From the Richmond Daily Dispatch March 3, 1865:

The Richmond and Petersburg lines.

Everything remains quiet on these lines, and is so likely to continue while the rain and mud lasts, and of these there seems to be no end. There is no doubt that Grant will make another heavy movement on our right so soon as the condition of the roads will permit.

View of Petersburg from the signal-station on our extreme left (by Horace Heath, Illus. in: Harper's weekly, 1865 March 11, p. 148.; LOC: LC-USZ6-1896)

“View of Petersburg from the signal-station on our extreme left” (LOC)

General Grant's Cavalry escort, City Point, Va., March, 1865 ( photographed 1865, [printed between 1880 and 1889; LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-34478)

“General Grant’s Cavalry escort, City Point, Va., March, 1865″ (LOC, or possibly Grant’s escort in 1864)

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capture the flags

Battle field of Waynesboro, Va. (2d March, 1865) (1873; LOC:

VIII NY at 4 PM way on flank, moved to main force by 8 PM?

Some time after the Union Army of the Shenandoah captured most of Jubal Early’s rebel force at the Battle of Waynesboro, Union General Sheridan sent Major Compson of the 8th New York Cavalry to Washington, D.C. to deliver captured battle flags and other information to the War Department. A veteran of 8th who was working as a journalist for a Rochester, New York paper used the flag report to highlight the courage of Major Compson and his regiment. The Rochester correspondent apparently got his information from friends still serving in the field.

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in March 1865:

The Eighth N.Y. Cavalry.

NY Times 3-21-1865

NY Times 3-21-1865

A correspondent of the Rochester Union of Wednesday says: A telegraphed announced yesterday that Major H.B. Compson had been honored as the bearer of dispatches from White House to the Secretary of War, and had brought with him 17 battle flags, of which seven were the trophies of his own valor. But it did not say what was known to the writer, and kindled in the reading his pride in the fame of his old regiment, viz: that Maj. Compson was in command of the 8th N.Y. Cavalry, and that to the 8th, with the 22d, was assigned the duty of charging on Gen. Early’s cannon, three pieces of which commanded and raked the highway: [;?] that Major Compson gave the 22d the ground on his right and left, and chose the post of honor for the 8th and himself – placed Sergeant Kehoe with the flag which Rochester friends had honored the regiment by his side, and then called on his staunch cavalrymen of the 8th to follw him, saying to his color-bearer, “Sergeant, we’ll lose the flag this time or bring more flags back along with us!” and charged fiercely down the highway in the teeth of the battery. So furious and well-ordered was the charge that only time was given the enemy to reload twice before the guns were captured, and with the great good fortune of losing only one man killed (Sergt. Carr) and five wounded. Five battle flags were the prize of this exploit. Of the numbers of prisoners taken I am not informed.


Second National Flag

The 8th has a fortune equal to its valor. Gen. Sheridan has delighted to signalize and stimulate its good conduct by lavish commendation – the coveted reward of the soldier – for discipline in camp, reliableness on picket and patrol, and heroism in the fight. Major Moore and other brave officers had months ago been mustered out with honor. From Col. Benjamin it had just parted with the most sincere and universal sorrow – as considerate of his men as he was fearless in leading them in battle. Lieut. Col. Pope, who they all knew would never shrink in danger nor forget its honor, had been ordered to recruit the regiment among us at a time when he would gladly have shared its new perils. Major Bliss was under orders in charge of new recruits at Harper’s Ferry, and yet one who was but a few months ago one of its Lieutenants, has won new honor and new commendation for it in leading it to victory, and it could have furnished others had he fallen or been absent. So much the more for Monroe [Rochester’s county] to be proud of, and for those who, though no longer summoned at its roll-call, feel as warmly as ever for its fame and its perils. All honor to Major Compson and Sergeant Kehoe.

