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  • The summer spent in observing the enemy and preparing for active service.
  • -- Mason's and Munson's Hills occupied. -- Colonel J. E. B. Stuart. -- General McClellan in command of the Federal forces. -- consequences of want of preparation for the struggle beginning to be seriously felt. -- the President appoints five Generals. -- correspondence with him on the subject. -- organization of the Confederate army. -- President invited to headquarters of the army for consultation. -- he visits Fairfax Court -- house. -- account of the conference and its result. -- battle of Leesburg. -- affair at Drainsville. -- effective total of the Confederate army at the end of the year 1861. -- allusion to events in the West.

No military event deserving notice occurred on our part of the frontier during the remainder of the summer. We were employed in observing the enemy and preparing our troops for active service by diligent instruction. The captured material enabled Colonel Pendleton to increase and improve our artillery very much.

At the beginning of September the army was encamped about Fairfax Court-House, with strong outposts at Munson's and Mason's Hills, with the cavalry on their flanks. Stuart, who commanded it, had already impressed those who had opportunity to observe him, with the sagacity and courage that qualified him so admirably for the command of outposts. As had been his previous practice, his pickets were always near the enemy, while the Federal cavalry rarely ventured beyond the protection of infantry. [70]

The Federal intrenchments, in front of which General McClellan had encamped his army, had been greatly extended by him, and they covered the heights on the Virginia side of the Potomac from a point above Georgetown to the hill south of Alexandria.

The accessions to the army since July 21st had been the excellent brigade of Georgians formed and brought to Virginia by General Toombs, two regiments from Mississippi, and one each from North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Texas.1 The consequences of neglect on the part of the Government of the Confederate States to prepare for a great war before its actual commencement, were now severely felt. While the United States was organizing an army of half a million of men, almost half of whom were assembling in front of Washington, we, with a population far more eager to defend their country than that of the Northern States to invade it, were able to add but ten regiments, averaging little more than five hundred men, to our principal army. If arms and ammunition could have been furnished then, hands to use them would have been offered promptly, and the Confederate army would have outnumbered that which the Federal Government was forming for our subjugation.

It was reported, about the end of August, that General A. S. Johnston, coming from California by the southern (land) route, had entered the Confederacy; and, on the 31st of the month, the President nominated five persons to be generals in the Confederate army: First, S. Cooper, to rank from May 16th, the date of the law creating the grade; second, A. S. [71] Johnston, to rank from May 28th; third, R. E. Lee, from June 14th; fourth, J. E. Johnston, from July 4th; and, fifth, G. T. Beauregard, from July 21st, the date of the appointment previously conferred upon him.2 This action was altogether illegal, and contrary to all the laws enacted to regulate the rank of the class of officers concerned. Those laws were:

  • 1. The act of March 6th, fixing the military establishment of the Confederacy, and providing for four brigadier-generals, that being the highest grade created.
  • 2. The act of March 14th, adding a fifth brigadier-general, and authorizing the President to assign one of the five to the duties of adjutant and inspector-general; and, 3. Enacting further, “that in all cases of officers who have resigned, or who may, within six months, tender their resignations from the army of the United States, and who have been, or may be appointed to original vacancies in the army of the Confederate States, the commissions issued shall bear one and the same date, so that the relative rank of officers of each grade shall be determined by their former commissions in the United States army, held anterior to the secession of these Confederate States from the United States.”
  • 4. The act of May 16th: “That the five general officers, provided by existing laws for the Confederate States, shall have the rank and denomination of general, instead of brigadier-general, which shall be the highest military grade known to the Confederate States.... Appointments to the rank of general, [72] after the army is organized, shall be made by selection from the army.”

Under the first act, S. Cooper, R. E. Lee, and myself, were brigadiers-general on the 16th of May, when the fourth was approved; and under the third ranked relatively, as we had done in the United States army before secession, when I was brigadier-general, General Cooper colonel, and General Lee lieutenant-colonel in that army. The passage of the fourth act made us generals, and, according to military rule, without affecting this relative rank. It also abolished the grade of brigadier-general in the army to which we belonged. General Cooper, General Lee, and myself, had no commissions if we were not generals. If we were generals, executive action could not give our commissions new dates. The order of rank established by law was-first, J. E. Johnston (brigadier-general U. S. A.); second, S. Cooper (colonel U. S. A.); third, A. S. Johnston (colonel U. S. A.); fourth, R. E. Lee (lieutenant-colonel U. S. A.); G. T. Beauregard (captain U. S. A.). The change in the legal arrangement was made by my removal from the first place on the list to the fourth.

