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Chapter 11:

  • General Beauregard suggests a forward movement.
  • -- not approved by General Johnston. -- sanitary measures. -- deficiency in light artillery. -- instructions to Colonel Stuart. -- Mason's and Munson's Hills. -- General Beauregard proposes to hold them. -- General Johnston of a different opinion. -- popularity of General Beauregard. -- he establishes his headquarters at Fairfax Court-House. -- proposes another plan involving decisive battle. -- General Johnston deems it better not to hazard the movement. -- organization of the forces into divisions. -- General Beauregard advises that the army be placed under one head. -- President Davis invited to a conference at Fairfax Court-House. -- scheme of operations submitted. -- Generals Johnston and G. W. Smith approve it. -- troops in splendid fighting condition. -- the President objects. -- no reinforcements can be furnished, and no arms in the country. -- review of Mr. Davis's remarks on the subject. -- he proposes a plan for operations across the Potomac. -- the commanding Generals do not consider it feasible.

On the 8th of August, at General Beauregard's suggestion, Colonel Evans was ordered to move his brigade to Leesburg, and assume command of all the forces in Loudon County, the object being to protect that region against Federal incursions, about which numerous complaints were made.

It was about that time that General Beauregard resolved to throw his own forces forward. He hoped, by an advance, to be able more easily to take the offensive, or draw on a battle, while the enemy was yet demoralized and undisciplined. Accordingly, on the 9th and 10th, Longstreet's brigade was moved to Fairfax Court-House, and D. R. Jones's to Germantown. Bonham was drawn back from Vienna to Flint Hill, leaving a strong mounted guard at the former place. Cocke was stationed at Centreville; Ewell at Sangster's Crossroads; Early and Hampton at the intersection of the Occoquan with the Wolf Run Shoals road; and the Louisiana brigade at Mitchell's Ford. Elzey's brigade, of General Johnston's forces, was placed in the immediate vicinity of Fairfax Station, and Jackson's, also of General Johnston's forces, held a position near the crossing of Braddock's and the Fairfax Station roads. [132]

From these advanced positions, the forces, as above enumerated, could be, at any time, concentrated for offensive or defensive purposes. General Beauregard's desire was, by a bold movement, to capture the exterior lines of the enemy at Annandale, and, should any serious force come out in support, give it battle, with the chances in favor of the Confederates. But this plan or project, General Beauregard being second in command, had, first, to be submitted to General Johnston, whose approval was necessary for its execution. General Johnston did not assent to it. This disagreement of opinion between the two commanding generals, whose official intercourse had always been—and continued to be— most friendly, showed, however, that they differed widely in temperament, and belonged to essentially distinct military schools: General Beauregard, ever in favor of the aggressive, and of subjecting an adversary's movements to his own plans-General Johnston, ever on the defensive, and apparently awaiting the action of the enemy.

On the 13th of August General Beauregard was officially informed, by the Hon. L. P. Walker, Secretary of War, of his appointment, by and with the advice and consent of Congress, as ‘General’ in the army of the Confederate States, to take rank from July 21st, 1861. He gratefully accepted the high distinction thus conferred upon him by the President, who, it will be remembered, had not awaited the action of Congress to reward his services.

The reader is aware that, on the 23d of August, General Beauregard again addressed the President1 with regard to the insufficiency of subsistence for the army at Manassas. He also urged the sanitary benefits and economy of procuring for each company a good professional cook and baker, with portable kitchens and ovens for encampments. Out of thirty-two thousand six hundred and fifty-five men, the total of his own army at that time, only twenty-two thousand two hundred and ninety-one were fit for duty; much of the sickness being due, it was thought, to bad cooking, as well as bad water.

General Beauregard, at this time, also represented to the President, through Captain E. P. Alexander, his Chief of Artillery and Ordnance, the great deficiency of the army in light artillery (there was but one piece to each of his thirty-five regiments). He urged [133] the necessity of three guns to each regiment, or, if these were not to be had, that rocket batteries should be supplied for the purpose of frightening the untrained horses of the enemy. He asked, likewise, that the cavalry should be raised to at least four or five thousand men, for the purpose of charging on McClellan's batteries and raw troops, when thrown into disorder by the rockets. It was long, however, before this want of artillery was even partially supplied, and the organization of the rocket batteries was subsequently thwarted by the military authorities.

General Beauregard now instructed Colonel Stuart, commanding the cavalry outposts, to keep constantly near the enemy, and ordered General Longstreet, with his brigade, to remain in close proximity to Stuart. Towards the end of August, in complying with these orders, Stuart, who was an officer of great enterprise, by a series of daily encounters gradually drove back the Federal force in his front, and, with the co-operation of General Longstreet, finally captured Mason's and Munson's Hills, in full view of Washington. General Beauregard, who had had minute information concerning these positions, through Colonel George W. Lay, long a resident of Washington, proposed to General Johnston, now that they were in our hands, to hold and support them by the following arrangement of troops:

1 brigade (Bonham's) at or about old Court-House, near Vienna. 2 brigades (D. R. Jones's and Cocke's) at or about Falls Church. 1 brigade (Longstreet's) at or about Munson's Hill. 1 brigade (Johnston's forces) half-way between Mason's and Munson's Hills. 1 brigade (Johnston's forces) at Mason's Hill. 2 brigades (Walker's and Early's) at or about Annandale. 1 brigade (Ewell's) at or about Springfield.

