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Chapter 2:

  • The supply of arms; of men
  • -- love of the Union -- secessionists few -- efforts to prevent the final step -- views of the people -- effect on their agriculture -- aid from African servitude -- answer to the Clamors on the Horrors of slavery -- appointment of a commissary General -- his character and capacity -- organization, instruction, and equipment of the army -- action of Congress -- the law -- its Signification -- the hope of a peaceful solution early entertained; rapidly diminished -- further action of Congress -- policy of the Government for peace -- position of officers of United States army -- the army of the States, not of the Government -- the Confederate law observed by the Government -- officers retiring from United States army -- organization of bureaus.

The question of supplying arms and munitions of war was the first considered, because it was the want for which it was the most difficult to provide. Of men willing to engage in the defense of their country, there were many more than we could arm.

Though the prevailing sentiment of the Southern people was a cordial attachment to the Union as it was formed by their fathers, their love was for the spirit of the compact, for the liberties it was designed to secure, for the self-government and state sovereignty which had been won by separation from the mother country, and transmitted to them by their Revolutionary sires as a legacy for their posterity forever. The number of those who desired to dissolve the Union, even though the Constitution should be faithfully observed—those who, in the language of the day, were called “secessionists per se”—was so small as not to be felt in any popular decision; the number of those who held that the states had surrendered their sovereignty, and had no right to secede from the Union, was so inappreciably small, if indeed any such existed, that I cannot recall the fact of a single Southern advocate of that opinion. The assertion of the right is not to be confounded with a readiness to exercise it. Many who had no doubt as to the right, looked upon its exercise with reluctance amounting to sorrow, and claimed that it should be the last resort, only to be adopted as the alternative to a surrender of the equality in the union of states, free, sovereign, and independent. Of that class, forming a large majority of the people of Mississippi, I may speak with the confidence of one who belonged to it. Thus, after the legislature of [262] Mississippi had enacted a law for a convention which, representing the sovereignty of the state, should consider the propriety of passing an ordinance to reassume the grants made to the general government, and withdraw from the Union, I, as a United States Senator of Mississippi, retained my position in the Senate, and sought by every practicable mode to obtain such measures as would allay the excitement and afford to the South such security as would prevent the final step, the ordinance of secession from the Union.

When the last hope of preserving the Union of the Constitution was extinguished, and the ordinance of secession was enacted by the convention of Mississippi, which was the highest authority known under our form of government, the question of the expediency of adopting that remedy was no longer open to inquiry by one who acknowledged his allegiance as due to the state of which he was a citizen. To evade the responsibilities resulting from the decree of his sovereign, the people, would be craven; to resist it would be treason. The instincts and affections of the citizens of Mississippi led them with great unanimity to the duty of maintaining and defending their state, without pausing to ask what would be the consequences of refusing obedience to its mandate. A like feeling pervaded all of the seceding states, and it was not only for the military service, but for every service which would strengthen and sustain the Confederacy, that an enthusiasm pervading all classes, sexes, and ages was manifested.

Though our agricultural products had been mainly for export, insomuch that in the planting states the necessary food supplies were to a considerable extent imported from the West, and it would require that the habits of the planters should be changed from the cultivation of staples for export to the production of supplies adequate for home consumption and the support of armies in the field, yet even under the embarrassments of war, this was expected, and for a long time the result justified the expectation, extraordinary as it must appear when viewed by comparison with other people who have been subjected to a like ordeal. Much of our success was due to the much abused institution of African servitude, for it enabled the white men to go into the army, and leave the cultivation of their fields and the care of their flocks, as well as of their wives and children, to those who, in the language of the Constitution, were “held to service or labor.” A passing remark may here be appropriate as to the answer thus afforded to the clamor about the “horrors of slavery.”

