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Chapter 11:

  • The issue
  • -- the American idea of Government -- who was responsible for the war? -- situation of Virginia -- concentration of the enemy against Richmond -- our Diffaculty -- unjust criticisms -- the facts set forth -- organization of the army -- conference at Fairfax Court House -- inaction of the army -- capture of Romney -- troops ordered to retire to the Valley -- discipline -- General Johnston regards his position as unsafe -- the first policy -- retreat of General Johnston -- the plans of the enemy -- our strength magnified by the enemy -- stores destroyed -- the Trent affair.

It has been shown that the Southern states, by their representatives in the two houses of Congress, consistently endeavored, even to the last day when they were by their constituents permitted to remain in the halls of federal legislation, to maintain the Constitution, and preserve the union which the states had by their independent action ordained and established. On the other hand, proof has been adduced to show that the Northern states, by a majority of their representatives in the Congress, had persisted in agitation injurious to the welfare and tranquillity of the Southern states, and at the last moment had refused to make any concessions, or to offer any guarantees to check the current toward secession of the complaining states, whose love for the Union rendered them willing to accept less than justice should have readily accorded. The issue was then presented between submission to empire of the North, or the severance of those ties consecrated by many memories, and strengthened by those habits which render every people reluctant to sever long-existing associations.

The authorities heretofore cited have, I must believe, conclusively shown that the question of changing their government was one that the states had the power to decide by virtue of the unalienable right announced in the Declaration of Independence, and which had been proudly denominated the American idea of government. The hope and the wish of the people of the South were that the disagreeable necessity of separation would be peacefully met, and be followed by such commercial regulations as would least disturb the prosperity and future intercourse of the separated states. Every step taken by the Confederate government was directed toward that end. The separation of the states having been decided on, it was sought to effect it in such manner as would be just [379] to the parties concerned, and preserve as far as possible, under separate governments, the fraternal and mutually beneficial relations which had existed between the states when united, and which it was the object of their compact of union to secure. To all the proofs heretofore offered I confidently refer for the establishment of the fact that whatever of bloodshed, of devastation, or shock to republican government has resulted from the war, is to be charged to the Northern states. The invasions of the Southern states, for purposes of coercion, were in violation of the written Constitution, and the attempt to subjugate sovereign states, under the pretext of “preserving the Union,” was alike offensive to law, to good morals, and the proper use of language. The Union was the voluntary junction of free and independent states; to subjugate any of them was to destroy constituent parts, and necessarily, therefore, must be the destruction of the Union itself.

That the Southern states were satisfied with a federal government such as their fathers had formed was shown by their adoption of a Constitution so little differing from the instrument of 1787. It was against the violations of that instrument, and usurpations offensive to their pride and injurious to their interests, that they remonstrated, argued, and finally appealed to the inherent, undelegated power of the states to judge of their wrongs, and of the “mode and measure of redress.”

After many years of fruitless effort to secure from their Northern associates a faithful observance of the compact of union; after its conditions had been deliberately and persistently broken, and the signs of the times indicated further and more ruthless violations of their rights as equals in the Union, the Southern states, preferring a peaceful separation to continuance in a hostile Union, decided to exercise their sovereign right to withdraw from an association which had failed to answer the ends for which it was formed. It has been shown how they endeavored to effect the change with strict regard to the principles controlling a dissolution of partnership, and how earnestly they desired to remain in friendly relations to the Northern states, and how all their overtures were rejected. When they pleaded for peace, the United States government deceptively delayed to answer, while making ready for war. To the calm judgment of mankind is submitted the question, Who was responsible for the war between the states?

Virginia, whose history, from the beginning of the Revolution of 1776, had been a long course of sacrifices for the benefit of her sister states and for the preservation of the Union she had mainly contributed to establish, clung to it with the devotion of a mother. It has been shown [380] how her efforts to check dissolution were persisted in when the aggrieved were hopeless and the aggressors reckless, and how her mediations were rejected in the Peace Congress which on her motion had been assembled. Sorrowing over the failure of this, her blessed though unsuccessful attempt to preserve the Union of the Constitution, she was not permitted to mourn as a neutral, but was required by the United States government to choose between furnishing troops to subjugate her Southern sisters or the reclamation of the grants she had made to the federal government when she became a member of the Union. The first was a violation of the letter and the spirit of the Constitution; the second was a reserved right. The voice of Henry called to her from the ground; the spirits of Washington and Jefferson moved among her people.

There was but one course consistent with her stainless reputation and often-declared tenets, as to the liberties of her people, which she could have adopted. As in 1776, reluctantly she bowed to the necessity of separation from the Crown, so in 1861 the ordinance of secession was adopted. Having exhausted all other means, she took the last resort, and, if for this she was selected as the first object of assault, “methinks the punishment exceedeth the offense.”

The large resources and full preparation of the United States government enabled it to girt Virginia as with a wall of fire. It has been shown that she was threatened from the east, from the north, and from the west. The capital of the state and of the Confederacy, Richmond, was the objective point, and on this the march of three columns concentrated. On the east the advance of the enemy was on several occasions feasible, when we consider the number of his forces at and about Fortress Monroe, in comparison with the small means retained for the defense of the capital. On the north the most formidable army of the enemy was assembled; to oppose it we had the comparatively small Army of the Potomac. This being regarded as the line on which the greatest danger was apprehended, our efforts were mostly directed toward giving it the requisite strength. Troops, as rapidly as they could be raised and armed, were sent forward for that purpose. From the beginning to the close of the war, we mainly relied for the defense of the capital on its aged citizens, boys too young for service, and the civil employees of the executive departments. On several occasions these were called out to resist an attack. They answered with alacrity, and always bore themselves gallantly, more than once repelling the enemy in the open field. Had it been practicable to do so, it would surely have been proper to keep a large force in reserve for the defense of the capital, so often and vauntingly [381] proclaimed to be the object of the enemy's campaign. Perhaps the propriety of such provision gave currency and credence to rumors that we had a large force at Richmond. This even led to the application for a detachment from it to reenforce our Army of the Potomac, which caused me to write to General J. E. Johnston at Manassas, Virginia, on September 5, 1861, as follows:

You have again been deceived as to the forces here. We never have had anything near twenty thousand men, and have now but little over one fourth of that number. . . . Since the date of your glorious victory the enemy have grown weaker in numbers, and far weaker in the character of their troops, so that I had felt it remained with us to decide whether another battle should soon be fought or not. Your remark indicates a different opinion. . . . I wish I could send additional force to occupy Loudon, but my means are short of the wants of each division I am laboring to protect. One ship-load of small-arms would enable me to answer all demands, but vainly have I hoped and waited.

Then, there, and everywhere, our difficulty was the want of arms and munitions of war. Lamentable cries came to us from the West for the supplies which would enable patriotic citizens to defend their homes. The resource upon which the people had so confidently relied, the private arms in the hands of citizens, proved a sad delusion, and elsewhere it has been shown how deficient we were in ammunition, or the means of providing it. The simple fact, was, the country had gone to war without counting the cost.

Undue elation over our victory at Manassas was followed by dissatisfaction at what was termed the failure to reap the fruits of victory; rumors, for which there could be no better excuse than partisan zeal, were circulated that the heroes of the hour were prevented from reaping the fruits of the victory by the interference of the President. Naturally there followed another rumor, that the inaction of the victorious army, to which reenforcements continued to be sent, was due to the policy of the President; he also was held responsible, and with more apparent justice, for the failure to organize the troops of the several states, as the law contemplated, into brigades and divisions composed of the soldiers of each.

Though these unjust criticisms weakened the power of the government to meet its present and provide for its future necessities, I bore them in silence, lest to vindicate myself should injure the public service by turning the public censure to the generals on whom the hopes of the country rested. That motive no longer exists; to justify the faith of those who, without a defense, continued to uphold my hands, I propose to set forth the facts by correspondence and otherwise. So far as, in doing [382] this, blame shall be transferred from me to others, it will be the incident, not the design, as it would be most gratifying to me only to notice for praise each and all who wore the gray.

The fiction of my having prevented the pursuit of the enemy after the victory of Manassas was exploded after it had acquired an authoritative and semiofficial form in the manner and for the reasons heretofore set forth. It only remains, therefore, to notice the other points indicated above:

First, the organization of the army.

Disease and discontent are known to be the attendants of armies lying unemployed in camps, especially, as in our case, when the troops were composed of citizens called from their homes under the idea of a pressing necessity, and with the hope of soon returning to them.

Our citizen soldiers were a powerful political element, and their correspondence, finding its way to the people through the press and to the halls of Congress by direct communication with the members, was felt, by its influence both upon public opinion and general legislation. Members of Congress, and notably the Vice-President, contended that men should be allowed to go home and attend to their private affairs while there were no active operations, and that there was no doubt but that they would return whenever there was to be a battle. The experience of war soon taught our people the absurdity of such ideas, and before its close probably none would have uttered them.

There were very many men out of the army who were anxious to enter it, but for whom we had not arms. This gave rise to the remark, more humorous than profound, that we “stood around the camps with clubs to keep one set in and another set out.” Had this been true, it was certainly justifiable to refuse to exchange a trained man for a recruit. All who have seen service know that one old soldier is, in campaign, equal to several who have everything of military life to learn.

A marked characteristic of the Southern people was individuality, and time was needful to teach them that the terrible machine, a disciplined army, must be made of men who had surrendered their freedom of will. The most distinguished of our citizens were not the slowest to learn the lessons, and perhaps no army ever more thoroughly knew it than did that which Lee led into Pennsylvania, and none ever had a leader who in his own conduct better illustrated the lesson.

Our largest army in 1861 was that of the Potomac. It had been formed by the junction of the forces under General J. E. Johnston with those under General P. G. T. Beauregard, with such additions as could [383] be hurriedly sent forward to meet the enemy on the field of Manassas. They were combined into brigades and divisions as pressing exigencies required.

By the act of February 28, 1861, the President was authorized to receive companies, battalions, and regiments to form a part of the provisional army of the Confederate States, and, with the advice and consent of Congress, to appoint general officers for them; by the act of March 6th the President was to apportion the staff and general officers among the respective states from which the volunteers were received. It will thus be seen that the states generously surrendered their right to preserve for those volunteers the character of state troops and to appoint general officers when furnishing a sufficient number of regiments to require such grade for their command; in giving their volunteers to form the provisional army of the Confederacy, it was distinctly suggested that the general officers should be so appointed as to make a just apportionment among the states furnishing the troops.

During the repose which followed the battle of Manassas, it was deemed proper that the regiments of the different states should be assembled in brigades together, and, as far as consistent with the public service, that the spirit of the law should be complied with by the assignment of brigadier generals of the same state from which the troops were drawn. Instructions to that end were therefore given, and again and again repeated, but were for a long time only partially complied with, until the delay formed the basis of the argument that those who had by association become thoroughly acquainted would more advantageously be left united. In the meantime, frequent complaints came to me from the army, of unjust discrimination, the law being executed in regard to the troops of some states but not of others, and of serious discontent arising therefrom.

The duty to obey the law was imperative, and neither the executive nor the officers of the army had any right to question its propriety. I, however, considered the policy of that law wise, and was not surprised when it was stated to me that the persistent obstruction to its execution was repressing the spirit to volunteer in places to which complaints of such supposed favoritism had been transmitted.

About October 1st, at the request of General Johnston, I went to his headquarters, at Fairfax Court House, for the purpose of conference.

At the time of this visit to the army, the attention of the general officers, who then met me in conference, was called to the obligation created by law to organize the troops, when the numbers tendered by [384] any state permitted it, into brigades and divisions composed of the regiments, battalions, or companies of such state, and to assign general and staff officers in the ratio of the troops thus received. After my return to the capital, the importance of the subject weighed so heavily upon me as to lead to correspondence with the generals, which will be best understood by the following extracts from my letters to them which are here appended:

Richmond, Virginia, October 10, 1861.
Major-General G. W. Smith, Army of Potomac.
. . . How have you progressed in the solution of the problem I left—the organization of the troops with reference to the States, and term of service? If the volunteers continue their complaints that they are commanded by strangers and do not get justice, and that they are kept in camp to die when reported for hospital by the surgeon, we shall soon feel a reaction in the matter of volunteering. Already I have been much pressed on both subjects, and have answered by promising that the generals would give due attention, and, I hoped, make satisfactory changes. The authority to organize regiments into brigades and the latter into divisions is by law conferred only on the President; and I must be able to assume responsibility of the action taken by whomsoever acts for me in that regard. By reference to the law, you will see that, in surrendering the sole power to appoint general officers, it was nevertheless designed, as far as should be found consistent, to keep up the State relation of troops and generals. Kentucky has a brigadier, but not a brigade; she has, however, a regiment—that regiment and brigadier might be associated together. Louisiana had regiments enough to form a brigade, but no brigadier in either corps; all of the regiments were sent to that corps commanded by a Louisiana general. Georgia has regiments now organized into two brigades; she has on duty with that army two brigadiers, but one of them serves with other troops. Mississippi troops were scattered as if the State were unknown. Brigadier-General Clark was sent to remove a growing dissatisfaction, but, though the State had nine regiments there, he (Clark) was put in command of a post and depot of supplies. These nine regiments should form two brigades. Brigadiers Clark and (as a native of Mississippi) Whiting should be placed in command of them, and the regiments for the war put in the army man's brigade. Both brigades should be put in the division commanded by General Van Dorn, of Mississippi. Thus would the spirit and intent of the law be complied with, disagreeable complaint be spared me, and more of content be assured under the trials to which you look forward. It is needless to specify further. I have been able in writing to you to speak freely, and you have no past associations to disturb the judgment to be passed upon the views presented. I have made and am making inquiries as to the practicability of getting a corps of negroes for laborers to aid in the construction of an intrenched line in rear of your present position.

