Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December 11, 1863 (Thursday): Beauregard and the Science of War

General P. G. T. Beauregard

CHARLESTON, S. C., December 11, 1863.
Richmond, Va.:
    DEAR SIR: I send you herewith the plan of operations for the present emergency you had asked of me before you left here. The views I have expressed may appear bold na impracticable to many, but our condition is so critical, in my opinion, that half-way measures may retard our ruing but cannot save us. The past,however, gives me no reason to believe that my views will be adopted by the War Department.
     This is the sixth plan of campaign that I have had the honor to offer, directly or indirectly, to the Government, to wit, two from Manassas to the President in June and July, 1861, one from Bladon to General Bragg in July, 1862, one from Charleston to General Johnston, in May, 1863,one from Charleston to General Bragg, in October, 1863, and the one accompanying this letter to yourself. Of all these plans only the second one from Manassas was partially adopted, and after its success, strange as it may appear, its paternity was disputed! Indeed, at the time I attached but little importance to it, my sole object being to defeat the enemy and insure the success of our cause. I looked in pity on those who could not understand such motives of action, and left sick at heart at their egotism and blindness. God grant that they may open their eyes before we are all engulfed in the same abyss!
   You are at liberty to show the accompanying plan of campaign to whomever you think may aid you in having it adopted.
    I fear that the friends of the administration may not be pleased with certain passages in it, but I endeavored to make it as "gentle" as I could. It was impossible to do justice to the subject and say less. I think it can safely be shown to Messrs. Orr, Wigfall, Miles, Conrad, and Villere.
With many kind regards to all inquiring friends, I remain, yours sincerely,



HDQRS. DEPARTMENT OF S. C., GA., AND FLA., Charleston, S. C., December 8, 1863.
Richmond, Va.:
    MY DEAR SIR: In compliance with your request made on the eve of your departure for Richmond, I have prepared for you a sketch of certain operations by which we may yet retrieve our late losses and possibly baffle the immense resources of men and available material of our enemy.
First. The system hitherto followed of keeping in the field separate armies acting without concert on distant and divergent lines of operation, and thus enabling our adversary to concentrate at convenience his masses against our fractions, must be discontinued, as radically contrary to the principles of the art of war, and attended with inevitable results as our disasters in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Northern Georgia.
    Second. We must arrange for a sudden and rapid concentration upon some selected, decisive, strategic point of the theater of war of enough troops to crush the forces of the enemy embodied in that quarter. This must necessarily be done at the expense or hazard, for the time, of other points less important or offering less advantages for striking the enemy. A blow thus struck will necessarily disorganize his combinations and give us the choice of the field of operations.
    I am sensibly aware of our limited means, our want of men, the material and appliances of war, and of transportation, and hence the difficulties which will embarrass us in the execution of this plan of concentration, but I see no way to success except through and by it. A different course may, indeed, protract the contest, which will become day by day more unequal. We may fight-stoutly, as hitherto-many more bloody and indecisive battles, but will never win a signal, conclusive victory until we can manage to throw a heavy and overwhelming mass of our forces upon the fractions of the enemy, and at the same time successfully strike at his communications without exposing our own. I believe this may yet be done. Not knowing, however, our present available forces and their locations, I am unable to make a definite or detailed plan of operations, but I believe I am warranted is assuming that we have under arms 210,000 effective men, distributed as follows:

In the Trans-Mississippi Department,say.................. 40,000
Department of Alabama and Mississippi, say............... 15,000
Under Hardee,including Longstreet,say.................... 60,000
Department of South Carolina, Georgia,and Florida,say..... 28,000
Department of North Carolina, say........................ 7,000
Department of Virginia,say............................... 60,000
Total.................................................... 210,000

     Looking at a map of the Confederate States, it will be seen that the most injurious blow which the enemy could strike at present would be to take possession of Atlanta, thus isolating still more completely the trans-Mississippi States, and detaching, in a great measure, the States of Mississippi and Alabama from the eastern portion of the Confederacy. It would also be a deplorable injury to the energeting, populous State of Georgia, and cripple the great resources of that people. We should, therefore, regard Atlanta as the actual objective point of the large force which the enemy has concentrated about Chattanooga, and the one which we must at all cost prevent him from obtaining.   In this state of affairs, throwing aside all other considerations, subordinating all other operations to this one vital campaign, at a concerted moment we must withdraw from other points a portion of their forces - all, indeed, not absolutely essential for keeping up a show of defense or safety against a coup de main, and concentrate in this way every soldier possible for operations against General Grant. Such strategic points as Richmond, Weldon, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and Meridian or Jackson, Miss., at the same time should be fortified, garrisoned, and provisioned, according to their present relative value to the Confederate States, sufficiently to prolong their defense if attacked or besieged until troops for their relief could be detached, as required, from the army in Northwestern Georgia.
    I will now state, approximately, what troops may, in my belief, be withdrawn from the following quarters and added to the army at or about Dalton, namely:

