Chapter 1: from the U. S.A. Into the C. S.A.

The year 1861 found me a second lieutenant of Engineers, U. S. A., on duty with Co. A, Engineer troops, at Fort Steilacoom, Washington Territory. I had entered West Point from Georgia in 1853, and graduated in 1857. For three years after my graduation I served, generally at the Military Academy, as an assistant instructor, but on two occasions was absent for six month at a time upon special details.

On the first, with Capt. James C. Duane and 64 men of the Engineer Company, we were sent out to Utah for duty with Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston in what was then called the Mormon War. In 1857 the Mormons had refused to receive a governor of the territory, appointed by President Buchanan, and assumed a hostile attitude. Johnston was sent with about 2000 men to install the new governor, Alfred Cumming of Georgia. The Mormons took arms, fortified the passes of the Wasatch Mountains, and captured and burned trains of supplies for the troops.

The near approach of winter decided the War Department to halt Johnston and put him in winter quarters at Fort Bridger, east of the Wasatch, until he could be heavily reenforced in the spring. Six columns of reenforcements were ordered from [2] Fort Leavenworth, and, of these, our detachment and the 6th Infantry composed column No. 1, and marched on May 6, 1858.

The only travelled route at that time passed by Fort Kearney, Fort Laramie, and the Great South Pass. Our column was ordered to open a new route, following the South Platte to Lodge Pole Creek, and up that stream to its headwaters in the Southern Black Hills, and thence, via Bridger's Pass, to join the old road a short distance east of Fort Bridger. Only Fremont, some years before, had ever gone through by that route, and it was thought to be materially shorter. When we got into the mountains we found it necessary to leave the 6th Infantry in camp, and to go ahead with our company to make a practicable road. We also had to ferry, using iron wagon bodies as boats, the Laramie, the North Platte, and Green rivers. Fort Bridger was reached on Aug. 1— 86 days, 970 miles. The new route proved to be 49 miles shorter than the South Pass road.

Without mails for six weeks, it was only on arrival at Fort Bridger we learned that the ‘Mormon War’ was over. Brigham Young, on seeing the large force prepared to install his rival, Gov. Cumming, had wisely concluded to submit and forego his dream of independence. Perhaps he was the wisest leader of a people seeking freedom, of all his generation. At first, the Mormons deserted their homes, and proposed to burn them and migrate to Mexico. Neither Confederate nor Boer was more devoted to his cause than the Mormons to their own. But Brigham Young knew when the time to surrender had come, and he deserves a monument for knowing it and acting upon the knowledge; even though by doing so he greatly disappointed many young officers, myself among them, anxious to see active service.

Meanwhile an important Indian war had broken out in Oregon, and the detachment of our company which had been left at West Point was now on its way there via the Isthmus under Lts. Casey and Robert. Orders had, therefore, been issued recalling our detachment to West Point, and directing the 6th Infantry to march on by land to Oregon.

On Aug. 9 we set out via the South Pass and Fort Laramie route and reached Leavenworth, 1019 miles, on Oct. 3, 56 days. We lay over eight Sundays, and one day at Laramie, and made [3] 47 marches averaging 22 miles each. The longest march was 27 miles. These figures are of interest for comparison with marches made on special occasions in the war. The conditions of the march were the most favorable possible, being over good roads, in good weather, by a small body, with all ammunition and knapsacks carried in a train of nearly empty wagons, and officers and men all anxious to make a quick trip. Distances were carefully measured by an odometer. Rests during the march were about 10 minutes in each hour, and the average rate of movement on good ground was a mile in 20 minutes. From Leavenworth we took a boat to St. Louis, and thence rail to New York and West Point, arriving Oct. 13.

The Plains at this period were in their pristine wildness, and I had enjoyed the march greatly. Buffalo and antelope were abundant, and I was fond of hunting. The Indians were armed but with bows and arrows, and dressed only in breech clouts, blankets, feathers, and paint. Gold was first discovered on Cherry Creek, near what is now Denver, during this summer, and on our return we met the earliest emigrants going out to that section. Within two years there was a considerable city there, with theatres and daily papers.