Gen. Phil Sheridan (between 1855 and 1865; LOC: LC-DIG-cwpbh-01009)

managed the 8th with “lavish commendation”

- Major Compson is a Seneca county boy, and joined the 8th N.Y. Cavalry as a private three years ago. A good portion of his company were also recruited here at that time by the late Capt. B.F. Sisson. Maj. Compson’s friends here will be pleased to hear of his personal bravery and soldierly bearing. He has been in command of his regiment for some time past.

Seneca County Historian Walt Gable points out that Major Compson received the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Waynesboro[1]. Walt provides a more thorough description of Major Compson’s battlefield courage and points out that 15 medals of honor were awarded for the Battle of Waynesboro. Major Compson’s citation gives him credit for capturing a “flag belonging to Gen. Early’s headquarters.” Walt notes that the medal was presented on March 26, 1865. The flag was a Confederate Second National flag; it was returned to Virginia and is currently in the possession of the Museum of the Confederacy.

Captain Christopher C. Bruton of the 22nd New York Cavalry was also awarded the Medal of Honor for capturing General Early’s headquarters’ flag.

The New-York Times of March 21, 1865 covered the Waynesboro battle as Day 4 of General Sheridan’s “Great Cavalry Raid”. Originally the 8th NY Cavalry was held in reserve. After a successful flank attack helped throw the rebels into disarray, the 8th got involved in the action. From The New-York Times March 21, 1865:

Confederate General Jubal Early, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front (between 1860 and 1870, photographed later; LOC:  LC-DIG-ds-01484)

General Jubal Early

The enemy were not a little surprised to see so formidable a body of flankers on their left; an attempt to form a line to meet them proved abortive; on they pressed and the enemy seeing CUSTER’s reckless fellows marching in upon them from every direction, became panic stricken, broke and ran in terrible confusion, abandoning muskets, flags and artillery. By the time they had fairly got into the Village of Waynesboro, a few rods to the rear of their works, the mounted cavalry had charged in upon them, and Yankees and rebels were all mixed up together. The First Vermont moved in from the left, the Eighth New-York on the pike, and CAPEHART with the whole of his brigade at his heels, dashed into the village, following the Eighth. The sons of the Ancient Dominion showed [???]o fight at close quarters, but surrendered promptly when ordered to do so, thereby preventing a general slaughter. South River winds its way along just in the rear of Waynesboro, and the only route for the enemy to escape was to cross this. It was not at this time fordable, and the only way for infantry to cross was by a small foot-bridge and by the railroad bridge. A few hundred attempted to escape by the latter route. Col. WHITAKER, (who with Capt. BURROUGHS and some thirty men of the Eighth New-York, were the first to cross the stream,) with a few men on horseback, cut off the men attempting to escape on the railroad track. WHITAKER with a dozen men here captured at least 300 rebels and one battle-flag. Maj. COMPSON, Capt. BURROUGHS and Capt. BENTON [Bruton?], the latter of the Twenty-second New-York, made no halt, but pressed on and beyond the mountain, capturing several officers and EARLY’s headquarter flag.

  1. [1] Gable, Walter Seneca County And The Civil War. Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2014. Print. pages 63-66.
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Yankee smugness

Yankee volunteers marching into Dixie (Waashington City : Published by C.F. Morse ; Boston G.A. Morse c1862; LOC: LC-USZ62-4440)

still swarming

From the Richmond Daily Dispatch February 28, 1865:

Treatment of the conquered Confederates–Handsome offer.

The New York Times has an article on subjugation, which ought to have a place all to itself. It is the most refreshing instance of Yankee impudence that we have seen since the war. It says:

We hear a great deal every day about the necessity for punishing the Southern leaders, and some persons go so far as to propose the outlawry of everybody in the Confederacy who has held any higher rank in its service than that of colonel. But it may be laid down as a rule, dictated not simply by humanity and Christianity, but by sound policy, that no punishments whatever ought to be inflicted on anybody, except such as are plainly called for by a prudent regard for our own safety. With those who wish to legislate, or put the existing law in force for mere purposes of vengeance, it is scarcely worth while to argue. The spectacle of a whole people thirsting for vengeance on a large body of their own countrymen, and seeking it through acts of Congress, is a barbarous and repulsive one, repugnant to the spirit of the age, and hostile to civilization. To suffer anything of the sort to be enacted on American soil, in our day, would prove that we had retrograded instead of advanced.