Some of General Johnston's other brigades were to be placed at Centreville, Fairfax Court-House, and Fairfax Station, and they might occasionally be moved towards the Potomac above, to alarm the enemy and keep him in a state of constant anxiety as to the safety of Washington; then troops could cross into Maryland, should the enemy move in a large force from Washington to any point on the lower Potomac. The place on the river which General Beauregard believed the enemy would make his next point d'appui was Evansport, some thirty miles below Washington, and, at the request of General Holmes, he had given instructions as to the manner of its fortification. [134]

General Johnston, however, was opposed to the occupation of Mason's and Munson's Hills, and did not approve of the arrangement suggested, considering the line of Fairfax Court-House sufficiently advanced for all purposes; and even too distant for the support of Evansport. His main objection was the danger of being drawn into a serious, perhaps general, action, so much nearer to the Federal position than to our own. But General Beauregard believed that any expedition of the enemy, sent down the Potomac, might be at once neutralized by a bold movement from above into Maryland and on the rear of Washington. He was willing, besides, should it so happen, to exchange Richmond, temporarily, for Washington and Maryland. As to a general action, he desired it, for the reason that the Federal army was yet undisciplined, while our forces, as strong in numbers as might for some time be expected, were in the full prestige of recent victory; an advantage now clearly perceptible in the occasional encounters, with or without an action, between the respective reconnoitring and foraging parties, and quite conspicuous in the affair at Lewinsville, on the 11th of September—but sure to diminish, as time elapsed, by the great increase in numbers, discipline, and armament of the opposing forces.

The chronic evil—lack of transportation—had become the subject of anxious remonstrance from Captain Alexander, General Beauregard's Chief of Ordnance. With a portion of the army now at the threshold of the Federal encampments (Sept. 7th) his reserve ammunition had been more than a week awaiting transportation, for which requisition had been made on the 20th of August, on the Chief Quartermaster of the army corps.

These ever-recurring annoyances, resulting from the incurable inefficiency which had to be daily contended against, would have depressed and utterly discouraged a man less gifted than General Beauregard. But his activity, his energy and—we may add—his confidence in his own resources, seemed to increase with the obstacles thus thrown in his way. He could not and would not be despondent. His words, both to his officers and to his men, no matter under what circumstances, were always of a nature to inspire them with additional hope, renewed endurance, and confidence of success.

Through that quick, innate sympathy with military glory, which has ever distinguished the American people, General Beauregard's [135] name was now borne to the highest point of popularity. He had struck the first blow at Sumter, and had thereby asserted the existence of the Confederacy. He had struck the second blow at Manassas, and had there demonstrated the power and vitality of our cause. ‘On the afflatus of victory,’ says the author of ‘The Lost Cause,’ ‘Beauregard at once ascended to the first reputation of the war.’ He was looked up to as the future military agent of Southern Independence. The many letters of congratulation, and testimonials of sympathy, confidence, and esteem, he had received from every part of the country, and from all classes of our people, sufficiently showed the light in which he was held, and to whom chiefly, of all Southern leaders in the field, was attributed the triumphant achievements of our arms. The real difficulties of the task he had performed were better understood by his officers and men; and, with them, the enthusiasm which his successes had created throughout the country took the form of an absolute devotion. Nor was this all. Gentlemen of position and influence outside of the army now urged him to allow his name to be presented for the Constitutional Presidency, the election to which was then approaching. But he unhesitatingly declined, declaring his place to be only that of a soldier.

Led by that singleness of purpose which guided him throughout the war, and unelated, except by a just gratification that his efforts in the cause had borne fruitful results, and had brought him heart to heart with his comrades and countrymen, he at once directed his whole care to the reorganization of the troops in the field, to the preparation for new successes, and the advancement of the strategic frontier beyond the Potomac.

Throwing forward a portion of his troops, by the 12th of September, he moved his headquarters to Fairfax Court-House, in order to be nearer to his outer lines, which now stretched from Springfield, below Alexandria, on the right, to the little falls on the Potomac, above Georgetown, on the left, enclosing the Federal forces within a narrow circle, from which they made their observations and occasional sorties. For the purpose of watching our camps, and of gaining information of what transpired there, a balloon was much used by the enemy, often in the night. To deceive this inconvenient scrutiny, General Beauregard ordered the kindling of numerous fires as soon as darkness fell, so as to suggest extensive bivouacs on our lines. He had himself endeavored, [136] before this, to procure a balloon from Richmond, but without success; and though he afterwards obtained one from a private source, some defect in its construction rendered it of no avail.

