January 14, 1864 (Thursday)
All Leonidas Polk really wanted was enough troops to defend Mobile, Alabama. He was beyond certain that a Union attack was imminent, and was just as certain where he could get the troops.
“I think it plain,” wrote the general to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, “that Grant cannot move before the spring opens, and therefore that Johnston will be unemployed.”
Polk was, of course, speaking of General Joe Johnston, commanding the Army of Tennessee, now encamped at Dalton, Georgia. Their adversary, the Union Army of the Cumberland, was in and arround Chattanooga and was clearly making no plans to advance south to attack.
Johnston had heard from Polk not long before, and was asked to spare four brigades for the sake of Mississippi. Johnston, however, refused. Instead, he left the matter up to Davis to decide.
Davis, always the astute politician, tried to reason with Johnston. He could have simply ordered the troops to Polk – after all, they were rightfully Polk’s troops – but instead tried a bit of logic, just in case anything like this might crop up again in the future.
“Entire co-intelligence is necessary to secure such co-operation between you [Johnston and Polk] as will render the forces most available for the general defense,” began Davis somewhat verbosely. “If it should be found that an attack on Mobile is to be made, additional force there will be needed, or if, as suggested by you, it is found more feasible to attack the enemy from North Mississippi than from Georgia, then the Army of Mississippi will need re-enforcement before advancing to that object.” Davis then attempted to flatter Johnston, or perhaps he was being a touch sardonic, when he wrote that Johnston was “so well informed of the condition of things there that I rely on your judgment and desire your advice.” It’s doubtful that Davis had any such stuff in his heart for Johnston – a man he never wanted in command in the first place.
Either way, it seemed as if Polk was about to get what he wanted. “Troops are to be sent where most needed and only returned to former positions when they are more useful there,” continued Davis. “We have one cause, and for its maintenance our armies are to be regarded as one.”
Shortly after, Samuel Cooper, Davis’ Adjutant and Inspector General, sent Johnston the direct orders. The emergency at Chattanooga had long passed and now that it appeared Mobile was about to be assailed, Richmond thought it best that Polk have his way.
Meanwhile, Johnston was begging Richmond for food and supplies, while at the same time planning a few different ideas for an offensive campaign. Either he would join up with James Longstreet in East Tennessee or move into Mississippi to attack West Tennessee. Neither were incredibly realistic, but since everyone was afraid that he would simply fight a defensive war, he had to do something.
He was, of course, planning a defensive strategy. In fact, his campaign was completely founded upon it. Before he could move to Longstreet’s side or to Mississippi, the Federal Army of the Cumberland had to attack him and be crushed before Dalton. Since that army showed no signs of moving, it was really anyone’s guess as to how this would play out.
For the time being, however, the four brigades would go to Polk. The Federals were stirring along the Mississippi and at New Orleans. Something was afoot, but just what it might be, nobody could say.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 32, Part 2, p554-555; Joseph E. Johnston by Craig L Symonds. [↩]