Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Letters Between Sincere Friends

Wherein Beauregard and Davis exchange less than friendly correspondence

Thanks to the fact that Washington was never captured, that the Adjutant General's Office kept good records, and that George McClellan never had the good sense to destroy his personal letters, we have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the horrible/amusing saga of the turmoil in the early Union leadership. But across northern Virginia an equally nasty, but substantially less well documented fight was going on between Brigadier General G.T. Beauregard, the victor of Manassas and Fort Sumter, and provisional President Jefferson Davis.

Tensions had begun almost as soon as Davis had named Beauregard commander of the Alexandria Line, the small collection of soldiers that had retreated from Alexandria to Manassas Junction. Beauregard had immediately begun complaining to Davis about having too few men to defend the important railroad Y that was the juncture of lines extending to Front Royal, Alexandria, and Richmond. Before satisfying those needs, he had added complaints about not having enough men to launch a grand offensive that he had envisioned to capture Washington with his self-styled Army of the Potomac.

Then the Union forces began marching from Alexandria under Irvin McDowell, and Beauregard's wishes were fulfilled. His force was united with the Army of the Shenandoah under Brigadier General Joe Johnston, and a great victory was won at Manassas over the Northerners. Davis gave approval to unite the armies as the Army of the Potomac under the more senior Johnston, and Johnston tolerated Beauregard styling the men from his old army as the First Corps, Army of the Potomac (despite the fact that the army would never have a Second Corps) and commanding them with only minimal review from headquarters.

So Beauregard went back to sniping with Richmond, this time about the truly pitiful lack of supplies and transportation for those supplies. On August 1, Beauregard attempted to get around the stonewalling and red tape he was getting from the official channels by sending a letter to his former aide-de-camp and Confederate Congressman, James Chestnut. Chestnut and William Miles, another Beauregard aide and Congressman, decided that letter needed to be shown to the Congress in secret session.

Sometime in the next week Davis found out, through friends at first and then through the furious demands of Congressmen in an official resolution inquiring into the matter. On August 10, he sent a response to Beauregard.
My dear Sir--Enclosed I transmit copies of a resolution of inquiry and the reply to it. You will perceive that the answer was made in view of the telegram which I enclosed to you, that being the only information then before me. Since that time it has been communicated to me that your letter to Hon. Mr. Miles, on the wants of your army, and the consequences thereof, was read to the Congress, and hence the inquiry instituted. Permit me to request that you will return the telegram to me, which I enclosed to show you the form in which the matter came before me.
It was a highly polite chastisement, and Beauregard (whose battlefield promotion to full general was still pending) would have immediately recognized it as such. Davis continued in a silky, threatening prose:
Some excitement has been created by your letter; the Quartermaster and the Commissary General both feel that they have been unjustly arraigned [both were personal friends of Davis]. As for myself, I can only say that I have endeavored to anticipate wants, and any failure which has occurred from imperfect knowledge might have been best avoided by timely requisitions and estimates.
It wasn't a fair statement, exactly. Beauregard had been requesting supplies and transport since July 23, and the Confederate supply system had bungled it. But his solution of circumventing Davis' had been ill advised. Worse, his adjutant, Colonel Thomas Jordan, had been supplementing his letters with even more invective, outlining grand conspiracies wherein the President sought to undermine Beauregard for personal gain. Not even the sympathetic James Chestnut could go that far, and more skeptical observers, like James' wife, Mary, were outright shocked.

Assuming Jordan was doing Beauregard's bidding (likely), she wrote in her diary August 5:
To think that any mortal general (even though he had sprung up in a month or so from captain of artillery to general) could be so puffed up with vanity, to be blinded by any false idea of his own consequence as to write, to intimate that man, or men, would sacrifice their country, injure themselves, ruin their families, to spite the aforesaid general! Conceit and self assertion can never reach a higher point than that.
Davis was more subtle. "I think you are unjust to yourself in putting your failure to pursue the enemy to Washington to the account of short supplies of subsistence and transportation," he wrote, implying both that Beauregard had failed to pursue the enemy and that if he blamed it on anyone else it exposed his flaws as a general. "You will not fail to remember that so far from knowing that the enemy was routed, a large part of our forces was moved by you... to repel a supposed attack on our right..." he added for good measure, again turning the finger back on Beauregard.
Enough was done for glory, and the measure of duty was full; let us rather show the untaught that their desires are unreasonable, than, by dwelling on possibilities recently developed, give form and substance to the criticisms always easy to those who judge after the event.
Lest Beauregard miss the message that he was on thin ice, Davis signed it "with sincere esteem, I am, your friend", rather than his usual "yours, etc." Beauregard got the message. He wrote back immediately that afternoon, starting off with an apology for not responding to an earlier letter too.
I regret exceedingly to hear that Colonel Miles read my letter of the 29th to Congress. It was written only for the purpose of expediting matters, if possible, and immediately after having been informed that one brigade and two or more regiments were without food, and had been so for twenty-four hours.
He then launched into a defensive and partially apologetic explanation of his efforts to get his army resupplied, but got derailed as he continued, shifting back into attack mode: "I will here remark that troops arriving at this place have often been a day or more without food in the cars... I accuse no one, I state facts." and "the facts referred to show a deficiency somewhere, which ought to be remedied, otherwise we will, sooner or later, be liable to the same unfortunate results." He justified his separate letter outside of the chain of command ("My experience here teaches me that, after issuing an order, I have to inquire whether it has been carried into effect...") and corrected Davis on his actual complaint about following the Union retreat ("...I never stated that we could have pursued the enemy on the evening of the 21st, or even on the 22d.").

By the end of the letter, the Louisianan was emboldened, closing it with a veiled barb of his own back at Davis, alluding to the rumors that Beauregard would challenge him in the Confederate presidential election to be held in November.
We have, no doubt, by our success here, achieved "glory" for our country, but I am fighting for something more real and tangible, i.e., to save our homes and firesides from our Northern invaders, and to maintain our freedom and independence as a nation. After that task shall have been accomplished, as I feel that I am only fit for private life, I shall retire to my home, if my means will permit, never again to leave it, unless called upon to repel again the same or another foe.
He signed it, "with much respect, I remain, sincerely your friend, G.T. Beauregard."

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