Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 29, 1861 (Monday): A Question of Rank

President Jefferson Davis

                                                                                 Manassas, July 29, 1861.

General S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General:
     GENERAL: I had the honor to write to you on the 24th instant on the subject of my rank compared with that of other officers of the C. S. Army.  Since then I have received daily orders purporting to come from “Headquarters of the Forces”, some of them in relation to the internal affairs of this army.  Such orders I cannot regard, because they are illegal.
    Permit me to suggest that orders to me should come from your office.
         Most respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                                    J. E. JOHNSTON,
                                                                                           General, C. S. Army

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 2, Page 1007

In late August Johnston would write an intemperate letter to Jefferson Davis regarding his relative rank among Confederate generals.  As seen here, this was already a sort point in late July.  The orders he referred to came from Robert E. Lee, who signed his correspondence “Headquarters of the Virginia Forces” until Virginia submitted her troops to Confederate authority.  The issue of relative rank is complex, with Congress passing an act in March establishing four brigadier-generals (adding a fifth a week later) and stating “….the relative rank of officers of each grade shall be determined by their former commissions in the United States army….”.  In May Congress then established the rank of general, giving the same five officers this rank but not explicitly restating the provision regarding relative rank in the United States army.  The issue with Lee was skirted by Lee’s assignment to command a force in western Virginia on August 1.  Davis undoubtedly had a point, but managed in the process of raising it to alienate the Confederate president to such a degree the breech would carry over even beyond the end of the war.

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