Anxious not to lose the present opportunities, General Beauregard now proposed to General Johnston, who had also moved his headquarters to Fairfax Court-House, a plan involving a decisive battle. General Gustavus W. Smith,2 with General Johnston's forces, was to advance and menace the Federal front, while General Beauregard, passing southward of the Occoquan, was to turn the Federal left flank and attack it with vigor; an operation resembling that subsequently made by General Jackson with brilliant success, near Richmond, in 1862, though the Confederate forces, at the time of which we write, were in a condition, both moral and material, more favorable to success in such a movement. General Johnston, however, deemed it better not to hazard a battle at this juncture.

The necessity of organizing the forces into divisions had been a matter of discussion between the two generals. As the lack of division-generals had been the principal cause of the unfortunate miscarriage of General Beauregard's orders in the recent battle of Manassas, he had shortly afterwards written to the Adjutant-General on this important matter, and, later, had represented to the President that both armies should be placed under one head, and commanded as the two corps of a single army. The fact is that, as early as July 24th, only a few days after the battle of Manassas, the division of our forces into two army corps, as suggested by General Beauregard, had been practically effected by the two commanding generals.3 The War Department had not authorized the change, but had, by its silence, clearly acquiesced in it. This was followed by a recommendation, on the part of the senior generals, of seven officers for appointment as major-generals, and of eight others as brigadiers, two of whom were already in command of brigades.

Towards the latter part of September General Johnston wrote [137] to the Secretary of War, asking that either he or the President should come to Fairfax Court-House, to confer upon the subject of organization, and upon a plan for an offensive movement, which would then be submitted to him.

General Beauregard had conceived a scheme of operations, as distinguished for its breadth of view, and greatness of proposed result, as that which had been ineffectually urged before the battle of Manassas. It involved the raising of the available forces from forty thousand to sixty thousand, by drawing troops from various parts of the Confederacy; their places, in the meantime, to be filled by State troops, called out for three or six months. This force assembled, a small corps of diversion was to remain in front, while the army should cross the Potomac, under partial cover of night, either at Edwards's Ferry, or, by means of a pontoon train, at a point nearly north of Fairfax Court-House, which General Beauregard was having reconnoitred for that purpose. This army was then to march rapidly upon Washington, and seize the Federal supplies in that city. It seemed almost certain that, even should McClellan reach the threatened point in time—which he might undoubtedly do—he could not withstand our sudden attack and maintain his position. His forces were undisciplined and demoralized, and Washington had not yet been fortified. McClellan's army thus placed at our mercy, and Maryland won, the theatre of war was to be transferred to the Northern States, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, the entire West being thereby relieved from peril of invasion. As the Federal government had not yet recovered from the effects of defeat, none of the points from which troops were to be drawn for this movement were seriously threatened; some of them were not menaced at all; and this offensive movement would have forced the Federal government to recall its scattered troops for the protection of those points upon which the Confederate army would have been able to march after the fall of Washington. The moral effect of such an exhibition of power on the governments of England and France would have been of incalculable benefit to the Confederacy.

Upon the submission of this plan to Generals Johnston and Smith, the latter at once approved it, and the former, though for some time unwilling, finally yielded his assent.

President Davis arrived at Fairfax Court-House on the 30th of [138] September, and remained there two days, at General Beauregard's headquarters. In the conferences which followed between him and Generals Johnston, Beauregard, and Smith, he objected to the organization of the army into corps and divisions, and to the appointment of major-generals, as suggested; but yielded so far as to consent to the formation of divisions and the appointment of two division-generals (Van Dorn and Longstreet) to the Army of the Potomac,4 and two others (G. W. Smith and Jackson) to the Army of the Shenandoah.5 This matter, which we may call a compromise, being thus settled, the plan of invading Maryland was earnestly supported by the three senior generals. Mr. Davis, however, would not agree to it. He declared that he could draw no troops from the points named, and that there were no arms in the country for new levies, if raised. This last objection, it is proper here to say, was not an insuperable one. The President should have remembered that if the Confederacy was thus deficient in armament it was because he had refused to avail himself of the offer by which, as early as May, 1861,6 all the arms and equipments needed for our armies could have been procured. But why should not arms have been imported, even at that time (October, 1861), when no Federal blockading squadron could have interfered with any of our plans to that effect? It is an historical fact that the blockade, though officially proclaimed in May, was only partially effectual twelve months afterwards. Was it that the President thought it too late then to make the effort? He should have known that the plan of campaign submitted to him could not be put into immediate execution; that the massing of the additional troops required to carry it out—some of which were to be drawn from great distances—would necessarily consume some time. The least display of energy on the part of the administration, the sending of an order by telegraph to the house of John Frazer & Co., of Charleston, would have been more than sufficient to secure for the government all the arms it required for the new levies spoken of, which, though not directly needed for the forward movement [139] and aggressive campaign urged upon Mr. Davis, could have been used to fill the place of the seasoned troops withdrawn to reinforce the Army of Virginia.

