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Chapter 45:


The enemy effected the crossing of Broad River during the night of the 16th of February. With our small force of infantry and a few light batteries, under General Stevenson, aggregating about three thousand men, and the cavalry, under Generals Wheeler and Butler, some four thousand men, commanded by General Hampton, we had endeavored, in vain, to impede his progress. The evacuation of Columbia therefore became a necessity, and General Beauregard ordered its execution at daylight on the following morning. The infantry and artillery were to head the retreat, and the cavalry, bringing up the rear, was to file out of the city as the Federal columns should enter it.1 This movement was carried out to the letter with perfect system and order. The conflagration and pillage that took place after our troops had left will form the subject of another chapter. [353]

General Beauregard rode out of Columbia, with his staff, at 10 A. M. on the 17th, taking a northerly route towards Chester, where he thought he might still be able to form a junction with General Hardee's forces.

He arrived at Ridgeway, about twenty-five miles from Columbia, on the night of the 17th, and remained there nearly two days, giving orders to his different commands, and reporting to the President and General Lee every incident of importance connected with the movements of his troops. His first telegram to the latter read as follows:

Ridgeway, S. C., Feb. 17th, 1865:9.30 P. M.
General R. E. Lee, Richmond, Va.:
Enemy having forced crossing of Saluda and Broad rivers above Columbia, city had to be evacuated this morning. My forces are now retiring on this place. Everything possible shall be done to retard enemy's advance, but I cannot separate cavalry from infantry without fear of disaster, owing to small number of latter—only about three thousand effectives. Moreover, having no supply trains, troops must move along railroad.

In answer to a despatch from the Secretary of War, alleging interference with provisions at Charlotte which had been ordered to Richmond by the Commissary-General, General Beauregard immediately forwarded this telegram:

Ridgeway, S. C., Feb. 17th, 1865:9.30 P. M.
General Breckinridge, Secy. of War, Richmond, Va.:
Far from interfering with provisions at Charlotte Junction, I have done all I could to send everything forward from Columbia.2 I advise removal of all supplies, except two hundred thousand rations, from Charlotte to a safer place farther north; no time should be lost.

On the 18th he informed General McLaws, who had temporarily relieved General Hardee, that Columbia had been abandoned; that Hampton's cavalry was still near the city; that the future intentions of the enemy were not yet fully ascertained; but that all instructions given to General Hardee must be rapidly carried out.

On the same day General Hampton, by despatch, proposed a plan of concentration to check the enemy's further advance. [354] It was ably conceived, and, under other circumstances, might have resulted successfully. But, as Cheatham's and Hardee's troops could not have reached the designated point in time, and as the 14th Corps (Federal) had already crossed to the east of Broad River, it being probable that the 20th would cross on the next day, at Alston, General Beauregard was of opinion that, with our small forces then available, we could effect no serious damage to the 15th Federal Corps, and that our line of retreat to Chesterville might, on the other hand, be entirely cut off by the 14th and 20th Corps—thus opening an unobstructed country to the enemy through the State of South Carolina. General Hampton's suggestion, therefore, was not adopted.3

From Ridgeway, General Beauregard passed on to White Oak, where, on the 19th and 20th, he sent important instructions to Generals Hampton and Stevenson, directing their movements and line of march, and advising necessary measures for the removal of rations at Chesterville.

He also forwarded the following message to General Lee:

General,—After close examination and exerting every means in my power, I find it impossible for the troops now in Charleston to form a junction with me this side of Greensboroa (North Carolina). Believing it best, from the information just received from Governor Vance and General Bragg, to transport the troops by rail to that point, I have directed General McLaws to move them by rail as rapidly as possible. I am also of the opinion that Cheatham, at Newberry, this morning, with two thousand men, and Stewart, eighteen hours behind him, with twelve hundred, cannot form a junction with me except by moving across, via Statesburg and Manchester, and thence, by rail, to Greensboroa. This movement will require some days, owing to the difficulties of crossing Broad and Wateree rivers. The enemy has advanced to-day to near Winnsboroa, in force, and is still moving along the railroad, keeping between this place and Broad River, thus cutting off Cheatham and Stewart.

