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Chapter 30: from Murfreesboro to Corinth.


It has been seen that, in the conference of February 7th, with Beauregard, the plan adopted was substantially a division of the command, by which General Johnston should face Buell and cover East and Middle Tennessee, while General Beauregard should defend the country west of the Tennessee River. The issue at Donelson left General Johnston with little more than half his former strength in array. The whole aspect of affairs was changed by the surrender there; and hence a modification of the plan of operations was demanded by the circumstances. A contingency had happened which he had contemplated and was prepared for, though he had not expected it would occur. General Johnston's [501] resolve was sudden, and has the appearance of a military inspiration; but it has already been explained by General Brown's and Colonels Schaller's and Munford's reminiscences. It had evidently been matured in his mind, as an alternative. To retreat south of the Tennessee and defend that line had been his plan, with Corinth as his probable centre. He now determined to concentrate his forces there, and, uniting his own army with that which he had assigned to Beauregard, to hazard a battle.

Soon after the conference at Bowling Green, General Beauregard addressed a letter to General Johnston, dated February 12th, which shows how strong a hold General Johnston's views had taken on his mind. Though for the most part a recapitulation of those views, there are some important modifications which render proper the insertion here of the entire letter. It will be found that before the loss of Fort Donelson was known, or the capture of the army there even apprehended, General Beauregard suggests the probability that General Johnston would speedily have to retreat behind the Tennessee River. It is needless to say that it was not the purpose of General Johnston to take that step unless compelled to do so. But as soon as the army at Donelson surrendered the time had come when this move must begin, with as much celerity as was consistent with the preservation of morale and material of war. It must, of course, have been agreeable to him to be sustained beforehand by General Beauregard's formal approval of a retreat under much less stringent circumstances than now actually existed. The following is General Beauregard's letter:

Letter from General Beauregard to General Johnston.

Bowling Green, Kentucky, February 12, 1862.
General: By the fall of Fort Henry the enemy having possession of the Tennessee River, which is navigable for their gunboats and transports to Florence, it becomes evident that the forces under your immediate command and those under General Polk, separated unfortunately by that river, can no longer act in concert, and will be unable to support each other until the fortune of war shall have restored the Tennessee River to our possession, or combined the movement of the two armies in the rear of it.

It also becomes evident that, by the possession of that river, the enemy can concentrate rapidly, by means of his innumerable transports, all his disposable forces, on any point along its banks, either to attack Nashville in rear, or cut off the communications of Columbus by the river with Memphis, and by the railroad with the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. Should the enemy determine on the former plan of operation, your army, threatened in front and on right flank by Buell's large army, will be in a very critical condition, and may be forced to take refuge on the south side of the Tennessee River, in Alabama and Georgia, or Eastern Tennessee. But should Halleck adopt the second plan referred to, the position at Columbus will then become no longer tenable for an army inferior in strength to that of the enemy, and it must fall back to some central point where it can guard the two main railroads to Memphis, i. e., from Louisville [502] and from Charleston; Jackson, Tennessee, would probably be the best position for such an object, with strong detachments at Humboldt and Corinth, and with the necessary advance-guards. The Memphis & Charleston Railroad, so important on account of its extension through Eastern Tennessee and Virginia, must be properly guarded from Iuka to Tuscumbia, and even to Decatur, if practicable.

Columbus must either be left to be defended to the last extremity by its proper garrison, assisted by Hollins's fleet of gunboats, and provided with provisions and ammunition for several months, or abandoned altogether, its armament and garrison being transferred if practicable to Fort Pillow, which, I am informed, is a naturally and artificially strong position, about one hundred miles above Memphis. Island No.10, near New Madrid, could also be held by its garrison, assisted by Hollins's fleet, until the possession of New Madrid by the enemy would compel that position to be evacuated. I am clearly of the opinion that to attempt at present to hold so advanced a position as Columbus, with the movable army under General Polk, where its communications can be so readily cut off by a superior force acting from the Tennessee River as a new base, would be to jeopardize, not only the safety of that army, but necessarily of the whole Mississippi Valley. Hence I desire, as far as practicable, specific instructions as to the future movements of the army of which I am about to assume the command; if it be necessary for the safety of the country to make with all my forces a desperate stand at Columbus, I am ready to do so. I regret much that illness has prevented me from being already at my post, but during my stay here I believe I have made myself as well acquainted with your general views and intentions as circumstances have permitted, and which I will always be happy to carry into effect to the best of my abilities. I am general, very respectfully, Your obedient servant,

G. T. Beauregard, General C. S. A. General A. S. Johnston, commanding Western Department, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

It was the easier for General Johnston to adopt this resolution to get behind the Tennessee, as the War Department, aroused by the fall of Fort Henry, had taken steps to reenforce him. On February 8th Secretary Benjamin wrote him:

The condition of your department, in consequence of the largely superior forces of the enemy, has filled us with solicitude, and we have used every possible exertion to organize some means for your relief.

The secretary goes on to state that eight regiments had been ordered to East Tennessee, which would make the whole force there some fifteen regiments, and would leave Crittenden's command free to act with the centre. He continues:

To aid General Beauregard at Columbus, I send orders to General Lovell to forward to him at once five or six regiments of his best troops at New Orleans.

He also promises 2,800 Enfield rifles, and adds:

We have called on all the States for a levy of men for the war, and think, in a very few weeks, we shall be able to give you heavy reenforcements, although we may not be able to arm them with good weapons. [503]

It is due to General Lovell to say that he used diligence in obeying what must have been a distasteful order to him, and in his letter to General Johnston, evinced a clear perception of the importance of Corinth as a strategic point.

To use a homely proverb, the action of the War Department looked like “locking the stable-door after the horse was stolen.” But, as has already been suggested, in a popular revolution, based on the idea of State-rights or decentralization, the War Department was greatly hampered in its designs by local public opinion operating both through the State Executives and through Congress. Colonel Woolley, in the letter already quoted, says truly and forcibly:

But who is to be blamed? Tile answer is given by every flash of lightning that comes from the coast. I shall not be believed if I state the number of letters General Johnston wrote while at Bowling Green, urging that an indefensible coast and unimportant towns be abandoned, and that troops be sent to enable him to give battle and win a great victory. But his warning was unheeded, his requests denied. Nor was the President at fault. He knew what Johnston knew. Go to Richmond, and the truth will then be learned. Each little town on the sea-coast thought that upon its defense depended the salvation of the Southern Confederacy. Senators and Congressmen, afraid of unpopularity, demanded that the troops of their States should be kept for home protection. They formed parties against the President, and threatened him with serious opposition if he did not conduct the war as they recommended. In vain did the President remind them of the fable of the old man and the fagot of sticks-singly they could be destroyed, together no power could break them. Except a few large towns there were no points on the sea-coast of any strategic importance. The presence of garrisons at little places only invited the naval expeditions of the enemy. Had there been no troops at those points there would have been no attack.