Had these Africans been a cruelly oppressed people, restlessly [263] struggling to be freed from their bonds, would their masters have dared to leave them, as was done, and would they have remained as they did, continuing their usual duties, or could the proclamation of emancipation have been put on the plea of a military necessity, if the fact had been that the negroes were forced to serve, and desired only an opportunity to rise against their masters? It will be remembered that when the proclamation was issued it was confessed by President Lincoln to be a nullity beyond the limit within which it could be enforced by the federal troops.

To direct the production, preservation, collection, and distribution of food for the army required a man of rare capacity and character at the head of the subsistence department. It was our good fortune to have such a one in Colonel L. B. Northrop, who was appointed commissary general at the organization of the bureaus of the executive department of the Confederate government. He had been an officer of the United States army, had served in various parts of the South, had been for some time on duty in the commissariat, and to the special and general knowledge thus acquired added strong practical sense and incorruptible integrity. Of him and the operations of the subsistence department I shall have more to say hereafter, when treating of the bureaus of the Confederacy.

Assured of an army as large as the population of the Confederate States could furnish, and a sufficient supply of subsistence for such an army, at least until the chances of war should interfere with production and transportation, the immediate object of attention was the organization, instruction, and equipment of the army.

As heretofore stated, there was a prevailing belief that there would be no war, or if any, that it would be of very short duration. Therefore the first bill which passed the provisional Congress provided for receiving troops for short periods—as my memory serves, for sixty days. The chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, the heroic Colonel Bartow, who sealed his devotion to the cause with his life's blood on the field of Manassas, in deference to my earnest remonstrance against such a policy, returned with the bill to the House (the Congress then consisted of but one house), and procured a modification by which the term of service was extended to twelve months unless sooner discharged.

I had urged upon him, in our conference, the adoption of a much longer period, but he assured me that one year was as much as the Congress would agree to. On this, as on other occasions, that Congress showed a generous desire to yield their preconceived opinions to my objections as far as they consistently could, and, there being but one [264] house, it was easier to change the terms of a bill after conference with the Executive than when, under the permanent organization, objections had to be formally communicated in a message to that branch of Congrees in which the bill originated, and when the whole proceeding was of record.

This first act to provide for the public defense became a law on February 28, 1861, and its fifth section so clearly indicates the opinions and expectations prevailing when the confederation was formed, that it is inserted here:

the President be further authorized to receive into the service of this Government such forces now in the service of said States (Confederate States) as may be tendered, or who may volunteer by consent of their State, in such numbers as he may require for any time not less than twelve months unless sooner discharged.

The supremacy of the states is the controlling idea. The President was authorized to receive from the several states the arms and munitions which they might desire to transfer to the Government of the Confederate States, and he was also authorized to receive the forces which the states might tender, or any which should volunteer by the consent of their state, for any time not less than twelve months unless sooner discharged; such forces were to be received with their officers by companies, battalions, or regiments, and the President, by and with the advice and consent of Congress, was to appoint such general officer or officers for said forces as might be necessary for the service.

It will be seen that the arms and munitions within the limits of the several states were regarded as entirely belonging to them, that the forces which were to constitute the provisional army could only be drawn from the several states by their consent, and that these were to be organized under state authority and to be received with their officers so appointed; that the lowest organization was to be that of a company and the highest that of a regiment, and that the appointment of general officers to command these forces was confided to the government of the Confederate States, should the assembling of large bodies of troops require organization above that of a regiment; it will also be observed that provision was made for the discharge of the forces so provided for, before the term of service fixed by the law. No one will fail to perceive how little was anticipated a war of the vast proportions and great duration which ensued, and how tenaciously the sovereignty and self-government of the states were adhered to. At a later period (March 16, 1861) the Congress adopted resolutions recommending to the respective states to “cede [265] the forts, arsenals, navy-yards, dock-yards, and other public establishments within their respective limits to the Confederate States,” etc.