I remained at West Point a year as Assistant Instructor in Engineering, and during the summer of 1859 was put in charge of the Department of Fencing and Target Practice. In Oct., 1859, I was assigned to special duty with Assistant-Surgeon A. J. Myer to experiment with a system of military signals which he had devised and offered to the War Department. It was based upon the use of Baine's telegraphic alphabet, which formed the letters by the use of only two elements — dot and dash. The Morse alphabet uses four—dot, short dash, long dash, and interval between dashes. Myer had originally suggested its use as a language for the deaf and dumb, when he was a medical student. By the waving of anything to the left for dot, and to the right for dash, any letter could be indicated by a few waves.

For three months we experimented with flags, torches, and glasses between Fort Hamilton and Sandy Hook, and, in Jan., 1860, we reported to the War Department in Washington with what has been since known as the ‘Wig-wag’ Signal [4] System. A bill was introduced into Congress to adopt the system and Myer and I were directed to exhibit it to the Military Committees. I was also assigned to temporary duty on a board of officers experimenting with breech-loading rifles, of which there were several models being offered to the War Department.

By April, 1860, the Signal Bill having been favorably reported, I was relieved from special duty and ordered back to West Point, but was given a leave of absence for 60 days. During this leave I married Miss Bettie Mason of King George Co., Va. Soon after returning to West Point I was ordered to relieve Lt. Robert at Fort Steilacoom in Washington Territory with the detachment of our company. With my wife I sailed on the steamer Northern Light for Aspinwall on Aug. 10; by the John L. Stephens from Panama on the 19th; and by the Cortes from San Francisco on Sept. 8; landing at Steilacoom City on Sept. 20. All steamers of those days were side wheelers.

The post was commanded by Col. Silas Casey of the 9th Infantry, and garrisoned by two companies of the 9th Infantry and our detachment of 36 Engineer troops under Lt. Thomas L. Casey. There were no duties but those of company routine. The post was a very pleasant one, the woods and waters abounded in game and fish, the climate was mild and open, and the fall and winter passed rapidly. But it was a period of great anxiety to Southern officers whose native states, after debating the question of secession, began one after another to take the step.

There was generally little active interest taken by army officers in political questions, but, with few exceptions, the creed was held that, as a matter of course, in case war should result from secession, each officer would go with his state. In Feb. we received news of the secession of Georgia. There seemed then, however, strong probability of a peaceful separation. In March came orders for the return of our detachment to West Point.

No vessel was then running to any port in Puget Sound, and we had to wait until special arrangements for our transportation could be made. Our Quartermaster Department, however, maintained an armed vessel, the Massachusetts, upon the Sound to keep off invasions of the Stikane Indians, who made raids [5] from Alaska in their immense war canoes. This vessel was directed to take us to Port Townsend, and there the Cortes, which ran between San Francisco and Vancouver's Island, would call and get us.

We sailed from Steilacoom City in the afternoon of April 9, 1861. Four years later, to an hour, I saw Gen. Lee ride back to his lines from Appomattox Court House, where he had just surrendered his army. On April 12 we took the Cortes, and, after touching at Squimault and Portland, we reached San Francisco on the 20th. We were too late to catch the Panama steamer of that date, as we had hoped, and the next boat was May 1.

As our steamer made fast to the wharf all my personal plans were upset. A special messenger, waiting on the wharf, came aboard and handed me an order by telegraph and Pony Express relieving me from duty with my company, and ordering me to report to Lt. McPherson in charge of Alcatraz Island, San Francisco harbor.

I was very sorry to receive this order, as it deprived me of transportation, leaving me, with my wife, over 6000 miles from home by the only available route, and it precipitated my own resignation, which I might have reasonably delayed until I was back in the East.