The following letters from General Johnston to the Secretary of War give a brief but comprehensive view of his situation :

headquarters, Western Department, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, February 27, 1862.
Sir: The fall of Fort Donelson compelled me to withdraw the forces under my command from the north bank of the Cumberland, and to abandon the defense of Nashville, which, but for that disaster, it was my intention to protect to the utmost. Not more than 11,000 effective men were left under my command to oppose a column of General Buell's of not less than 40,000 troops moving by Bowling Green, while another superior force under General Thomas outflanked me to the east, and the armies from Fort Donelson, with the gunboats and transports, had it in their power to ascend the Cumberland, now swollen by recent floods, so as to interrupt all communications with the south.

The situation left me no alternative but to evacuate Nashville or sacrifice the army. By remaining, the place would have been unnecessarily subjected to destruction, as it is very indefensible, and no adequate force would have been left to keep the enemy in check in Tennessee. [504]

Under the circumstances I moved the main body of my command to this place on the 17th and 18th instant, and left a brigade under General Floyd to bring on such stores and property as were at Nashville, with instructions to remain until the approach of the enemy, and then to rejoin me. This has been in a great measure effected, and nearly all the stores would have been saved, but for the heavy and unusual rains which have washed away the bridges, swept away portions of the railroad, and rendered transportation almost impossible. General Floyd has arrived here. The rear-guard left Nashville on the night of the 23d. Edgefield, on the north bank of the Cumberland, opposite the city, was occupied yesterday by the advanced pickets of the enemy. I have remained here for the purpose of augmenting my forces and securing the transportation of the public stores. By the junction of the command of General Crittenden and the fugitives from Fort Donelson, which have been reorganized as far as practicable, the force now under my command will amount to about 17,000 men. General Floyd, with a force of some 2,500 men, has been ordered to Chattanooga to defend the approaches toward North Alabama and Georgia, and the communications between the Mississippi and the Atlantic, and with the view to increase his forces by such troops as may be sent forward from the neighboring States. The quartermaster's, commissary's, and ordnance stores which are not required for immediate use have been ordered to Chattanooga, and those which will be necessary on the march have been forwarded to Huntsville and Decatur. I have ordered a depot to be established at Atlanta for the manufacture of supplies for the quartermaster's department, and also a laboratory for the manufacture of percussion-caps and ordnance-stores, and, at Chattanooga, depots for distribution of these supplies. The machinery will be immediately sent forward.

Considering the peculiar topography of this State, and the great power which the enemy's means afford them upon the Tennessee and Cumberland, it will be seen that the force under my command cannot successfully cover the whole line against the advance of the enemy. I am compelled to elect whether he shall be permitted to occupy Middle Tennessee, or turn Columbus, take Memphis, and open the valley of the Mississippi. To me the defense of the valley seems of paramount importance, and consequently I will move this corps of the army, of which I have assumed the immediate command, toward the left bank of the Tennessee, crossing the river near Decatur, in order to enable me to cooperate or unite with General Beauregard for the defense of Memphis and the Mississippi. The department has sent eight regiments to Knoxville for the defense of East Tennessee, and the protection of that region will be confided to them and such additional forces as may be hereafter sent from the adjacent States. General Buckner was ordered by the department to take command of the troops at Knoxville, but, as at that time he was in presence of the enemy, the order was not fulfilled.

As it would be almost impossible for me under present circumstances to superintend the operations at Knoxville and Chattanooga, I would respectfully suggest that the local commanders at those points should receive orders from the department directly, or be allowed to exercise their discretion.

I have the honor to remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

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

[505]

headquarters Western Department, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, February 27, 1862.
sir: The army supplies and stores which were forwarded to this place, having all been sent forward to Chattanooga, except what may be needed for the immediate use of the army at Huntsville and Decatur and points farther on toward Memphis, this command will commence the march to-morrow toward Decatur.

The enemy are in possession of Nashville in force — a part of which is eight miles on this side of the city.

With great respect, your obedient servant, (Signed)

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

Colonel (afterward Major-General) William Preston, then acting on General Johnston's staff as a volunteer aide, enjoyed as free an intercourse with him as any one could. Not long after General Johnston's death, in a letter (dated April 18, 1862) to the present writer, he gave a succinct but clear account of the campaign. The following is an extract from it:

Nashville was indefensible. General Johnston withdrew to Murfreesboro, determined to effect a junction with Beauregard, near Corinth. His two chief staff-officers, Colonels Mackall and Gilmer, deemed it impossible. Johnston persevered. He collected Crittenden and the relics of his command, with stragglers and fugitives from Donelson, and moved through Shelbyville and Fayetteville on Decatur. Halting at those points, he saved his provisions and stores, removed his depots and machine-shops, obtained new arms, and finally, at the close of March, joined Beauregard at Corinth with 20,000 men, lifting their aggregate force to 50,000.

This movement having been completed, though General Johnston fully appreciated its hazard if the enemy had interrupted him with 20,000 or 30,000 men between Decatur and Corinth, General Johnston found himself for the first time at the head of an army capable of giving battle. In the mean time, he had borne with unshaken constancy and serenity the obloquy leveled at him by ignorant assailants, consoled by the unwavering confidence reposed in him by his unalterable friend the President, and upheld by his own manly self-reliance in the midst of adversity.

General W. C. Whitthorne, then Adjutant-General of Tennessee, now a member of Congress from that State, has addressed to the writer the following communication:

After the fall of Nashville, and while General Johnston was at Murfreesboro with his troops, and while General Forrest was at Nashville superintending the removal of stores, I was at General Johnston's headquarters in Murfreesboro, having some business with his staff-officers, which being completed, I was in the act of leaving the house, when an aide of General Johnston informed me that he (General Johnston) wished to speak to me. Upon entering his room he asked if I was going to leave without calling upon him. I replied, “Yes,” but excused myself upon the ground that I knew he was overwhelmed with business, [506] etc. He at once inquired as to the feeling and views of the people of Tennessee, spoke feelingly and rapidly of the situation; informed me that he was making arrangements to move his force as rapidly as possible to Corinth, which would leave Middle Tennessee exposed; but added, or rather concluded, by saying, “General Whitthorne, go tell your people that, under the favor of Providence, I will return in less than ninety days and redeem their capital.” I remember well his confident tone, his smile, and the earnestness of his manner. I had such faith and confidence in him that I believed such would be the case. And, had he lived, my conviction is, that lie would have accomplished his purpose and his plan — the recovery of Nashville.