The burning of Columbia, South Carolina, February 17, 1865 (by William Waud, 1865 April 8; LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-33131)

“we are now witnessing the failure” (“The burning of Columbia, South Carolina, February 17, 1865″ (Library of Congress)

There are a number of persons in the rebellious States who have been actively engaged both in getting up the insurrection and carrying it on, whose position with regard to it is such as to make it quite certain that they can never settle down again into peaceable citizens of the United States, and would never, if we allowed them to return quietly to their homes, cease to kick against the authority of the Government and intrigue for its overthrow. Against these men the vigorous enforcement of the law is imperatively called for in the interest of social order; but we sincerely trust that the list even of these will be made as small as possible, and that the rest of the population will be let alone. No penal measures whatever, as regards them, we may feel quite satisfied, will be necessary to prevent the repetition of the attempt of which we are now witnessing the failure. The fullest punishment for their offences, whatever they may have been, has been already inflicted in the prosecution of this war. There is something puerile in talking of administering further chastisement for a crime which has already caused the slaughter or maiming of two or three hundred thousand of those engaged in it, and the desolation of almost a third of their territory. With what power can we arm either courts or police that will impress the imagination of men and women like those of the South, who have lived through the horrors of the last four years?

And we ought to beware, above all things, of harassing them with the presence of great swarms of officials, most of whom will doubtless, at least for a while, have to be Northerners. For a few years, after the war the Southern people will be morbidly sensitive to whatever reminds them of their defeat and those among us who are opposed to all attempts to respect this susceptibility, only show how little they have learnt from history, and how little they know of human nature. One great aim should be to avoid all unnecessary display of force. We shall be bound to protect the emancipated blacks and Northern or loyal inhabitants, and see that the judgments of United States courts are carried into execution; but all interference with the ordinary working of local law, and the ordinary management of local affairs, ought to be strenuously guarded against. There are other ways than these, which we recommand [recommend?], of holding conquered territory but there are no other ways of healing the wounds left by civil war.

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poor conscription

After four years of war it was hard to scrounge up enough new recruits to satisfy the Union government’s draft quotas. The Seneca Falls supervisor was recruiting in New York City. Men were available, but there wasn’t enough money to pay the necessary bounties. A local editorial asked why Seneca Falls men who had enough money to procure substitutes were unwilling to buy bonds to keep their poorer neighbors out of the draft.

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in February 1865:

Our Quota.

The filling of the quota of this town seems to be a very difficult undertaking. – No one here is “patriotic” enough to volunteer, and we are dependent entirely upon other localities for recruits. Supervisor Burt is making every effort to procure the men, but so far has succeeded in mustering only fifteen to the credit of the town. Our momed [sic] [monied] men do not seem willing to take the bonds and furnish the Supervisor the means with which to obtain the men, and many of them are very reluctant about cashing the bonds which they have pledged themselves to take. Perhaps they would like to see the mechanics and laboring men of the town conscripted, inasmuch as their brothers and sons have heretofore secured substitutes, mostly at the expense of the town. Conscription is not a very pleasant thing for poor men to look upon, and to be endured, when a few dollars could have prevented it.

A number of public meetings have been called for the purpose of raising money on the bonds, but with little success. The men who have all along been so anxious to save the town from the draft, have taken no part in the meetings, because, we suppose, there have been no political ends to subserve. A very pretty state of affairs, indeed.

It is very certain that we shall get no more men, unless there is sufficient interest in the matter among our monied men to induce them to take the bonds of the town. That the men can be obtained if the money is furnished, is well understood, and if a conscription is forced upon us, it will be owing to the criminal indifference of those who might have interposed to prevent it, without the least inconvenience to themselves.

