Friday, April 26, 1861
A few hours after Joseph Johnston arrived in Richmond, he was given the position of Major-General in the Virginia Militia. Johnston had resigned from the United States Army, where he held the rank of Brigadier-General, on the 22nd. Governor Letcher assigned him the task of organizing the state volunteers. It was determined that the Harpers Ferry and Grafton areas of western Virginia would be most important, as both were on the main line of the B&O Railroad.1
One of Johnston’s assistants was the newly-promoted Major Thomas Jackson. Jackson, however, was unhappy with his promotion to a Major of Topographical Engineers. He was a West Point graduate who served with honors in the Mexican War. The post amounted to little more than a desk job. Jackson contacted his old friend J.M. Bennett, who had known him since boyhood, and played a role in his acceptance into West Point. Bennett contacted Governor Letcher, extolling Jackson’s virtues and his deservedness for a higher rank.
Bennett also contacted friends in the Virginia Convention. It was looking like Major Jackson would not be a Major for long.2
North Carolina’s Call to Arms
Though Virginia had left the Union, North Carolina was still debating the issue. Governor John Ellis had immediately replied to Lincoln’s call for troops with a terse telegram calling the levy unconstitutional and “a gross usurpation of power.”
Ellis apparently felt that he had not said enough. On this date, he issued a proclamation labeling Lincoln’s call for troops a “high-handed act of tyrannical outrage.” The order of 75,000 troops, wrote Ellis, was “conceived in a spirit of aggression unparalleled by any act of recorded history.”
He then called for the state Senators and members of the House to meet for a special session at Raleigh, the state capital. Ellis wanted his state out of the Union. He also reminded the citizens of North Carolina that their “first allegiance is due to the sovereignty which protects their homes and dearest interests, as their first service is due for the sacred defence of their hearts, and of the soil which holds the graves of our glorious dead.”
He closed with a call to arms: “United action in defence of the sovereignty of North Carolina, and of the rights of the South, becomes now the duty of all.”3
The 26th of April must have been a good day for border states governors to issue proclamations. William Burton, Governor of Delaware, also issued his order for “the formation of volunteer companies for the protection of the lives and property of the people of this State against violence of any sort to which they may be exposed.”
Delaware had been commanded to supply one regiment of militia in Lincoln’s call for 75,000. Burton was now sitting on the fence. The laws of Delaware had not given the Governor the authority to subject the state troops to the orders of the President.
This would seem as if Delaware, like Virginia and North Carolina, was raising troops to defend this state against the United States. Burton, however, playing both sides, gave the troops “the option of offering their services to the general government for the defence of its capital and the support of the Constitution and laws of the country.”
According to Governor Burton, he had no legal right to assign troops to the Federal government, but the troops themselves had the right.4
Delaware’s More Southern Side
Maybe Delaware wasn’t as safe for the Union as even the middle-of-the-road Governor Burton submitted. General Robert E. Lee received a letter from a student at a Maryland college named Charles Dupont Bird (originally sent to former governor Wise and then forwarded to Lee, who was now stationed in Norfolk). He was from Dover, Delaware. “A strong feeling in the two lower counties of Delaware is aroused in favor of Delaware joining the Southern Confederacy,” wrote Bird. He then wrote that Delaware’s arms were already in the hands of the secessionists and that the gunpowder mills owned by his family needed to be secured or destroyed.
He urged Lee to immediately send a force up the Susquehanna “to stop the hordes from the North.”
It’s not clear if Lee or the Governor of Virginia ever replied to this letter.5
Free Blacks Should be Accepted into Military Service?
Governor Letcher of Virginia also received a bit of advice. Dr. Charles M. Hubbard from Burnt Ordinary in James City County wrote with a suggestion on what to do with “our able-bodied free negro men.” They should be accepted into military service, thought Hubbard.
This wouldn’t mean that they would be armed, of course. “They might be made highly useful in camp work,” wrote the doctor, “throwing up intrenchments and forts, and in any other way that the safety of the country might require.”
The question now was: why do anything with them at all? If the free blacks were busy building forts it would lessen “the chances of servile insurrection, which it is well to guard against as far as possible.”
Hubbard noted that slaves had been offered by their masters to do camp work, but if the free blacks were to be left at home, “these people by their lazy habits … would not increase the stock of provisions at all in the country.”
Though Hubbard was clearly not talking about arming freed blacks, he did make a mention of a sinister idea he had. If Virginia wished to retake “Old Point Comfort” (Fortress Monroe), “they might be made to play a part in that affair greatly to the preservation of the lives of our troops without doing them any injustice as a people.” Basically, a black man could take a bullet just as well as a white man, “assuming that the life of a white man is as worthy of preservation as that of a negro.”6
Black men, free or otherwise, were never officially armed by the South.
- Narrative of Military Operations, Directed, During the Late War Between the States by Joseph Eggleston Johnston, D. Appleton and Co., 1874. [↩]
- Life of Lieut.-Gen. Thomas J. Jackson (Stonewall Jackson) by Robert Lewis Dabney, J. Nisbet, 1864. [↩]
- Proclamation of Gov. Ellis, April, 1861 as printed in The Rebellion Record, G. P. Putnam, 1861. [↩]
- Proclamation of the Governor of Delaware, April 26, 1861 as printed in The Rebellion Record, G. P. Putnam, 1861. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51, Part 2, p46. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51, Part 2, p47. [↩]