But there was now no longer any doubt that war was inevitable, and, indeed, within a day or two the Pony Express and telegraph line brought news of the fall of Fort Sumter.

So when I reported to McPherson, in obedience to my orders, I told him that I must resign and go with my state, and I begged that he would forward my resignation, and at the same time give me a leave of absence, which would allow me to go home and await the acceptance of my resignation there. He had authority to give such leave, and, unless he gave it, I would be compelled to remain in San Francisco, which would detain me at least two months.

While McPherson proved himself afterward to be a great soldier, he was also one of the most attractive and universally beloved and admired men whom I have ever met. His reply to my request was like a prophecy in its foresight, and its [6] affectionate kindness appealed to me very deeply. I have always remembered the conversation vividly. He said: —

‘If you must go, I will give the leave of absence, and do all in my power to facilitate your going. But don't go. These urgent orders to stop you here are meant to say that, if you are willing to keep out of the war on either side, you can do so. They mean that you will not be asked to go into the field against your own people, but that you will be kept on this coast, upon fortification duty, as long as the war lasts. Gen. Totten likes you and wants to keep you in the Corps. That is what these orders mean. This war is not going to be the ninety days affair that papers and politicians are predicting. Both sides are in deadly earnest, and it is going to be fought out to the bitter end. If you go, as an educated soldier, you will be put in the front rank. God only knows what may happen to you individually, but for your cause there can be but one result. It must be lost. Your whole population is only about eight millions, while the North has twenty millions. Of your eight millions, three millions are slaves who may become an element of danger. You have no army, no navy, no treasury, and practically none of the manufactures and machine shops necessary for the support of armies, and for war on a large scale. You are but scattered agricultural communities, and you will be cut off from the rest of the world by blockade. Your cause must end in defeat, and the individual risks to you must be great. On the other hand, if you stay out here, you will soon be left the ranking engineer officer on this whole coast. Every one of the older officers will soon be called East for active service, and there will be casualties and promotion, and probably increase of the Corps. Meanwhile you will have every chance to make a reputation for yourself as an engineer, and you will have charge of this big Lime Point reservation, about 10,000 acres, all covered with wild oats. Buy a flock of sheep and put on it, hire a Mexican to herd them, and in four years you will be a rich man. The city of San Francisco, too, is filling in water lots, and the Engineer officers are consulted in fixing the harbor lines. This will give you information and opportunities in making good investments. Briefly, remaining here you have every opportunity for professional reputation, for promotion, and for wealth. Going home you have every personal risk to run, and in a cause foredoomed to failure.’

I could not but be greatly impressed by this appeal. It made me realize, as I had never done before, the gravity of the decision which I had to make. But one consideration was inexorable: I must go with my people. So I answered:—

‘What you say is probably all true. But my situation is just this. My people are going to war. They are in deadly earnest, believing it to [7] be for their liberty. If I don't come and bear my part, they will believe me to be a coward. And I shall not know whether I am or not. I have just got to go and stand my chances.’

His reply was, ‘In your situation I would probably feel the same way about it.’ So I wrote my resignation, dating it May 1, and McPherson gave me leave of absence, and did everything possible to make my going easy and comfortable. I never saw him again after our sad parting on the dock, for, as he had foreseen, he was ordered East, and, having been made a major-general and won high distinction, was killed at Atlanta in July, 1864.

My resignation was duly accepted, and notice reached me in August, before the mails to the South through Kentucky were entirely discontinued. We sailed on May 1 in the Golden Age, crossed the Isthmus on the 14th, and arrived in New York on steamer Champion on the 24th, having lost two days in a severe gale. We landed early, and had intended remaining in New York for a day or two, but while we had been upon our journey, events had been in progress.

President Lincoln had called for 75,000 troops. All of the border states had refused to furnish troops, and had taken part with those which had seceded, and a small Federal army had been collected at Washington. On the night before our arrival a part of this force was marched across into Virginia, and occupied Alexandria.

