to disband it. His letter to Adjutant-General Whitthorne concluded as follows:

Pray present this apology to Governor Harris, and tell him that, if he knew the incessant and ingenious attempts to force by indirection the acceptance of twelve months unarmed men against the steady refusal of the department, he would not be surprised at any effort to repress promptly such disingenuous practices.

General Johnston's letter, however, evoked no reply as to the other matters involved. The secretary had probably said in a former letter, of December 22d, all that he had to say on the subject. These are his words:

Zollicoffer reports himself in almost undisputed possession of the banks of the Cumberland, from the forks near Somerset, all the way down to the Tennessee line, and seems able to guard your right flank, so that your front alone appears to be seriously threatened, and I had hoped you had sufficient force in your intrenched lines to defy almost any front attack.

I have not, unfortunately, another musket to send you. We have an immensely valuable cargo of arms and powder in Nassau, blockaded there by a Yankee gunboat, that I am trying to get out. But, if we succeed, it will be too late for your present needs, and in the interval we must put our trust in our just cause and such means as we have in hand. We know that whatever can be done will be done by you, and rest content.

Yours, etc.,

J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of War.

It seems evident, from the foregoing correspondence, that General Johnston had lost no opportunity to press upon the authorities, State and Confederate, the whole truth in regard to his situation. He exhausted his legal powers in trying to raise men, and, though he failed in securing a sufficient force, his efforts were not without important results. But for the steps taken by him in the fall of 1861, it is probable that many of the battalions gathered at Shiloh would not have been in time to share in that battle.

1 See letter of September 16th to the President, p. 808.

2 The writer is confident that Mr. Harris was in error. Mississippi is the only State to which it could possibly apply; and in all General Johnston's voluminous correspondence the only case of the sort is a petition of some officers there for time to arm one battalion, on the ground that they would probably have been able to enlist their men for the war, but for the permission to enlist for twelve months. As the object was to raise men promptly, the fact that volunteers preferred the twelve months term made rapid enlistment easier under it, and hence it was injudicious to prohibit it.

3 The secretary ignores the necessity of drill, discipline, and service, which will be alluded to in General Johnston's letter of January 12th (p. 347).

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