It looks like back in January 1865 the town of German Flats [Flatts], New York faced a similar issue. However, in this town along the Mohawk River the government seemed to be encouraging non-taxpaying men who were liable to service to contribute whatever was within their means to the bounty pot:

German Flats  January 1865 (LOC:

trying to equalize the burden

The German Flats poster is from the Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division. (
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draft dilemmas

A bitter "Draught."  (LOC:

good for what ails the Union?

150 years ago this month another Union draft was rapidly approaching, but a local town still didn’t know what its quota would be. The town supervisor was down in New York City headhunting for recruits to fill his town’s requirements. Gothamites could be recruited for $650. Unfortunately, the town was having trouble selling the necessary bonds to raise the cash for the bounties.

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in February 1865:

The Quota of Seneca Falls.

Our very accommodating officials in charge of the Provost Marshal’s office at Auburn, have not yet informed us of the number of men wanted under the last call, though the day of the conscription is near at hand. The Supervisor of the town, however, is in New York for the purpose of filling the quota. He telegraphs home that he can get recruits for $650, if the money can be raised on the bonds. A public meeting was accordingly held at Concert Hall, Wednesday evening to see about raising the money. The meeting was not numerously attended, and after appointing a committee to see what could be done in the premises, an adjournment was affected until Saturday evening, when it is desirable that all who feel an interest in relieving the town from a draft, will come forward and take the bonds. Let everybody go to the Concert Hall on Saturday evening.

The political cartoon is from the Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana at
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fishy business


scene of the crimes (Mitchell’s 1864 map of Baltimore)

A presumably Democrat paper criticized President Lincoln for using his power of pardon to release a former Baltimore Provost Martial who was convicted of abusing his power.

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in February 1865:

COL. FISH PARDONED. – President Lincoln has pardoned Col. Fish, late Provost Marshal of Baltimore. – Albany Journal.

We have been looking for this announcement. This Fish was an officer of a Massachusetts regiment, and became Provost Marshal at Baltimore under the rule of Gen. Schenck. Fish was the executive instrument of that General’s oppressive administration in Maryland – a “loyal” man who delighted in persecuting “copperheads” and “traitors.” When Schenck passed from office and a new commander came in, it was discovered that the excessively “loyal” Col. Fish had been guilty of almost every manner of rascality. He was tried by Court Martial, convicted and sentenced to fine and imprisonment. His guilt was clear and beyond question. But in consideration of his having been a good and faithful partisan servant, the President now pardons and sets him loose. – Union.

William S. Fish originally served in the First Connecticut Cavalry. On January 24, 1864 he was arrested “by order of the Secretary of War on the charge of official corruption and fraud while acting as provost-marshal of Baltimore. He was afterwards tried by court-martial, found guilty on nearly all the charges preferred against him, cashiered, and sent to the Albany penitentiary.” There is an online suggestion that Provost marshal Fish would arrest citizens, then offer “to intervene on their behalf for a fee.”

You can view and possibly read an August 11, 1864 letter from an “immediate neighbor” of Colonel Fish’ to President Lincoln ay American Memory. The letter vouches for the good character of the colonel and requests that the president intervene. A different colonel from Connecticut was going to visit Washington to seek Executive Clemency.

I have not seen any evidence online that President Lincoln actually did pardon Colonel Fish. Wikipedia notes that probably the most famous person President Lincoln pardoned was Clement Vallandigham, who was then delivered to the rebels. Of President Lincoln’s 343 interventions 264 were Dakota Indians from the Sioux Uprising of 1862.

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from the quagmire

The Civil War has changed America in some ways over the last four years, but Yankees are still firing off cannon to honor Washington’s birthday. And rain makes Virginia “one vast quagmire” – the Dispatch doesn’t anticipate General Grant trying his own “mud march.” Disregarding General-in-Chief Lee’s advice, the Confederate Congress apparently tabled a bill to recruit blacks troops. Reserve commanders were ordered to use their forces to round up missing white soldiers, to “employ them [the reserves] vigorously in arresting and returning to the army all deserters and absentees.” That would seem to be even more important if you weren’t going to get the 200,000 black men.

