previous next

Sketch of Longstreet's division.

By General E. P. Alexander.

Winter of 1861-62.

Until late in the fall of 1861, no Major-Generals had been appointed in the Confederate service; the only general officers being Brigadier-Generals and Generalsand consequently no divisions could be organized of the brigades which composed the army, although the necessity for them had been grievously felt, expecially in the battle of Bull Run. About the 1st of November, the rank having been created by Congress, a number of appointments were made, of which General Longstreet was the fifth in rank, the first four being Polk, Bragg, G. W. Smith and Huger.

On receipt of his promotion, General Longstreet was relieved of command of the “Advanced forces” by General J. E. B. Stuart, and was assigned a division composed of his own old brigade, now commanded by the senior Colonel, J. L. Kemper; the Virginia brigade commanded by General P. St. George Cocke, and the South Carolina brigade of General D. R. Jones.

General Cocke's brigade was composed of the Eighth Virginia infantry, Colonel Eppa Hunton; Eighteenth Virginia infantry, Colonel R. E. Withers; Nineteenth Virginia infantry, Colonel J. B. Strange; Twenty-Eighth Virginia infantry, Colonel Robert Preston.

Latham's Virginia Battery.--General D. R. Jones's brigade was composed of the Fourth South Carolina Infantry, Colonel J. B Sloan; Fifth South Carolina Infantry, Colonel M. Jenkins; Sixth South Carolina Infantry, Colonel C. S. Winder; Ninth South Carolina Infantry, Colonel Blanding; Stribling's Virginia Battery.

The Eighth Virginia, Colonel Hunton, was at this time on detached service at Leesburg with General Evans's brigade, where it bore a conspicuous part in the the affair at Ball's Bluff, on the 21st of October.

The remaining brigades of the army were about the same time thrown into three other divisions of three brigades each and commanded by Major-Generals G. W. Smith, E. Kirby Smith, and Earl Van Doon. Thus constituted, and with a small cavalry force under General Stuart holding the outposts beyond Halifax C. H. and a General Reserve Artillery of ten batteries under Colonel W. N. Pendleton, the army went into quarters.

As the great majority of the army were volunteers enlisted for only [513] twelve months, great concern was felt in the winter of 1861 and 1862, that steps should be taken to keep up the number in the field during the ensuing summer, and the Confederate Congress took up the subject at an early day. After much discussion, a law was passed and published to the army on the 1st of January, 1862, offering to all twelve months volunteers, who should reenlist, a furlough of thirty days at home (allowing additional time for necessary traveling), transportation going and returning, a bounty of fifty dollars, and the privilege of re-organizing and re-electing their own regimental and company officers at the expiration of the first enlistment.

The desired result was fully attained by this law, assisted by the imminent prospect, and the final passage of the Conscription Act of April 16, 1862, but the privilege of re-electing all officers was probably very little inducement to re-enlistment, and its operation was certainly very detrimental to the service. The best authorities among the Federal historians of the war, in apologizing for their mishaps in its earlier stages, ascribe a great share of their calamities to the fact that their officers were, at first, elected by the men, and were consequently often very poor selections. The tendency of such a method of appointment is, doubtless, bad, although it is perhaps the only practicable way, where an army has to be so suddenly raised from among a people with no experience in warfare; but its ill effects, bad as they may be are far less than must necessarily arise from allowing a re-election and giving long notice of it beforehand. A visible relaxation of discipline, and others and even worse forms of electioneering immediately begin, and the most unscrupulous aspirants are apt to be the most successful in military as well as in political elections.

Doubtless, in many individual cases, changes were made for the better, and many excellent officers were retained, and even promoted, in spite of being strict disciplinarians; but such cases were exceptions, which were most rare in the very officers which have most to do with the discipline of the men. There can be no doubt that in the electioneering which preceded, and the results which followed these elections, occurring as they did while the habits and customs of the army were still in process of formation, the discipline of the Confederate service received a blow from which it never entirely recovered.