In vain was it urged upon the President that the army was now in splendid fighting condition, and eager again to meet its recently defeated foe; while, if left inactive, it was liable to deteriorate during the winter, and lose greatly in numbers by the expiration of the enlistment term of the twelve months men. It was further urged that, with the army raised to sixty thousand men, the movement could be undertaken, with the prospect of success to follow at every other point along the frontier; whereas, should disaster result from the loss of present opportunity, the entire Confederacy might be endangered at a later date, with but inferior hope of recuperation. Mr. Davis, however, could not be influenced, and declared that the utmost he could do would be to furnish recruits, to be armed with the surplus stands of arms then at Manassas, amounting to about two thousand five hundred.

Thus was abandoned a plan which, had it been carried out, would have borne mighty results to the Confederacy. That it was a bold one is undoubted. But boldness in our movements, while the prestige of victory yet animated our troops, was clearly the wisest policy to be adopted. It was of the utmost importance for us to follow up our victory, and the surest way of doing so was by making an aggressive campaign. It would have compelled the enemy, demoralized and unprepared as he still was, to put himself on the defensive to repel invasion on his own soil, instead of attempting it on ours.

In lieu of the unaccepted movement favored by the generals in command, Mr. Davis suggested that a column be crossed to the eastern shore of the Potomac, opposite Aquia Creek, to capture a Federal division posted there under General Sickles. As the river, at that point more than a mile wide, was held by United States war vessels, and there would hardly have been an opportunity for the troops, even if successful, to return to Virginia, this proposition met the approval of none of the three generals, and was therefore courteously discarded. We shall have to recur to this subject later in the present chapter.

Mr. Davis devotes five pages of his book to the ‘Fairfax Court-House Conference,’ as it was called, and most unjustifiably arraigns Generals J. E. Johnston, Beauregard, and G. W. Smith, not for [140] having taken a part in it, or expressed their views upon the points at issue between them, but for having, ‘about four months afterwards,’ prepared a ‘paper’ wherein was made ‘a record of their conversation; a fact,’ says Mr. Davis, ‘which 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.’7 And Mr. Davis continues as follows: ‘I have noticed the improbabilities and inconsistencies of the paper, and without remarks I submit to honorable men the concealment from me in which it was prepared,’ etc.8

This language is all the more unwarrantable, because Mr. Davis fails to show—though he asserts it—that any effort at concealment was ever made by those whom he accuses of it. Knowing the importance of this conference, and desirous of having a true and correct account of it, one that could not be effaced or altered by the lapse of time, the three generals wrote out, while it was still fresh in their memory, all that had passed between them and the President. As nothing was added and nothing suppressed in the memorandum thus made, what obligation was there on their part to submit it to Mr. Davis? He knew, as well as they did, what had transpired, and had nothing further to learn about it. He also—in all propriety—could have committed the conversation to writing, had it so pleased his fancy; and, provided it was done correctly, no account whatever of his action in the matter was due to the three generals or any one of them.

What Mr. Davis says, to-day, of that conference, shows how wise and how far-seeing were Generals Johnston, Beauregard, and Smith, in preparing the paper alluded to, which has aroused to such an extent the ire of the ex-President. General Beauregard, for one, had already had occasion to learn what light work could be made with a plan of operations verbally submitted to the Commander-in-Chief of our armies. We refer to the plan proposed, through Colonel Chestnut, on the 14th of July, 1861, before the battle of Manassas, which Mr. Davis denied having ever had any [141] official cognizance of, because no written communication had been handed to him at the time; and because, no doubt, he was unaware that a full report of the circumstance had been drawn up by Colonel Chestnut, and was in General Beauregard's possession. And here, perhaps, the following query may find a fitting place in this review: Did Mr. Davis ever communicate to General Beauregard his official endorsement upon the report of the battle of Manassas? If he had done so, his charge of ‘concealment,’ unjust though it is, would come with a better grace than it does; but, as he did not, his imputation of duplicity falls upon himself. For, as the reader will hereafter learn,9 the President's endorsement, contradicting, with unreserved severity, statements made by General Beauregard in his report, was an official paper, officially forwarded to Congress, but studiously kept from General Beauregard's knowledge. The impugned memorandum was altogether an unofficial paper, prepared by the three generals for their own private files, without even a shadow of reproach against the President, and merely intended as a reminder, hereafter, of an important military event. Hence we say, it was a wise and eminently proper measure to prepare a written memorandum of what occurred at the Fairfax Court-House council. ‘Verba volant scripta manent:’ an adage always to be appreciated for the sound, practical teaching it contains. It is the right, no less than the duty, of leading men, in all countries and in all ages, to see to it that the truth concerning public events is carefully guarded and preserved, in order that it may not be easily tampered with, or made to degenerate into error. As matters now stand, and thanks to the foresight displayed by Generals Johnston, Beauregard, and Smith, Mr. Davis, no less than those who figured with him in the conference we speak of, must abide by its text, as recorded at the time. And to show how completely Mr. Davis errs, when he charges that he was kept purposely in ignorance of the ‘secret report’ he so bitterly denounces, we here state that it was seen of many men during the war—and not as a secret; and that, as early as 1867 or 1868—in other words, fully fifteen or sixteen years ago—General Beauregard had this identical memorandum published in The Land We Love—a magazine edited, at that time, by General D. H. Hill, of North Carolina. It was commented on [142] at length, if not republished, in the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion. No one is responsible for Mr. Davis's neglect to take cognizance of it. His appeal, therefore, to the ‘honorable men’ of the country, whose sympathies he desires to enlist in his favor, becomes simply puerile; and, far from resulting in injury to those whom he assails, it only recoils upon himself, and exposes the extreme carelessness with which he writes.

