4/19/2011

The meeting on 26th of September, 1861 (cont.)

The text of Smith's memo can be reduced to stated propostitions and stated or implied counterpropositions. All material is from Smith's memo except text in talics, which is from Davis's The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, and text which is labeled as being from Smith's Confederate War Papers.

(1) Proposition (Johnston): Meet "for the purpose of deciding whether the army could be re├źnforced to the extent that the Commanding General deemed necessary for an offensive campaign."

Counter: none, agreement.

(2) Proposition (all): "... the military force of the Confederate States was at the highest point it could attain without arms from abroad—that the portion of this particular army present for duty was in the finest fighting condition—that if kept inactive it must retrograde immensely in every respect during the winter, the effect of which was foreseen and dreaded by us all."

Counter: none, agreement.

(3) Proposition (all): "The enemy were daily increasing in numbers, arms, discipline, and efficiency. We looked forward to a sad state of things at the opening of a Spring campaign."

Counter: none, agreement.

(4) Proposition (generals): "...our force at that time here was not sufficient for assuming the offensive beyond the Potomac."

Counter: none, agreement. However, see Davis on (8).

(5) Proposition (generals): Strip "other points to the last they will bear—and even risking defeat at all other places, put us in condition to move forward."

Counter (Davis): "...the whole country was demanding protection at his hands, and praying for arms and troops for defence... he could not take any troops from the points named..."

Counter (Davis): The proposition is false because it announces Johnston's "conclusion that troops could be withdrawn from a place or places without knowing how many were there, and what was the necessity for their presence."

Response (Smith): "At that time [Davis] had a large body of disciplined, seasoned soldiers, well organized, under General Bragg at Pensacola; which place was abandoned, in the Spring of 1862, after this force had remained there, idle and comparatively useless, for nearly a year. There were troops at various other points that might well have been made available..." (Confederate War Papers)

(6) Proposition (generals): "Success here at this time saves everything—defeat here loses all." ("...various ... special illustrations were offered.")

Counter (Davis): Nothing is more common than that a General, realizing the wants of the army with which he is serving, and the ends that might be achieved if those wants were supplied, should overlook the necessities of others, and accept rumors of large forces which do not exist, and assume the absence of danger elsewhere than in his own front.

(7) Proposition (generals): "...even with a much larger force, an attack upon their army under the guns of their fortifications, on this side the river, was out of the question."

Counter: none, agreement.

(8) Proposition (Smith): The number of men needed for an offensive campaign would be "Fifty thousand effective seasoned soldiers ... such men as we had here, present for duty." (Johnston, Beauregard): " ...a force of sixty thousand such men..."

Counter (Davis): (A) "...at that time no reinforcements could be furnished to this army of the character asked for..." (B) "...without arms from abroad [Davis] could not reinforce this army..."

(9) Proposition (implied, Davis): [The difference between the amount of men needed and the amount sent forward since Bull Run represents wastage under the generals' stewardship]: "To my surprise and disappointment, the effective strength was stated to be but little greater than when it fought the battle of the 21st of the preceding July. The frequent re├źnforcements which had been sent to that army in no wise prepared me for such an announcement."

Counter (Smith): The proposition is false. "At the time of the Fairfax Court House Conference the number of enlisted men present for duty in General Johnston's Army was something more than Forty thousand." It would have taken 10,000 men to bring it up to 50,000. (Confederate War Papers)

(10) Proposition (generals): "...this force would require large additional transportation and munitions of war—the supplies here being entirely inadequate for an active campaign in the enemy's country, even with our present force."

Counter: none, agreement.

(11) Proposition (generals): "...it was felt that it might be better to run the risk of almost certain destruction fighting upon the other side of the Potomac, rather than see the gradual dying out and deterioration of this army, during a winter, at the end of which the term of enlistment of half the force would expire."

Counter (generals): "... the hope and expectation that before the end of winter, arms would be introduced into the country—and all were confident, that we could then not only protect our own country but successfully invade that of the enemy."

Counter (Davis): "...this supply of arms, however abundant, could not furnish ‘seasoned soldiers..."

Counter (Davis, implied): The proposition is false because if the risk of certain destruction were preferable, the generals would have taken up Davis's suggestion of a partial campaign over the Potomac against Banks, Sickles, etc.. (See below)

(12) Proposition (Davis): "...instead of an active offensive campaign, we should attempt certain partial operations—a sudden blow against Sickles or Banks—or to break the bridge over the Monocacy."

Counter (generals): "... if an opportunity should occur offering reasonable chances of success ... the attempt would be made" sometime in the future.

Smith's summing up of this affair in Confederate War Papers will be familiar to every reader of Civil War history as something of an endlessly recycled insight:
... no well-defined, comprehensive war policy had been adopted by the Confederate Government. The authorities in Richmond seemed to be floundering in a discursive plan for trying to protect all the assailable points in the Country, hoping that something favorable would turn up from abroad.
Is this a fair summing up of the strategy or policy of Jefferson Davis in October 1861?

p.s. Here's Smith's postscript on the conference from Confederate War Papers; few historians have internalized this fact:
...whilst we [Johnston, Beauregard, Smith] could not make a campaign of invasion, our hope was that the enemy [McClellan], with the large army of raw troops in front of us, would make a determined forward movement into our country. In this we were disappointed.