Information of these nominations, and their confirmation, came to me at the same time. On receiving it, I wrote to the President such a statement as the preceding, and also expressed my sense of the wrong done me. But, in order that sense of injury might not betray me into the use of language improper from an officer to the President, I laid aside the letter for two days, and then examined it dispassionately, I believe; and was confident that what it [73] contained was not improper to be said by a soldier to the President, nor improperly said. The letter was, therefore, dispatched.

It is said that it irritated him greatly, and that his irritation was freely expressed. The animosity against me that he is known to have entertained ever since was attributed, by my acquaintances in public life, in Richmond at the time, to this letter.

On the 11th Colonel Stuart ascertained that a body of Federal troops had advanced to Lewinsville. To prevent it from holding the position by intrenching itself there, which would have annoyed us very much, he determined to attack it with three hundred and five infantry (Thirteenth Virginia), under Major Terrill, a section of Rosser's battery, and Captain Patrick's company of cavalry. He conducted the march of his party so adroitly as to surprise the enemy completely, and by a bold attack drove them off in confusion. It was the escort of a reconnoitring officer3-a brigade of infantry, a battery of eight guns, and a detachment of cavalry.

At this time such an organization of the army as that completed a year later was proposed to the Administration — the formation of corps and divisions as well as brigades, and the creation of the grades of lieutenant-general and major-general. It was partially adopted then, and four divisions formed of the thirteen brigades of the army. E. Van Dorn, G. W. Smith, J. Longstreet, and T. J. Jackson, were appointed majors-general to command them. Bonham's, Early's, and Rodes's brigades, formed Van Dorn's division; D. R. Jones's, Ewell's, and Cocke's, [74] joined Longstreet's; those of S. Jones, Toombs, and Wilcox, G. W. Smith's; and Jackson's was composed of his former brigade, Elzey's, Crittenden's, and Walker's.

No army composed of new troops ever had general officers of more merit than those just enumerated. This fact, and the admirable character of the troops themselves, justified me in the belief that it was practicable for us to hold our position against such a force even as General McClellan was supposed to command. It was important to do so, to avoid the discouragement that would have been caused by falling back to the line of the Rappahannock, to protect so many more of our people, and to retain for the Confederate armies the use of the products of the valley of the Shenandoah, and of the counties of Loudon and Fauquier. But, that we might be prepared for the possible necessity of withdrawing from this position, Colonel Williamson, of the Engineer Department, was then engaged in the construction of field-works on the Rappahannock, to improve that line, naturally much stronger than the present one. Early in September the construction of batteries at Evansport was begun under the direction of Brigadier-General Trimble, by order of the War Department, to prevent the navigation of the Potomac by vessels of the United States.

About the 20th of the month I became convinced that the increasing strength and efficiency of the Federal army were rendering the position of the outposts at Munson's and Mason's Hills more hazardous daily, and therefore had them withdrawn.

We had been hoping, since the battle of Manassas, [75] that the effective strength of the army would be so increased as to justify us in assuming the offensive, If such a change of policy was to be adopted, there was no time to lose, for the end of the season for active operations was near. I determined, therefore, to suggest it to the President, in the hope that he might regard many of the troops stationed in unthreatened parts of country as available for such a purpose. With that view the subject was put before him in a letter addressed by me to the Secretary of War, on the 26th, in which it was proposed that the President himself should come to the headquarters of the army, then at Fairfax Court-House, to decide this question, after conference with such officers as he might select, or send the Secretary of War, or some other confidential officer. Mr. Davis preferred the former course, and came himself, promptly, arriving on the last day of September (I think). He had a conference of several hours on the matter in question, the evening of the next day, in General Beauregard's quarters, with that officer, Major-General G. W. Smith, and myself.

It was conceded that no decisive success could be gained by attacking General McClellan's army in its position under the guns of a long line of forts. It was agreed, too, that decisive action before the winter was important to us; for it was certain that without it, when the spring campaign opened, the effective strength of the United States army would be much increased by additional numbers and better discipline. Ours, on the contrary, could not be materially increased; for the Confederacy had no arms but those in the hands of the volunteers, and [76] twenty-five hundred of those captured on the 21st of July, which were in the ordnance-store of the army, at Fairfax Court-House.