Governor Harris, on the fall of Nashville, carried the State archives to Memphis to secure them. While there, on February 20th, General Johnston telegraphed him to consult Beauregard, and call out the whole strength of the State to his aid. Governor Harris informs the writer that he received a telegram from General Beauregard asking him on his return to Nashville to come by way of Jackson, Tennessee, which he did by a special train. General Beauregard requested him to visit General Johnston at Murfreesboro, and tell him that he (General Beauregard) thought he had best concentrate at or near Jackson or Corinth, in that region. Governor Harris went to Nashville, where he remained a short time, and then proceeded to Murfreesboro. This must have been before the 23d of February, when Nashville was finally abandoned. He delivered General Beauregard's message to General Johnston, who promptly replied that such was his intention, and that he was then making preparations for that purpose.

The following statement of facts was made by Colonel Sam Tate, of Memphis, March 7, 1878, and forwarded to the writer:

Memphis, March 8, 1878.
As soon after the fall of Donelson as practicable, I repaired to General A. S. Johnston's headquarters to confer with him as to his future probable wants in railroad transportation, my appointment on his staff leaving been made, as he informed me, principally with reference to this branch of duty. I met him at Murfreesboro, where he had arrived the day previous. I well remember our interview, which began by my frankly avowing no wish to inquire into his future plans, but that I thought it my duty, under the changed state of the campaign since I had seen him, to learn as far as he thought proper to inform me what provision he desired me to make, if any, in my transportation department, for the use of his army. He replied: “I have no desire to conceal my plans from you. It is my purpose to concentrate all the troops which the Government will permit at Corinth, and there, or in that vicinity, fight a decisive battle as soon as possible.” He then made minute inquiry of me about the railroad-bridge over the Tennessee River at Decatur — the practicability of crossing his army over it-especially his artillery and wagon trains, and it was agreed that the bridge was to be floored for horses, troops, etc., and flats or platform-cars provided for the guns. Hie took a map, and also made minute inquiries as to the river below Decatur, its distance from the railroad, and the practicability of the roads lying [507] south of the railroad leading in the direction of Corinth, suggesting that if tile enemy were vigilant and enterprising they might, through their command of the river by their gunboats and their superior numbers, seriously interfere with his railroad route, and force him to take the more dilatory route south of it. It may be well enough also to state that in the course of this conversation he stated that, if for any reason he might be compelled to fall back from Corinth, his line would be from Fort Pillow with headquarters at Grand Junction, with a fixed determination at all hazards to hold the Mississippi River to Port Hudson, and keep the line of communication open between the armies east and west of that river. These are the facts.

Sam Tate.

Indeed, General Johnston's letters and telegrams show quite conclusively that, from the moment of his arrival at Murfreesboro, it was his settled purpose to move his army to Corinth by the way of Shelbyville and Decatur.

As it has been suggested in certain quarters that General Johnston ought to have removed his army from Murfreesboro by the railroad to Stevenson and thence to Corinth, the writer propounded to General Gilmer the question of the practicability of such a move. The following is his reply:

Being thus occupied, I had no conversation with your father at Nashville as to the after-movements of his army; nor did I have on the march to Murfreesboro. I think it was at Murfreesboro that I first knew of the decision to make, if practicable, a junction with Beauregard at Corinth.

As to the movements by rail from Murfreesboro to Stevenson and thence to Corinth, by the Charleston & Memphis Railroad, it was simply impossible without sacrificing the supplies and munitions on which the subsistence and armament of the command depended. The entire transportation capacity of the railroads was taxed to the utmost, and even then immense quantities of meat and other commissary supplies were left at Nashville, Murfreesboro, Shelbyville, Fayetteville, and Huntsville. Again, the movement was made over the “metal” roads leading to Shelbyville, Fayetteville, and Huntsville, as expeditiously, considering the number of troops to be transported, as it could have been by rail, with the imperfect organization of the railroad, as it then existed.

The movement from Nashville, southeast by way of Murfreesboro, to a certain extent beguiled the Federal generals into the belief that General Johnston intended to retreat on Chattanooga, and masked the concentration of his troops to the west. A direct retrograde would have betrayed his purpose. Had they understood his design, with larger forces, shorter lines, and better routes, they might have anticipated him at Corinth, or even intercepted him at Decatur.

When the condition of the troops, the season of the year, the unprecedented rains and floods, and the consequent state of the roads, are taken into consideration, this retreat may well be accounted an extraordinary triumph over the greatest difficulties. The following narrative will show some of the embarrassments which had naturally caused the [508] staff to distrust the feasibility of this circuitous route, or, indeed, of any concentration with Beauregard.

At Murfreesboro were now concentrated all the troops east of the Tennessee River and west of the mountains. It was here that General Johnston assumed command of the army on the 23d of February, thus relieving Hardee, who had thus far been holding the immediate command. As has been seen, there were fifteen regiments in East Tennessee, besides Floyd's force of 2,500 men sent back by General Johnston to Chattanooga. General Johnston reorganized his own army (now numbering about 17,000 men) at Murfreesboro. The nucleus was the force that had been posted near Bowling Green, to which was added Crittenden's command and the debris of Donelson. The army was reorganized in three divisions under Hardee, Crittenden, and Pillow respectively; with a reserve brigade under Breckinridge, and the Texas Rangers and Forrest's cavalry unattached. The brigade-commanders were Hindman, Cleburne, Carroll, Statham, Wood, Bowen, and Breckinridge. There were represented in the army thirty-five regiments and five battalions of infantry, seven regiments and five battalions of cavalry, and twelve batteries of artillery. The number of organizations, as compared with the effective total, evinces that they were but skeletons.

The strictest regulations were adopted for the restoration of discipline and the morale of the army. Orders for the repression of straggling and of marauding under the pretext of impressment or purchase were rigid and thorough. General Johnston, always keenly alive to the rights of citizens and of their helplessness in presence of an army, warned commanders against stripping them of the “means of support even for the necessities of the army,” and ordered safeguards to be granted where the means of the citizen were reduced “to the wants of his family.”

The line of march from Murfreesboro through Shelbyville and Fayetteville to Decatur was a middle route between the railroad to Chattanooga and the turnpike from Nashville through Columbia and Pulaski. It was adopted so as to enable the Confederate army to intercept and give battle to Buell, in case he should advance by any of these three roads. The movement was covered by a cloud of cavalry, Helm's First Kentucky, Scott's Louisiana, Wirt Adams's Mississippi, and by Forrest's and Morgan's commands, who were bold and energetic in harassing the enemy. The incessant rains, varying from a drizzle to a torrent, flooded the roads, washed away bridges, and made encampment almost intolerable and marching nearly impossible. General Hodge, in his sketch, says of the road taken:

Lying, for the most part, through cultivated and deep bottoms, on the edge of Northern Alabama it rises abruptly to cross the great plateau thrown out [509] from the Cumberland Mountains, here nearly a thousand feet above the surrounding country and full forty miles in width, covered with dense forests of timber, yet barren and sterile in soil, and wholly destitute of supplies for either man or beast. Two weeks of unintermitting rain had softened the earth until the surface resembled a vast swamp ....