Col. Ellsworth, commanding the leading regiment, had entered a hotel and torn down a secession flag from its roof. The proprietor, Jackson, had shot Ellsworth dead as he came downstairs, and had been killed himself.

My wife and I were shopping in Canal Street about noon, when a man rushed into the store and shouted out this news. The excitement which this caused, and the hostility to all Confederates evident in general conversation, warned me that if I were known to be a resigned officer on my way to enter the Confederate Army I might encounter trouble.

We cut short our shopping and decided to leave for Louisville by the first train. Kentucky was endeavoring to take a position of neutrality in the conflict, and through that state we could [8] make our way to Georgia. We left at 5 P. M. on 26th by the Erie road, and going through Cleveland, Cincinnati, Seymour, and Jefferson, we reached Louisville on the 27th and Chattanooga on May 28. Here I met the Confederate Secretary of War, Hon. L. P. Walker, on his way to Richmond, Va., now the capital of the Confederacy.

I called on him and was told that a commission as captain of Engineers was awaiting my acceptance. Of course I accepted, and promised to report in Richmond as soon as I could leave my wife in Washington, Ga., at my father's home. We spent that night in Atlanta, and reached Washington, Thursday, May 30. The next day I left for Richmond and arrived there Saturday night, June 1.

One feature of this eight days journey, which I recall very distinctly, was the comparative impressions made upon me by the camps, and the preparations for war, which I saw everywhere, both at the North and in the South. They recalled McPherson's comparison of the military strength of the two sections, and did not discredit his predictions.

The camps near the principal Northern towns were all of regiments. Those in the South were mostly of a company each. The arms of the Northern troops were generally the long-range rifled muskets. Those of the Southern troops were almost universally the old-fashioned smooth-bore muskets. The Northern troops were always neatly uniformed in blue, their camps seemed well equipped, and there was generally some visible show of military discipline about them. The Confederate uniforms were blue, gray, or brown, and sometimes uniforms were lacking. There was, too, a noticeable contrast in the physical appearance of the men, the Northern and Western men having more flesh and better color. As physical machines, to withstand hardships, a casual observer would have pronounced them superior to their antagonists. But I lived to see that appearances may deceive. Indeed, it became a never-ceasing wonder, to the very end at Appomattox, to see how our lean, ill-equipped ranks would fight, all the harder, it seemed, as the men grew thinner and more ragged and hungry looking.

Here it is in order to speak briefly of one of the incidents [9] leading up to the attack upon Fort Sumter, the history of which is instructive.

This attack is often spoken of as the first hostile act of the war. Really the first hostile act was the transfer of the garrison of Fort Moultrie into Fort Sumter, stealthily accomplished during the night of Dec. 26, 1860, the guns of Moultrie being spiked, and their ammunition destroyed. It was a military measure which utterly changed the status quo.

Both the S. C. authorities and President Buchanan were earnestly anxious to maintain this status, and the War Department, in its anxiety, had sent a specially detailed officer, Maj. Don Carlos Buell (afterward Maj.-Gen.) to impress the importance of it upon Maj. Anderson in command. His instructions were to be delivered verbally, which is, surely, always a mistake in a matter of grave importance. Conversations are too often and too easily misunderstood, and exact words forgotten. In this case, it is hard to believe that Maj. Anderson could have so forgotten, not to say deliberately disobeyed, his instructions as he did, had they been given in writing. In that view of the matter, it may be said that the war was precipitated by giving important orders verbally. Another example will be found in the story of the battle of Seven Pines which Gen. Joseph E. Johnston lost by trusting to instructions given verbally.

Maj. Buell's memorandum of the verbal instructions given is a paper of over 300 words, and is a fair sample of explicit language. Here is the sentence especially referring to any change of position of the garrison of Fort Moultrie: —

‘You are to carefully avoid every act which would needlessly tend to provoke aggression, and for that reason you are not, without evident and imminent necessity, to take up any position which could be construed into the assumption of a hostile attitude.’