Under these circumstances, the three military officers proposed, as the course offering the best chance of success, the concentration there of all the available forces of the Confederate States; crossing the Potomac, into Maryland, at the nearest ford with this army, and placing it in rear of Washington. This, we thought, would compel McClellan to fight with the chances of battle against him. Success would bring Maryland into the Confederacy, we thought, and enable us to transfer the war to the northern border of that State, where the defensive should be resumed. In our opinion, Confederate troops could not be employed advantageously then in any other part of the South. And we supposed that North and South Carolina and Georgia, which were unthreatened, could easily furnish the necessary reenforcements. The President asked us, beginning with General Smith, what was the smallest number of men with which such a campaign might be commenced. He replied, “Fifty thousand soldiers.” General Beauregard answered, “Sixty thousand;” and I the same number. Each of the three explained that he meant such soldiers as formed the army around us. We also explained to the President that large additions to our supply of ammunition and means of transportation would be required; for we had not then enough of either for our present force.

The President replied that no such reenforcements as we asked for could be furnished to the [77] army; that the whole country was applying for arms and troops; that he could take none from other points for that army, and could do no more to increase its strength than send it as many recruits as there were arms in our ordnance-store-twenty-five hundred. This, of course decided the question of active operations then.

Mr. Davis then proposed some operations of a partisan character, especially an expedition, by a detachment, against Hooker's division, in Maryland, opposite to Evansport. I objected to this proposition, because we had no means of transporting any sufficient body of men to the Maryland shore quickly; and the Potomac being controlled by Federal vessels-of-war, such a body, if thrown into Maryland, would inevitably be captured or destroyed in attempting to return, even if successful against the land forces. Upon my declining such an enterprise, the conference terminated.

The army had advanced to Fairfax Court-House, for the contingency of being made strong enough to assume the offensive while General McClellan's was still unprepared to take the field. The semicircular course of the Potomac, and roads converging from different points on it to our position, made it easy for the Federal army to turn either of our flanks without exposing its own communications. As that great army became capable of manoeuvring, the position of ours, of course, became more hazardous. On the 19th of October, therefore, it was drawn back to Centreville — a position much stronger in front, as well as less easily and safely turned. Van Dorn's and Longstreet's divisions occupied the [78] ground between Union Mills and the village of Centreville — the former on the right; G. W. Smith's formed on the left, thrown back on the heights nearly parallel to and north of the Warrenton Turnpike; and Jackson's, constituting the reserve, was posted in rear of Centreville. The engineers were directed to fortify the summit of the hill near this village — that, by holding it, the strongest and salient point of the position, with two or three thousand men, the army itself might be free to manoeuvre. As we had not artillery enough for their works and for the army fighting elsewhere, at the same time, rough wooden imitations of guns were made, and kept near the embrasures, in readiness for exhibition in them. To conceal the absence of carriages, the embrasures were covered with sheds made of bushes. These were the quaker guns afterward noticed in Northern papers.

The President's visit to the army seems to have suggested to him its reorganization in such a manner, as far as practicable, as to put the regiments of each State into the same brigades and divisions. The organization then existing had been made by General Beauregard and myself, necessarily without reference to States. The four or five regiments arriving first formed the first brigade, the next four or five the second, and so on. As the regiments united in this manner soon became attached to each other and to their commanders, it had been thought impolitic, generally, to disturb this arrangement. Soon after the President's return to Richmond, orders were issued directing me to organize the troops anew, so that each brigade should be formed of regiments belonging [79] to the same State. I was instructed to do this, however, only when it might be done safely.4

As the enemy was nearer to our centre than that centre to either flank of the army, and another advance upon us by the Federal army not improbable on any day, it seemed to me unsafe to make the reorganization then; for it would have exposed the army to the danger of being attacked by the enemy while in the confusion incident to a general change of position by our regiments, when most of them would be unable to take their places in the line of battle.

Although displeased by the delay, the President did not take from me the discretion as to selection of time, previously given. While expressing dissatisfaction, he repeated his order in the terms in which it had first been given: to make the reorganization5 when it could be done without exposing the army to danger.