There has been no subject more grossly and persistently misrepresented by Northern writers in discussions of the war than that of the discipline of the Confederate army. Wherever the Southern line of battle has breasted unflinching a storm of missiles, or won the admiration even of its foes by an irresistible charge, or in any way brought [514] discomfiture to superior numbers of the enemy, “superior discipline” has been the reason assigned. The compliment is entirely unmerited. The odds against the Confederates in numbers were often two to one, face to face on the field, after all generalship was at its end, and the issue left to equipment, discipline and pluck. In equipment the odds are conceded by all to have been enormously in the enemy's favor, and in discipline they were unfortunately heavy on the same side. The most condensed evidence upon this subject comes from a Northern source. Mr. William Swinton, in his excellent “History of the army of the Potomac,” after a full account of General McClellan's remarkable efforts and success in organizing and disciplining his army, says on page 67: “ ‘Had there been no McClellan,’ I have often heard General Meade say, ‘there could have been no Grant,’ for the army made no essential improvement under any of his successors.” It was common throughout the war to “ascribe a high degree of discipline to the Confederate army, even higher than that of the Army of the Potomac. But the revelations of the actual condition of that army since the close of the war, do not justify this assertion. On the contrary, they show that the discipline of the Army of Northern Virginia was never equal to that of the Army of the Potomac, though in fire and elan it was superior. ‘I could always rely on my army,’ said General Lee at the time he surrendered its remnant at Appomattox Courthouse, ‘I could always rely on my army for fighting, but its discipline was poor.’ At the time of the Maryland invasion Lee lost above twenty-five thousand men by straggling, and he exclaimed, with tears, ‘My army is ruined by straggling.’ Nothing could better illustrate the high state of discipline of the Army of the Potomac than its conduct in such retreats as that on the Peninsula, and in Pope's campaign, and in such incessant fighting as the Rapidan campaign of 1864.”

This comparison is not suggested as any reflection upon the fame of the Federal army, for such reflections upon its adversary are unbecoming to either, and the list of casualties of the Federals (not their list of victories or their final success), will place their absolute courage on its deserved footing; but simply to illustrate in its true light the marvellous pluck of the half-fed and tattered battalions of the Confederates,who certainly never owed a victory to either discipline or equipment.

That clause of the law, which gave a furlough of thirty days, was not only the most acceptable to the men, but it had a happy result in leading to the adoption of a regular system of furloughs, which is the best possible preventive of discontent and desertion, both of which [515] were already beginning to prevail in the army for the lack of it. Being liable at any moment to an attack by more than double his number, General Johnston forbade all furloughs shortly after the battle of Bull Run, and the order was carried out most strictly until after the promulgationof the law aforesaid. Applications based upon the most urgent grounds, such as the death of parents, wives, or of partners in business, or summons before courts in cases where large amounts of property were involved, were even returned unread, further than to see that they were “applications for leaves of absence.” Even after the promulgation of the law its operation was delayed until the wintry weather had rendered the roads impassable. At length, on the 3d of February, an order was issued allowing furloughs to twenty per cent. of the number present for duty in each regiment, and the system thus introduced was adhered to until the close of the war. One or two per cent. of the force present for duty were allowed to be absent on furlough even during the most active campaigns, and in winter-quarters the percentage was very much increased. The soldier consequently felt that should extraordinary circumstances call for his presence at home, there was always a chance of obtaining furlough, and this very consciousness relieved his anxiety and made his long absences much more cheerful.

Nothing worthy of narration broke the monotony of winter-quarters, except changes of commanders in the brigades. General Cocke, a high-minded and gallant soldier, a devoted patriot, and a gentleman of cultivation and refinement, committed suicide in January at his home while on sick leave. He and his brigade had performed excellent service at the battle of Bull Run, but his health had failed on the approach of winter, and his mind had become affected, though so slightly, that no apprehensions were entertained of such result. He was a graduate of West Point, of the class of 1832, and served for two years afterward in the Second United States Artillery. After his death his brigade was commanded by Colonel R. E. Withers, the Senior Colonel present, until the latter part of February, when General George E. Pickett1 of Virginia was assigned to it. Hunton's regiment did not rejoin the brigade from Leesburg until March. Early in February General D. R. Jones was assigned to the command of a Georgia brigade, [516] in General G. W. Smith's division, and General R. H. Anderson, of South Carolina,2 was transferred from Pensacola, where he had previously served, to command the South Carolina brigade.

General Ewell had been assigned to command General Longstreet's old brigade in December, but being shortly afterward made Major-General; the command reverted to Col. Kemper, who retained it until March, when General A. P. Hill was assigned to it.

On the 9th of March, 1862, General Johnston ordered the evacuation of the lines of Centreville and Manassas, and put his army in motion for the line of the Rapidan. General Longstreet's division, with Stuart's cavalry covered the movement, which, however, was unmolested, the enemy only discovering it after it was under way. General McClellan was at that period collecting the necessary transportation for his movement to the Peninsula, but as this was not yet ready, he improved the opportunity to mobolize his army by marching it as far as Centreville. A cavalry force under Stonemen pushed forward to Cedar Run and exchanged a few carbine shots with Stuart, but did not cross. Owing to lack of transportation upon the railroad, some provisions, stores and baggage had to be burned at Manassas at the last moment, although two days more time had been allowed for their removal than the superintendent of the road had requested.