Your remarks on the want of efficient staff-officers are realized in all their force, and I hope, among the elements which constitute a staff-officer for volunteers, you have duly estimated the qualities of forbearance and urbanity. Many of the privates are men of high social position, of scholarship and fortune. Their [385] pride furnishes the motive for good conduct, and, if wounded, is turned from an instrument of good to one of great power for evil. . . .

. . . I have thought often upon the questions of reorganization which were submitted to you, and it has seemed to me that whether in view of disease, or the disappointment and suffering of a winter cantonment on a line of defense, or of a battle to be fought in and near your position, it was desirable to combine the troops, by a new distribution, with as little delay as practicable. They will be stimulated to extraordinary effort when so organized, in that the fame of their State will be in their keeping, and that each will feel that his immediate commander will desire to exalt rather than diminish his services. You pointed me to the fact that you had observed that rule in the case of the Louisiana and Carolina troops, and you will not fail to perceive that others find in the fact >a reason for the like disposal of them. In the hour of sickness, and the tedium of waiting for spring, men from the same region will best console and relieve each other. The maintenance of our cause rests on the sentiments of the people. Letters from the camp, complaining of inequality and harshness in the treatment of the men, have already dulled the enthusiasm which filled our ranks with men who by birth, fortune, education, and social position were the equals of any officer in the land. The spirit of our military law is manifested in the fact that the State organization was limited to the regiment. The volunteers come in sufficient numbers to have brigadiers, but have only colonels. It was not then intended (is the necessary conclusion) that those troops should be under the immediate command of officers above the grade of colonel. The spirit of the law, then, indicates that brigades should be larger than customary, the general being charged with the care, the direction, the preservation of the men, rather than the internal police.

my dear General . . . Two rules have been applied in the projected reorganization of the Army of the Potomac:

1. As far as practicable, to keep regiments from the same State together; 2. To assign generals to command the troops of their own State. I have not overlooked the objections to each, but the advantages are believed to outweigh the disadvantages of that arrangement. In distributing the regiments of the several States it would, I think, be better to place the regiments for the war in the same brigade of the State, and assign to those brigades the brigadiers whose services could least easily be dispensed with. For this, among other reasons, I will mention but one: the commission of a brigadier expires upon the breaking up of his brigade (see the law for their appointment). Of course, I would not for slight cause change the relations of troops and commanders, especially where it has been long continued and endeared by the trials of battle; but it is to be noted that the regiment was fixed as the unit of organization, and made the connecting link between the soldier and his home. Above that, all was subject to the discretion of the Confederate authorities, save the pregnant intimation in relation to the distribution of generals among the several States. It was generous and [386] confiding to surrender entirely to the Confederacy the appointment of generals, and it is the more incumbent on me to carry out as well as may be the spirit of the volunteer system.

. . . Your attention has been heretofore called to the law in relation to the organization of brigades and divisions—orders were long since given to bring the practice and the law into conformity. Recently reports have been asked for from the commanders of separate armies as to the composition of their respective brigades and divisions. I have been much harassed, and the public interest has certainly suffered, by the delay to place the regiments of some of the States in brigades together, it being deemed that unjust discrimination was made against them, and also by the popular error which has existed as to the number of brigadiers to which appointments could be specially urged on the grounds of residence. While some have expressed surprise at my patience when orders to you were not observed, I have at least hoped that you would recognize the desire to aid and sustain you, and that it would produce the corresponding action on your part. The reasons formerly offered have one after another disappeared, and I hope you will, as you can, proceed to organize your troops as heretofore instructed, and that the returns will relieve us of the uncertainty now felt as to the number and relations of the troops, and the commands of the officers having brigades and divisions. . . . I will not dwell on the lost opportunity afforded along the line of northern Virginia, but must call your attention to the present condition of affairs and probable action of the enemy, if not driven from his purpose to advance on the Fredericksburg route. . . .

Very truly yours,

On May 26th General Johnston's attention was again called to the organization of the ten Mississippi regiments into two brigades, and was reminded that the proposition had been made to him in the previous autumn, with an expression of my confidence that the regiments would be more effective in battle if thus associated.

I will now proceed to notice the allegation that I was responsible for inaction by the Army of the Potomac, in the latter part of 1861 and in the early part of 1862. After the explosion of the fallacy that I had prevented the pursuit of the enemy from Manassas in July, 1861, my assailants have sought to cover their exposure by a change of time and place, locating their story at Fairfax Court House, and dating it in the autumn of 1861.

When at that time and place I met General Johnston for conference, he called in the two generals next in rank to himself, Beauregard and G. W. Smith. The question for consideration was, What course should be adopted for the future action of the army? and the preliminary [387] inquiry by me was as to the number of the troops there assembled. To my surprise and disappointment, the effective strength was stated to be but little greater than when it fought the battle of the 21st of the preceding July. The frequent reenforcements which had been sent to that army in no wise prepared me for such an announcement. To my inquiry as to what force would be required for the contemplated advance into Maryland, the lowest estimate made by any of them was about twice the number there present for duty. How little I was prepared for such a condition of things will be realized from the fact that previous suggestions by the generals in regard to a purpose to advance into Maryland had induced me, when I went to that conference, to take with me some drawings made by the veteran soldier and engineer, Colonel Crozet, of the falls of the Potomac, to show the feasibility of crossing the river at that point. Very little knowledge of the condition and military resources of the country must have sufficed to show that I had no power to make such an addition to that army without a total disregard of the safety of other threatened positions. It only remained for me to answer that I had not power to furnish such a number of troops; and, unless the militia bearing their private arms should be relied on, we could not possibly fulfill such a requisition until after the receipt of the small arms which we had early and constantly striven to procure from abroad, and had for some time expected.

After I had written the foregoing, and all the succeeding chapters on kindred subjects, a friend, in October, 1880, furnished me with a copy of a paper relating to the conference at Fairfax Court House, which seems to require notice at my hands.

Therefore I break the chain of events to insert here some remarks in regard to it.

The paper appears to have been written by General G. W. Smith, and to have received the approval of Generals Beauregard and J. E. Johnston, and to bear the date of January 31, 1862.

