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Chapter 16: Beauregard's letter.

The victory at Manassas was followed by a period of inactivity and of fancied security, so sure did many feel that this battle would end the war. This was shown by the decrease of enlistments; but President Davis did not coincide with this view. Foreign recognition was looked forward to as an assured fact, and the politicians began at once to speculate upon the future recipients of the most prominent offices in the new Confederacy.

Mr. Hunter, of Virginia, about this time left the Cabinet, in order, his enemies said, that his identification with the Administration should not damage his chances as Mr. Davis's successor to the Presidency. Mr. Davis was attached to him and thought he did not care to share the responsibility of a possible failure.

General Beauregard was also named in some quarters as the next Confederate President, the popular nominee of an honor to be conferred six years hence. Before the putative [166] nomination he wrote the following discouraging letter to the Richmond Whig.

Centreville, Va. (Within hearing of the enemy's guns.) November 3, 1861.
To the Editors of the Richmond Whig.
Gentlemen: My attention had just been called to an unfortunate controversy now going on, relative to the publication of the synopsis of my report of the battle of Manassas. None can regret more than I do this publication, which was made without my knowledge or authority.

The President is the sole judge of when, and what parts of, the reports of a commanding officer should be made public. I, individually, do not object to delaying its publication as long as the War Department shall think it necessary and proper for the success of our cause.

Meanwhile I entreat my friends not to trouble themselves about refuting the slanders and calumnies aimed at me. Alcibiades, on a certain occasion, resorted to a singular method to occupy the minds of his traducers; let, then, “that synopsis” answer the same purpose for me in this instance. If certain minds cannot understand the difference between patriotism, the highest civic virtue, and office-seeking, the lowest civic occupation, [167] I pity them from the bottom of my heart. Suffice it to say that I prefer the respect and esteem of my countrymen, to the admiration and envy of the world. I hope, for the sake of our cause and country, to be able, with the assistance of a kind Providence, to answer my calumniators with new victories over our national enemies; but I have nothing to ask of the country, the government, or my friends, except to afford me all the aid they can in the great struggle we are now engaged upon.

I am not, and never expect or desire to be, a candidate for any civic office in the gift of the people or the Executive.

The acme of my ambition is, after having cast my mite in the defence of our sacred cause, and assisted to the best of my ability in securing our rights and independence as a nation, to retire into private life (my means then permitting), never again to leave my home, unless to fight anew the battles of my country.

Respectfully, your most obedient servant,

(Signed) G. T. Beauregard. A true copy, S. W. Ferguson, Aide-de-Camp.

Prior to the date of the above letter, in which General Beauregard entreats his [168] friends “not to trouble themselves about refuting the slanders and calumnies aimed at him” (in consequence of the publication of the synopsis of his report of the battle of Manassas), his relations with the Confederate officials, “except Colonel Northrop, the Commissary-General,” “had been those of unstudied friendship.” 1

Having occasion to recommend the appointment of an officer as Chief of Ordnance of the “First corps,” in the place of Captain E. P. Alexander, an accomplished officer who had been transferred to General Johnston, he received from a “subordinate” t in the War Department the brief reply that “the President did not approve the division of the army into two corps, and preferred that there should be but one chief of ordnance to the army of the Potomac.” At this General Beauregard took umbrage, esteeming himself a better judge of such matters than the President. This circumstance led to an estrangement between General Beauregard and the authorities at Richmond, which apparently widened as the war progressed.

The widely published synopsis of General Beauregard's report of the battle of Manassas, [169] wherein it was stated that the rejection of his so-called plan of campaign, verbally presented by Colonel Chesnut to the President, in the presence of Generals Lee and Cooper, prevented the Federal army from being destroyed before July 21st. The President addressed a letter to those officers, asking them to give him their opinions and recollections of the interview in question.

The letter is dated November 4th, the day after the publication of General Beauregard's letter, written “within hearing of the enemy's guns.” The reply of General R. E. Lee should render any further discussion of the vexed and profitless question unnecessary.

Richmond, Va., November 4, 1861.
Generals Cooper and. Lee, Confederate States Army.
Gentlemen: The injurious effect produced by statements widely published to show that the army of the Potomac had been needlessly doomed to inactivity by my rejection of plans for vigorous movements against the enemy, which were presented to me by General Beauregard, induces me to ask you to state what was the communication made by that officer, through the Honorable Mr. [170] Chesnut, on the subject of his position at Manassas in July last, and what were the propositions and requests then conveyed to me.

You are invited to refer to the introduction of General Beauregard's report of the battle of Manassas, that you may see how far the statement made therein agrees with the communication made to me by the Honorable Mr. Chesnut, in the interview at which you were present.

I have requested General Beauregard to furnish me with a plan of battle and campaign, which he says in his report was submitted to me, but have not received an answer.

Very respectfully yours, etc.,

Jefferson Davis.

Coosawhatchie, S. C., November 24, 1861.
His Excellency, The President of the Confederate States:
My absence on an examination of the coast of South Carolina and Georgia has prevented until now my reply to your note of the 4th instant, asking what communication was made by General Beauregard to you through the Honorable Mr. Chesnut, on the subject of his position at Manassas in July last, and what were the propositions and requests conveyed by him. [171]

