previous next

Doc. 59.-message of Gov. Harris.

Executive office, Memphis, February 20, 1862.
Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives: Under your joint resolution, adopted the tenth of February, inst., providing “That the Governor and heads of Executive Departments may at any time during the present war, by proclamation of the Governor, temporarily change the seat of government, remove the papers and records in the Executive Departments, and the Governor, by proclamation, shall convene the Legislature, when he deems it necessary, at the place determined upon as the temporary seat of government,” and the report of a Legislative Committee from the House, which called upon me upon the sixteenth inst., to inform me that the Legislature was ready to meet at such a time and place as I might designate, I deemed it my duty to remove the records of the government to and convene the Legislature at this city, for the following reasons: The disaster to our arms at Fishing Creek had turned the right flank of our army, and left the country from Cumberland Gap to Nashville exposed to the advance of the Union army.

The fall of Fort Henry had given the enemy the free navigation of the Tennessee River, through which channel he had reached the southern boundary of Tennessee, and the fall of Fort Donelson left the Cumberland River open to his gunboats and transports, enabling him to penetrate the heart of the State, and reach its capital at any time within a few hours, when he should see proper to move upon it.

Immediately upon hearing of the fall of Fort Donelson, I called upon Gen. Johnston and rendered to him all the resources of the State which could be made available, with my full cooperation [203] in any and all measures of defence for our State and capital. Gen. Johnston informed me that, under the circumstances which surrounded him, with the small force then under his command, he regarded it as his duty to the army he commanded and the government he represented, to fall back with his army south of Nashville, making no defence of the city, and that he would do so immediately upon the arrival of the army from Bowling Green. The necessity for this retrograde movement, I am certain, was deeply regretted by Gen. Johnston. None could have deplored it more seriously than myself.

You have for months past witnessed the constant and earnest efforts which I have made to raise troops, collect arms, and prepare them for the defence of our long line of frontier, but it is evident that the country has not been sufficiently aroused to a full sense of the dangers with which it was menaced. While it is true that Tennessee has sent large numbers of her sons to the field who are performing their duty nobly, and her people have shown a high degree of energy in developing all the resources of the State, which could aid the government in this struggle, it is equally true that there is scarcely a locality within our limits which could not have done, and which cannot now do, more. Many weeks before this crisis in our affairs, Gen. Johnston sent a highly accomplished and able engineer, Major Gilmer, to Nashville, to construct fortifications for the defence of the city. Laborers were needed for their construction. I joined Major Gilmer in an earnest appeal to the people to send in their laborers for the purpose, offering full and fair compensation. This appeal was so feebly responded to that I advised Gen. Johnston to impress the necessary labor; but owing to the difficulty in obtaining the laborers, the works were not completed-indeed, some of them but little more than commenced-when Fort Donelson fell.

Under the act of May sixth, 1861, I raised, organized, and equipped a large volunteer force, but under the Military League and the act of the General Assembly, it was made my duty to transfer that army, with all of our munitions, to the government of the confederate States, which I did on the thirty-first day of July, 1861.

Since that time I have had no authority to raise or means of subsisting a State army, being only authorized to raise, organize, and put into the field such troops as were demanded of the State by the government of the confederate States, that government having control of the defences of the State, as well as our munitions and means of defence.

Since the passage of the act of May, 1861, I have organized and put into the field for the confederate service, fifty-nine regiments of infantry, one regiment of cavalry, eleven cavalry battalions, and over twenty independent companies, mostly artillery. The confederate government has armed about fifteen thousand of these troops, but to arm the remainder of this large force, I have had to draw heavily upon the sporting-guns of our citizens.

Having bent every energy to fill the requisitions made upon me by the confederate States for troops, when Fort Donelson fell there was not a single organized and armed company in the State, subject to my command, the only force under my control being an undisciplined, unarmed militia, which, under our inefficient and sadly defective militia system, I have had no power to discipline, drill and prepare for service in the field. Under these circumstances, when the confederate army fell back from the capital, leaving it exposed to the assault of a large army of the enemy, it would have been worse than folly in me to have attempted its defence.

There was no alternative left but for the officers of the government to remove the public records to a place of greater security, or allow themselves and those records to fall into the hands of the Union army, resulting in the subversion of the State government and the establishment of a military despotism or a provisional government, under Federal authority, over the people of the State. I could not doubt or hesitate as to my duty under such circumstances.

Having assembled here, at a time when a part of our territory is overrun, and other portions seriously threatened by the invader, the one great duty which devolves upon us is the immediate adoption of such measures as will concentrate every possible energy and all the resources of the State in a determined effort to drive back the invader, redeem every inch of our soil, and maintain the independence of our State.

By a majority approximating unanimity, we have voted ourselves a free and independent people. Shall we falter now in maintaining that declaration at any cost or at any sacrifice? The alternative presented to us is the maintenance of our independence, however long or bloody the struggle, or subjugation, dishonor, or political slavery. I trust there are very few Tennesseeans “who can long debate which of the two to choose.”

The apprehensions which I expressed, and the dangers of which I warned you, in my special message of the first instant, have been fully realized by the country, and the necessity for prompt, energetic, and decided action is even more imperative now than at that time.

I now respectfully repeat to you the recommendation of that message, and earnestly urge that you so amend our militia system as will not only enable the Executive to fill promptly all requisitions made by the confederate government upon Tennessee for her just proportion of troops, but also give full power to discipline and prepare for efficient service in the field the whole military strength of the State, classifying the militia so that the burdens of our defence will fall upon the young and vigorous, who are best able to bear them. I also recommend that you authorize the organization of a part of the militia into cavalry and artillery corps, as well as infantry, and in all instances where it is deemed proper to call out the militia, authorize the reception of volunteers in lieu of the militia, so far as they may present [204] themselves; and for the present defence of the State, I recommend the passage of a bill authorizing the raising, arming, and equipping of a provisional army of volunteers, appropriating ample means for this purpose.

Believing that at least one fourth of the present militia strength of the State can be armed by collecting all the sporting-guns in the country, I have ordered that proportion to be placed in camp immediately. Appropriations to equip, pay, subsist, and clothe this force while engaged in the public defence will be necessary.

While there is much to regret in the past, there is much to hope in the future. Our fathers in the first revolution experienced more serious reverses and many darker hours than any we have known, yet they did not falter until their independence was achieved. Tennessee holds her fate in her own hands; a fixed and unalterable resolve, a bold, firm and united effort to maintain our independence at any and all hazards, gives us the means of repelling the invader at once. The confederate government is sending her legions to our aid, our sister States of the South are rallying their gallant sons to the rescue.

Let Tennessee remember that the invader is on her soil; that the independence and freedom of her people from tyranny and oppression are involved in this struggle, and, putting forth her whole strength, act as becomes the high character which the gallantry of her sons has won for her on other fields.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
A. S. Johnston (5)
Isham G. Harris (2)
Gilmer (2)
Doc (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
February 20th, 1862 AD (1)
July 31st, 1861 AD (1)
May 6th, 1861 AD (1)
May, 1861 AD (1)
February 10th (1)
16th (1)
1st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: