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Just below is transcript of a communication (likely sent by special courier) from Confederate Secretary of War, Judah Benjamin to Major General Braxton Bragg (then commander of the Army of Pensacola, based at Fort Barrancas). Why is this 27 DEC 1861 letter important to the study of Shiloh?

  • reveals "the intended mission of General A.S. Johnston, when he was sent West"
  • confirms "a dispute" of some nature, between Generals Price and McCulloch;
  • stresses intention for Missouri to be the primary scene of Confederate operations in the West;
  • compares the skills of commander: Fremont vs. Halleck;
  • provides a proposal to Major General Bragg (and recognizes his achievements in Florida).

< Private and Confidential >

Confederate States of America, War Department -- Richmond, 27 DEC 1861

My Dear Sir

     When we sent Genl A. S. Johnston to take command of the Western Department, it was believed that he would proceed at once to the west of the Mississippi and conduct the Campaign in Arkansas and Missouri. The obtaining possession of the latter State is of such supreme importance that I need not say to you a word on the subject.

     Before however Genl Johnston reached the Mississippi, the threatened invasion of Tennessee, and the advance of the Federal forces into Kentucky rendered it necessary to detain him in this latter State equally important as Missouri to the Confederacy, and threatening more immediate danger, especially when considered in connection with the menaced attack on our lines of communication by rail road through East Tennessee.

     At that time too, the Department of Missouri was committed by the enemy to Genl Fremont, whose incompetency is well known to us, was a guarantee against immediate peril. All this is now changed: Missouri is under command of an able and well instructed military commander. [Dispersions] exist between General Price and General McCulloch which prevent their cordial cooperation. We are threatened with grievous disaster: McCulloch has put his army (of about 9000 excellent troops) into Winter quarters in north western Arkansas, while Price has advanced alone, and we fear with fatal rashness, into a district of country where he is likely to be surrounded and cut off by overwhelming forces. And the Army of Missouri is represented to be a mere gathering of brave but undisciplined partisan troops, coming and going at pleasure, and needing a master mind to control and reduce it into order and to convert it into a real army.

     After long and anxious consultation with the President, we can find no one but yourself in whom we feel we could rely with confidence as Commander in Chief of the trans-Mississippi Department. Yet we do not know how to fill your place at Pensacola. Missouri must not be lost to us, even at some risk of misfortune at Pensacola. You have so thoroughly and satisfactorily prepared the defences at the latter point that we scarcely believe another attempt will be made on your defences, and we hope that by sending Kirby Smith to take your place, if you should leave, that important point will be successfully defended.

     You see already that my purpose is to ask you if you would consent to go to the West: in that event Genl Johnston's command would be divided by the Mississippi River, giving him as much even then as he can efficiently attend to; and your command would embrace everything west of the Mississippi, except the coast defences. Your Campaign would comprehend the States of Arkansas and Missouri, (together with northern Texas and the Indian Territory. Genl Price will probably be continued in the command of the Missouri troops when mustered with our service, and their number, of course, I cannot approximate. But we could scarcely have less than twenty or twenty-five thousand men from that state. For Arkansas and the Indian Territory, our forces amount to about 12,000 -- a number of other regiments are now nearly organized in Texas and Arkansas, and we would find means of assigning two or three of the new regiments to Pensacola, and these disengaging for your command the two best Mississippi regiments.

      With all these resources, aided of course by our hearty and cordial cooperation, it seems to me that we may confidently look for brilliant results. If the tide of battle should turn towards the Mississippi River, your operations would be conducted in cooperation with Genl Johnston's, and of course in that event he would rank you, but unless in case of joint operations on the river, your command would be entirely independent, and such joint operations would only be undertaken by special order of the President, and by your own concert with Genl Johnston.

     Will you undertake this work?  I tell you frankly I believe you owe it to your Country, in this her hour of peril, but it will not be urged on you against your will. If we cannot now make available your name and reputation as a soldier, I confess I know not where else to look at this time. The President and myself have anxiously scanned every name on our Army List, and under all the circumstances (many of which it is not possible to communicate in this letter) we invariably fell back on yours as the name.  

     The circumstances are pressing -- I could not say all that was important for your consideration by telegraph, but I must beg you as soon as it is possible to answer me by telegraph, "I accept," if that be your conclusion. If you say in reply, "I refuse," I must see what next best can be done.

I am

Yours very truly

J. P. Benjamin

[to Major Genl Braxton Bragg, at Pensacola.]

 

Made available online by Missouri History Museum -- St. Louis  Civil War Project  http://cdm.sos.mo.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/CivilWar/id/1302/rec/2  

Ozzy

 

 

 

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The above courier-delivered Letter of December 1861 from recently appointed Secretary of War, Judah Benjamin to Braxton Bragg reveals just how concerned was the Confederate States Government with proceedings in the Western Department No.2, even before events at Fort Donelson, or Fort Henry, or Mill Springs. And the fact that Braxton Bragg was seen as "answer to the problem" is remarkable.

What is not revealed:  Major General Bragg's response to SecWar Benjamin's request.

Anyone care to venture a guess what was the answer provided by "last, best hope" Bragg?

Ozzy

 

 

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Wow, this is quite something.  I have never seen this before.  Makes me start thinking of the "what ifs" and those can be quite fun.  If Bragg had been in command over there, would those forces have made it to Shiloh instead of never making it in time as Van Dorn?  Interesting to think about.  Thanks for posting!

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14 hours ago, Ozzy said:

The above courier-delivered Letter of December 1861 from recently appointed Secretary of War, Judah Benjamin to Braxton Bragg reveals just how concerned was the Confederate States Government with proceedings in the Western Department No.2, even before events at Fort Donelson, or Fort Henry, or Mill Springs. And the fact that Braxton Bragg was seen as "answer to the problem" is remarkable.

What is not revealed:  Major General Bragg's response to SecWar Benjamin's request.

Anyone care to venture a guess what was the answer provided by "last, best hope" Bragg?

Ozzy

 

 

i was wondering as i read this if bragg's reply is available.

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Derrick

Thanks for having a look at Judah Benjamin's Letter to Braxton Bragg, and for reminding us of the outcome: Major General Earl Van Dorn did indeed accept command of the trans-Mississippi on 10 January 1862.

However, the circumstances surrounding Major General Bragg not going to the trans-Mississippi are more complex: when the courier-delivered Letter reached Pensacola end of December 1861, Bragg was not there. He was seventy miles to the west, conducting an inspection of his troops at Mobile. And on New Year's Day 1862 an artillery duel erupted between Union-held Fort Pickens and the Confederate fortifications on the other side of Pensacola Bay (which may have held the courier in vicinity, instead of his riding on to Mobile.) In any event, General Bragg did not take receipt of the "Private and Confidential Letter" until January 4th.

See Bragg's Response in next post...

Ozzy

 

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Mona

As prescribed in SecWar Benjamin's courier-delivered Letter of 27 DEC 1861, Bragg's options were:  "I accept,"  or  "I refuse."  However, it appears General Bragg found a third way to respond (Letter of 6 JAN 1862 must be read carefully to discover the answer):

Head Qrs. Army of Pensacola

Fort Barrancas, 6 January 1862

Dear Sir

     Your private and confidential dispatch of the 27th ultimo reached me on the evening of the 4th instant, and has had my most earnest consideration. I could not reply yesterday by telegraph, but do so this morning, and shall anxiously await the President's decision.

     The aspect of affairs has so far changed within my present command that I feel greatly embarrassed by the alternative presented and the responsibility imposed. Had the President issued his order to me, I should have promptly obeyed without a murmur; but the alternative requires that, while I make no objection, I should submit a few considerations which impress me, and which the Department probably did not fully know at the date of the dispatch.

     A portion of my command is now powerfully menaced by a large force, constantly increasing. Our force, at best, is very weak, and part of it in very bad condition, so that I really cannot consider the city of Mobile perfectly safe. This place, to which you seem only to refer, is in no danger, unless from an incompetent commander; a danger we have just escaped. But it will take time, labor, and all the influence I can bring to bear to produce so good a result in the western part of my department. Much valuable time is already lost there, and but little progress is now being made, owing to the means I am compelled to use. This state of affairs is seen, felt and deplored by those who have all at stake. A feverish state of excitement and much alarm exists in Mobile, where the danger is greatest, and it is no egotism in me to say I am looked to as their hope and support. The influence I have gained over the minds of the people in this section of the country, as well as over my troops, is considerable, and I do not believe any other could now fill my place to their satisfaction. You will readily see, then, my embarrassment.

     The field to which you invite me is a most important one, but, under present aspects, not enticing. So much has been lost there, and so little done in organization and instruction, that the prospect of retrieving our ground is most gloomy. Troops so long accustomed to the freedom and license they have enjoyed will be more difficult to command than raw men; and though I have succeeded to some extent in making soldiers here of raw levies of volunteers, and at the same time retaining their good will and confidence, I distrust my ability to accomplish the same in the new field offered me.

     Without a base of operations, in a country poorly supplied at best, and now exhausted by being overrun by both armies in mid-winter, with an unclad, badly fed, and badly-supplied mass of men, without instruction, arms, equipments, or officers, it is certainly a most unpromising field for operations. But should the President decide on it, after knowing the state of affairs here, I will bend all my energies and faculties to the task, and offer myself (as a sacrifice, if necessary) to the great cause in which we are engaged.

     I shall need and must receive from the Department great assistance in the way of staff and general officers. Upon them depends, as much as upon the commander, the success of all his efforts. Many of the volunteers here are now so well instructed that this may be granted without materially weakening this department.

     Could you possibly send 3000 stand of arms here? I should desire to take from this army Chalmers' Ninth Mississippi, Adams' Louisiana Regulars and Jackson's Fifth Georgia Regiments. These would give me a nucleus upon which to form, would set an example of discipline, and would give me the support of excellent officers, who know and trust me, and in whom I place unlimited confidence. I should desire Brigadier-General Gladden to command them; Colonel Chalmers might be made a brigadier, to remain here in place of Gladden, and Lieutenant-Colonel Autrey would make an excellent colonel for his regiment, now nearly reorganized for the war. Jackson I should desire to see advanced to the command of a brigade.

     Major Slaughter, my acting inspector-general, is on a short official visit to Richmond. He possesses my entire confidence in every respect, and may be fully and freely consulted by the Department, as he knows my views in regard to matters here, and is as fully posted as I am.

I am

Yours Very Respectfully

Braxton Bragg

Major-General

[to Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of War, Richmond.]

 

[Above Letter of 6 JAN 1862 found on pages 75 - 76 of Braxton Bragg: General of the Confederacy (1924) by Don Carlos Seitz.]

Ozzy

 

 

      

       

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Bragg's words some ironically contradictory.  He believes that he has done great work in and around Mobile/Pensacola preparing the area for defense and they can't spare him there, yet he could not repeat those same results out west and indeed he believes the west is lost.  

But, if he was going to go, he was going to take what he considered the "cream of the crop", the 9th Miss, 1st Louisiana, etc., etc. with him.  You have to wonder if he likewise didn't want to leave for this scenario:  If he left and Federals managed to take command of Pensacola and Mobile, that it would reflect badly on Bragg and his ability to organize effective long term defenses.  

In the letter from Benjamin to Bragg, I noticed something that was still around later in the war.  Fremont is called incompetent.  Later in the war, during Streight's Raid through Alabama, even locals considered that Federal force "incompetent".  It is interesting how throughout the war Southerner's viewed Federal troops as inept.  

 

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Stan

"Ironically contradictory Bragg?"

From my own reading, I must agree with your assessment. Braxton Bragg's own statements in letters to his wife (compared with actions he subsequently took) make it appear as if Bragg suffered from a split personality. The above 6 JAN 1862 Letter to SecWar J. P. Benjamin is an excellent example of Braxton Bragg presenting two courses of action, and making arguments for both sides, for someone else to decide. (In the above example, that someone else was to be President Jefferson Davis, who likely selected Earl Van Dorn to take the trans-Mississippi after Bragg took too long to respond to the offer.)

As regards John C. Fremont... we have an expression in Australia:  "Horses for courses."  Some leaders fight best on land; some fight best on water. Some (Montgomery Meigs) find a niche that is more important than fighting. Of those who fight, some are better at offense (U. S. Grant) while others are perceived better at defense (George Thomas).

John C. Fremont was a necessary man (for the Union), present in the right place, at the right time. He happened to be in Europe when the Secession Crisis broke out, and was responsible for sourcing small arms and artillery from a variety of nations, and purchasing those munitions for the United States Government (thus preventing Rebel acquisition of those arms.) Although appointed to command of the Department of the West in May 1861, Major General Fremont did not actually arrive in Missouri until July, after Brigadier General Lyon had already taken steps to secure St. Louis for the Union. However, Fremont continued with active measures to secure St. Louis as base; and while Commander of the Department of the West, accomplished the following:

  • contracted for construction of Pook ironclad gunboats (see Foote page 157)
  • contracted for mortar boats (see Foote page 159)
  • due to compromise of official Army codes, initiated use of Hungarian (in secure telegrams)
  • initiated the Jessie Scouts (intelligence collection service)
  • acted as "talent spotter," finding value in both U.S. Grant and Benjamin Prentiss;
  • authorized U. S. Grant to take Paducah in September 1861 (although Grant denied he received the memo)
  • authorized U. S. Grant to "conduct a demonstration at Fort Columbus" (which Grant morphed into a raid on Belmont, just across the river).

John C. Fremont can best be described as an initiator: able to take necessary first actions, which can then be followed up by a more competent commander. With a similar Civil War experience to Brigadier General Richard Kellogg Swift, the man responsible for taking control of Cairo Illinois for the Union, and who immediately afterwards stepped aside, allowing Benjamin Prentiss to exercise use of Cairo. The failure of Fremont was in "staying too long." (In addition, "political factors" white-anted Fremont: he was of the "Benton Faction" of Missouri politics, while the opposition Blair Faction had the ear of President Lincoln. And, although he had been a Regular Army Officer, General Fremont was not a graduate of West Point, and so was "not in favor" with that community of USMA graduates -- some of whom took active measures to undermine Fremont, spreading rumors about his use of "foreigners" in the defense of St. Louis.)

In summary, John Fremont was a solid initiator of necessary actions, who overstayed his welcome.

Ozzy

References:  http://www.historycentral.com/navy/cwnavalhistory/May1861.html  Fremont's role with Civil War Navy

http://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/braxton-bragg  brief assessment of Braxton Bragg

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=8y4yLq1CF40C&pg=PA183&lpg=PA183&dq=Fremont+contracted+eads+gunboats&source=bl&ots=mOTgP1f4iM&sig=R5sr7fbMWKY6VVw-f7sdwioI8Q8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjvz4ve_4vbAhUGO7wKHZ-pA0AQ6AEIODAC#v=onepage&q=Fremont contracted eads gunboats&f=false   Civil War on the Western Border, pages 182-3 detailing Fremont's role in 1861

http://archive.org/stream/lifeofandrewhull00hopprich#page/158/mode/2up/search/Fremont  Life of Andrew Hull Foote (see pages 157 - 9)

 

 

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