Mr. Davis should have inserted that document in his book. His criticisms would then have been better appreciated. Why he abstained from doing so is not, however, hard to understand. As General Beauregard has no like reasons to refrain from giving full publicity to it (we know that Generals Johnston and Smith think as he does on the subject), we now lay the whole paper before the reader, asking his most careful consideration of it.

On the 26th of September, 1861, General Joseph E. Johnston addressed a letter to the Secretary of War, in regard to the importance of putting this army in condition to assume the offensive; and suggested that his Excellency the President, or the Secretary of War, or some one representing them, should at an early day come to the headquarters of the army, then at or near Fairfax Court-House, for the purpose of deciding whether the army could be reinforced to the extent that the commanding general deemed necessary for an offensive campaign.

His Excellency the President arrived at Fairfax Court-House a few days thereafter, late in the afternoon, and proceeded to the quarters of General Beauregard.

On the same evening General Johnston and I called to pay our respects. No official subjects of importance were alluded to in that interview. At eight o'clock the next evening, by appointment of the President, a conference was had between himself, General Johnston, General Beauregard, and myself. Various matters of detail were introduced by the President, and talked over between himself and the two senior generals. Having but recently arrived, and not being well acquainted with the special subject referred to, I took little or no part in this conversation. Finally, with perhaps some abruptness, I said, “Mr. President, is it not possible to put this army in condition to assume the active offensive?” adding, that this was a question of vital importance, upon which the success or failure of our cause might depend. This question brought on discussion. The precise conversation which followed I do not propose to give: it was not an argument; there seemed to be little difference of opinion between us in regard to general views and principles. It was clearly stated and agreed to, that the military force of the Confederate States was at the highest point it could attain without arms from abroad; that the portion of this particular army present for duty was in the finest fighting condition; that, if kept inactive, it must retrograde immensely in every respect [143] during the winter, the effect of which was foreseen and dreaded by us all. The enemy were daily increasing in numbers, arms, discipline, and efficiency —we looked forward to a sad state of things at the opening of a spring campaign. These and other points being agreed upon without argument, it was again asked, “Mr. President, is it not possible to increase the effective strength of this army, and put us in condition to cross the Potomac and carry the war into the enemy's country? Can you not, by stripping other points to the last they will bear, and even risking defeat at all other places, put us in condition to move forward? Success here at this time saves everything, defeat here loses all.” In explanation, and as an illustration of this, the unqualified opinion was advanced, that if, for want of adequate strength on our part in Kentucky, the Federal forces should take military possession of that whole State, and even enter and occupy a portion of Tennessee, that a victory gained by this army beyond the Potomac would, by threatening the heart of the Northern States, compel their armies to fall back, free Kentucky, and give us the line of the Ohio within ten days thereafter. On the other hand, should our forces in Tennessee and Southern Kentucky be strengthened so as to enable us to take and to hold the Ohio River as a boundary, a disastrous defeat of this army would at once be followed by an overwhelming wave of Northern invaders, that would sweep over Kentucky and Tennessee, extending to the northern part of the Cotton States, if not to New Orleans. Similar views were expressed in regard to ultimate results, in Northwestern Virginia, being dependent upon the success or failure of this army; and various other special illustrations were offered—showing, in short, that success here was success everywhere; defeat here, defeat everywhere; and that this was the point upon which all the available force of the Confederate States should be concentrated.

It seemed to be conceded by all that our force, at that time here, was not sufficient for assuming the offensive beyond the Potomac; and that, even with a much larger force, an attack upon their army, under the guns of their fortifications on this side of the river, was out of the question. The President asked me what number of men were necessary, in my opinion, to warrant an offensive campaign, to cross the Potomac, cut off the communication of the enemy with their fortified capital, and carry the war into their country. I answered, “Fifty thousand effective seasoned soldiers;” explaining that by seasoned soldiers I meant such men as we had here present for duty; and added that they would have to be drawn from the peninsula about Yorktown, Norfolk, from Western Virginia, Pensacola, or wherever might be most expedient.

