Lee Questions Jackson’s Mathematics

Sunday, May 12, 1861

Confederate General Robert E. Lee was no stranger to mathematics. At West Point, his grades in that subject earned him an assistant professor position. Mathematics also came in handy when dealing with Col. Thomas Jackson at Harpers Ferry.1

Jackson wrote to Lee the previous day telling the General that 4,500 troops (3,000 already armed) would soon be in his command. However, he requested 5,000 more muskets. With what must have been blindingly fast mental math, Lee, who had already issued him the 3,000 muskets, replied that he did “not see how you can require five thousand arms, as you must now have nearly three thousand armed, besides the three thousand arms, above mentioned, ordered to you.”

The General reminded the Colonel that resources were limited. Jackson had asked for more field artillery, but Lee asserted that there were none to be sent. A regiment of Alabama troops, as well as two other regiments, were ordered to Harpers Ferry, but Lee warned Jackson to “abstain from all provocation for attack as long as possible.”2


General Harney Looks to St. Louis’ (Hopefully Less-Bloody) Future

Calm was slowly returning to St. Louis after two days of bloody rioting and firefights. General William Harney, commander of the Department of the West, wanted to make sure it stayed that way.

On this date, he issued an open letter to the people of Missouri and St. Louis. Harney had just returned from Washington, but in his absence, Captain Lyon and others acted without orders. In his short letter Harney begs that “no one can more deeply regret the state of things existing here than myself.” While there was nothing he could do to change what had happened, he wished to look to the future.

Harney anxiously desired to preserve the public peace. “I shall carefully abstain from the exercise of any unnecessary powers,” he said, promising to only use the military as a “last resort to preserve the peace.”

He was not ready to resort to martial law, but the option was on the table if the public peace could not be preserved and lives protected.

Prior to this proclamation, Harney had wished to remove the “home guard” (in this case, Unionist militia) out of St. Louis. He did not, however, have the authority to do so. Therefore, he promised to make use of the regular army when the local authorities were in need of assistance. “My appeal I trust may not be in vain,” Harney wrote in closing, “and I pledge the faith of a soldier to the earnest discharge of my duty.”3

  1. Robert E. Lee: A Biography by Emory M. Thomas, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p836. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p370. []
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Lee Questions Jackson’s Mathematics by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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