Saturday, February 2, 2013

February 5, 1863 (Thursday): Johnston Sulks

Confederate Secretary of War James A Seddon (

 WAR DEPARTMENT, C. S. A., Richmond, Va., February 5, 1863.

    DEAR SIR: I take the liberty of addressing you unofficially. It has pained me to find from several of your telegrams to the President, as well as from intimations occasionally dropped in conversation by our mutual friend, General Wigfall, that you consider your position in your present command somewhat anomalous and unsatisfactory. You seem to consider the several armies within your department too far separated by distance, and too distinct in the aims of their operations, to be wielded as a whole, and that, while nominally controlling all, you can really have command of none, and must stand responsible for the failures, without receiving the credit of the successes, of each. Now, with this view, I can well understand your position to be distasteful and vexatious, but I feel assured it was very far from the intention of the President, as it certainly never has been mine, to regard your command in this light. The department placed under you was too remote to have that direct supervision and control of the separate armies in it exercised by the authorities here which they could give to the commands nearer to them in this State, and consequently it was much desired that a general of the largest experience and greatest ability and reputation should be placed there, to have over it something of the same guiding direction and control as war exercised nearer the capital by the Department and President. Besides, it was thought that the armies in your department were not so disunited in ends, or so remote from each other, that combined movements among them might not be mutually supporting, and that in certain contingencies even transfers of troops might not be requisite.
     For these purposes you were selected, from the high confidence reposed in you, and certainly from the conviction that an enlarged sphere of usefulness was assigned you.
     In another respect great advantage was anticipated from your superior command, which I fear your generous self-abnegation and excessive consideration for the claims of your subordinate generals will prevent from being fully attained. It was contemplated and expected that, besides the general guidance and supervision above referred to, you should, whenever and wherever the exigency seemed most to demand, assume directly the supreme command of the army imperiled, and give to it the benefit of your prestige and superior ability. Thus, when Vicksburg was attacked, I was disappointed that you had not assumed command, and even more did I regret that you had not the direction of movements in the great operations around Murfreesborough. Can you not take this [as I think the true] view of your relation and duties in respect to the several armies in your department? If so, I assure you the anxiety and responsibility I feel in relation to these several fields of action will be greatly relieved.
     But if unwilling thus, as occasion may demand, to displace your lieutenants, could you not, while exercising a general supervision, yet establish yourself permanently with the central and leading army in Middle Tennessee, with General Bragg [as I understand, admirably qualified to be] an organizer and administrator under you, and direct all its field operations? Would this condition better suit you, or would you prefer to command separately, and without any such leading subordinate, that army alone? I should really be pleased to learn candidly from you your own preferences, for while I cannot assure their fulfillment, yet, from my appreciation and confidence in you, I should have every disposition to promote and may not be powerless to accomplish them.
     I hope the spirit and motives prompting this letter will be understood by you, and your indulgence to them manifested by an early reply.
     With the highest esteem, cordially, yours,

   J. A. SEDDON.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 23, Part 2, Pages 626-627.

Seddon had a long run as Confederate Secretary of War, from November 1862 to the end of the war.  Here he speaks candidly with the always contentious Joseph E. Johnston.  Johnston had been sent west with reasonably high expectations, but proved adept at distracting himself with the obstacles he faced.   

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