From Alabama and Mississippi............................. 10,000
From South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida................. 8,000
From North Carolina...................................... 2,000
From Virginia............................................ 20,000
Total.................................................... 40,000

     These 40,000 men, added with celerity to the force now under Hardee, and including that under Longstreet and other detachments, would make an army of 100,000 men. Let this army take the offensive at once, and, properly handled, it should crush any force that Grant could assemble in time an oppose, scattered as he evidently is, and unprepared as he would be for such an event.
To insure the success of a plan of operations the press must preserve complete silence touching all military movements. Depots of subsistence, munitions of war, ambulances,horses, wagons, &c., should be established at certain points not too far from Atlanta for rapid concentration at the proper time. Meantime, whatsoever troops that could safely be withdrawn from the departments already indicated, should be quickly, quietly concentrated at suitable central points, thence to be thrown with all possible dispatch to Dalton with all the means of transportation available of all sorts. At the same time the officer appointed to command this large army should make all his preparation for such a trust and the sudden accumulation of troops of all arms, so that he may able to mold it into a homogeneous mass as early as practicable, and to inaugurate offensive operations without loss of one moment of time that may be obviated. And further, he must be invested with an unrestricted, unembarrassed selection of staff officers and thoroughly emancipated from the least subordination to the views and control of the heads of bureaus at Richmond, a reproduction in this war of that fatal Austrian system, with which no eminently successful commander ever had to contend - a pernicious plan of administration which will clog and hamper the highest military genius, whether of a Napoleon or a Caesar.I believe the success of the plan of campaign thus sketched and the utter defeat of the enemy would be almost certain.The question would next be, whether to pursue the routed enemy with vigor to the banks of the Ohio and Mississippi, or to return to the several sources whence the army was gathered their respective detachments or quotas for the campaign. This should be left, however, to be determined by the nature of the enemy's operations at the time.I must finally remark that were it possible to concentrate with sufficient expedition, at or about Knoxville, such an army as I have indicated, that would be the better point whence to take the offensive into Middle Tennessee than Dalton, that is, according to the principles of the art, would promise more decisive results, for it is evident we should thus threaten the enemy's communications without exposing our own (Principe II, Art of War). "Le secret de la guerre est dans le secret de communications" (Napoleon).By a movement from Knoxville we should be doing what is taught in connection with the third maxim (Art of War), to wit: That part of the base of operations is the most advantageous to break out from into the theater of war which conducts the most directly on the enemy's flanks or rear. There may be, however, such practical difficulties in the way of execution of such a movement on that line as may not make it advisable to adopt it."The whole science of war," it has been well said, "may be briefly defined as the art of placing in the right position at the right time a mass of troops greater than your enemy can there oppose to you."These conditions, I sincerely believe, may all be filled by very much such a plan as the one which I have hurriedly placed before you. Of course my views must be subject to such modifications as my want of precise information relative to the number and location of our troops may render necessary.The hour is critical and grave.The enemy increaseth every day;We at the height, are ready to decline.
     I am filled with intense anxiety lest golden opportunities shall be lost - lost forever. In no theater of human action is it so true as in war -

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
* * * *
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

     It is concentration and immediate mobility that are indispensable to save us.


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 31, Part 3, Pages 812-816.

At the time of this epistle, Lee was in Richmond advocating for Beauregard to be placed in command (as opposed to Lee himself assuming the duty).  But Jefferson Davis had a clear, and unfavorable, view of Beauregard.  It was in no small part due to his vanity and far reaching strategic imaginings, fully on display here.  A point Beauregard makes, and others would make after the war, was that Richmond was not as strategically important as Atlanta and to win independence the Confederates needed to have recognized the fact.  But it must be understood that to cede Virginia to the Union would also mean to lose a large part of it's armies, as Virginians would be more likely to go home than to continue the struggle after their homeland had been abandoned to the Union army.  Davis was no fan of Joe Johnston, either, but messages such as this were of the stuff which stunted any ambition Beauregard had for enacting his plans in the field with actual troops.  Pierre Soule was a diplomat from Louisiana who had been captured and imprisoned at the start of the war, but escaped South.  Before the war he had schemed for the US to annex Cuba.

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