January 26, 1862 (Sunday)
With the Union victory at Mill Springs, General Don Carlos Buell, commander of the Department of the Ohio, was handed two opportunities. The Rebels, under General George Crittenden, had been scattered, leaving the door to Eastern Tennessee wide open but slightly defended. It also freed up General Thomas, Union commander at Mill Springs, to join the rest of the army for an advance towards Nashville.
General Thomas suggested this two-for-one deal to Buell on the 24th, nominating General Samuel Perry Carter’s brigade, made up mostly of men from Eastern Tennessee. They had been even more anxious than President Lincoln and General McClellan to march into their hometowns and come to the aide of their comrades. Finally, General Buell saw the light.
“I have ordered your brigade to return to the Cumberland Gap route,” opened Buell to Carter, in a letter ordering him to Eastern Tennessee. He was to select four regiments, some cavalry and take four pieces of artillery to, “by a prompt movement, seize and hold Cumberland Gap, fortifying yourself strongly.”
Though Buell was hesitant to tell Carter how to fight, he warned him against extensive operations, “unless the enemy is weaker than is probable.” The only specific detail mentioned by Buell was “the destruction of the railroad line through Tennessee.” He warned that hitting the railroad “must be done by management or the rapid movement of a small force, rather than by any movement of your main force.”
Buell’s reluctance to enter Eastern Tennessee was due to a disagreement with Lincoln and McClellan concerning overall strategy in the west. It was not that he didn’t care about the Unionists in the region. With their sufferings in mind, he closed his letter, warning Carter that his men were “to refrain from any unnecessarily harsh course” towards the Rebel authorities. Buell was worried of “increased persecution of the loyal people by way of retaliation.”
“Restrain your troops from committing outrages upon persons or property, and make no arrests, unless of those who are engaged in war against your command or who are otherwise working actively against its comfort or safety.”1
General Buell also wrote to General Thomas, Carter’s commander, with the specific instructions to send the brigade to London, Kentucky, roughly sixty miles north of Cumberland Gap. He was to supply them with “three days’ rations in haversacks and five in wagons.” Buell also wanted the brigade to “move as rapidly as possible, without absolutely forcing their march.”
There was, however, a small snag. In his reply, General Thomas told Buell that only two days’ rations could be procured. “The subsistence stores are still behind and come in very slowly,” explained Thomas. Carter’s Brigade would have to wait a couple of days before starting out.2
Richmond Stirs at Stonewall’s Conduct
While the Union attempted to take advantage of the situation in the west, the Confederates were busy battling each other in the east. Due to the way that they felt their troops had been treated by General Stonewall Jackson, eleven officers in General Loring’s Army of the Northwest, attached to Jackson’s command for the Romney Expedition, vented their disgust in a letter.
Addressed to Loring, it urged the General to approach the War Department to see if the entire command, currently stationed in Romney, could be wrested from the authority of Stonewall Jackson. Loring, who was equally disgusted, not only approved their letter, he added his own post-script.
Loring assured the Secretary of War, to whom it was forwarded, that everything written was true. “I am most anxious to re-enlist this fine army, equal to any I ever saw,” added Loring, “and am satisfied if something is not done to relieve it, it will be found impossible to induce the army to do so, but with some regard for its comfort, a large portion, if not the whole, may be prevailed upon.”3
Basically, Loring was stating that if he and his men weren’t returned to independent command, his men would not re-enlist once their terms of service were up.
A letter, however, wasn’t the only thing that General Loring was sending to Richmond. He also sent General William Taliaferro to hand-deliver the letter which he co-authored to President Davis himself. He would arrive in the capital in a couple of days.4
While it would take some time for Taliaferro to reach Richmond, rumors of the situation in Romney had already reached Davis. On or near this date, Col. Albert Rust, a veteran of the Battle of Cheat Mountain who had received praise from Jackson during the recent operations around Bath, requested a transfer from President Davis. He wanted to be rid of Jackson, who he referred to as “that crazy preacher who marched us up and down the icy mountains to no purpose.” Davis did not grant Rust’s request, but that doesn’t mean he ignored the problem with Jackson entirely.5
“The accounts which have reached us of the condition of the army in the Valley District fill us with apprehension,” wrote Secretary of War Judah Benjamin to General Joe Johnston, Jackson’s superior. Davis was requesting, through Benjamin, that Johnston look into the case and “take such measures as you think prudent under the circumstances, and report to the Department whether any measures are necessary on its part to restore the efficiency of that army, said to be seriously impaired.”6
Johnston, who knew nothing about the Loring-Jackson debates, would soon send an inspector to see what was going on. It must have seemed trifling at the time as he had just been informed that General P.G.T. Beauregard, his second in command, was being transfered to Tennessee.
Beauregard had informed Johnston in passing the previous day, but it wasn’t official until the letter from the Secretary of War arrived. While Beauregard’s quick note stated that he would return shortly to Virginia, Secretary Benjamin’s letter made no mention at all of Beauregard’s return. Johnston’s job was about to get much, much more difficult. 7
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p566-567. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p567. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1048. [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson. [↩]
- Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzons. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1049. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1050. [↩]