This was before the enemy had decided to move eastward. General McLaws was informed of the countermanded movement, and General Bragg, at Wilmington, was asked to communicate with and afford him all the aid in his power.

General Beauregard arrived at Chesterville on the night of the [355] 20th. He remained there until the next day, at 10 A. M., when he left for Charlotte, N. C., having lost all hope of concentrating at Chester, with Hardee's, Cheatham's, and Stewart's forces.

From Chesterville, on the 21st, General Beauregard sent the following telegram to President Davis:

Should enemy advance into North Carolina, towards Charlotte and Salisbury, as is now almost certain, I earnestly urge a concentration in time of at least thirty-five thousand infantry and artillery at latter point, if possible, to give him battle there and crush him; then to concentrate all forces against Grant, and then to march on Washington to dictate a peace: Hardee and myself can collect about fifteen thousand men, exclusive of Cheatham and Stewart, not likely to reach in time. If Lee and Bragg could furnish twenty thousand more, the fate of the Confederacy would be secure.

It seems, according to Mr. Davis's book,4 that this demand for reinforcements, although ‘implying a compliment’ to General Lee, had no other result than to ‘disturb’ him; and it is hardly necessary to add that no attention whatever was paid to it.

A curious feature of the Confederate history may here be elucidated. In his ‘Military History of Ulysses S. Grant,’ General Badeau speaks of the foregoing despatch and proposed concentration in terms of complete discourtesy.5 He alludes to General Beauregard's ill-health at the time, and to that cause ascribes what he considers the folly of his proposition. He even connects it with the fact that on ‘the day after this despatch was received Johnston superseded Beauregard in command of the troops opposed to Sherman.’

If it was folly on the part of General Beauregard to suggest and urge the concentration of our forces at that period—and it must not be forgotten that he had been attempting to bring it about ever since the 3d of February:6—it was also folly on the part of General Lee to write, in the despatch wherein he asked for the appointment of General Johnston, the following words: ‘It is necessary to bring out all our strength and, I fear, to unite our armies, as, separately, they do not seem able to make head against the enemy.’ And again: ‘I fear it may be necessary to abandon our [356] cities, and preparations should be made for this contingency.’7 The only difference between the two generals was, that General Lee saw the necessity of concentration too late, and failed to act upon it; whereas Beauregard saw it much earlier, and would have tried to carry it to a successful conclusion, had the power been given him to execute his plans. That General Grant himself dreaded the effects of such ‘folly’—i. e., the concentration proposed and the demand for reinforcements by General Beauregard —is conclusively shown by the following quotation from General Badeau's book: ‘At this time again Grant saw reason to apprehend a movement of Lee before Richmond or Petersburg, either to screen the withdrawal of the rebel army, or to distract attention from operations elsewhere.’8 And General Grant is reported to have said, on the 25th of February: ‘Deserters from the rebel lines, north of the James, say it is reported among them that Hill's corps has left, or is leaving, to join Beauregard.’9 That, late as it was, the course proposed by General Beauregard was the true strategic measure to adopt, is shown by the apprehension of the enemy. And General Badeau again quotes, as follows, General Grant's words to General Meade, on the 3d of March:‘For the present, it is better for us to hold the enemy where he is than to force him South. * * * To drive the enemy from Richmond now would endanger the success of these columns’10—meaning Sherman's and Schofield's.