It does not agree in some respects with my memory of what occurred, and is not consistent with itself. It was not necessary that I should learn in that interview the evil of inactivity. My correspondence of anterior date might have shown that I was fully aware of it, and my suggestions in the interview certainly did not look as if it was necessary to impress me with the advantage of action.

In one part of the paper it is stated that the reenforcements asked for were to be “seasoned soldiers,” such as were there present, and who were said to be in the “finest fighting condition.” This, if such a proposition [388] had been made, would have exposed its absurdity, as well as the loophole it offered for escape, by subsequently asserting that the troops furnished were not up to the proposed standard.

In another part of the paper it is stated that there were hope and expectation that, before the end of the winter, arms would be introduced into the country, and that then we could successfully invade that of the enemy; but this supply of arms, however abundant, could not furnish “seasoned soldiers,” and the two propositions are therefore inconsistent. In one place it is written that “it was felt it might be better to run the risk of almost certain destruction fighting upon the other side of the Potomac, rather than see the gradual dying out and deterioration of this army during a winter,” etc.; but, when it was proposed to cross into eastern Maryland on a steamer in our possession for a partial campaign, difficulties arose like the lion in the path of the sluggard, so that the proposition was postponed and never executed. In like manner the other expedition in the Valley of Virginia was achieved by an officer not of this council, General T. J. Jackson.

In one place it is written that the President stated, “At that time no reenforcements could be furnished to the army of the character asked for.” In another place he is made to say he could not take any troops from the points named, and, “without arms from abroad, could not reenforce that army.” Here, again, it is clear from the answer that the proposition had been for such reenforcements as additional arms would enable him to give. Those arms he expected to receive, barring the dangers of the sea, and of the enemy, which obstacles alone prevented the “positive assurance that they would be received at all.”

It was, as stated, with deep regret and bitter disappointment that I found, notwithstanding our diligent efforts to reenforce this army before and after the battle of Manassas, that its strength had but little increased, and that the arms of absentees and discharged men were represented by only twenty-five hundred on hand. I cannot suppose that General Johnston could have noticed the statement that his request for conference had set forth the object of it to be to discuss the question of reenforcement. He would have known that in Richmond, where all the returns were to be found, any consideration of reenforcement, by the withdrawal of troops from existing garrisons, could best be decided. Very little experience or a fair amount of modesty without any experience would serve to prevent one from announcing his conclusion that troops could be withdrawn from a place or places without knowing how many were there, and what was the necessity for their presence. [389]

I was at the conference by request; the confidence felt in those officers is shown by the fact that I met them alone, and did not require any minutes to be made of the meeting. About four months afterward a paper was prepared to make a record of the conversation; the fact was concealed from me, whereas, both for accuracy and frankness, it should have been submitted to me, even if there had been nothing due to our official relations. Twenty years after the event, I learned of this secret report, by one party, without notice having been given to the other, of a conversation said to have lasted two hours.

I have noticed the improbabilities and inconsistencies of the paper, and without remark I submit to honorable men the concealment from me in which it was prepared, whereby they may judge of the chances for such co-intelligence as needs must exist between the executive and the commanders of armies to insure attainable success.

The position at Fairfax Court House, though it would answer very well as a point from which to advance, was quite unfavorable for defense; when I so remarked, the opinion seemed to be that to which the generals had previously arrived. It therefore only remained to consider what change of position should be made in the event of the enemy threatening soon to advance. But in the meantime I hoped that something could be done by detachments from the army to effect objects less difficult than an advance against his main force, and particularly indicated the lower part of Maryland, where a small force was said to be ravaging the country and oppressing our friends. This, I thought, might be feasible by the establishment of a battery near to Aquia Creek, where the channel of the Potomac was said to be so narrow that our guns could prevent the use of the river by the enemy's boats, and, by employing a steamboat lying there, troops enough could be sent over some night to defeat that force, and return before any large body could be concentrated against them. The effect of the battery and of the expedition, it was hoped, would be important in relieving our friends and securing recruits from those who wished to join us. Previously, General Johnston's attention had been called to possibilities in the valley of the Shenandoah, and that these and other like things were not done, was surely due to other causes than “the policy of the Administration,” as will appear by the letters hereto annexed:

. . . General Lee has gone to western Virginia, and I hope may be able to strike a decisive blow in that quarter, or, failing in that, will be able to organize [390] and post our troops so as to check the enemy, after which he will return to this place.

The movement of Banks will require your attention. It may be a ruse, but, if a real movement, when your army has the requisite strength and mobility, you will probably find an opportunity, by a rapid movement through the passes, to strike him in rear or flank, and thus add another to your many claims to your country's gratitude. . . . We must be prompt to avail ourselves of the weakness resulting from the exchange of the new and less reliable forces of the enemy, for those heretofore in service, as well as of the moral effect produced by their late defeat. . . .

I am, as ever, your friend,

From the correspondence which occurred after the conference at Fairfax Court House, I select a reply made to General Smith, who had written to me in advocacy of the views he had then expressed about large reinforcements to the Army of the Potomac, for an advance into Maryland. Nothing is more common than that a general, realizing the wants of the army with which he is serving, and the ends that might be achieved if those wants were supplied, should overlook the necessities of others, and accept rumors of large forces which do not exist, and assume the absence of danger elsewhere than in his own front.

Richmond, Virginia, October 10, 1861.
Major-General G. W. Smith, Army of the Potomac.
. . . Your remarks about the moral effect of repressing the hope of the volunteers for an advance are in accordance with the painful impression made on me when, in our council, it was revealed to me that the Army of the Potomac had been reduced to about one half the legalized strength, and that the arms to restore the numbers were not in depot. As I there suggested, though you may not be able to advance into Maryland and expel the enemy, it may be possible to keep up the spirits of your troops by expeditions such as that particularly spoken of against Sickles's brigade on the lower Potomac, or Banks's above. By destroying the canal and making other rapid movements wherever opportunity presents, to beat detachments or to destroy lines of communication. . . .

Very truly, your friend,

. . . If a large force should be landed on the Potomac below General Holmes, with the view to turn or to attack him, the value of the position between Dumfries and Fredericksburg will be so great that I wish you to give to that line your personal inspection. With a sufficient force, the enemy may be prevented from leaving his boats, should he be able to cross the river. To make our force available at either of the points which he may select, it will be necessary to improve [391] the roads connecting the advance posts with the armies of the Potomac and of the Acquia, as well as with each other, and to have the requisite teams to move heavy guns with celerity. . . .

Very respectfully yours,

In November, 1861, reports became current that the enemy were concentrating troops west of the valley of the Shenandoah with a view to a descent upon it. That vigilant, enterprising, and patriotic soldier, General T. J. Jackson, whose steadiness under fire at the first battle of Manassas had procured for him the sobriquet of “Stonewall,” was then on duty as district commander of the Shenandoah Valley.

He was a West Virginian; though he had not acquired the fame which subsequently shed such luster upon his name, he possessed a wellde-served confidence among the people of that region. Ever watchful and daring in the discharge of any duty, he was intensely anxious to guard his beloved mountains of Virginia. This, stimulating his devotion to the general welfare of the Confederacy, induced him to desire to march against the enemy, who had captured Romney. On November 20, 1861, he wrote to the War Department, proposing an expedition to Romney, in western Virginia. It was decided to adopt his proposition, endorsed by the commander of the department, and further to insure success, though not recommended in the endorsement, his old brigade (then in the Army of the Potomac) was selected as a part of the command with which he was to make the campaign. General Johnston remonstrated against this transfer and the correspondence is subjoined for a fuller understanding of the matter:

headquarters, Valley District, November 20, 1861.
Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of War.
sir: I hope you will pardon me for requesting that, at once, all the troops under General Loring be ordered to this point. Deeply impressed with the importance of absolute secrecy respecting military operations, I have made it a point to say but little respecting my proposed movements in the event of sufficient reinforcements arriving, but, since conversing with Lieutenant-Colonel J. L. T. Preston upon his return from General Loring, and ascertaining the disposition of the General's forces, I venture to respectfully urge that, after concentrating all his troops here, an attempt should be made to capture the Federal forces at Romney. The attack on Romney would probably induce McClellan to believe that the Army of the Potomac had been so weakened as to justify him in making an advance on Centreville; but, should this not induce him to advance, I do not believe anything will during the present winter. Should the Army of the Potomac be attacked, I would be at once prepared to reenforce it with my present volunteer force, increased by General Loring's. After repulsing the enemy at Manassas, let the troops that marched on Romney return to the Valley and move [392] rapidly westward to the waters of the Monongahela and Little Kanawha. Should General Kelley be defeated, and especially should he be captured, I believe that, by a judicious disposition of the militia, a few cavalry, and a small number of field-pieces, no additional forces would be required for some time in this district. I deem it of very great importance that northwestern Virginia be occupied by Confederate troops this winter. At present, it is to be presumed that the enemy are not expecting an attack there, and the resources of that region necessary for the subsistence of our troops are in greater abundance than in almost any other season of the year. Postpone the occupation of that section until spring, and we may expect to find the enemy prepared for us, and the resources to which I have referred greatly exhausted. I know that what I have proposed will be an arduous undertaking, and can not be accomplished without the sacrifice of much personal comfort, but I feel that the troops will be prepared to make this sacrifice when animated by the prospects of important results to our cause and distinction to themselves. It may be urged, against this plan, that the enemy will advance on Staunton or Huntersville. I am well satisfied that such a step would but make their destruction more certain. Again, it may be said that General Floyd will be cut off. To avoid this, if necessary, the General has only to fall back toward the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. When northwestern Virginia is occupied in force, the Kanawha Valley, unless it be the lower part of it, must be evacuated by the Federal forces, or otherwise their safety will be endangered by forcing a column across from the Little Kanawha between them and the Ohio River. Admitting that the season is too far advanced, or that from other causes all can not be accomplished that has been named, yet, through the blessing of God, who has thus far so wonderfully prospered our cause, much more may be expected from General Loring's troops, according to this programme, than can be expected from them where they are. If you decide to order them here, I trust that, for the purpose of saving time, all the infantry, cavalry, and artillery will be directed to move immediately upon the reception of the order. The enemy, about five thousand strong, have been for some time slightly fortifying at Romney, and have completed their telegraph from that place to Green Spring Depot. Their forces at and near Williamsport are estimated as high as five thousand, but as yet I have no reliable information of their strength beyond the Potomac.

Your most obedient servant,

T. J. Jackson, Major-General, P. A. C. S.

headquarters, Centreville, November 21, 1861.
Respectfully forwarded. I submit that the troops under General Loring might render valuable services by taking the field with General Jackson, instead of going into winter-quarters, as now proposed.

J. E. Johnston, General.

headquarters, Centreville, November 22, 1861.
General Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector-General.
sir: I have received Major-General Jackson's plan of operations in his district, for which he asks for reenforcements. It seems to me that he proposes more than can well be accomplished in that high, mountainous country at this season. If the means of driving the enemy from Romney (preventing the reconstruction [393] of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and incursions by marauders into the counties of Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan) can be supplied to General Jackson, and with them those objects accomplished, we shall have reason to be satisfied, so far as the Valley district is concerned. The wants of other portions of the frontier—Acquia district, for instance—make it inexpedient, in my opinion, to transfer to the Valley district so large a force as that asked for by Major-General Jackson. It seems to me to be now of especial importance to strengthen Major-General Holmes, near Acquia Creek. The force there is very small, compared with the importance of the position.

Your obedient servant,

J. E. Johnston, General.


Respectfully submitted to the Secretary of War:

S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector-General.
November 25, 1861.

Sir: The Secretary of War has this morning laid before me yours of the 8th instant. I fully sympathize with your anxiety for the Army of the Potomac. If indeed mine be less than yours, it can only be so because the south, the west, and the east, presenting like cause for solicitude, have in the same manner demanded my care. Our correspondence must have assured you that I fully concur in your view of the necessity for unity in command, and I hope by a statement of the case to convince you that there has been no purpose to divide your authority by transferring the troops specified in order No. 206 from the center to the left of your department. The active campaign in the Greenbrier region was considered as closed for the season. There is reason to believe that the enemy is moving a portion of his forces from that mountain-region toward the Valley of Virginia, and that he has sent troops and munitions from the east by the way of the Potomac Canal toward the same point. The failure to destroy his communications by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and by the Potomac Canal has left him in possession of great advantages for that operation. General Jackson, for reasons known to you, was selected to command the division of the Valley, but we had only the militia and one mounted regiment within the district assigned to him. The recent activity of the enemy, the capture of Romney, etc., required that he should have for prompt service a body of Confederate troops to cooperate with the militia of that district. You suggest that such force should be drawn from the army at the Greenbrier; this was originally considered, and abandoned, because they could not reach him in time to anticipate the enemy's concentration, and also because General Jackson was a stranger to them, and time was wanting for the growth of that confidence between the commander and his troops, the value of which need not be urged upon you. We could have sent to him from this place an equal number of regiments, being about double the numerical strength of those specified in the order referred to, but they were parts of a brigade now in the Army of the Potomac, or were southern troops, and were ignorant of the country in which they were to serve, and all of them unknown to General Jackson. The troops sent were his old brigade, had served in the Valley, and had acquired a reputation which would give confidence to the people [394] of that region upon whom the General had to rely for his future success. Though the troops sent to you are, as you say, “raw,” they have many able officers, and will, I doubt not, be found reliable in the hour of danger. Their greater numbers will to you, I hope, more than compensate for the experience of those transferred; while, in the Valley, the latter, by the moral effect their presence will produce, will more than compensate for the inferiority of their numbers. I have labored to increase the Army of the Potomac, and, so far from proposing a reduction of it, did not intend to rest content with an exchange of equivalents. In addition to the troops recently sent to you, I expected soon to send further reenforcements by withdrawing a part of the army from the Greenbrier Mountains. I have looked hopefully forward to the time when our army could assume the offensive, and select the time and place where battles were to be fought, so that ours should be alternations of activity and repose, theirs the heavy task of constant watching. When I last visited your headquarters, my surprise was expressed at the little increase of your effective force above that of the 21st of July last, notwithstanding the heavy reenforcements which in the mean time, had been sent to you. Since that visit I have frequently heard of the improved health of the troops, of the return of many who had been absent sick; and some increase has been made by reenforcements. You can, then, imagine my disappointment at the information you give, that, on the day before the date of your letter, the army at your position was yet no stronger than on the 21st of July. I can only repeat what has been said to you in our conference at Fairfax Court-House, that we are restricted in our capacity to reenforce by the want of arms. Troops to bear the few arms you have in store have been ordered forward. Your view of the magnitude of the calamity of defeat of the Army of the Potomac is entirely concurred in, and every advantage which is attainable should be seized to increase the power of your present force. I will do what I can to augment its numbers, but you must remember that our wants greatly exceed our resources.