During his retreat, General Johnston's movements were well covered by his cavalry, who also brought him full information of the enemy. Scott's gallant action has already been mentioned. Captain John H. Morgan here first began to win his reputation as a raider. “The raid” --a wild dash at the enemy's communications-is, of course, as old as warfare. But Morgan, and after him, Stuart, Forrest, and others, made it historic and heroic. For the raid, the torpedo, and the ram — a modified revival of the old Roman beaked vessel-legitimate modern warfare is indebted to the Confederates.

Morgan's first raid was begun on the afternoon of March 7th. With Lieutenant-Colonel Wood, ten rangers, and fifteen of his own squadron, he advanced along by-roads eighteen miles from Murfreesboro toward Nashville that day, and on the next morning marched until he came opposite the lunatic asylum, near Nashville. Here he commenced overhauling the trains as they came along, capturing and disarming the men, until he had ninety-eight prisoners, including several officers. Returning in three parties, one was pursued by the Fourth Ohio Cavalry, and obliged to abandon sixty of the prisoners. They brought in thirty-eight prisoners, however, with a large number of horses, mules, sabres, pistols, saddles, etc.

Encouraged by this essay, he and Colonel Wood, with forty men, again set out from Murfreesboro, secretly and in separate parties, on the afternoon of the 15th. They made a rapid march, reaching Gallatin, on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, twenty-six miles north of Nashville, at 4 P. 3r. next day. Here he seized the telegraph-office, with several of Buell's dispatches, and burned all the rolling-stock and water-tank of the railroad at that place. He returned with five prisoners, through the enemy's lines, to Shelbyville.

On the 28th of February, the army took up the line of march, Hindman's brigade in advance, and Hardee covering the rear with all the cavalry. Orders prescribed twelve to fifteen miles a day as the march. The hardships endured have perhaps been sufficiently outlined A soldier present in the campaign says 1 of this retreat:

The difficulties attending it were great, but a more orderly and more successful one, under all the circumstances, was perhaps never accomplished. Popular indignation, even rage, blind but full of confidence and of such force as would have goaded common minds into desperation, was poured out upon the head of [510] the commander. The wintry season, inclement, unpropitious beyond measure for such an undertaking, was calculated both to tax the skill of the general and destroy the martial ardor, even the ordinary morale, of the troops. Dangers menaced the retreating army as much as hardships crowded upon its course....

Demoralization, almost unavoidably consequent upon the state of the public mind and the nature of a retreat, threatened to destroy the efficiency of bodies of troops who could not have been spared in case of an attack. And the state of the weather-heavy rains having set in before the command had quitted the vicinity of Nashville-foreboded evil, in retarding if not arresting the progress of the army, by swollen streams and impassable mud. But everything went on with a regularity and a degree of order that seemed to have been the result of circumstances working in entire harmony with the plans of a great general, instead of having been adverse at every step; and he reached Corinth with so little loss of men or munition as to mark him one of the first administrative minds of his age and country.

Duke says “Life of Morgan,” page 118):

When the line of march was taken up, and the heads of the columns were still turned southward, the dissatisfaction of the troops broke out into fresh and frequent murmurs. Discipline, somewhat restored at Murfreesboro, had been too much relaxed by the scenes witnessed at Nashville, to impose much restraint upon them. Unjust as it was, officers and men concurred in laying the whole burden of blame upon General Johnston. Many a voice was then raised to denounce him, which has since been enthusiastic in his praise, and many joined in the clamor, then almost universal against him, who, a few weeks later, when lie lay dead upon the field he had so gallantly fought, would have given their own lives to recall him.

The extracts from narratives and letters, which will be quoted, give an idea of the panic and rage stirred up by the evacuation of Nashville, and the evident intention to retreat from the State. The wrath and terror, so strikingly exhibited in Nashville, spread with incredible rapidity over the whole State. Bounds could scarcely be set to the fury and despair of the people. Every hamlet resounded with denunciation, and every breast was filled with indignation at the author of such calamities. Those who had refused to listen to his warning voice, when it called them to arms, were loudest in their passionate outcry at what they considered a base desertion of them to the mercies of the invader. General Johnston was, of course, the special target of every accusation, including imbecility, cowardice, and treason. These rash charges were not confined to the ignorant, the malicious, or the disaffected. It is true that men with supposed grievances against the Government, the cause, or the commander, seized the occasion to vent their spleen; and that demagogues, eager for aggrandizement at any price, joined in and directed the wild hunt for a victim. But every class helped to augment the volume of protest and appeal to the President, [511] demanding General Johnston's removal. Indeed, the greater the stake and the more violent the revulsion of patriotic fervor, the bitterer was the disappointment, and the more vindictive the feeling. Everywhere, above, below, with louder and deeper swell, came from a whole people-noble, but mistaken, and with passions strung to the highest pitch — the terrible demand for vengeance. And the victim required by them — the man most ready, most willing to suffer as a sacrifice, if it would avail aught!

The press leveled its shafts at President Davis. One of the most rabid of the fire-eating journals in the South used this language, which is given as a sample:

Shall the cause fail because Mr. Davis is incompetent? The people of the Confederacy must answer this plain question at once, or they are lost. Tennessee, under Sidney Johnston, is likely to be lost. Mr. Davis retains him. Van Dorn writes that Missouri must be abandoned unless the claimed of Price are recognized. Mr. Davis will not send in his nomination. A change in the cabinet is demanded instantly, to restore public confidence. Mr. Davis is motionless as a clod. Buell's proclamation to the people of Nashville has disposed the young men, already dissatisfied with Johnston, to lay down their arms, and paved the way to the campaign of invasion in the Mississippi Valley. Mr. Davis remains as cold as ice. The people must know, and feel, and be felt. The Government must be made to move.

A writer in one of the public prints at the time, evidently with goodwill, confidence, and respect, toward General Johnston, but somewhat timidly, as if overawed by public opinion, called for “charity” to his conduct. Among other statements he says:

Special correspondents, not satisfied with charges of stupidity, must denounce him as corrupt. So complete is the revulsion of public sentiment, that soldiers, when enlisting, make it a condition that they shall not be placed under General Johnston. This precipitate and unmeasured condemnation must necessarily cripple him. Whatever ability he possesses will be rendered ineffectual through a want of confidence which will withhold from him the means of making his skill available.