It is asserted in the “Rebellion record,” that, on the 16th of October, General Geary ascertained that the Eighth Virginia and Thirteenth and Eighteenth Mississippi infantry, and Ashby's cavalry regiments, were at Harper's Ferry, and, crossing the Potomac at that point with ten companies of Federal infantry, attacked, defeated, and drove them off. Ashby was not under my command, so that I cannot assert that his regiment was not at Harper's Ferry at the time specified; but the three infantry [80] regiments named belonged to Evans's brigade, of the Army I commanded, and to my certain knowledge were no nearer Harper's Ferry on the 16th than on the 21st of October. If Ashby was ever defeated at Harper's Ferry, I believe that he died unconscious of the fact; and, under the circumstances, Confederate soldiers may reasonably doubt the occurrence, not merely of the victory claimed, but of any serious engagement.

On the 21st, Evans's brigade, near Leesburg, was attacked by a detachment of Federal troops, commanded by Colonel Baker. Four Federal regiments crossed the Potomac at Edwards's Ferry, and were held in check by Colonel Barksdale's (Thirteenth) Mississippi regiment. Five others, under Colonel Baker's immediate direction, crossed the river at the same time at Ball's Bluff, and were met by Hunton's (Eighth Virginia), Featherston's (Seventeenth Mississippi), and Burt's (Eighteenth Mississippi) regiments, and after an obstinate contest driven over Ball's Bluff in such a panic that numbers rushed into the river and were drowned. Colonel Baker had fallen on the field.

Brigadier-General Evans reported that the Confederate loss was thirty-six killed, including the gallant Colonel Burt, one hundred and seventeen wounded, and two captured; and that of the enemy, thirteen hundred killed, wounded, and drowned, and seven hundred and ten prisoners.

Colonel Barksdale attacked a superior force next day in advance of Edwards's Ferry, and drove it back to the river, which it recrossed in the night.

At the end of October the “effective total” of [81] the army (by the return in my possession) was twenty-seven thousand infantry and artillery, and twenty-four hundred cavalry, at and in front of Centreville, twenty-two hundred at Manassas Junction, six thousand seven hundred between Dumfries and the Occoquan, and twenty-seven hundred at Leesburg --in all forty-one thousand capable of going into battle. According to the information given us by spies, the effective force of the Federal army opposed to us was a hundred and fifty thousand.

About the 1st of November a new military arrangement was made on the northern frontier of Virginia, by which my command was extended to the Alleghany on one side and the Chesapeake on the other, by the formation of “the Department of Northern Virginia.” It was composed of “the Valley district,” lying between the Alleghany and Blue Ridge, commanded by Major-General Jackson; “the District of the Potomac,” commanded by General Beauregard, and extending from the Blue Ridge to the Quantico; and that of the Acquia, lying between the Quantico and the Chesapeake, commanded by Major-General Holmes.

“The Stonewall brigade” was transferred with General Jackson to the Valley district. Brigadier-General R. B. Garnett, who joined the army soon after, was sent to Winchester, where General Jackson's headquarters were established, to command it. Major-General E. Kirby Smith, who had recovered from his wound, and rejoined the army just then, succeeded General Jackson in the command of the reserve. [82]

The Texan Brigade, ever after so distinguished in the Army of Northern Virginia, had then been completed by Brigadier-General Wigfall.

A trifling circumstance that occurred at this time was the foundation of a grave accusation, said to have been frequently made against me orally, by Mr. Benjamin, then acting Secretary of War.

Major-General Van Dorn reported to me that he had information, from an excellent source, that the left Federal division (General Heintzelman) had advanced so far on the Occoquan road as to be entirely separated from the army-so far that it might be beaten by a prompt attack, before aid could reach it. He proposed that we should take advantage of this exposure, and attack it. I had daily intelligence that contradicted this, but desired General Van Dorn to send one of our best scouts, who belonged to his division, to obtain accurate information, promising that he should make the attempt he suggested should the intelligence brought justify it. A day or two after this General Van Dorn told me that the scout's report had satisfied him that the report he had previously made to me was incorrect, and that there had been no forward movement of the Federal left. Gentlemen coming to the army from Richmond, at different times during the earlier part of the winter, stated that the acting Secretary of War had repeatedly, in conversation, accused me of having neglected to destroy a body of some twelve thousand men which the Federal general had left long exposed. This charge had no better foundation than the incidents just related.

At the end of November the “effective total” of [83] the troops of the Department of Northern Virginia was forty-seven thousand two hundred, of whom four thousand eight hundred belonged to the Acquia district, and three. thousand seven hundred to that of the Valley.6 Brigadier-General D. H. Hill had succeeded Brigadier-General Evans in the command of the troops near Leesburg, the latter being transferred to South Carolina.