And what was General Beauregard attempting to compass, with a view to a successful conclusion of the war? That the end had been nearly reached by both contending parties was evident at the time, and has been set forth, with startling certainty, by researches among the Federal archives. The desire for peace was eager all over the North; and any decisive victory or series of victories, on our part, would not only have disheartened our adversaries, by re-opening before them a vista of long and protracted struggles, with levies of men now become most exacting, but would have reanimated the whole South, and brought back thousands of absentees to our ranks. Under such circumstances, [357] with a wise, far-seeing Administration, and with prompt, energetic action in the field, was it folly to assume that we could have claimed and obtained an honorable peace? General Beauregard knew that the South was not exhausted; that there still remained in it strong powers of vitality; that the ‘granaries of that vast and fertile territory bulged with stores of corn.’11 He also knew that the Army of Northern Virginia was wasting away in a futile attempt to preserve Richmond and Petersburg; that General Lee was not in a position to undertake any movement against the army confronting him; and that should reinforcements be drawn from his ranks, none of his plans would thereby suffer or be prevented; while, by utilizing one or two corps of the Army of Virginia, Sherman could have been checked, cut off from his base, and, eventually, defeated. That the undertaking was a perilous one, is undoubted; but it was practicable, nevertheless; and, situated as we then were, a bold and vigorous effort of the kind was necessary, unless we were willing to await, with crossed hands, the fate which the unimpeded movements of the enemy must inevitably draw upon us. Basing his opinion upon all these considerations, General Beauregard, who, despite his great anxiety, could not and would not despond, wisely counselled that measure of concentration which the Administration, unfortunately, disregarded, and General Badeau, with naught before him but the equivocal proof of an accomplished fact, presumptuously condemns.

On the night of the 22d General Beauregard arrived at Charlotte, where, to his no small surprise, the following telegram was handed to him:

I have directed General J. E. Johnston to assume command of Southern army, and to assign you to duty with him. Together, I feel assured you will beat back Sherman.

Had General Lee accompanied this despatch with an order for two corps of his army to march to the assistance of Generals Johnston and Beauregard, his assurance that, ‘together,’ they would be able to ‘beat back Sherman’ would have been well founded; otherwise it was entirely meaningless. With what troops was [358] this defeat of Sherman's army to be accomplished? General Johnston had none, and General Beauregard's forces—marching from different points, and not yet united at any, notwithstanding his unceasing efforts to bring them together—consisted of about five thousand men of the Army of Tennessee and the troops of the Department under General Hardee, amounting to about eleven thousand. Two thousand of the former, commanded by Major-General Stevenson, were near Charlotte. One thousand, under Lieutenant-General Stewart, were near Newberry, approaching Charlotte; and two thousand, under Major-General Cheatham, were between Newberry and Augusta, also marching towards Charlotte. The troops of the Department, under Lieutenant-General Hardee's command, were moving from Charleston to Cheraw. Eleven hundred of them were South Carolina militia and reserves, not expected to leave the State.12

The concentration of all their available forces within any given time, at any given place, was not the greatest obstacle that Generals Johnston and Beauregard had to overcome; the question was, how could they, with less than fifteen thousand men under them (for the South Carolina militia and cadets had to be deducted), have driven back an army numbering fully seventy thousand men, according to General Sherman's own estimate of its strength? But it seems that, in General Lee's opinion, however courteous his language may have been, the deficiency lay in the commander, not in the number of his troops; for, on the 19th of February, in General Lee's despatch, already alluded to and addressed to General Breckinridge, Secretary of War, he thus expressed himself: ‘* * * I do not see how Sherman can make the march anticipated by General Beauregard; but he seems to have everything his own way, which is calculated to cause apprehension. General Beauregard does not say what he proposes, or what he can do. I do not know where his troops are, or on what lines they are moving. His despatches only give movements of the enemy. He has a difficult task to perform under present circumstances, and one of his best officers, General Hardee, is incapacitated by sickness. I have also heard that his own health is indifferent, though he has never so stated. Should his strength give way, there is no one on duty in the Department that could replace [359] him, nor have I any one to send there. General J. E. Johnston is the only officer whom I know who has the confidence of the army and people; and if he was ordered to report to me I would place him there on duty.’13

It seems strange that General Lee should have declared himself ignorant of the whereabouts of General Beauregard's forces, and of the lines upon which they moved, when so many despatches of General Beauregard, to him and to the War Department, were replete with the most exact information on these two points, as is shown by the telegrams contained in this and the preceding chapter, and in the appendices to both. But stranger still appears his further assertion that he has ‘also heard that his own [General Beauregard's] health is indifferent, though he has never so stated.’ And, acting upon this supposition, without making the least inquiry of General Beauregard, he proposes, not that General Johnston shall be called from retirement and held in readiness, should his services be required for the emergency referred to, but that he shall be immediately ordered to supersede General Beauregard and take command of his army.

