March 6, 1863 (Friday)
Throughout the mostly uneventful winter along the Rappahannock River in Virginia, General Lee enacted many changes in his Army of Northern Virginia. As the snow fell and the skies were lit no brighter than a gray dawn, more than a handful of officers received promotions, while other organizational changes were afoot.
The army had three new Major-Generals in Jubal Early, Isaac Trimble and Richard Ewell. Several colonels, such as William Wofford and Henry Benning, became Brigadier-Generals. All other ranks of commissioned officers were filled as eligible men, both deserving and undeserving, were shuffled up the line.
After all this, General Lee ordered that anybody attached to the army that was not technically in the army be enrolled at once. While this certainly did not mean that black slaves and “body servants” were suddenly soldiers (since it was illegal for black men to serve in the Confederate army), it did mean that any white hangers-on had to either leave or essentially be drafted.
Such was the case with Stonewall Jackson’s friend and topographer Jedediah Hotchkiss. This man had been absolutely indispensable to Jackson. His skills at mapmaking were unsurpassed in his era. If it had not been for him, Jackson’s victories in and out of the Shenandoah Valley could very well have been defeats. In short, Jackson needed him.
Acting upon the order from General Lee, Major Sandie Pendelton found Hotchkiss and informed him that he was drafting the cartographer into the army. Hotchkiss was to select the company in which he wanted to serve and that would be that.
Hotchkiss had enjoyed a very independent life in the Army of Northern Virginia. While often he was within earshot of Jackson, many days he was absent, visiting friends, calling upon contacts and even traveling back home to the Shenandoah Valley on unofficial furloughs. He was never away without leave because he did not need to be given leave – he was not technically in Lee’s Army.
Hotchkiss was distraught. He was a mapmaker and mapmakers had to travel. Being stuck in an infantry company as a common foot soldier was the equivalent of smashing his compass and telescopes.
And so Hotchkiss drew up a paper asking why he was being drafted and submitted it to General Jackson. Always a stickler for rules, Jackson explained that, while it was unpleasant, this was Lee’s order and had to be followed. No single officer in the Confederate Army would be more effected by forcing Hotchkiss into the infantry than Jackson. While he could probably find ways around it, such as detaching him for duty at headquarters, it would create problems and, no doubt, some kind of melodramatic moral dilemma.
As the conversation continued, Jackson told Hotchkiss that General Jubal Early enrolled his entire staff, who had not been made commissioned officers, and assigned them to companies. Jackson told Hotchkiss that he was sorry that he had not been made an officer of Engineers. While that position would have kept a leash upon his travels, it was certainly a much longer leash than the infantry would impose.
But orders were orders and Hotchkiss decided to take his complaints directly to the commander of the Army. General Lee had always liked and appreciated Hotchkiss’ work. The mapmaker rewrote his statement and questions, passed them by Jackson and then, with the general’s blessing, trodded to General Lee’s headquarters.
General Lee, however, was busy. Hotchkiss, instead, spent the day chatting with Lee’s staff before decided to drop in for a visit with Jeb Stuart. There, in such jovial and fine company, Hotchkiss whiled away the remainder of the day.
They told stories and, recalled Hotchkiss, “chatted on all sorts of subjects.” Since Hotchkiss was from Jackson’s camp, Stuart regaled him with pastimes and anecdotes softly poking fun at the curious General. But in the end, it was nothing but praise.
Stuart told Hotchkiss that when Lee first took over the army, he had a “low estimate of Jackson’s ability.” Now, however, “he often wishes that he had many Jacksons.” Humor in the Civil War era was apparently more subtle than today’s.
Major Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke (typically referred to as “Von Borcke” for obvious reasons) was a Prussian-born officer who, when he heard of the American Civil War, hopped on a ship, ran the blockade and offered his serviced to the Rebel Army. In Europe, he had been an officer in the Prussian army, and so he was given a commission and attached to Jeb Stuart’s cavalry. This 6’4″ giant seemed fearless and daring, but when he first met Stonewall Jackson, he was taken aback. “It did make my heart to burn,” he explained in his odd canter.
This was all great fun, but it wasn’t settling anything for Hotchkiss. The day was gone and with the night came rains. The next morning (March 7), he finally got the chance to see General Lee, and the problem was cleared up immediately.
Lee said that Hotchkiss wasn’t liable to duty as he was already on duty as Jackson’s topographer. And that was that.
Except that it wasn’t. All of this could have been taken care of by giving Hotchkiss a commission. But none ever came. He was well respected and liked by Lee, Stuart, Jackson, and Ewell. Who else did he need to impress? His maps were always accurate and essential.
In fact all four of those high officers had written letters of recommendation to Jeremy Gilmer, chief of the Engineer Bureau, but they all fell upon deaf ears.
Actually, they fell upon Gilmer’s ears. Jeremy Gilmer, like Hothckiss, was a mapmaker. He had graduated high in his class at West Point and served in the Mexican War. By this point, he was a Major-General in Richmond. Perhaps most importantly, was not where Gilmer was now, but where he was from. Gilmer was born and raised in North Carolina. Hotchkiss was originally from New York, and was merely teacher and geologist before the war.
The reasoning behind Gilmer’s refusal to give this rival and basically untrained (militarily speaking) mapmaker a commission was that there were already too many commissioned officers from Virginia.
And so Jedediah Hotchkiss was to be forever Mr. Hotchkiss. Though, perhaps to offset this injustice, he was often referred to as “Captain” Hotchkiss. After the war, he would be unofficially promoted to “Major” Hotchkiss.1
- Sources: Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss; Fighting for the Confederacy by Edward Porter Alexander; Damage Them All You Can by George Walsh; A Glorious Army by Jeffry D. Wert; Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson. [↩]