General Johnston and General Beauregard both said that a force of sixty thousand such men would be necessary; and that this force would require large additional transportation and munitions of war, the supplies here being entirely inadequate for an active campaign in the enemy's country, even with our present force. In this connection there was some discussion of the difficulties to be overcome, and the probabilities of success, but no one questioned the disastrous results of remaining inactive throughout the winter. [144]

Notwithstanding the belief that many in the Northern army were opposed on principle to invading the Southern States, and that they would fight better in defending their own homes than in attacking ours, it was believed that the best, if not the only place, to insure success, was to concentrate our forces, and attack the enemy in their own country. The president, I think, gave no definite opinion in regard to the number of men necessary for that purpose, and I am sure that no one present considered this a question to be finally decided by any other person than the commanding general of this army. Returning to the question that had been twice asked, the President expressed surprise and regret that the number of surplus arms here was so small; and, I thought, spoke bitterly of this disappointment. He then stated, that, at that time, no reinforcement could be furnished to this army of the character asked for, and that the most that could be done would be to furnish recruits to take the surplus arms in store here (say twenty-five hundred stand). That the whole country was demanding protection at his hands, and praying for arms and troops for defence. He had long been expecting arms from abroad, but had been disappointed. He still hoped to get them, but had no positive assurance that they would be received at all. The manufacture of arms in the Confederate States was as yet undeveloped to any considerable extent. Want of arms was the great difficulty; he could not take any troops from the points named, and, without arms from abroad, could not reinforce this army. He expressed regret, and seemed to feel deeply, as did every one present.

When the President had thus clearly and positively stated his inability to put this army in the condition deemed by the general necessary before entering upon an active offensive campaign, it was felt that 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 at the end of which the term of enlistment of half the force would expire. The prospect of a spring campaign, to be commenced under such discouraging circumstances, was rendered all the more gloomy by the daily increasing strength of an enemy already much superior in numbers. On the other hand was the hope and expectation that before the end of winter arms would be introduced into the country; and all were confident that we could then not only protect our own country, but successfully invade that of the enemy.

General Johnston said that he did not feel at liberty to express an opinion as to the practicability of reducing the strength of our forces at points not within the limits of his command; and with but few further remarks from any one, the answer of the President was accepted as final; and it was felt that there was no other course left but to take a defensive position and await the enemy. If they did not advance we had but to await the winter and its results.

After the main question was dropped, the President proposed that, instead of an active offensive campaign, we should attempt certain partial operations —a sudden blow against Sickles or Banks, or to break the bridge over the Monocacy. This, he thought, besides injuring the enemy, would exert a good influence over our troops, and encourage the people of the Confederate States [145] generally. In regard to attacking Sickles, it was stated in reply that, as the enemy controlled the river with their ships of war, it would be necessary for us to occupy two points on the river, one above and another below the point of crossing, that we might by our batteries prevent their armed vessels from interfering with the passage of the troops. In any case the difficulty of crossing large bodies over wide rivers, in the vicinity of an enemy, and then recrossing, made such expeditions hazardous; it was agreed, however, that if any opportunity should occur, offering reasonable chances of success, that the attempt would be made.

During this conference, or council, which lasted, perhaps, two hours, all was earnest, serious, deliberate; the impression made upon me was deep and lasting, and I am convinced that the foregoing statement is not only correct as far as it goes, but, in my opinion, it gives a fair idea of all that occurred at that time in regard to the question of our crossing the Potomac.

G. W. Smith, Maj.-Gen. C. S. A. Centreville, Va., January 31st, 1862. Signed in Triplicate.

Our recollections of that conference agree fully with this statement of General G. W. Smith.

G. T. Beauregard, Gen. C. S. A., J. E. Johnston, Gen. C. S. A. Centreville, Va., January 31st, 1862. Signed in Triplicate.

This is what took place at the Fairfax Court-House conference. It confirms what we have already stated at the beginning of the present chapter.

We now resume our review of Mr. Davis's remarks about it.

In that authoritative tone which ill befits him to-day, and frees from undue courtesy towards him those whom he so cavalierly misrepresents, Mr. Davis, with a view to impugn the veracity of the authors of the foregoing memorandum, writes as follows: ‘It does not agree in some respects with my memory of what occurred, and is not consistent with itself.’10 Not consistent, says Mr. Davis, ‘because in one part of the paper it is stated that the reinforcements asked for were to be “seasoned soldiers,” such as were there present;’ and in another part, ‘that he could not take any troops from the points named, and, without arms from abroad, could not reinforce that army.’11

Thereupon, and after propping up his premises to suit his purpose, Mr. Davis concludes that, clearly, from the answer he is said to have made to the three generals, ‘the proposition had been [146] for such reinforcements as additional arms could enable him to give.’12

These are sweeping assumptions, and such as only men who think themselves certain of impunity would venture. Unfortunately for Mr. Davis, this is not the case with him. Can he really believe that because he was President of the Confederate States, his mere allegations, resting, as they do, only upon his memory of what occurred twenty years ago, will counterbalance and even outweigh a document, carefully prepared and signed and vouched for, by three such generals as Johnston, Beauregard, and Smith, his peers in gentlemanly attainments, his superiors—especially two of them—in military merit; men of unstained character, enjoying, now as then, the entire confidence of their people; and who have, to-day, something more tangible than words to fall back upon, in support of their statements?