And why should General Lee have been ‘disturbed’ by General Beauregard's urgent demand for reinforcements from the Army of Virginia? Why should his plan for concentration have been the apparent immediate cause of his removal, when we find the vital necessity of just such a movement strongly advocated by Colonel W. H. Taylor, late Adjutant-General of the Army of Northern Virginia—‘one who,’ as he says himself, ‘was brought into daily and intimate relations with General Lee,’ and whose statements upon such topics were but ‘the reflex of the views and opinions14 of his commander? In Colonel Taylor's book, entitled ‘Four Years with General Lee,’ we find the following significant passage given as a certified extract from his war journal:

Edge Hill, Feb. 24th, 1865.
Now that General Johnston has been placed in command of his old army by General Lee, it is not probable that the latter will go to South Carolina— at any rate, not immediately. * * * It is not to be denied that our condition at this time is a critical one; but although it is a crisis in our affairs, it is the same with the enemy. Suppose we were to concentrate on Sherman and crush him, [360] would not the aspect of affairs be entirely changed? Well, that is not beyond the range of possibility. Much depends on the check given to Sherman's career. Richmond may be lost to us, and Sherman may be overwhelmed. The defeat of Sherman would restore Richmond. To be rid of him would more than compensate for such temporary sacrifice.15

We cannot understand, therefore, how General Beauregard incurred the disapproval of General Lee, for wishing to carry out a measure which General Lee's own better judgment seems to have approved,16 but which failed of execution, because the General-in-chief bent before the will of those who would not abandon Richmond, even temporarily, and allowed, nay, proposed, General Beauregard's removal, although the latter was advocating the only plan which, at this dark hour, could have made success possible.

At the eleventh hour, and when delay, from whatever source it might arise, was so much to be dreaded, General Johnston, at the request of General Lee,17 was abruptly placed in command of our forces operating in the two Carolinas, and instructed to ‘beat back Sherman,’ but without being given the means wherewith alone such a result could be obtained.

The question which naturally arises now is, how did General Johnston carry out these instructions? We know that when the troops under him were assembled, in obedience to orders already issued by General Beauregard, he officially assumed command on the 25th of February, and published on that occasion an able and soldierly address to his troops. But what were his expectations, and what course was it then his intention to pursue? He thought the Southern cause, at that time, irretrievably lost, and so, evidently, did General Lee himself; and he resumed the duties of his military grade with no hope beyond that of contributing to obtain peace on such conditions as, under the circumstances, [361] ought to satisfy the Southern people and their Government.18 General Beauregard and, in fact, most of our leaders, in the field and elsewhere, believed that the end of the war was close at hand. But, in Colonel Taylor's language, as already quoted, General Beauregard also knew that, ‘although it was a crisis in our affairs, it was the same with the enemy.’ he therefore strongly believed that our best chance of obtaining an honorable peace was to base it upon a victory over the enemy, which could only be gained by great vigor and an immediate concentration.

The following is General Beauregard's answer to the order informing him of his removal from the command of his army:

Your despatch informing me that you had directed General Joseph E. Johnston to assume command of the Southern army and to assign me to duty with him, has just been received. In the defence of our common country I will, at all times, be happy to serve with or under so gallant and patriotic a soldier as General Johnston.