Banks's brigade, we learn, has left the position occupied when I last saw you. Sickles is said to be yet in the lower Potomac, and, when your means will enable you to reach him, I still hope he may be crushed.

I will show this reply to the Secretary of War, and hope there will be no misunderstanding between you in future. The success of the army requires harmonious cooperation.

Very respectfully, etc.,

After General Jackson commenced his march, the cold became unexpectedly severe, and as he ascended into the mountainous region, the slopes were covered with ice, which impeded his progress, the more because his horses were smooth-shod; but his tenacity of purpose, fidelity, and daring, too well known to need commendation, triumphed over every obstacle, and he attained his object, drove the enemy from Romney and its surroundings, took possession of the place, and prevented the threatened concentration. Having accomplished this purpose, and being assured that the enemy had abandoned that section of country, he [395] returned with his old brigade to the valley of the Shenandoah, leaving the balance of his command at Romney. General Loring, the senior officer there present, and many others of the command so left, appealed to the War Department to be withdrawn. Their arguments were, as well as I remember, these: that the troops, being from the South, were unaccustomed to, and unprepared for, the rigors of a mountain winter; that they were strangers to the people of that section; that the position had no military strength, and, at the approach of spring, would be accessible to the enemy by roads leading from various quarters.

After some preliminary action, an order was issued from the War Office directing the troops to retire to the valley. As that order has been the subject of no little complaint, both by civil and military functionaries, my letter to the general commanding the department, in explanation of the act of the Secretary of War, is hereto annexed:

Richmond, Virginia, February 14, 1862.
General J. E. Johnston, commanding Department of Northern Virginia, Centreville, Virginia.
General: I have received your letter of the 5th instant. While I admit the propriety in all cases of transmitting orders through you to those under your command, it is not surprising that the Secretary of War should, in a case requiring prompt action, have departed from this, the usual method, in view of the fact that he had failed more than once in having his instructions carried out when forwarded to you in the proper manner. You will remember that you were directed, on account of the painful reports received at the War Department in relation to the command at Romney, to repair to that place, and, after the needful examination, to give the orders proper in the case. You sent your adjutant-(inspector?) general, and I am informed that he went no farther than Winchester, to which point the commander of the expedition had withdrawn; leaving the troops, for whom anxiety had been excited, at Romney. Had you given your personal attention to the case, you must be assured that the confidence reposed in you would have prevented the Secretary from taking any action before your report had been received. In the absence of such security, he was further moved by what was deemed reliable information, that a large force of the enemy was concentrating to capture the troops at Romney, and by official report that place had no natural strength and little strategic importance. To insure concert of action in the defense of our Potomac frontier, it was thought best to place all the forces for this object under one command. The reasons which originally induced the adding of the Valley district to your department exist in full force at present, and I can not, therefore, agree to its separation from your command.

I will visit the Army of the Potomac as soon as other engagements will permit, although I can not realize your complimentary assurance that great good to the army will result from it; nor can I anticipate the precise time when it will be practicable to leave my duties here.

Very respectfully and truly yours,


To complaints by General Johnston that the discipline of his army was interfered with by irregular action of the Secretary of War, and its numerical strength diminished by furloughs granted directly by the War Department, I replied, after making inquiry at the War Office, by a letter, a copy of which is hereto annexed:

dear sir: Yours of the 1st instant received prompt attention, and I am led to the conclusion that some imposition has been practiced upon you. The Secretary of War informs me that he has not granted leaves of absence or furloughs to soldiers of your command for a month past, and then only to divert the current which threatened by legislation to destroy your army by a wholesale system of furloughs. Those which you inform me are daily received must be spurious. The authority to reenlist and change from infantry to artillery, the Secretary informs me, has been given but in four cases—three on the recommendation of General Beauregard, and specially explained to you some time since; the remaining case was that of a company from Wheeling, which was regarded as an exceptional one. I wish, therefore, that you would send to the Adjutant-General the cases of recent date in which the discipline of your troops has been interfered with in the two methods stated, so that an inquiry may be made into the origin of the papers presented. The law in relation to reenlistment provides for reorganization, and was under the policy of electing the officers.

The concession to army opinions was limited to the promotion by seniority after the organization of the companies and regiments had been completed. The reorganization was not to occur before the expiration of the present term. A subsequent law provides for filling up the twelve months companies by recruits for the war, but the organization ceases with the term of the twelve months men. Be assured of readiness to protect your proper authority, and I do but justice to the Secretary of War in saying that he can not desire to interfere with the discipline and organization of your troops. He has complained that his orders are not executed, and I regret that he was able to present to me so many instances to justify that complaint, which were in no wise the invasion of your prerogative as a commander in the field.

You can command my attention at all times to any matter connected with your duties, and I hope that full co-intelligence will secure full satisfaction.

