Davis Visits the Western Armies

December 16, 1862 (Tuesday)

Joe Johnston

Joe Johnston’s job wasn’t getting any easier. Nearly two weeks had passed since he arrived in Chattanooga to take command of the Department of the West. Hot on his heels was President Jefferson Davis, who had popped in to see how things were going.

The President made his appearance on December 11 under the auspices of visiting Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, biding their time at Murfreesboro, hoping that the local Union army, commanded by William Rosecrans would attack them.

Even before leaving for the West, Johnston and Davis disagreed on strategy. While Johnston prized Tennessee, Davis thought all that mattered was the Mississippi River and had come to Tennessee to prove it.

He ordered Bragg to send troops farther east to defend Vicksburg. If Bragg couldn’t hold his position near Nashville, he was to retreat to Alabama. Johnston was fairly unhappy about this, but it was just one pebble on a very rocky beach.

The real issue was space. In the Confederate West, there were three armies. Two of these armies were fairly close together (Holmes in Arkansas, Pemberton in Mississippi), separated only by the Mississippi River and half the state of Arkansas. Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee, the third in this trio, was 400 miles farther away. Yet Johnston did not command anything west of the Mississippi. Davis had told him time and again that Bragg would have to reinforce John Pemberton along the Mississippi River. To Johnston, this seemed ridiculous.

Map of pretty much everything going on in the West.

Throughout the duration of his visit, Johnston rarely failed to remind Davis just how ridiculous it was. But Johnston wasn’t the only one. The first stop on the Presidential trip was Bragg’s Army at Murfreeboro.

Davis had heard rumors that morale in Bragg’s command was at rock bottom. He was delighted to find these whispers to be mostly untrue. Bragg even assured him that the Union troops in Nashville seemed to be hunkering down for winter. This was when, on December 15th, Davis ordered him to send troops to Pemberton, along the Mississippi.

Like Johnston, Bragg thought it was bad idea. Couldn’t Theophilus Holmes in Arkansas reinforce Pemberton? After all, he was much closer. Davis declined to agree. While Holmes was closer, he had problems of his own and couldn’t send anything to the Mississippi.

Davis arrives to add his five cents.

The next day, that is, upon this date, President Davis and Joe Johnston continued on their way towards Vicksburg to visit General Pemberton’s Army of Mississippi. It would take three days to reach the army. When they did, Johnston would again argue that Holme’s troops be sent from Arkansas to reinforce Vicksburg. Davis would again refuse.

But clearly something had to be done. Pemberton’s Army consisted of only 21,000 troops. With Bragg’s contribution, it would soon reach 30,000, but would that be enough to stop Ulysses S. Grant and his horde of 60,000? Johnston did not believe so.1

  1. Sources: Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth; Joseph E. Johnston by Craig Symonds []
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