This was a noble answer, denoting an entire absence of personal ambition on the part of its author. To General Johnston—who, before accepting the command offered him, had visited General Beauregard, ‘to ascertain if he had been consulted on the subject’ 19—the latter had also given, in substance, the same assurance. It will be remembered, no doubt, that some time in January, after leaving Charleston and before reaching the Army of Tennessee, General Beauregard had endeavored to have General Johnston restored to active service, and had even proposed to yield him his former command.20 No action, however, had been taken in the matter by the War Department, and General Beauregard had reason to believe that, after all he had accomplished with the restricted means at his disposal, he would continue to control the military operations of his Department. He had made no complaint whatever about his health, although others may have taken upon themselves to report it as being ‘indifferent.’ The truth is, he had seldom been so well since the opening of the war. Nor had he expressed any fear that his health might impair his [362] energy or prevent the full execution of his own or the Government's plans. General Lee's answer (which we give in the Appendix) shows how well he appeared to appreciate the disinterestedness marking General Beauregard's conduct. We must say, however, that had General Beauregard been aware of the personal intervention of General Lee and of the reason assigned for his removal, he would, while unhesitatingly sacrificing his rank for the public good, have plainly shown his consciousness of the injustice done him.

By some curious fatality, worthy of note, it seems to have been General Beauregard's destiny, at various periods of our four years struggle, to be subordinated to officers of his own grade in the army, ranking him only by date of commission. At the battle of Manassas, in July, 1861, he was placed under General Joseph E. Johnston; in February, 1862, during the Shiloh campaign, under General Albert Sidney Johnston; in June, 1864, at Petersburg, under General R. E. Lee; in February, 1865, again under General Joseph E. Johnston. And it may be remarked that no other full general was ever so circumstanced, until, near the close of the war, when General Lee was given what Mr. Davis, perhaps appropriately, called ‘the nominal dignity of Generalin-chief’21 of the Confederate armies. General Hood, when under General Beauregard's orders, during the Tennessee campaign, was only a provisional general, and had been elevated to that rank in order to give him precedence over other officers of his own army, who held commissions of older dates than his own. To General Beauregard's honor, it must be said that it was always through his single-minded efforts to effect a concentration for some great object that he thus lost the prerogatives of his rank, and often the power to carry out his own plan for the defeat of the enemy. The truth is—and both the army and the people knew it—that his desire for the good of the service always predominated over the ambition to command. Congress, in acknowledgment of his eminent services, on four different occasions passed votes of thanks to him and to the troops under him: first, after the fall of Sumter, in April, 1861; second, after the battle of Manassas, in July, 1861; third, after the battle of Shiloh, in April, 1862; fourth, for the repulse of the Federal [363] ironclad fleet in Charleston Harbor, in April, 1863. No other Confederate general was honored to that extent during the war. And may it not be added that a strange contrast was thus presented between the ill — will of the Administration and the manifest admiration and gratitude of the representatives of the people? It is known, furthermore, that Congress would have reiterated its thanks to General Beauregard, after the battle of Drury's Bluff, in May, 1864, and also after the almost incredible stand he made at Petersburg, from June 15th to 18th, of the same year, had not the fear been expressed by some members, that to pass votes of thanks again in his honor would indicate too much partiality for him.

General Johnston arrived at Charlotte on the 24th, and, after a long conference with General Beauregard, assumed command the next day. He desired the latter to continue the concentration of our forces, at the most available points, from Charlotte to Raleigh, which General Beauregard had been so long endeavoring to effect. General Johnston's intention, as soon as the place of concentration could be definitely fixed, was to repair to it and assume command in the field, while General Beauregard should complete all other arrangements, and, with such troops as he might have at hand, watch over our various lines of communication. The Appendix to the present chapter contains the telegrams, orders, and instructions issued by General Beauregard in furtherance of this end.