Early in December, Major Blair, the chief commissary of the army, was compelled by ill health to leave that position. He was succeeded in it by Major R. G. Cole, who assumed its duties about the 20th of the month, and continued to perform them until the end of the war. He was desired to have the stock of provision for the army increased to a supply for fifteen days, and to have that quantity kept on hand; and also to establish a reserve-depot at Culpepper Court-House. This measure was a preparation for the contingency of our finding it necessary or expedient to fall back from Centreville to the line of the Rappahannock.

On the 20th, Brigadier-General Stuart was sent to forage in the southeastern part of the county of Loudon, with an escort of sixteen hundred infantry and Cutts's battery. To protect the party gathering forage, he placed his escort at Drainsville, between that party and the Federal army. In taking that position, he encountered the escort of a Federal foraging-party. Finding this body of troops much stronger than his own, he thought it necessary to draw off his foraging-party, and, to cover its withdrawal, attacked the enemy, and kept them engaged [84] until his trains were safe, when he fell back with his escort. He was undisturbed in this movement, and his adversary withdrew also very soon after. Cutts's battery did excellent service in this affair.

Three brigades under Brigadier-General Loring, transferred from Western Virginia to the Valley district, reported to Major-General Jackson in December: the first, commanded by Colonel Taliaferro, early in the month; the two others, Brigadier-General S. R. Anderson's and Colonel Gilham's, near its close.

In the course of the month two regiments were received in the Potomac district, which completed Hampton's brigade; that officer's military merit procured his assignment to this command, but I was unable to induce the Administration to give him corresponding rank.

At the end of the year, the effective total of the troops belonging to the departments was fifty seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven-ten thousand two hundred and forty-one in the Valley district, forty thousand eight hundred and thirty-nine in that of the Potomac, and six thousand two hundred and fifty-seven in the Acquia district.

Although the great Federal army was so near, our military exercises had never been interrupted. No demonstrations were made by the troops of that army, except the occasional driving in of a Confederate cavalry-picket by a large mixed force. The Federal cavalry rarely ventured beyond the protection of infantry, and the ground between the two armies had been less free to it than to that of the Confederate army. Until the end of December, military operations were practicable; but, from that time [85] to the beginning of spring, the condition of the country south of the Potomac and east of the Blue Ridge would have made them extremely difficult-indeed, almost impossible. The quantity of rain that fell, and of snow, always melting quickly, made a depth of mud rarely equaled.

The Confederate troops fought bravely and well wherever they encountered those of the United States, in 1861. At Bethel, under Magruder and D. H. Hill; at Oakhill, under Price and McCulloch; on the Gauley, under Floyd; on the Greenbrier, under H. R. Jackson; on Santa Rosa Island, under R. H. Anderson; at Belmont, under Polk and Pillow; on the Alleghany, under Edward Johnson, and at Chastenallah, under McIntosh. On all these occasions they were superior to their adversaries, from greater zeal and more familiarity with the use of fire-arms. The thorough system of instruction introduced into the United States army gradually established equality in the use of fire-arms, and our greater zeal finally encountered better discipline.

Had the Confederate troops in Arkansas been united under a competent, or even a merely respectable commander, their fighting would have been effective, and valuable to the Southern cause. I might have gained the powerful state of Missouri to the Confederacy, and brought sixty thousand of its martial inhabitants into the Southern armies. Such an accession to the Southern Confederacy might, and probably would, have made the northern and eastern borders of that State the seat of war, instead of Mississippi and Tennessee.

Among the measures to hold Tennessee and gain [86] Kentucky were intrenched camps, made at Columbus, Island No.10, Forts Henry and Donelson, and Bowling Green; each of which required an army to hold it; and, consequently, a respectable army divided among them, gave each one a force utterly inadequate to its defense. Regular forts, each requiring a garrison of one or two thousand men, and constructed with much less labor than the intrenched camps, would have held the ground much better, and made it practicable to form an active army at the same time, capable of facing those of Buell and Grant, one after the other. As it was, the Confederates were alike weak at every point, and, when the Federal armies advanced, they were captured, or abandoned the country precipitately, after much misdirected labor had been expended in preparations to defend it.

1 This statement is from memory.

2 See the President's telegrams on p. 21.

3 Stuart's report.

4 The underscoring and phraseology are mine.

5 “To be executed as early as in your discretion it could be safely done.” --Letter of Mr. Benjamin, acting Secretary of War, December 9, 1861.

6 The figures are taken from the return in my possession.

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