I have not seen the report of General Beauregard of the battle of Manassas, and am unable to refer to his introductory statement to which you call my attention. I cannot therefore say how far it agrees with the communication of Mr. Chesnut. I recollect, however, that at the interview at which I was present Mr. Chesnut urged, on the part of General Beauregard, the importance of reinforcing the army of the Potomac to enable it to oppose the Federal forces accumulating in its front. As a means of accomplishing this end, he suggested that a portion of the army in the Shenandoah Valley, under General Johnston, be ordered to join it. With the aid thus afforded, General Beauregard thought he could successfully resist an attack of the enemy. Should he succeed in repulsing him, he could in turn reinforce General Johnston. Should General Johnston succeed in driving back General Patterson, then in his front, he could reinforce the army in Northwestern Virginia. The advantages of the union of the armies on the Potomac had been more than once the subject of consideration by you, and I do not recollect that at the interview in question they were less apparent. The difficulty of timing the march of the troops so as to benefit one army without jeopardizing the object of the other, was therefore mainly considered, [172] and you decided that the movements of the enemy in and about Alexandria were not sufficiently demonstrative as to warrant the withdrawal of any of the forces from the Shenandoah Valley. A few days afterward, however, I think three or four, the reports from General Beauregard showed so clearly the enemy's purpose, that you ordered General Johnston with his effective force to march at once to the support of General Beauregard, and directed General Holmes, with such troops as could be spared from the defence of the approaches of Fredericksburg to move upon Manassas.

The successful combination of the armies was made, and the glorious victory of July 21St followed.

I have the honor, etc.,

R. E. Lee.

About this time a controversy arose between General Beauregard and the Secretary of War, Mr. Benjamin, caused by the organization of a rocket battery for the Army of the Potomac. Mr. Davis wrote as follows:

my dear General: Your letters of October 20th and 21st have just been referred [173] to me, and I hasten to reply without consulting the Secretary of War. This enables me to say, without connecting his expressions of feeling with the present case, that you have alike his admiration and high personal regard, evinced by so many signs that it cannot be to me a matter of doubt. As the essence of offence is the motive with which words are spoken, I have thus, it is hoped, removed the gravest part of the transaction.

You were unquestionably wrong in the order to recruit a company for the Provisional Army. The Congress, with jealous care, reserved to men of such companies the power of selecting their own officers. The Executive could not recruit a company except for the regular army, and as provided by law; to that extent he could delegate his power to Generals in the field, but he could not do more. I presume the objection was not, that it was to be a rocket battery, but was to the recruiting of a company for special service, the commander having been selected not by the men but by the Confederate authority.

More than half of the controversies between men arise from difference of education and habits of thought. The letter in relation to the law of organization was written like a lawyer, and had it been addressed to one [174] of that profession would not probably have wounded his sensibilities, except in so far as to provoke debate upon the accuracy of his position; but it was addressed to a soldier, sensitive as to the propriety of his motive, and careless about the point which I am sure the Secretary intended alone to present-inattention to, or misconstruction of the laws governing the case. He desired that your position should be entirely satisfactory to you, and that the freest scope should be given for the exercise of your genius and gallantry in the further maintenance of the cause, which amid the smoke and blaze of battle, you have three times illustrated. Prompted by that desire, he anticipated my purpose, which had been communicated to him, to place you in the immediate command of the Army of the Potomac, by referring to an order which would soon be issued, and which he hoped would be satisfactory to you.

Now, my dear sir, let me entreat you to dismiss this small matter from your mind; in the hostile masses before you, you have a subject more worthy of your contemplation. The country needs all your mind and your heart; you have given cause to expect all which man can do, and your fame and her interests require that your energies should have a single object. My prayers always [175] attend you, and with confidence I turn to you in the hour of peril.

Very truly your friend, (Signed)

Jefferson Davis.
P. S.-The Secretary has not seen your letter, and I will not inform him as to the correspondence.

J. D.

The Secretary, writing upon this subject to General Beaurega ,, expressed his “no small surprise” that he should have committed an act “without warrant of law,” and excused him only on account of his motives and his defect of judgment. This letter of Mr. Benjamin “staggered” General Beauregard, and he, overlooking Mr. Benjamin, referred the letter to the President. The President replied to the General, under date of November 10, 1861, and below his letter is given entire:

Sir: When I addressed you in relation to your complaint because of the letters written to you by Mr. Benjamin, Acting Secretary of War, it was hoped that you would see that you had misinterpreted his expressions, and would be content. But while in yours of the [176] 6th instant you accept the assurance given that Mr. Benjamin could not have intended to give you offence, you serve notice that your “ motives must not be called into question,” and that when your “errors are pointed out it must be done in proper tone and style,” and express the fear that Mr. Benjamin “ will, under all circumstances, view only the legal aspect of things, and that insensibly this army and myself (yourself) will be put into the straight-jackets of the law,” etc. I do not feel competent to instruct Mr. Benjamin in the matter of style. There are few whom the public would probably believe fit for that task. But the other point quoted from your letter presents matter for graver considerations, and it is that which induces me to reply. It cannot be peculiar to Mr. Benjamin to look at every exercise of official power in its legal aspects, and you surely did not intend to inform me that your army and yourself are outside of the limits of the law.

It is my duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed, and I cannot recognize the pretension of anyone that their restraint is too narrow for him:

The Congress carefully reserved to all volunteers the selection of their company officers, and provided various modes for recruiting them into service as organized [177] bodies. When you disregarded that right, and the case was brought to the notice of the Secretary of War, it could but create surprise; and the most mild and considerate course which could have been adopted was to check further progress under your order and inform you of the errors committed.

Very respectfully yours, etc., (Signed)

Jefferson Davis.

The President was in this instance, as in every other, watching over the strict construction of the laws and the individual rights of the people of each State. He looked with anxious care to the elective rights of the men in the army, and it is very apparent by his first letter how anxious he was to conciliate General Beauregard and while impressing restrictions upon him, to avoid giving him pain. The first letter shows his animus, the second vindicates the law and protects the dignity of the Secretary of War.

1 Military Operations of General Beauregard, page 157. t Colonel Alfred T. Bledsoe, Assistant Secretary of War.

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