Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 25, 1861 (Friday): The Defense of Tennessee

Governor Isham G. Harris of Tennessee

                                                                        EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT
                                                                        Nashville, May 25, 1861.
Hon. L. P. WALKER,
            War Department, Montgomery:
   SIR: Your dispatch of the 20th instant was placed in my hands by General Zollicoffer on the 22nd.  I sent Lieutenant McCall of the Confederate Army, to West Tennessee on yesterday for the purpose of mustering into the service of the Confederate States such of our West Tennessee regiments as may be willing to enter that service, and think it probable that the four regiments to be armed with muskets will be mustered into service within a day or two.  If, however, the whole number shall not be made up in that division of the State, I will make up the deficiency in regiments already formed in Middle Tennessee.  I do not think it advisable to station a regiment of Confederate troops in East Tennessee at this time.  We have about fifteen companies of the troops of the Provisional Army of Tennessee stationed at Knoxville, and sound policy requires that they should be continued there for the present instead of troops sent from or mustered into the service of the Confederate States.
….I am informed that there are a number of regiments, armed, equipped, and ready for the field in the States of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.  If this be true, it seems to me that every consideration of prudence and security requires that these troops should be stationed immediately upon the northern boundary of West Tennessee.  They will be more healthy, more comfortable, and more cheaply subsisted there than further South, and if there is to be a battle to prevent the invasion of the Lower Mississippi it must be fought in the northern part of West Tennessee.  I am concentrating such force there as I am able to arm, but such force as I may be able to concentrate there will, I fear, be unequal to the task of driving back so large a column of invaders as will be thrown on us in that quarter.
….Very respectfully,
                                                                        ISHAM G. HARRIS

Governor Harris of Tennessee grasped the strategic importance of the western part of the state early in the war.  Here he expounds on his ideas in a letter to Confederate Secretary of War L. P. Walker.  Confederate strategy was constrained by the demands of individual states that their troops be employed first and foremost in defense of their own territory, even when (as Harris points out) the defense of forward positions was often the best security for states behind the lines. Harris had suceeded Andrew Johnson (the future president) as governor and was again succeeded by Johnson when he became a Union military governor of the state.

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