From the Richmond Daily Dispatch February 24, 1865:

Friday morning…February 24, 1865
The news.
The Richmond and Petersburg lines.

Since the salutes fired by the Yankees on the 22d, the sound of big guns has not been heard on the north side of the James. At Petersburg, the national salute was fired by Grant’s artillery with shotted guns, some of the shells falling in the city. On this side, as we have before stated, they contented themselves with letting off blank cartridges.

For several days past there has been so much stir within the enemy’s lines south of Petersburg as to give rise to the report that they were concentrating for another attack on our extreme right. As, however, no attack has been made, it is probable the commotion observed was incidental to the removal of a part of the Yankee army to City Point, en route to co-operate with Schofield and Sherman in the Carolinas. If any offensive movement against the Petersburg lines was contemplated by Grant, it has been indefinitely postponed by the drenching rain of yesterday, which has converted Eastern Virginia into one vast quagmire.

From the South.

The city was, yesterday, filled with rumors relative to military movements in North and South Carolina; but we have no official intelligence from that quarter. We, however, know that affairs in that quarter are already beginning to wear a more pleasing aspect.

General Joseph E. Johnston was, on Wednesday, ordered to report to General Lee; and it is the general opinion that he has been assigned to the command of all the forces operating against Sherman. It has been a rumor for some days that General Beauregard had asked to be relieved on account of ill health. General Johnston had been with General Beauregard since our troops fell back from the line of the Edisto.

Negro soldiers — the question disposed of.

The Confederate Senate, on yesterday, removed the injunction of secrecy from the proceedings on the Senate bill, introduced by Mr. Brown, of Mississippi, to provide for raising two hundred thousand negro troops. It appears that the bill was lost in the Senate on Tuesday, the 21st instant, by a vote of eleven to ten. Those who voted for an indefinite postponement of the bill — which amounts to its defeat — were Messrs. Baker, Barnwell, Caperton, Garland, Graham, Hunter, Johnson of Georgia, Johnson of Missouri, Maxwell, Orr and Wigfall.

Those who voted in the negative were Messrs. Brown, Burnett, Haynes, Henry, Oldham, Semmes, Simms, Vest, Walker and Watson.

In official circles, this is considered as disposing of the question of putting negro soldiers into our armies finally. The House negro soldier bill, which is very similar to the Senate bill, has not been, and it is now believed will not be, acted upon by the Senate.

Important to the reserves.

The following important order, just issued by the Adjutant-General, will be found especially interesting to all those belonging to the reserve forces. It will be seen that the whole business of enforcing the conscript law is devolved upon them. We give the general order:

“Adjutant and inspector general’s Office, “Richmond, Virginia, February23, 1865.

“General Orders, No. 8.

“I General of reserves will immediately place upon active duty every man belonging to that class who is not specially detailed, or has not been turned ever to generals commanding armies, departments or districts. They will organize them into convenient bodies, and will employ them vigorously in arresting and returning to the army all deserters and absentees.

“II. This service will, for the present, constitute the primary duty of officers of the reserve forces, and they will enter actively upon it.

“III. Generals of reserves will visit and inspect the localities in which this force is most needed, and can be most beneficially employed, and will give their personal attention to the organization and operations of their troops in carrying out these orders. They will report twice a month to the Adjutant and Inspector-General the number of men arrested and sent by them to the army.

“IV. Generals commanding armies will return to the generals of reserves for this duty all the reserve forces in active service that are not indispensably necessary in the field.

“V. It is not intended that these orders shall effect the reserves employed in guarding railroad bridges.
“By order.

[Signed] “S. Cooper,

“Adjutant and Inspector-General.

“Official H. L. Clay,

“Assistant Adjutant General.”

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old news …

Portrait of Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, officer of the Confederate Army (between 1860 and 1865; LOC: LC-DIG-cwpb-06290)

Dick Taylor

Not exactly good news for the rebel cause

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in 1865:

The War in the Southwest.