The total value of these stores was, however, not great, and when all things are considered, the movement was as eminently successful as it was judicious.

The Washington artillery battalion3 of New Orleans was assigned to Longstreet's division when this movement commenced, and continued to serve with the division and corps until the latter came to Georgia in September, 1863.

After crossing the Rappahannock, a halt of a few days was made, [517] after which the arty retired behind the Rapidan, about the 23d of March. The enemy having occupied Manassas, pushed out a reconnoissance under General Howard, which, about the 26th, had a small skirmish with Stuart holding the Rappahannock as a picket line, and then withdrew.

Meanwhile, after considerable opposition from the President, who favored a direct advance upon Manassas, General McClellan had sucseeded in instituting his desired campaign, an advance upon Richmond by way of the Peninsula, although under certain restrictions by Mr. Lincoln, which almost appear ridiculous. His unwilling consent was granted, provided--

First. That long-coveted Manassas, at length happily possessed, should be forever secured to the peaceable possession of the stars and stripes.4

Second. That no more than fifty thousand men should be allowed to leave Washington city without some steps being taken to put an end to the impudent and provoking blockade of the Potomac.5

Third. That enough troops should be left in the fortifications around Washington to secure it against all contingencies.6

As the blockade of the Potomac by the Evansport batteries was, of course, quietly given up when the army withdrew from Centreville, there was no trouble upon that score, but upon the other two heads McClellan seemed himself to have apprehensions, based upon his exaggerated idea of the Confederate force, which he estimated at 115,500, its true strength being only 50,000. He accordingly left for the defence of Washington 77,456 men and 109 guns,7 while 120,500 met. were [518] transferred to Fortress Monroe, where General Wool was to add 10,000 to this number.

The rapid transfer of this army, with its immense material is one of the most remarkable events of the war, and illustrates the enormous resources of the enemy. On the 28th of February orders were first issued to prepare transportation for the movement. Within seventeen days the transportation was ready, comprising 113 steamers, 188 schooners, and 88 barges, the hire of all of which cost $29,160 per day. The distance to be traversed was about two hundred miles, and within twenty days thereafter the whole transfer was complete, comprising besides the troops 260 guns, 14,592 animals, 1,150 wagons, 74 ambulances, and an enormous quantity of equipage, including ammunition, pontoon trains, telegraph materials, and all the impedimenta of an army.

1 As a Captain in the Ninth United States Infantry, General Pickett bore a prominent part in the “San Juan difficulty” with England in 1859. He graduated at West Point in 1846, and served in the Eighth United States Infantry in Mexico, receiving two brevets for gallantry.

2 General R. H. Anderson graduated at West Point, in 1838, and served in the First United States Dragoons until the secession of South Carolina. He was brevetted for gallantry in Mexico, and was a Captain when he resigned.

3 This celebrated battalion was originally founded in 1838. In the Mexican war it was Company A, of Colonel Persifer Smith's regiment, of which Colonel J. B. Walton, who commanded the battalion from 1861 to 1864, was Lieutenant-Colonel. It was composed of five batteries, of which the first four served in Virginia, and the fifth with the Army of Tennessee. Its battery commanders in March, 1862, were: Captains C. W. Squires, T. L. Rosser, (afterwards Major-General of calvary), M. B. Miller, and B. F. Eshleman. Its material was superb; the cannooneers being almost exclusively young men of the best families of New Orleans. Its numbers were general small, as it refused to receive recruits promiscuously, and the four batteries usually averaged but three guns each.

4 Lincoln's War Order No. 3, March 8th, 1863.

5 McClellan's Report, page 60.

6 A comparison of the forces which were retained for the defences of the two capitals develops a wonderful contrast. The force kept at Richmond, though often charged with the safekeeping of large numbers of prisoners, varied from 3,000 to 8,000, and was principally composed of local malitia. The few small earth-works which defended it, were poorly provided with guns, and had no permanent garrisons. The fortifications of Washington were numerous and powerful, fully armed and manned, and the garrison probably never fell below 25,000. The only accurate returns of its forces which I can find (besides the figures given above,) are for May 1st, 1864, when there were present for duty 42,124, and for March 1st, 1865, when although there was no Confederate force north of Richmond to threaten its safety, the garrison numbered 26,056. Report of Secretary of War, 1865. These figures do not include the garrison of Baltimore which seems to have always been several thousands.

7 McClellan's Report, page 65.

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 Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: