February 4, 1862 (Tuesday)
Since the January 31 resignation of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, mail had poured into his headquarters in Winchester, Virginia from friends, officials and well-wishers, all imploring him not to abandon the Confederate Army.
Jackson had resigned due to what he considered interference by the Secretary of War, Judah Benjamin, who ordered General Loring’s brigades to abandon the town of Romney, going around both Jackson and General Joe Johnston.
When he received Jackson’s resignation, Johnston held onto the letter for over a week before sending it to Richmond. He would eventually forward two dispatches from Jackson, attaching two endorsements of his own. Of the resignation itself, Johnston informed Secretary Benjamin that he didn’t “know how the loss of this officer can be supplied.” Jackson had also asked Johnston to countermand Benjamin’s order, but he, according to military protocol, could not. With this dispatch, his only endorsement was: “Respectfully forwarded to the Secretary of War, whose orders I cannot countermand.”1
Before Johnston forwarded Jackson’s dispatches, he wrote to the General, urging him to reconsider. He appealed to Jackson’s logic. In normal circumstances, mused Johnston, Jackson would be justified in resigning over the matter. But the nature of this war changed everything. “The danger in which our very existence as an independent people lies,” he continued, “requires sacrifices from us all who have been educated as soldiers.”
He concluded, reassuring Jackson that he wrote “not merely from warm feelings of personal regard, but from the official opinion which makes me regard you as necessary to the service of the country in your present position.”2
On the same day that Johnston wrote to convince Jackson to ignore Secretary Benjamin’s nonsense and come back into the fold, Benjamin, who most definitely knew about Jackson’s resignation by this point, argued his side to Johnston. He cleverly failed to mention a word of what his order to General Loring had caused, but defended the reasoning behind it. Johnston, probably realizing that this whole fiasco had started with President Davis, would sidestep Benjamin and appeal directly to the President.3
Before Benjamin defended his position to Johnston, before Johnston appealed to Jackson, and maybe even before Jackson’s letter reached Johnston, Benjamin and Davis were made aware of Jackson’s resignation. Alexander Boteler, a former US Congressman who now represented the Shenandoah Valley in the Confederate Congress, had somehow obtained a copy of the letter in question. With all due speed, apparently traveling through the night, he made his way to Richmond. On the morning of February 1, not even twenty-four hours since Jackson had resigned, Boteler was on the front step of the Confederate War Department, calling upon Judah Benjamin.
Boteler slapped the letter down in front of him, asking if he knew that his order caused Jackson to resign from the army. Benjamin, who was probably realizing that he was about to take the fall, sent Boteler to see President Davis.
When Davis read Jackson’s resignation letter, he exclaimed “I’ll not accept it, sir!” Boteler reminded him that he might not have much sway over Jackson.
The next stop for Boteler was Virginia’s Governor Letcher, who was absolutely livid over the matter. He stormed into the War Department and demanded that Secretary Benjamin not accept the resignation just yet. Benjamin was more than happy to wait.
Letcher then began a writing campaign that gave the Confederate Postal Service line to Winchester quite a work out. Finally, on this date4, Governor Letcher sent Alexander Boteler to meet with Jackson in Winchester. Boteler would take two days to arrive.5
Union Troops Disembark, Reembark and then Redisembark near Fort Henry
General Ulysses S. Grant and half his army had taken transport ships from Paducah, Kentucky, up the Tennessee River, to attack Fort Henry. By 4:30am of this date, they had reached their point of disembarkation, eight miles downstream from the fort. Eight miles, however, was too far away for Grant. He was hoping to drop them off south of Panther Creek, so that they would not have to fight their way across it overland.
Leaving the troops under General John McClernand behind, Grant boarded the USS Essex and steamed towards Fort Henry to get a better look. The Essex was flanked by two others, and though they were only approaching the fort to ascertain the range of its guns, the Confederates took it to be the main Union attack. The Federal gunboats lobbed several shells from a mile or two out and Fort Henry replied. All of the Rebel fire fell short, except for one shell, sent by a rifled gun into the cabin of the Essex, nearly killing Grant.
While eight miles was too far away, they were clearly now too close. Grant and the Essex returned to General McClernand’s men, had them reembark and then dropped them off at what McClernand soon dubbed Camp Halleck, three miles downstream of Fort Henry.6
At Camp Halleck, McClernand’s division, along with a brigade of General Smith’s division, just now coming up, cooked their first meal in three days. The campfires dotting the hills on the east side of the river were seen by the Confederates on the west side.7
Fort Henry was commanded by General Lloyd Tilghman, who was, on this date, overseeing the work being done at Fort Donelson, twelve miles away. In his absence, Col. Adolphus Heiman was at the head. Rebel scouts reported back rumors and inflated Union numbers that sent Heiman and the rest of Fort Henry into a panic.
Heiman wired General Polk in Columbus, Kentucky, but probably realized that reinforcements from seventy-five miles away were not very likely to arrive in time. He also recalled several regiments from their outposts and evacuated the small fort across the river from Henry, which bore his name. Though a small fort, it overlooked Fort Henry. Deserting this position in favor of massing the troops, they handed good ground to the Federals. Nevertheless, by dawn the next morning, with General Tilghman at his post, all was ready to receive the attack.8
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1053; 1056. Johnston’s endorsements were written on February 6 and 7. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1059-1060. This letter was written on February 3. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1059. Johnston’s letter to Davis was written on February 5 and appears on page 1060. [↩]
- You didn’t think I was ever going to get to February 4, did you? [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson. Most of what I wrote about so far today takes place over the past several days. Though some of the dates and the chronology is sound, other things, such as how Boteler got a copy of the letter and how he made it to Richmond in less than a day, are foggy. I thought this would be a good time to catch you up. [↩]
- Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth Williams. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p128. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p138. Trying to piece together bits of the OR can be a monumental challenge. It would be silly not to employ the work of those who have already done this. As already mentioned, Kenneth William’s Grant Rises in the West was a big help, as well as Forts Henry and Donelson by Benjamin Franklin Cooling. [↩]