No unbiassed reader will believe that this document contains aught but the truth. For, on the one hand, three men of honor certify to its truth, and do so four months after the occurrence it refers to; while, on the other hand, Mr. Davis alone, without note or memorandum to assist him, and after twenty years have elapsed, comes forward and says: My version of the circumstances of the case is not in accord with yours. You are wrong, though you committed to writing the entire conference; I am right, though my memory, frail and treacherous as it may be, is my only voucher to justify me in controverting the positions you have taken.

With regard to the ‘inconsistencies’ complained of by Mr. Davis, which he would have his readers believe were so easily detected in the written memorandum now before us, we do not hesitate to say that they exist in his imagination only. Let the reader carefully examine the paper we have submitted to him, and see if he can discover the ‘inconsistencies,’ so obvious, according to Mr. Davis, as to make it a downright ‘absurdity.’13 However strong Mr. Davis's arguments may appear in the absence of the document which he interprets to suit his fancy, they fall to the ground and burst as bubbles when confronted with the true facts of the case.

The object of the conference, as we know, was to urge upon the President the necessity of an offensive campaign; to accomplish [147] which, the army at or near Fairfax Court-House was to be raised to an effective force of sixty thousand men. Not sixty thousand additional men, but an increase of such a number of ‘seasoned soldiers’ as would make up a total of sixty thousand. The Virginia army consisted, at that time, of about forty thousand men. General Smith thought that fifty thousand, that is to say, only ten thousand more than we then had—would be sufficient to undertake the forward movement. Generals Johnston and Beauregard gave it as their opinion that sixty thousand would be needed; in other words, twenty thousand additional troops.

This being the case—as we have it vouched for by the three generals—where did Mr. Davis discover and how can he assert, that ‘the lowest estimate made by any of them was about twice the number there present for duty14 which—if this were true, as it is not—would have brought up ‘the force required for the contemplated advance into Maryland’ to eighty thousand men and no less. This assertion shows how unsafe and untrustworthy Mr. Davis's memory is, and it explains, satisfactorily, we think, why it was that he would not give a place in his book to that ‘secret report,’ as he is pleased to call it.

If, as late as October, 1861, Mr. Davis had no arms to furnish to recruits, he had, unquestionably, at the different points designated by the three generals, troops already armed and equipped, already disciplined and drilled. These, had he been willing to favor the plan submitted to him, he could, in less than three weeks time, have transported to the borders of Virginia, to reinforce the army said, by those who knew it best, to be ‘in the finest fighting condition.’ He was asked for such troops as could then be found in the peninsula around Yorktown, in Western Virginia, at Pensacola, at Mobile, at Charleston, at New Orleans; points from which about twenty-five thousand men—five thousand more than were needed —could have been withdrawn without unnecessarily exposing the positions they occupied. These were the ‘seasoned soldiers’ the three generals wanted. They neither called for nor desired raw recruits, raised to bear the arms Mr. Davis might possibly receive from Europe, and which he was hoping for, ‘barring the dangers of the sea.’ Recruits of that kind, however well armed, [148] would have been useless, as they could not have sustained the arduous campaign sought to be inaugurated, which required previous military training and discipline. But Mr. Davis turned a deaf ear to the suggestions made to him. He would not receive the advice of the generals in the field. He failed to seize the great opportunity offered him, and, as usual, took upon himself to decide the fortunes of the Confederacy. No troops, he declared, could be taken from the points named—though none of then were threatened at the time—and no reinforcements, of the character asked for, could, therefore, be furnished to the army. He did propose twenty-five hundred recruits for that number of small arms which we had in store; but no further mention was made of recruits, either before, during, or after the conference. What was said of arms, of the expectations of the government about them, and even of Mr. Davis's disappointment at finding the strength of the army ‘but little increased,’ are side issues, which should not divert our attention from the true object of the conference and the main question submitted to the President, namely: An aggressive campaign into the energy's country, conditioned upon reinforcements to be procured from divers points of the Confederacy, then and there specially designated.

Mr. Davis charges Generals Johnston, Beauregard, and Smith with assuming to know more about the positions of our troops at different stations of the country than the War Department itself, whose duty it was to receive all the army returns, and by which questions involving the position and withdrawal of troops, in the field or elsewhere, ‘could best be decided.’ If the War Department, or ‘Richmond,’ as Mr. Davis has it, knew so much about army matters, how is it that the President, or head of the War Department, expressed so much wonder at the relative smallness of our force at Fairfax Court-House? The ‘returns’ forwarded to Richmond must certainly have shown him the fact, and the cause of it. If the Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy knew so little about the number and condition of forces then in such close proximity to Richmond, is it not reasonable to suppose that his knowledge of troops stationed at distant points, and in other States, was still more scanty and imperfect?