These instructions were given Dec. 11. The Carolina authorities were entirely satisfied with the assurances given that the status would be preserved.

Both sides were, therefore, taken completely by surprise when the morning of Dec. 27 dawned, and disclosed what Anderson had done. The Secretary of War telegraphed him as follows: [10]

‘Intelligence has reached here this morning that you have abandoned Fort Moultrie, spiked your guns, burned the carriages, and gone to Fort Sumter. It is not believed, because there is no order for any such movement. Explain the meaning of this report.’

Anderson made in all three explanations. One had been written before being called for, at 8 P. M. the night before, when his movement was barely completed. It was as follows: ‘The step which I have taken was in my opinion necessary to prevent the effusion of blood.’ Next, on receipt of the telegraphic demand for explanation, he replied: —

‘I abandoned Fort Moultrie because I was certain that if attacked my men must have been sacrificed and the command of the harbor lost.’

As the entire garrison numbered but 75, including officers, this was probably true. But he had instructions from the Secretary of War reading:—

‘It is neither expected nor desired that you should expose your own life, or that of the men under your command, in a hopeless conflict in defence of these forts. If they are invested or attacked by a force so superior that resistance would in your judgment be a useless waste of life, it will be your duty to yield to necessity and make the best terms in your power.’

Anderson had been selected for the command, as a native of a neutral state, Kentucky, and as one who, it was hoped, would not be stampeded by imaginary danger. But his correspondence had indicated nervousness, and this had probably inspired the instructions here quoted. They evidently, however, failed of their intended effect.

After sending the telegram, Maj. Anderson, for the first time apparently, recalled that he had been strictly cautioned against a needless stampede, and that he would be expected to show some more pressing necessity for his action. He accordingly wrote a third explanation as follows: —

‘In addition to my reasons given in my telegram, and in my letter of last night, I will add, as my opinion, that many things convinced me that the authorities of the state designed to proceed to a hostile act.’

A weaker defence of such gross disobedience of orders cannot be conceived. In all the acrimony of the times, no one ever alleged the existence of any design to violate the status. [11]

President Buchanan felt himself pledged, and decided to order Anderson back to Fort Moultrie, and acquainted the Attorney-General, Stanton, with his decision. Mr. Stanton immediately set to work to defeat this intention. He summoned Dan Sickles, and planned with him to have at once salutes of 100 guns fired in New York and Philadelphia in honor of Anderson's act, and to have telegrams in hundreds showered on the President, congratulating him as a second Jackson, and a saviour of the country by his firmness.1

These demonstrations were effectively made under the joint action of Sickles and John Russell Young in Washington, of Dougherty in Philadelphia, and of Rynders in New York. They worked upon the weak side of Buchanan's character, and Anderson was allowed to remain in Fort Sumter.

Buchanan excused himself to the Carolinians by saying that he would have ordered Anderson back, had they given him time before themselves taking possession of Moultrie, and raising their flag over it. It was a poor excuse, but it was an occasion when any excuse would do. Passion was inflamed on both sides and recriminations began. The position occupied by Anderson was one of unstable equilibrium, impossible to be long maintained. He had indeed saved the ‘effusion of blood’ of his own command, but the act made inevitable a deluge of other blood.

The crisis came in April, when Fort Sumter ran short of provisions, and here the Confederate leaders lost the opportunity of their lives in not allowing provisions to be supplied, and otherwise maintaining the then status. They might thus have avoided at least the odium of firing the first gun, and gained valuable time for preparation, or for possible compromises through the influence of the border states. But no compromise is ever possible after the firing of the first gun. There is in it some quality which stirs the human heart as nothing else can do. Had the British not fired upon the Colonials at Lexington in 1775, we might all have been Colonials yet. For blood is thicker than water, and were it not so, the development of nations would often prove painfully slow. [12]

Field or Bull Run

1 Men and Memories, Mrs. J. R. Young, p. 25.

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