Some of the telegrams addressed to the President are here given, as illustrations of the universal feeling. But it would be unjust to the writers to give their names, and thus perpetuate their mistake, for which most of them afterward felt and expressed a sincere regret. An ex-member of the United States Congress, in whose house General Johnston made his headquarters, telegraphed President Davis:

Nothing but your presence here can save Tennessee. General Johnston's army is demoralized. Your presence will reassure it, and will save Tennessee.. Nothing else can. For God's sake, come! [512]

An officer who overheard its transmission reported the fact to General Johnston, who replied: “I was aware of his distrust. Take no notice of it.”

An officer, high in the staff of the army, and influential — a Mississippian-telegraphed thus:

Memphis, March 1, 1862.
If Johnston and Hardee are not removed, the army is demoralized. President Davis must come here and take the field.


A member of the Confederate Congress telegraphed as follows:

Atlanta, March 11, 1862.
I have been with and near General Johnston's army ever since he was assigned command — have been his admirer and defender-still admire him as a man; but, in my judgment, his errors of omission, commission, and delay, have been greater than any general's who ever preceded him, in any country. [He has] inexcusably and culpably lost us 12,000 men, the Mississippi Valley, and comparatively all provisions stored, by one dash of the enemy. This is the almost unanimous judgment of officers, soldiers, and citizens. Neither is it mere opinion, but is demonstrable by dates, facts, figures, and disastrous results. He never can reorganize and reinforce his army, with any confidence.

The people now look to you as their deliverer, and imploringly call upon you to come to the field of our late disasters and assume command, as you promised in a speech to take the field whenever it should become necessary. That necessity is now upon us. Such a step would be worth a hundred thousand soldiers throughout the Confederacy. Can you, then, hesitate? We cannot survive the permanent loss of Tennessee and Kentucky for the war. They must be immediately retaken, at all hazards, or great suffering for provisions and forage is the inevitable and immediate consequence. If your presence is impossible, for God's sake give immediate command to Beauregard, Bragg, or Breckinridge, or all will be irretrievably lost. Save us while it is yet time. I will be in Richmond next week.


Such was the reversal of opinion afterward in this matter that, soon after the battle of Shiloh, this gentleman voluntarily, and with tears, expressed to the writer his “remorse for this telegram, which could only be accounted for by the panic that had unhinged everybody,” It is due to him to say that he but expressed the popular verdict-the public opinion with which he came in contact.

It will be seen that every one of these telegrams contains a most subtile appeal to the powerful instinct of self-love; and it is creditable to the calmness of President Davis's judgment, as well as to the constancy of his friendship, that he took them at their true value. He, almost alone, remained unmoved; and that intrepidity of intellectual conviction, characteristic of him, so often and so mistakenly called his obstinacy, saved the Confederacy, not only from a great injustice, but from a great mistake. He not only lent his moral support to General [513] Johnston, the weight of his great name-then a tower of strength with the Southern people-but he ordered, to reinforce him at Corinth, from the Gulf coast, Bragg's fresh, disciplined, splendid army, 10,000 strong.

All President Davis's power was needed to retain General Johnston in his position. Congress took the matter in hand; and, though the feeling there resulted merely in a committee of inquiry, it was evident that the case was prejudged.

The resolutions passed by the Confederate House of Representatives created a special committee “to inquire into the military disasters at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, and the surrender of Nashville into the hands of the enemy,” and as to the conduct, number, and disposition, of the troops under General Johnston. Great feeling was shown in the debates.

Map.

In response to the attempt of Mr. Moore, of Kentucky, to put in a plea for General Johnston, Mr. Foote, of Tennessee, asked “if the gentleman would advocate the continuance of any man in command when the soldiers under him had lost confidence in him.”

The writer believes he may now safely say, without fear of contradiction among the Southern people, that General Johnston was too calm, too just, and too magnanimous, to misapprehend or resent so natural a manifestation. His whole life had been a training for this occasion. To encounter suddenly and endure calmly the obloquy of a whole nation is, to any man, a great burden. To do this with a serenity [514] that shall not only not falter in duty, but restore confidence, obtain the best possible results, and organize victory, is conclusive proof of a greatness of soul rarely equaled.

But, while the storm of execration raged around him, the men who came into immediate contact with General Johnston never for a moment doubted his ability to perform all that was possible to man. Among these, the Kentuckians, who felt that his camp was their only ark in the revolutionary deluge, as a rule gave him their confidence. This was possibly due to State pride in his nativity; but probably still more to the presence on his staff of several able and popular citizens of that State. The Texans, too, never faltered in their trust in him, approved by so many years of trial.

John A. Wharton, then colonel, afterward major-general, a man sagacious, able, and eloquent, wrote to him, from a sick-bed, March 14th:

I trust the Rangers will be kept as near you as the good of the service will permit; and that they will not be deprived, under any circumstances, from participating in the first battle. The esteem and admiration of every honest man must be desirable to any man, no matter how exalted his position; and, under present circumstances, I feel it is not inappropriate in me to say that I regard you as the best soldier in America, and that I desire to fight under no other leadership, and that such is the feeling of the Texas Rangers.

This was not according to regulations — a subordinate commending his superior; but it was no time for conventionalities, as Wharton's vigorous sense clearly saw. R. Scurry, well known in the early annals of Texas, wrote from Hempstead, Texas, March 15th:

I fully approve of your movements. I have all the enthusiasm and feelings of ‘36 upon me. I hope for the best. With an ear deaf to popular clamor, pursue your course and follow the dictates of your own reason, and fame will be your reward.

Love and others also wrote to him in the same spirit.

Quotations have already been made from an able article from the incisive pen of Woolley; other Kentuckians took the same view; but one of the most gratifying testimonials was a letter, quoted hereafter, from the provisional Governor, George W. Johnson, which might properly be added as a companion-piece to his energetic protest against the evacuation of Bowling Green.

A correspondent of the Mobile Register said:

I remember well being with him one evening at Murfreesboro, after the retreat from Nashville, when, in the course of conversation, I urged that he should, in justice to himself, make an explanation to the people. “Ah I my dear friend,” he replied, “I cannot correspond with the people. What the people want is a battle and a victory. That is the best explanation I can make. I require no vindication. I trust that to the future.” Noble, glorious, self-sacrificing heart! [515] He required no newspaper vindication, because he was conscious that he had taken the only course to save his little army. If there was censure deserved, the people would find out in the future where it should rest. Thus the great, magnanimous and chivalric Johnston bared his head to the storm of anathema and denunciation, without a murmur of complaint or any attempt to shield himself from its fury.

The respect due these men is that which was paid the consul who, after Cannse, did not despair of the republic.