Knowing the purely patriotic motives actuating Generals Johnston, Beauregard, and Smith, when they suggested the means by [149] which the advance movement urged by them could be effected; and knowing also how far from their thought it was to make any display of superior knowledge, we must deprecate the bitterness of language used and the irritable personality indulged in by Mr. Davis, in the following passage of his book: ‘Very little experience, or a fair amount of modesty, without 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.’15

Whatever may be, to-day, the efforts made by Mr. Davis to shield himself from censure, for the course he then adopted, it remains none the less an incontrovertible fact, that troops, armed and equipped, officered and drilled, could have been brought from the points designated to him, and that he positively refused to allow their transfer to be effected. That, as Commander-in-Chief, he had the right so to act, is unquestioned; but that he erred in exercising that right is clear to all who followed the history of events, from that time to the end of the war.

Mr. Davis insists, that though the generals he met at Fairfax Court-House were of opinion that ‘it were 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.,16 yet, ‘when it was proposed to them?’ by Mr. Davis, ‘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.’17

No similar expedition was ever thought of or executed during the Confederate War. Mr. Davis's proposition was unique. The campaign in the valley of Virginia, which, he says, was achieved ‘by another officer not of this council,’ resembled in nothing the one he had suggested; for, if it had, even with such a commander [150] as Jackson to lead it, overwhelming disaster would have been the result.

Mr. Davis's plan was, by means of a steamer (a single one), then in our possession, to throw troops across the lower Potomac, for a partial campaign, against a Federal force said to be on the opposite bank, under General Sickles.

Mr. Davis had evidently forgotten that the Potomac, at that point, was more than a mile and a half wide; with a tide rising and falling from five to six feet, twice in twenty-four hours; with shallow mud-flats in many places, along both shores; and, last but not least, with United States war-vessels controlling the river with untiring activity. He had also forgotten that the Confederate column—not a regiment, nor even a brigade, but, at least, a division —thus to be sent into Maryland, would, of necessity, have had to return to the Virginia shore after the expedition, whether successful or unsuccessful. Suppose the landing on the other side had been safely effected—we cannot see how, but will suppose it, nevertheless—while the fighting was in progress, the river would have been patrolled with increased vigilance. The enemy would have put forth every effort to cut off the return of the column. Reinforcements would have poured in, from all points, to assist the attacked Federals. What then would have become of the one steamer in our possession? How could she have brought back our troops, and what troops would have been left to bring back?

We have no hesitation in saying that, had such a movement been attempted, the fate that overtook the Federal column at Ball's Bluff, on the 21st of October of the same year, would have befallen the Confederates. Few indeed—if any—of the doomed men sent across the Potomac, on Mr. Davis's expedition, would have returned to the Virginia shore to tell the story of their defeat.

Had any other but the President and Commander-in-Chief of our armies proposed such a movement to Generals Johnston and Beauregard, he would have been pitilessly and openly derided. As it was, our commanding generals did what military etiquette and their duty towards their men required; they courteously, but, unhesitatingly, rejected the proposal.

We find it stated in the memorandum we have so often referred to, that, at the end of the Fairfax Court-House conference, Mr. Davis, after crushing the hopes of our generals by rejecting their [151] plan, suggested certain ‘partial operations’ against the enemy, among which, and most conspicuous of all, as being the most promising, was the one just commented upon. This is undoubtedly correct. But as no mention is made of other operations in Mr. Davis's book, and as General Beauregard's recollection is not quite clear as to their strategic merit, we refrain from attempting any description of them. That they were not executed, is, to us, proof sufficient of their manifest impracticability.

1 See Chapter X.

2 General Smith had joined the Confederacy, and, upon the suggestion of Generals Johnston and Beauregard, had been commissioned as a Major-General by the War Department, August, 1861.

3 From July 24th, all Orders, General or Special, issued by General Beauregard, were dated ‘Headquarters 1st Corps, Army of the Potomac.’

4 Designation of General Beauregard's forces, as per orders issued by him, on the 20th of June, 1861.

5 Designation of General Johnston's forces, before and after his junction with General Beauregard.

6 Proposal of John Frazer & Co., set forth in Chapter V.

7 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. i. p. 451.

8 Ibid. vol. i. p. 452.

9 In Chapter XIII.

10 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. i. p. 450.

11 Ibid. vol. i. p. 451.

12 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. i. p. 451. The italics are ours.

13 Ibid. vol. i. p. 450.

14 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. i. p. 449. The italics are ours.

15 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. i. p. 451.

16 They did make use of such language, but added: ‘At the end of which the term of enlistment of half the force would expire;’ which made a most significant difference.

17 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. i. pp. 450, 451. The italics are ours.

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