CAIRO, Feb. 21. – The Memphis Bulletin learns from gentlemen who left Selma, Ala., on the 14th ult., and came through Meridian and Jackson, Miss., that Dick Taylor, has a considerable force at Selma and also at Meridian. At Selma the Rebels were manufacturing and turning out large quantities of munitions of war. Fortifications extend all around the place, but they are not very formidable. Most of Hood’s army had been sent to operate against Sherman. They were nearly naked and wholly dispirited, and had lost all hope of successful resistance to the Federal troops. Large numbers were barefooted, and it is stated that ten thousand of Hood’s men had their feet frost-bitten during their retreat from Nashville, in which they suffered more than during the previous three years of the war. The slaveholders were greatly dissatisfied with the conscription of slaves and free negroes for service in the army; but the work was actively going on. Gen Forrest was collecting a force at Jackson, Miss., for operations, it was said, against Vicksburg. The Mississippi Legislature was to meet at Columbus on the 20th, and relieve the destitute people.

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Cumberland catch

Brig. Gen. B. F. Kelley, U.S.A. (by Frederick Gutekunst, Philadelphia : McAllister & Brother, c1862; LOC:  LC-USZ62-126419)

in and out of Libby Prison

150 years ago today a rebel raid surprised a couple Union generals, who were then sent off to Libby Prison for a month. General-in-Chief Lee reported that no shooting was necessary

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in February 1865:

DARING DASH OF REBEL CAVALRY. – A dispatch from Wheeling dated the 21st inst. states that a party of rebel cavalry dashed into Cumberland, West Virginia, before daylight that morning, surprised and captured the pickets, and carried off Generals Crook and Kelley.

It seems to have been a very daring and well-planned affair.

Cavalry have been sent in pursuit.

From the Richmond Daily Dispatch February 25, 1865: …

Sheridan and his generals (by Alexander Gardner, 1-2-1865; LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-24021)

General Crook (center) while safe in Union hands

Bold exploit — the Yankee Generals Crook and Kelly captured.

The following interesting official telegram was received at the War Department last night:

“Headquarters, February24, 1865.

“Hon. J. C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War:

“General Early reports that Lieutenant McNeil, with thirty men, on the morning of the 21st, entered Cumberland, captured and brought out Generals Crook and Kelly, the adjutant- general of the department, two privates and the headquarters flag, without firing a gun, though a considerable force is stationed in the vicinity.

“Lieutenant McNeil and party deserve much credit for this bold exploit.

“Their prisoners will reach Staunton to-day.

“R. E. Lee.”

Another account.

The following telegram was received yesterday:

“Harrisonburg,February 24. –Major-Generals B. F. Kelly and George Crook, and Major Thayer Melvin, of General Crook’s staff, are here, en route for Richmond. They were captured in Cumberland, Maryland, last Tuesday morning at 3 o’clock, by Lieutenant Jesse McNeil and forty- five of his men, and fifteen of General Rosser’s furloughed men.–They will reach your city by the cars on the Central railroad to-morrow.”


Richmond, Virginia. Washington monument (1865 Apr.; LOC: LC-DIG-cwpb-01277)

did the captured generals glimpse Richmond’s Washington monument while at Libby? (April 1865 photo)

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Save Our South!

I guess desperate times really do call for desperate measures. In its Monday morning editorial the Dispatch calls for the Confederate Congress to let General Lee use slaves as soldiers in exchange for their freedom. As you can read, the editorial uses the “fight fire with fire” argument and respects General Lee’s opinion on the subject.

From the Richmond Daily Dispatch February 20, 1865:

Negro soldiers.

Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform and Company B, 103rd Regiment forage cap with bayonet and scabbard in front of painted backdrop showing landscape with river] (between 1863 and 1865; LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-36988)

hey, the Yankees are doing it

At the beginning of this war there was an important question to be solved by its progress, and that was: Could the South prosecute the struggle with out embarrassment from the existence of four millions of human beings within her limits who were not amenable to service with arms in the field. Generally, it is considered necessary to the defence of an invaded nation that all the men between certain ages, capable of bearing arms, shall be amenable to service in the field. Here, the black constituted a distinct class, and it was supposed by many that, as they produced the necessaries of life, they would sustain the public defence more successfully in that way than if sent in the field to fight. But nations that are hard pressed by powerful invasions leave the production of the necessaries of life to that part of the population which is under and over the conscript ages. Could we pursue a different course? Could we set apart a large population, irrespective of age, to the pursuits of production of the ne was doing force? However that question might have been decided under other circumstances, the employment by the enemy, in making war upon us, of that very class of beings we intended to exclude from the field, forces upon us the necessity of placing them in the front to defend the country. We must fight the negro with the negro, whatever we could have done had the enemy forborne to employ him. This necessity is, of course, disagreeable, as is proved by the evident reluctance with which we have entered upon the discussion. Therefore, whatever the differences of opinion hitherto on this subject, all parties are now willing to leave the solution to the sound, practical judgment of General Lee. He is known to be earnestly in its favor, and we want no other endorsement. We hesitate not to say that the time has come when negroes should be employed as soldiers, and that they should be offered their freedom, for that purpose, upon entering their availability as soldiers, of their courage and efficiency under a proper system of discipline — such a system as General Lee, at once firm and humane, would inaugurate. It is better to liberate two hundred thousand negroes, and to put them in the army, than to run the risk of losing all. We would rather sacrifice them all, and make emancipation universal, than hazard the independence of the Confederate States. If we fail, we lose everything, property of every kind, and our own independence. Let Congress give heed to the counsels of General Lee. In pursuance of the universal public sentiment, it has called him to the chief command of the armies of the Confederate States. But of what avail will be that action if Congress does not clothe him with the means which he deems necessary to success? For this purpose, he should have carte blanche to raise the forces he desires upon such terms, and in such a way, as he deems expedient. There is no time for delay. If Congress grasp the subject with the promptness, energy and breadth of statesmanship that it demands, the country issued.

But, also in desperation, Lee’s Adjutant, Walter Taylor, wrote his girlfriend 150 years ago today and wished the South had a more vital general than his boss to save the South (at least as general-in chief, I think he might be saying):

Portrait of General Robert E. Lee, February 18, 1865

” Our old Chief”

Edge Hill

20 Feb. ’65

This has been a day of considerable bustle, my dear Bettie, and even now there are some incomplete matters claiming my attention. I will not longer defer my letter, however, for it is impossible to say what a day may bring forth in these uncertain times. Truly affairs are becoming quite exciting, are they not? If somebody doesn’t arrest Sherman, where will he stop? Where are those who leave Richmond to go? [concern about family and friends near Charlotte and in Richmond] No place promises security that I can see, except immediately with the army. … You had better mount your horse and travel along with me until the uncertainty has passed and our affairs are once more straightened out. They are trying to corner this old army like a brave old lion brought to bay at last. It is determined to resist to the death and if die it must, to die game. But we have not yet quite made up our minds to die … Our people must make up their minds to see Richmond go, to see all the cities go, but must not lose spirit, must not give up. … Oh for a man of iron nerve and will to lead us! We need a strong hand now. There can be no trifling, no halting or hesitation now without ruin. Our old Chief is too law abiding, too slow, too retiring for these times, that is to dare & do what I deem necessary, but nevertheless he is the best we have, certainly the greatest captain and in his own safe & sure way will yet, I trust, carry us through this the greatest trial yet. … [ordered to be ready for a march] … the army will retain its position still a time longer, the General in Chief may soon bid a temporary adieu and repair to another scene of excitement. …[1]

  1. [1] Tower, R. Lockwood with John S. Belmont, eds.Lee’s Adjutant: The Wartime Letters of Colonel Walter Herron Taylor, 1862-1865. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995. Print. page 224-225.
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