Colonel Munford says in his address at Memphis, heretofore quoted:

When we left Nashville for Murfreesboro the trip was made in the night, because the army, with their wagons and artillery, would then be encamped, and the road clear. About ten o'clock that night a very heavy rain commenced falling, and General Johnston called for me to exchange my horse for his driver's seat beside him, and get into a little carriage in which he was. We were alone, and the conversation soon became free and full about recent events. I told him he had begun to see and hear something of the clamor his retreat was causing. “Oh, yes,” he said, “but you know I anticipated this. It will last no longer than is necessary for me to be in condition to fight a battle. As soon as I get men enough, I have no fear but that this clamor will become praise.”

Thus looking for it to come, as well as facing it when in its midst, he viewed and treated it with the same philosophic calmness and just appreciation. That, as a good man, General Johnston felt the censures of his countrymen is absolutely certain; but that, as a wise man, he estimated them at their true value, and, as a manly man, deviated neither to the right hand nor to the left from the path of duty on account of them, is equally certain.

General Preston also states to the writer that General Johnston felt complete confidence in his ability to reorganize his army, and to strike such a blow as would not only restore the confidence of his compatriots, but would turn the tide of defeat into a career of victory. Whoever spoke to him, whoever saw him, went away, not so much touched with the pathos and the difficulties of his great ordeal, as sanguine of success and eager for a trial of arms with the foe. As the retreat was converted into an evident march against the enemy, the spirit of the army rose from the depths into a passionate and exultant thirst for the combat. Munford says:

He had no self-seeking. He honestly believed that the South was right, and the cause of constitutional liberty in America bound up in her fate. In joining her standard, therefore, he was actuated by such convictions of duty that he had no trouble in keeping his eye fixed singly upon her success. As illustrative of this, of his magnanimity and absolute justice, I will notice his treatment of Generals Floyd and Pillow, in the very midst of the denunciations poured out upon him for losing the army at Donelson. He received them both with the utmost kindness, and made Floyd at once commandant of the post at Nashville. After we had reached Murfreesboro, I asked him what he thought of their conduct. He replied: “The official reports are not yet before me. I [516] do not think it would be just to those gentlemen to permit myself to form an opinion till they have stated the facts in an authentic form.” At Decatur, he voluntarily said to me, “I intend to sustain Floyd and Pillow. Their conduct was irregular, but its repetition may be avoided by a simple order. They are both men of tried courage, and have had experience in the field. We have too few officers possessed of these advantages, and the country needs them. I think it my duty to sustain them, and shall do so.” How rare the man, thus goaded by abuse, who, unheeding self, would do alone as duty bid!

On the 16th of March, however, he received a letter from the Secretary of War, dated March 11th, which closed that question. Mr. Benjamin says:

The reports of Brigadier-Generals Floyd and Pillow are unsatisfactory, and the President directs that both these generals be relieved from command until further orders. In the mean time you will request them to add to their reports such statements as they may deem proper — on the following points.

The Secretary then propounded a number of interrogatories, relating to matters which have been already fully discussed. He concludes:

You are further requested to make up a report from all the sources of information accessible to you, of all the particulars connected with the unfortunate affair which can contribute to enlighten the judgment of the Executive and of Congress, and to fix the blame, if blame there be, on those who were delinquent in duty.

Out of this matter and the general situation in the West arose an unofficial correspondence, which has been published in part. General Johnston's letter of March 18th has been much admired, and comment upon it by the present writer is not called for. President Davis's letters are also given in full, and will be found to reflect equal credit on his head and heart.

[Telegram.]

Huntsville, March 7-11 A. M.
Your dispatch is just received. I sent Colonel Liddell to Richmond on the 28th ult., with the official reports of Generals Floyd and Pillow of the events at Donelson, and suppose that he must have arrived by this time. I also sent by him a dispatch, containing my purposes for the defense of the valley of the Mississippi, and for cooperating or uniting with General Beauregard, who has been urging me to come on.

The stores accumulated at Murfreesboro, the pork and provisions at Shelbyville and other points, and their necessary protection and removal, with the bad roads and inclement weather, have made the march slow and laborious, and delayed my movements. The general condition of the troops is good and effective, though their health is impaired by the usual camp disasters and a winter campaign.

The fall of Donelson disheartened some of the Tennessee troops, and caused many desertions from some of the new regiments, so that great care was required [517] to inspire confidence. I now consider the tone of the troops restored, and that they are in good order. The enemy are about 25,000 strong at Nashville, with reinforcements arriving. My rear-guard, under General Hardee, is protecting the removal of provisions from Shelbyville. Last evening his pickets were near Murfreesboro, but gave no information of an advance by the enemy. There are no indications of an immediate movement by the enemy from Nashville. I have no fears of a movement through Tennessee on Chattanooga. West Tennessee is menaced by heavy forces. My advance will be opposite Decatur on Sunday.

(Signed)

A. S. Johnston, General C. S. A. To President Davis, Richmond.

Richmond, Virginia, March 12, 1862.
my dear General: The departure of Captain Wickliffe offers an opportunity, of which I avail myself, to write you an unofficial letter. We have suffered great anxiety because of recent events in Kentucky and Tennessee; and I have been not a little disturbed by the repetitions of reflections upon yourself. I expected you to have made a full report of events precedent and consequent to the fall of Fort Donelson. In the mean time I made for you such defense as friendship prompted, and many years of acquaintance justified; but I needed facts to rebut the wholesale assertions made against you to cover others and to condemn my administration. The public, as you are aware, have no correct measure for military operations; and the journals are very reckless in their statements.

Your force has been magnified, and the movements of an army have been measured by the capacity for locomotion of an individual.

The readiness of the people among whom you are operating to aid you in every method has been constantly asserted; the purpose of your army at Bowling Green wholly misunderstood; and the absence of an effective force at Nashville ignored. You have been held responsible for the fall of Donelson and the capture of Nashville. It is charged that no effort was made to save the stores at Nashville, and that the panic of the people was caused by the army.

Such representations, with the sad forebodings naturally belonging to them, have been painful to me, and injurious to us both; but, worse than this, they have undermined public confidence, and damaged our cause. A full development of the truth is necessary for future success.

I respect the generosity which has kept you silent, but would impress upon you that the question is not personal but public in its nature; that you and I might be content to suffer, but neither of us can willingly permit detriment to the country. As soon as circumstances will permit, it is my purpose to visit the field of your present operations; not that I should expect to give you any aid in the discharge of your duties as a commander, but with the hope that my position would enable me to effect something in bringing men to your standard. With a sufficient force, the audacity which the enemy exhibits would no doubt give you the opportunity to cut some of his lines of communication, to break up his plan of campaign; and, defeating some of his columns, to drive him from the soil as well of Kentucky as of Tennessee.