After burning and destroying Columbia, as will be shown in the next chapter, General Sherman sent forward the right wing of his army in a northerly direction, towards Winnsboroa, where, on the 21st, a junction was made with his left wing, under General Slocum. From Winnsboroa they marched as follows: the right wing, crossing the Catawba at Peay's Ferry, went towards Cheraw and Fayetteville; the left wing, crossing at Rocky Mount, after a delay of several days, also began its march towards Cheraw. In the mean time, according to General Sherman,22 Kilpatrick, with his force of cavalry, had been ordered to make a feint in the direction of Lancaster, so as to lead General Beauregard into the belief that the whole Federal army would soon be marching upon Charlotte. General Beauregard was perfectly aware of Kilpatrick's presence [364] ‘on the Lancaster and Camden road;’23 but he was convinced, nevertheless, as is shown by his despatch of the 24th to General Lee, that ‘the enemy's movements would seem to indicate Cheraw and Fayetteville as their present objective.’24 The tenor of this latter despatch and its date, which corresponds with the arrival of Kilpatrick near Lancaster, are proof sufficient that the ‘delusion’ so complacently referred to by General Sherman existed more in his own mind than in General Beauregard's.

While these movements were being executed Fort Fisher and the other Confederate works at the mouth of Cape Fear River, after a short but glorious resistance, were captured by the Federal forces operating against them. It was there that General Whiting redeemed his reputation, and, after receiving a mortal wound behind the shattered ramparts of Fort Fisher, died in the hands of the enemy. Wilmington surrendered to General Terry on or about the 22d of February, and General Bragg, with nearly eight thousand men, retreated towards Goldsboroa, to form a junction at last with General Johnston's forces. The wisdom of the policy advocated by General Beauregard weeks before, but which had been disapproved of by the War Department, was here clearly demonstrated. Had our untenable seaports and harbor defences, and even the Confederate capital, been abandoned in time, and the troops occupying them withdrawn and concentrated at or about Branchville, S. C., reinforced by two or more corps from the Army of Northern Virginia, a stand could have been made by which Sherman's invading army, then so far from its base—the sea-coast —would have been effectually checked, and the course of events materially changed. As it was, place after place fell before overpowering numbers, and the junction of General Bragg's forces with those of General Johnston was only partially effected, after Schofield had united his forces with those of Sherman.

1 See letters to Generals Hampton, Stevenson, and Cheatham, in Appendix. See, also, instructions to Colonel G. W. Brent.

2 See, in Appendix to preceding chapter, General Beauregard's orders to Major R. Rhett, A. Q. M., and to Captain Witherspoon, A. C. S., for removal of stores from Columbia.

3 See Appendix.

4 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. II., p. 631.

5 ‘Military History of Ulysses S. Grant,’ vol. III., p. 397.

6 See, in preceding chapter, General Beauregard's telegrams of that date.

7 General Lee's communication, of February 19th, 1865, to General Breckinridge, Secretary of War, in Appendix.

8 ‘Military History of Ulysses S. Grant,’ vol. III., p. 394.

9 Ibid., vol. III., p. 395.

10 Ibid., vol. III., p. 405.

11 Swinton's ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 571.

12 General Johnston's ‘Narrative of Military Operations,’ p. 572.

13 See, in Appendix, General Lee's despatch to General Breckenridge, Secretary of War.

14 ‘Four Years with General Lee,’ p. 140. The italics are ours.

15 ‘Four Years with General Lee,’ pp. 143, 144. The italics are ours.

16 Ibid., pp. 145, 146.

17 In President Davis's work, vol. II., p. 631, we read: ‘A few days subsequent to the events in North Carolina to which reference has been made, General Lee proposed that General J. E. Johnston should be put in command of the troops in North Carolina. He still had the confidence in that officer which I had once felt, but which his campaigns in Mississippi and Georgia had impaired. With the understanding that General Lee was himself to supervise and control the operations, I assented to the assignment.’

18 General Johnston's ‘l Narrative of Military Operations,’ p. 372.

19 Ibid., p. 371.

20 See Chapter XLIII. of this work, p. 329.

21 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. II., p. 361.

22 ‘Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman,’ p. 288.

23 See, in Appendix, his despatch of 27th to General Lee.

24 See, in Appendix, his despatch of that date to General Lee

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