Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 12, 1861 (Friday): The Epic Battle of the Fall of 1861-Johnston and Davis

General Joseph E. Johnston

RICHMOND, VA., September 13, 1861.
   MY DEAR GENERAL:  Yours of the 10th instant* is before me, and I can only suppose you have been deceived by someone of that class in whose absence “the strife ceaseth.”  While you were in the valley of Virginia your army and that of General Beauregard were independent commands; when you marched to Manassas the forces joined and did duty together.  I trust the two officers highest in military rank at Richmond were too well informed to have doubted in either case as to your power and duty.  Persons have talked here of the command of yourself and Beauregard as separate armies, and complaints have been uttered to the effect that you took the re-enforcements and guns for your own army; but to educated soldiers this could only seem the muttering of the uninstructed, the rivalry of those who did not comprehend that unity was a necessity, a law of existence.  Not having heard accusations, I am, like yourself, ignorant of the specifications, and will add that I do not believe any disposition has existed on the part of the gentlemen to whom you refer to criticize, still less to detract, from you.  If they believed that you did not exercise command over the whole, it was, I doubt not, ascribed to delicacy.
   You are not mistaken in your construction of my letters having been written to you as the commanding general.  I have, however, sometimes had to repel the idea that there was a want of co-operation between yourself and second in command, or a want of recognition of your position as the senior and commanding general of all the forces serving at or near to the field or your late brilliant achievements.
   While writing it occurs to me that statements have been made and official applications received in relation to staff officers which suggested a continuance of separation rather than unity in the “Army of the Potomac.”
    I did not understand your suggestion as to a commander-in-chief for your army.  The laws of the Confederacy in relation to generals have provisions, which are new and unsettled by decisions.  Their position is special, and the attention of Congress was called to what might be regarded as a conflict of laws.  Their action was confined to the fixing of dates for the generals of the C. S. Army.
     Your friend,
                                                                                    JEFRERSON DAVIS

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 5, Page 850

The feud between Davis and Johnston is often discussed to general terms, more to seek origins than to describe results.  It is worth considering, then, what the consequences of this dispute were to the Confederate military efforts after Bull Run.  The Confederates were closer to Washington than they would come until Early’s Raid in 1864.  Yet they made no efforts to gain initiative, no threatening posture which might have drawn forces away from the Union’s successful efforts in western Virginia, and no raids to foster fears among the Northern public as to the ultimate success of the Union in the conflict.  It is injurious to the reputations of both Johnston and Davis that the fall of 1861 in Northern Virginia was dominated not by efforts to get at the enemy but to questions of rank, authority, and credit.  Johnston should not have engaged in it, Davis should not have tolerated it.

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