We are deficient in arms, wanting in discipline, and inferior in numbers. Private arms must supply the first want; time and the presence of an enemy, [518] with diligence on the part of commanders, will remove the second; and public confidence will overcome the third. General Bragg brings you disciplined troops, and you will find in him the highest administrative capacity. General E. K. Smith will soon have in East Tennessee a sufficient force to create a strong diversion in your favor; or, if his strength cannot be made available in that way, you will best know how to employ it otherwise. I suppose the Tennessee or Mississippi River will be the object of the enemy's next campaign, and I trust you will be able to concentrate a force which will defeat either attempt. The fleet which you will soon have on the Mississippi River, if the enemy's gunboats ascend the Tennessee, may enable you to strike an effective blow at Cairo; but, to one so well informed and vigilant, I will not assume to offer suggestions as to when and how the ends you seek may be attained. With the confidence and regard of many years, I am very truly your friend,

Jefferson Davis.

Decatur, Alabama, March 18, 1862.
my dear General: I received the dispatches from Richmond, with your private letter by Captain Wickliffe, three days since; but the pressure of affairs and the necessity of getting my command across the Tennessee prevented me from sending you an earlier reply.

I anticipated all that you tell as to the censures which the fall of Fort Donelson drew upon me, and the attacks to which you might be subjected; but it was impossible for me to gather the facts for a detailed report, or spare time which was required to extricate the remainder of my troops and save the large accumulation of stores and provisions, after that disheartening disaster.

I transmitted the reports of Generals Floyd and Pillow without examining or analyzing the facts, and scarcely with time to read them.

When about to assume command of this department, the Government charged me with the duty of deciding the question of occupying Bowling Green, which involved not only military but political considerations. At the time of my arrival at Nashville, the action of the Legislature of Kentucky had put an end to the latter by sanctioning the formation of camps menacing Tennessee, by assuming the cause of the Government at Washington, and by abandoning the neutrality it professed; and in consequence of their action the occupation of Bowling Green became necessary as an act of self-defense, at least in the first step.

About the middle of September General Buckner advanced with a small force of about 4,000 men, which was increased by the 15th of October to 12,000; and, though accessions of force were received, continued at about the same strength till the end of the month of November, measles, etc., keeping down the effective force. The enemy's force then was, as reported to the War Department, 50,000, and an advance impossible. No enthusiasm, as we imagined and hoped, but hostility, was manifested in Kentucky. Believing it to be of the greatest moment to protract the campaign, as the dearth of cotton might bring strength from abroad and discourage the North, and to gain time to strengthen myself by new troops from Tennessee and other States, I magnified my forces to the enemy, but made known my true strength to the department and the Governors of States. The aid given was small. At length, when General Beauregard came out in February, he expressed his surprise at the smallness of my force, and was impressed with the danger of my position. I admitted what was so manifest, [519] and laid before him my views for the future, in which he entirely concurred, and sent me a memorandum of our conference, a copy of which I send to you. I determined to fight for Nashville at Donelson, and gave the best part of my army to do it, retaining only 14,000 men to cover my front, and giving 16,000 to defend Donelson. The force at Donelson is stated in General Pillow's report at much less, and I do not doubt the correctness of his statement; for the force at Bowling Green, which I supposed 14,000 effective men (the medical report showing only a “little over 500 sick in hospitals” ), was diminished more than 5,000 by those who were unable to stand the fatigue of a march, and made my force on reaching Nashville less than 10,000 men. I inclose medical director's report. Had I wholly uncovered my front to defend Donelson, Buell would have known it and marched directly on Nashville. There were only ten small steamers in the Cumberland in imperfect condition, only three of which were available at Nashville, while the transportation of the enemy was great. The evacuation of Bowling Green was imperatively necessary, and was ordered before and executed while the battle was being fought at Donelson. I had made every disposition for the defense of the fort my means allowed; and the troops were among the best of my forces, and the generals, Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner, were high in the opinion of officers and men for skill and courage, and among the best officers of my command; they were popular with the volunteers, and all had seen much service. No reinforcements were asked. I waited the event opposite Nashville. The result of the conflict each day was favorable. At midnight on the 15th I received the news of a glorious victory; at dawn, of a defeat. My column was during the day and night (of the 16th) thrown over the river. A battery had been established below the city to secure the passage. Nashville was incapable of defense from its position, and from the forces advancing from Bowling Green and up the Cumberland. A rear-guard was left, under General Floyd, to secure the stores and provisions, but did not completely effect the object. The people were terrified and some of the troops were disheartened. The discouragement was spreading, and I ordered the command to Murfreesboro, where I managed, by assembling Crittenden's division, and the fugitives from Donelson, to collect an army able to offer battle. The weather was inclement, the floods excessive, and the bridges were washed away; but most of the stores and provisions were saved, and conveyed to new depots. This having been accomplished, though with serious loss, in conformity with my original design I marched southward and crossed the Tennessee at this point, so as to cooperate or unite with Beauregard for the defense of the valley of the Mississippi. The passage is almost completed, and the head of my column is already with General Bragg at Corinth. The movement was deemed too hazardous by the most experienced members of my staff, but the object warranted the risk. The difficulty of effecting a junction is not wholly overcome, but it approaches completion. Day after to-morrow (22d), unless the enemy intercepts me, my force will be with Bragg-and my army nearly 50,000 strong. This must be destroyed before the enemy can attain his object.

I have given you this sketch, so that you may appreciate the embarrassments which surrounded me in my attempts to avert or remedy the disaster of Donelson, before alluding to the conduct of the generals.

When the force was detached, I was in hopes that such dispositions would have been made as would have enabled the forces to defend the fort or withdraw [520] without sacrificing the army. On the 14th I ordered General Floyd, by telegram, “if he lost the fort to get his troops back to Nashville.” It is possible this might have been done; but justice requires to look at events as they appeared at the time, and not alone by the light of subsequent information. All the facts in relation to the surrender will be transmitted to the Secretary of War as soon as they can be collected in obedience to his order. It appears from the information received, that General Buckner, being the junior officer, took the lead in advising the surrender, and General Floyd acquiesced, and they all concurred in the belief that their force could not maintain the position. All concurred that it would involve a great sacrifice of life to extricate the command. Subsequent events show that the investment was not so complete as their information from their scouts led them to believe. The conference resulted in the surrender. The command was irregularly transferred, and devolved on the junior general; but not apparently to avoid any just responsibility, or from any want of personal or moral intrepidity. The blow was most disastrous, and almost without remedy. I therefore in my first report remained silent. This silence you were kind enough to attribute to my generosity. I will not lay claim to the motive to excuse my course.

I observed silence, as it seemed to me to be the best way to serve the cause and the country. The facts were not fully known, discontent prevailed, and criticism or condemnation was more likely to augment than cure the evil. I refrained, well knowing that heavy censures would fall upon me, but convinced that it was better to endure them for the present, and defer to a more propitious time an investigation of the conduct of the generals; for, in the mean time, their services were required, and their influence was useful. For these reasons, Generals Floyd and Pillow were assigned to duty, for I still felt confidence in their gallantry, their energy, and their devotion to the Confederacy.