The hope which was early entertained of a peaceful solution of the issues pending between the Confederate States and the United States rapidly diminished, so that we find on March 6th that the Congress, in its preamble to an act to provide for the public defense, begins with the declaration that “in order to provide speedily forces to repel invasion,” etc., authorized the President to employ the militia, and to ask for and accept the services of any number of volunteers, not exceeding one hundred thousand, and to organize companies into battalions, battalions into regiments, and regiments into brigades and divisions. As in the first law, the President was authorized to appoint the commanding officer of such brigades and divisions, the commissions to endure only while the brigades were in service.

On the same day (March 6, 1861) was enacted the law for the establishment and organization of the army of the Confederate States of America, this being in contradistinction to the provisional army, which was to be composed of troops tendered by the states, as in the first act, and volunteers received, as in the second act, to constitute a provisional army. That the wish and policy of the government was peace is again manifested in this act, which, in providing for the military establishment of the Confederacy, fixed the number of enlisted men of all arms at nine thousand four hundred twenty. Due care was taken to prevent the appointment of incompetent or unworthy persons as officers of the army, and the right to promotion up to and including the grade of colonel was carefully guarded; beyond this the professional character of the army was recognized as follows: “Appointments to the rank of brigadier-general, after the army is organized, shall be made by selection from the army.” There being no right of promotion above the grade of colonel in the army of the United States, selection for appointment to the rank of general had no other restriction than the necessity for confirmation by the Senate. The provision just quoted imposed the further restriction of requiring the person nominated by selection to have previously been an officer of the army of the Confederate States.

Regarding the army of the United States as belonging neither to a section of the Union nor to the general government, but to the states conjointly while they remained united, it follows as a corollary of the proposition that, when disintegration occurred, the undivided personnel composing the army would be left free to choose their future place of service. Therefore, provision was made for securing to officers who should [266] leave the army of the United States and join that of the Confederate States, the same relative rank in the latter which they held in the former.

t further enacted that all 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.

The provisions hereof are in the view entertained that the army was of the states, not of the government, and was to secure to officers adhering to the Confederate States the same relative rank which they had before those states had withdrawn from the Union. It was clearly the intent of the law to embrace in this provision only those officers who had resigned or who should resign from the United States army to enter the service of the Confederacy, or who, in other words, should thus be transferred from one service to the other. It is also to be noted that, in the eleventh section of the act to which this was amendatory, the right of promotion up to the grade of colonel, in established regiments and corps, was absolutely secured, but that appointments to the higher grade should be by selection, at first without restriction, but after the army had been organized the selection was confined to the army, thus recognizing the profession of arms, and relieving officers from the hazard, beyond the limit of their legal right to promotion, of being superseded by civilians through favoritism or political influence.

How well the government of the Confederacy observed both the letter and the spirit of the law will be seen by reference to its action in the matter of appointments. It is a noteworthy fact that the three highest officers in rank, and whose fame stands unchallenged either for efficiency or zeal, were all so indifferent to any question of personal interest, that they had received their appointment before they were aware it was to be conferred. Each brought from the army of the United States an enviable reputation, such as would have secured to him, had he chosen to remain in it after the war commenced, any position his ambition could have coveted. Therefore, against considerations of self-interest, and impelled by devotion to principle, they severed the ties, professional and personal, which had bound them from their youth up to the time when the Southern states, asserting the consecrated truth that all governments rest on the consent of the governed, decided to withdraw from the union they had voluntarily entered, and the Northern states resolved to coerce them to remain in it against their will. These officers were—first, Samuel [267] Cooper, a native of New York, a graduate of the United States Military Academy in 1815, and who served continuously in the army until March 7, 1861, with such distinction as secured to him the appointment of adjutant general of the United States army. Second, Albert Sidney Johnston, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of the United States Military Academy in 1826, served conspicuously in the army until 1834, then served in the army of the republic of Texas, and then in the United States Volunteers in the war with Mexico. Subsequently he reentered the United States army, and for meritorious conduct attained the rank of brevet brigadier general. After the secession of Texas, his adopted state, he resigned his commission in the United States army, May 3, 1861, and traveled by land from California to Richmond to offer his services to the Confederacy. Third, Robert E. Lee, a native of Virginia, a graduate of the United States Military Academy in 1829, when he was appointed in the engineer corps of the United States army, and served continuously and with such distinction as to secure for him in 1847 brevets of three grades above his corps commission. He resigned from the army of the United States April 25, 1861, upon the secession of Virginia, in whose army he served until it was transferred to the Confederate States.