Very truly yours,

A fortnight after this letter, I received from General Johnston notice that his position was considered unsafe. Many of his letters to me have been lost, and I have thus far not been able to find the one giving the notice referred to, but the reply which is annexed clearly indicates the substance of the letter which was answered: [397]

Richmond, Virginia, February 28, 1862.
General J. E. Johnston: . . . Your opinion that your position may be turned whenever the enemy chooses to advance, and that he will be ready to take the field before yourself, clearly indicates prompt effort to disencumber yourself of everything which would interfere with your rapid movement when necessary, and such thorough examination of the country in your rear as would give you exact knowledge of its roads and general topography, and enable you to select a line of greater natural advantages than that now occupied by your forces.

The heavy guns at Manassas and Evansport, needed elsewhere, and reported to be useless in their present position, would necessarily be abandoned in any hasty retreat. I regret that you find it impossible to move them.

The subsistence stores should, when removed, be placed in positions to answer your future wants. Those can not be determined until you have furnished definite information as to your plans, especially the line to which you would remove in the contingency of retiring. The Commissary-General had previously stopped further shipments to your army, and given satisfactory reasons for the establishment at Thoroughfare.1 . . .

I need not urge on your consideration the value to our country of arms and munitions of war: you know the difficulty with which we have obtained our small supply; that, to furnish heavy artillery to the advanced posts, we have exhausted the supplies here which were designed for the armament of the city defenses. Whatever can be, should be done to avoid the loss of these guns ....

As has been my custom, I have only sought to present general purposes and views. I rely upon your special knowledge and high ability to effect whatever is practicable in this our hour of need. Recent disasters have depressed the weak, and are depriving us of the aid of the wavering. Traitors show the tendencies heretofore concealed, and the selfish grow clamorous for local and personal interests. At such an hour, the wisdom of the trained and the steadiness of the brave possess a double value. The military paradox that impossibilities must be rendered possible, had never better occasion for its application.

The engineers for whom you asked have been ordered to report to you, and further additions will be made to your list of brigadier-generals. Let me hear from you often and fully.

Very truly and respectfully yours,

Richmond, Virginia, March 6, 1862.
General J. E. Johnston: . . . Notwithstanding the threatening position of the enemy, I infer from your account of the roads and streams that his active operations must be for some time delayed, and thus I am permitted to hope that you will be able to mobilize your army by the removal of your heavy ordnance and such stores as are not required for active operations, so that, whenever you are required to move, it may be without public loss and without impediment to celerity. I was fully impressed with the difficulties which you presented when discussing the subject of a change of position. To preserve the efficiency of your [398] army, you will, of course, avoid all needless exposure; and, when your army has been relieved of all useless incumbrance, you can have no occasion to move it while the roads and the weather are such as would involve serious suffering, because the same reasons must restrain the operations of the enemy. . . .

Very respectfully yours,

At the conference at Fairfax Court House heretofore referred to, I was sadly disappointed to find that the strength of that army had been little increased, notwithstanding the reenforcements sent to it since July 21st, and that to make an advance the generals required an additional force, which it was utterly impracticable for me to supply. Soon thereafter the army withdrew to Centreville, a better position for defense but not for attack, and thereby suggestive of the abandonment of an intention to advance. The subsequent correspondence with General Johnston during the winter expressed an expectation that the enemy would resume the offensive, and that the position then held was geographically unfavorable. There was a general apprehension at Richmond that the northern frontier of Virginia would be abandoned, and a corresponding earnestness was exhibited to raise the requisite force to enable our army to take the offensive. On March 10th I telegraphed to General Johnston: “Further assurance given to me this day that you shall be promptly and adequately reenforced, so as to enable you to maintain your position, and resume first policy when the roads will permit.” The first policy was to carry the war beyond our own border.

Five days thereafter I received notice that our army was in retreat, and replied as follows:

Richmond, Virginia, March 15, 1862.
General J. E. Johnston, Headquarters Army of the Potomac.
General: I have received your letter of the 13th instant, giving the first official account I have received of the retrograde movement of your army.

Your letter would lead me to infer that others had been sent to apprise me of your plans and movements. If so, they have not reached me; and, before the receipt of yours of the 13th, I was as much in the dark as to your purposes, condition, and necessities as at the time of our conversation on the subject about a month since.

It is true I have had many and alarming reports of great destruction of ammunition, camp-equipage, and provisions, indicating precipitate retreat; but, having heard of no cause for such a sudden movement, I was at a loss to believe it.

I have not the requisite topographical knowledge for the selection of your new position. I had intended that you should determine that question; and for this purpose a corps of engineers was furnished to make a careful examination of the country to aid you in your decision. [399]

The question of throwing troops into Richmond is contingent upon reverses in the West and Southeast. The immediate necessity for such a movement is not anticipated.

Very respectfully yours,

On the same day I sent the following telegram:

Richmond, Virginia, March 15, 1862.
General J. E. Johnston, Culpepper Court-House, Virginia.
Your letter of the 13th received this day, being the first information of your retrograde movement. I have no report of your reconnaissance, and can suggest nothing as to the position you should take except it should be as far in advance as consistent with your safety.

To further inquiry from General Johnston as to where he should take position, I replied that I would go to his headquarters in the field, and found him on the south bank of the river, to which he had retired, in a position possessing great natural advantages. An elevated bank commanded the north side of the river, overlooking the bridge, and an open field beyond it, across which the enemy must pass to reach the bridge, which, if left standing, was an invitation to seek that crossing. Upon inquiring whether the south bank of the river continued to command the other side down to Fredericksburg, General Johnston answered that he did not know; that he had not been at Fredericksburg since he passed there in a stage on his way to West Point, when he was first appointed a cadet. I then proposed that we should go to Fredericksburg, to inform ourselves upon that point. On arriving at Fredericksburg, a reconnaissance soon manifested that the hills on the opposite side commanded the town and adjacent river bank, and therefore Fredericksburg could only be defended by an army occupying the opposite hills, for which our force was inadequate. In returning to the house of Barton, where I was a guest, I found a number of ladies had assembled there to welcome me, and who, with anxiety, inquired as to the result of our reconnaissance. Upon learning that the town was not considered defensible against an enemy occupying the heights on the other side, and that our force was not sufficient to hold those heights against such an attack as might be anticipated, the general answer was, with a self-sacrificing patriotism too much admired to be forgotten, “If the good of our cause requires the defense of the town to be abandoned, let it be done.” The purposes of the enemy were then unknown to us. If General Johnston's expectation of a hostile advance in great force should be realized, our [400] course must depend partly upon receiving the reenforcement we had reason to expect from promises previously given and renewed, as was announced to General Johnston in my telegram of March 10, 1862, in these words:

Further assurance given to me this day that you shall be promptly and adequately reenforced, so as to enable you to maintain your position, and resume first policy when the roads will permit.

No immediate decision could therefore be made, and I returned to Richmond to wait the further development of the enemy's plans, and to prepare as best we might to counteract them.