I have thus recurred to the motives by which I have been governed, from a deep personal sense of the friendship and confidence you have always shown me, and from the conviction that they have not been withdrawn from me in adversity. All the reports requisite for a full official investigation have been ordered. Generals Floyd and Pillow have been suspended from command.2

You mention that you intend to visit the field of operations here. I hope soon to see you, for your presence would encourage my troops, inspire the people, and augment the army. To me personally it would give the greatest gratification. Merely a soldier myself, and having no acquaintance with the statesmen or leaders of the South, I cannot touch springs familiar to you. Were you to assume command, it would afford me the most unfeigned pleasure, and every energy would be exerted to help you to victory, and the country to independence. Were you to decline, still your presence alone would be of inestimable advantage.

The enemy are now at Nashville, about 50,000 strong, advancing in this direction by Columbia. He has also forces, according to the report of General Bragg, landing at Pittsburg, from 25,000 to 50,000, and moving in the direction of Purdy.

This army corps, moving to join Bragg, is about 20,000 strong. Two brigades, Hindman's and Wood's, are, I suppose, at Corinth. One regiment of Hardee's [521] division (Lieutenant-Colonel Patton commanding) is moving by cars to-day (20th March), and Statham's brigade (Crittenden's division). The brigade will halt at Iuka, the regiment at Burnsville; Cleburne's brigade, Hardee's division, except regiment, at Burnsville; and Carroll's brigade, Crittenden's division, and Helm's cavalry, at Tuscumbia; Bowen's brigade at Cortland; Breckinridge's brigade, here; the regiments of cavalry of Adams and Wharton, on the opposite bank of the river; Scott's Louisiana regiment at Pulaski, sending forward supplies; Morgan's cavalry at Shelbyville, ordered on.

To-morrow, Breckinridge's brigade will go to Corinth; then Bowen's. When these pass Tuscumbia and Iuka, transportation will be ready there for the other troops to follow immediately from those points, and, if necessary, from Burnsville. The cavalry will cross and move forward as soon as their trains can be passed over the railroad-bridge.

I have troubled you with these details, as I cannot properly communicate them by telegram.

The test of merit in my profession with the people is success. It is a hard rule, but I think it right. If I join this corps to the forces of Beauregard (I confess a hazardous experiment), then those who are now declaiming against me will be without an argument. Your friend,

A. S. Johnston.
P. S.-I will prepare answers to the questions propounded by General Foote, chairman of the committee to investigate the causes of the loss of the forts, as soon as practicable. But, engaged as I am in a most hazardous movement of a large force, every, the most minute, detail requiring my attention for its accomplishment, I cannot say when it will be forwarded to the Secretary of War to be handed to him, if he think proper to do so.3


Colonel T. M. Jack, in a letter addressed to the present writer in 1877, gives a graphic account of the circumstances under which President Davis received this letter:

Just before the battle of Shiloh your father sent me to Richmond, as bearer of dispatches to President Davis. Among these dispatches was the celebrated letter in which success is recognized as the test of merit in the soldier. M3y duties, of course, were merely executive — to deliver the dispatches in person, and return with the answers quietly and promptly.

Arriving at Richmond, and announcing my business to the proper officer, I was at once shown into the office of Mr. Davis and presented to him. I had never before met the President of the Confederacy. He received me with courtesy-even with kindness-asking me at once, “How is your General-my friend General Johnston?” There was an earnestness in the question which could not be misunderstood. Replying briefly, I handed him my dispatches, which he was in the act of opening, when an officer entered the room, to whom the President presented me as General Lee. This was my first meeting with him also-and the last. He had not then attained the full measure of his fame. He was not as yet the idol of the Southern people. These things came afterward, with the recognition by all fair-minded Christendom of the greatness of the Christian chieftain. There was something fascinating in his presence. His manners [522] struck me as dignified, graceful, and easy. He seated himself by my side at the window, and engaged me in conversation about the movements of our Western army, while the President read, in silence, the dispatches of your father. These two historic figures, together in the capital of the Confederacy, the one chatting pleasantly with a young and unknown officer, the other engrossed with the last formal papers of the ranking general in the field of the Confederate forces after their retreat, and on the eve of a pitched battle on chosen ground, fastened themselves on the canvass of my memory in bright and lasting colors. Listening to the pleasing tones of the general's voice, I watched, at the same time, with eager interest, the countenance of the President, as he read the clear, strong, and frank expressions of his old friend and comrade, full of facts, and breathing sentiments of the noblest spirit. There was softness then in his face; and, as his eye was raised from the paper, there seemed a tenderness in its expression, bordering on tears, surprising and pleasing at that critical juncture in the civil and military leader of a people in arms.

Next day the President handed me his dispatches, which were delivered to the general at Corinth, as he was preparing for the field.

“How did the President receive you?” he asked, in a playful way, as I handed him the dispatches. “As the aide-de-camp of his friend,” was my response, in the same spirit; after which he made no further allusion to the mission.

The following was the reply borne to General Johnston by Colonel Jack:

Richmond, Virginia, March 26, 1862.
My dear General: Yours of the 18th inst. was this day delivered to me by your aide, Mr. Jack. I have read it with much satisfaction. So far as the past is concerned, it but confirms the conclusions at which I had already arrived. My confidence in you has never wavered, and I hope the public will soon give me credit for judgment, rather than continue to arraign me for obstinacy.

You have done wonderfully well, and now I breathe easier in the assurance that you will be able to make a junction of your two armies. If you can meet the division of the enemy moving from the Tennessee before it can make a junction with that advancing from Nashville, the future will be brighter. If this cannot be done, our only hope is that the people of the Southwest will rally en masse with their private arms, and thus enable you to oppose the vast army which will threaten the destruction of our country.

I have hoped to be able to leave here for a short time, and would be much gratified to confer with you, and share your responsibilities. I might aid you in obtaining troops; no one could hope to do more unless he underrated your military capacity. I write in great haste, and feel that it would be worse than useless to point out to you how much depends upon you.

May God bless you is the sincere prayer of your friend,4

Jefferson Davis.

On the 25th of March General Johnston completed the concentration of his troops. On that day he wrote to the President from Corinth, “My force is now united, holding Burnsville, Iuka, and Tuscumbia, with one division here.”

1 Thompson's “History of the first Kentucky brigade,” p. 79.

2 This was in obedience to orders from the War Department.

3 This letter was begun on March 17th, and finished March 20th.

4 It will be observed that General Lee's letter (on page 551) was written the same day.

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