Samuel Cooper was the first of these to offer his services to the Confederacy at Montgomery. Having known him most favorably and intimately as adjutant general of the United States army when I was Secretary of War, the value of his services in the organization of a new army was considered so great that I invited him to take the position of adjutant general of the Confederate army, which he accepted without a question either as to relative rank or anything else. The highest grade then authorized by law was that of brigadier general, and that commission was bestowed upon him.

When General Albert Sidney Johnston reached Richmond he called upon me, and for several days at various intervals we conversed with the freedom and confidence belonging to the close friendship which had existed between us for many years. Consequent to a remark made by me, he asked to what duty I would assign him, and, when answered, to serve in the West, he expressed his pleasure at service in that section, but inquired how he was to raise his command, and for the first time learned that he been nominated and confirmed as a general in the army of the Confederacy.

The third, General Robert E. Lee, had been commissioned by the state of Virginia as major general and commander of her army. When that army was transferred, after the accession of Virginia to the [268] Confederate States, he was nominated to be brigadier general in the Confederate army, but was left for obvious reasons in command of the forces in Virginia. After the seat of government was removed from Montgomery to Richmond, the course of events on the Southern Atlantic coast induced me to direct General Lee to repair thither. Before leaving he said that, while he was serving in Virginia, he had never thought it needful to inquire about his rank; now, when about to go into other states and to meet officers with whom he had not been previously connected, he would like to be informed upon that point. Under recent laws, authorizing appointments to higher grades than that of his first commission, he had been appointed a full general; so wholly had his heart and his mind been consecrated to the public service that he had not remembered, if he ever knew, of his advancement.

In organizing the bureaus it was deemed advisable to select for the chief of each, officers possessing special knowledge of the duties to be performed. The best assurance of that qualification was believed to be service creditably rendered in the several departments of the United States army before resigning from it. Brevet Lieutenant Colonel A. C. Myers, who had held many important trusts in the United States Quartermaster's Department, was appointed quartermaster general of the Confederacy, with the rank of colonel.

Captain L. B. Northrop, a gallant officer of the United States Dragoons who, by reason of a wound disabling him to perform regimental duty, had been employed in the subsistence department, was, after resigning from the United States army, appointed commissary general of the Confederate States Army, with the rank of colonel. I have heretofore alluded to the difficult task thus imposed on him, and the success with which he performed it, and would be pleased here to enter into a fuller recital, but have not the needful information in regard to his administration of that department.

Surgeon L. P. Moore, an officer of recognized merit in the United States Medical Department, from which he had resigned to join the Confederacy, was appointed the surgeon general of the Confederate States army. As in the case of other departments, there was in this a want of the stores requisite, as well for the field as the hospital.

To supply medicines which were declared by the enemy to be contraband of war, our medical department had to seek in the forest for substitutes, and to add surgical instruments and appliances to the small stock on hand as best they could.

It would be quite beyond my power to do justice to the skill and [269] knowledge with which the medical corps performed their arduous task, and regret that I have no report from Surgeon General Moore which would enable me to do justice to the officers of his corps, as well in regard to their humanity as to their professional skill.

In no branch of our service were our needs so great and our means to meet them relatively so small as in the matter of ordnance and ordnance stores. The chief of ordnance, General Gorgas, had been an ordnance officer of the United States army, and resigned to join the Confederacy. He has favored me with a succinct though comprehensive statement, which has enabled me to write somewhat fully of that department; for the better understanding of its operations, the reader is referred to the ordnance report elsewhere.

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