The feeling heretofore noticed as arousing in Virginia a determination to resist the abandonment of her northern frontier, and which caused the assurance of reenforcements, bore fruit in the addition of about thirty thousand men, by a draft made by the governor of the state. These, it is true, were not the disciplined, seasoned troops which were asked for by the generals in the conference at Fairfax Court House, but they were of such men as often during the war won battles for the Confederacy. The development of the enemy's plans, for which we had to wait, proved that instead of advancing in force against our position at Centreville, he had, before the retreat of our army commenced, decided to move down the Potomac for a campaign against Richmond, from the Peninsula as a base. The conflagration at Centreville gave notice of its evacuation, and an advance was made as far as Manassas, but, as appears by General McClellan's report, with no more important design than to attack our rear guard, if it should be encountered. In the report on the conduct of the war by a committee of the United States Congress, evidence is found of much vacillation before the conclusion was finally reached of abandoning the idea of a direct advance upon Richmond for that of concentrating their army at the mouth of the Chesapeake. Whatever doubt or apprehension continued to exist about uncovering the city of Washington by removing their main army from before it, was of course dispelled by the retreat of our army, and the burning of bridges behind it. In this last-mentioned fact, General McClellan says he found the strongest reason to believe that there was no immediate danger of our army returning.

There was an apparent advantage to the enemy in the new base for his operations which was sufficiently illustrated by the events of the last year of the war. Had we possessed an army as large as the enemy supposed, it would have been possible for us at the same time to check his advance from the East and to march against his capital, with fair prospect [401] of capturing it, before the army he had sent against Yorktown could have been brought back for the defense of Washington. On this as on other occasions he greatly magnified the force we possessed, and on this as on other occasions it required the concentration of our troops successfully to resist a detachment of his. Accepting as a necessity the withdrawal of the main portion of our army from northern Virginia to meet the invasion from the seaboard, it was regretted that earlier and more effective means were not employed for the mobilization of the army, a desirable measure in either contingency of advance or retreat, or at the least that the withdrawal was not so deliberate as to secure the removal of our ordnance, subsistence, and quartermasters' stores, which had been collected on the line occupied in 1861 and the early part of 1862.

A distinguished officer of our army, who has since the war made valuable contributions to the history of its operations—especially valuable as well for their accuracy as for their freedom from personal or partisan bias—writes thus of the retreat from Centreville:

A very large amount of stores and provisions had been abandoned for want of transportation, and among the stores was a very large quantity of clothing, blankets, etc., which had been provided by the States south of Virginia for their own troops. The pile of trunks along the railroad was appalling to behold. All these stores, clothing, trunks, etc., were consigned to the flames by a portion of our cavalry left to carry out the work of their destruction. The loss of stores at this point and at White Plains on the Manassas Gap Railroad, where a large amount of meat had been salted and stored, was a very serious one to us, and embarrassed us for the remainder of the war, as it put us at once on a running stock.

The same officer—and the value of his opinion will be recognized by all who know him, wherefore I give his name, General J. A. Early—in a communication subsequent to that from which I have just quoted, writes, in regard to the loss of supplies:

I believe that all might have been carried off from Manassas if the railroads had been energetically operated. The rolling-stock of the Orange and Alexandria, Manassas Gap, and Virginia Central Railroads ought to have been sufficient for the purpose of removing everything in the two weeks allowed, if properly used.

The enemy's plans, the development of which, as has been already stated, was necessary for the determination of our own movements, were soon thereafter found to be the invasion of Virginia from the seaboard, and the principal portion of our army was consequently ordered to the Peninsula, between the York River and the James. Thus the northern frontier of Virginia, which in the first year of the war had been the main field of skirmishes, combats, and battles, of advance and retreat, [402] and the occupation and evacuation of fortified positions, ceased for a time to tremble beneath the tread of contending armies.

To the foregoing narration of events immediately connected with the efforts of the Confederate government to maintain its existence at home, may here be properly added an incident bearing on its foreign relations in the first year of the war.

Our efforts for the recognition of the Confederate States by the European powers, in 1861, served to make us better known abroad, to awaken a kindly feeling in our favor, and cause a respectful regard for the effort we were making to maintain the independence of the states which Great Britain had recognized, and her people knew to be our birthright.

On November 8, 1861, an outrage was perpetrated by an armed vessel of the United States, in the forcible detention, on the high seas, of a British mail steamer, making one of her regular trips from one British port to another, and the seizure, on that unarmed vessel, of our commissioners, Mason and Slidell, who with their secretaries were bound for Europe on diplomatic service. The seizure was made by an armed force against the protest of the captain of the vessel, and of Commander Williams, R. N., the latter speaking as the representative of Her Majesty's government. The commissioners yielded only when force, which they could not resist, was used to remove them from the mail steamer, and convey them to the United States vessel of war.

This outrage was the more marked because the United States had been foremost in resisting the right of “visit and search,” and had made it the cause of the War of 1812 with Great Britain.

When intelligence of the event was received in England it excited the greatest indignation among the people; Her Majesty's government, by naval and other preparations, unmistakably exhibited the purpose to redress the wrong.

The commissioners and their secretaries had been transported to the harbor of Boston, and imprisoned in its main fortress.

Diplomatic correspondence resulted from this event. The British government demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the commissioners, “in order that they may again be placed under British protection, and a suitable apology for the aggression which has been committed.”

In the meantime Captain Wilkes, commander of the vessel which had made the visit and search of the Trent, returned to the United States and was received with general plaudit, both by the people and the government. The House of Representatives passed a vote of thanks, an honor [403] not heretofore bestowed except for some deed deserving well of the country. In the midst of all this exultation at the seizure of our commissioners on board a British merchant ship, came the indignant and stern demand for the restoration of those commissioners to the British protection from which they had been taken, and an apology for the aggression. It was little to be expected, after such explicit commendation of the act, that the United States government would accede to the demand; therefore the War and Navy Departments of the British government made active and extensive provision to enforce it. The haughty temper displayed toward four gentlemen arrested on an unarmed ship subsided in view of a demand to be enforced by the army and navy of Great Britain, and the United States Secretary of State, after a wordy and ingenious reply to the minister of Great Britain at Washington city, wrote: “The four persons in question are now held in military custody at Fort Warren, in the State of Massachusetts. They will be cheerfully liberated. Your lordship will please indicate a time and place for receiving them.”

There was a time when the government and the people of the United States would not have sanctioned such aggression on the right of friendly ships to pass unquestioned on the highway of nations, and the right of a neutral flag to protect everything not contraband of war; that was, however, a time when arrogance and duplicity had not led them into false positions, and when the roar of the British lion could not make Americans retract what they had deliberately avowed.

1 Thoroughfare Gap was the point at which the commissary general had placed a meatpacking establishment.

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