April 20, 1865: Sherman’s mistake — beaten by Breckinridge

John Cabell Breckinridge

The New York Times runs a story from the Cincinnati Commercial about the terms of Johnston’s surrender. The Commercial’s correspondent blames it on Confederate Secretary of War John Cabell Breckinridge: “Gen. SHERMAN, we fear, has made a very grave mistake, and been fairly beaten by that cunning traitor, the rebel Secretary of War.”

Correspondence of the Cincinnati Commercial.
RALEIGH, N.C., Thursday, April 20, 1865,
Via WASHINGTON, Monday, April 24, 1865.

“Peace, from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, and a hope soon to lead you to your homes,” were the cheering words in which Gen. SHERMAN announced to his proud army the result of his two days’ conference with Gen. JOHNSTON. The terms, as they were understood in the army, unconditional submission to the laws as they will be interpreted by the civil courts of the Federal Government, were read with perfect satisfaction.

The terms, as understood, were believed to be of Gen. SHERMAN’s own choosing, and dictated by him to a conquered army, and their acceptance by the Government was not questioned. So firm was the belief that absolute peace would be proclaimed from Washington, that Gen. SHERMAN’s announcement that he hoped soon to march his army homeward, was accepted as a certainty, and preparations accordingly made. The real conditions upon which the surrender was made, when known, I am confident, will be as promptly rejected by the army as they have been by President Johnson, his cabinet and Gen. Grant.

Gen. SHERMAN, we fear, has made a very grave mistake, and been fairly beaten by that cunning traitor, the rebel Secretary of War.

At the first meeting, at which Gen. JOHNSTON only was present, no terms were finally agreed upon, the second meeting, however, at which BRECKINRIDGE officiated, conditions were accepted and papers signed.
Gen. JOHNSTON, on the first day, probably learned what Gen. SHERMAN’s terms were. After full consultation with JEFF DAVIS, who was at Hillsboro, he concluded to accept them, taking BRECKINRIDGE with him, however, to draw up the papers.

This important conference was held at the solicitation of the rebel general, who, on the 4th inst., sent by flag of truce a request for a cessation of hostilities, until Gen. GRANT could be sent for. Gen. SHERMAN answered immediately by saying, that if the surrender of his army was the object of such a truce, he was competent to attend to such wants; but if anything else was desired, he wished to know it, when he would decide whether or not it would be necessary to send for the Lieutenant-General. He was informed that he, Gen. SHERMAN, was ready to meet him at any time to confer on the subject of his wants. This offer was promptly accepted, and, through WADE HAMPTON, the point of meeting was agreed upon. At Mr. JAMES BENNETT’s, a little hut on the left of the Chapel Hill Road, five miles from Durham’s Station and thirty from Raleigh, the memorable meeting took place. Gen. SHERMAN was accompanied by his right-hand man, his able Chief-Engineer, Col. O.M. POE, and Gen. HARRY, with others of his staff, and met Gen. JOHNSTON, with Major JOHNSTON and Capt. HAMPTON, of his staff. Both generals were accompanied by their cavalry generals,


After the more important questions had been settled, Gens. SHERMAN and JOHNSTON conversed freely and frankly. Gen. SHERMAN said, and Gen. JONHSTON fairly admitted, that the grand Army of the Mississippi was the best army ever marshaled. “Why,” said JOHNSTON, “my engineers, my officers and the people of the South Carolina all insisted upon it, that no army could ever penetrate Salkahatchie Swamps, and you have not only marched your army through it, but corduroyed and bridged it for miles, and then drew after you your immense supply trains. The like could not have been done by any other army.”

Gen. WADE HAMPTON’s actions and conduct in the light of such a manly and candid admission, are suggestive of his hatred of the people who elevate and dignify the laboring classes, and thorough fanaticism in his notions of Southern superiority and chivalry. He denied that the South was conquered or even worsted, and fully reannounced the theory that one Southern man could whip three Northern men. We believe four years of war have, at least, reduced the odds, even in his opinion, from five to three. During the interview of the two Generals, Col. POE and Major JOHNSTON, Chief Engineers of the two armies, had a long and friendly interview. Major JOHNSTON expressed his admiration for the engineering ability manifested by SHERMAN’s army in its march through South Carolina. The two officers questioned each other about their departments, and at the rebel engineer’s request, POE showed him our plan of building pontoons. Major JOHNSON proved himself a thorough gentleman, and as he parted from Major POE, expressed a hope that they would soon meet under more favorable circumstances. In speaking of the armies in the Southwest, SHERMAN inquired where Gen. WILSON with his cavalry was. “He is at Columbia, Georgia,” replied Johnson, “and I wish for God’s sake that you would stop him, for he is raiding all through that country, tearing everything to the devil.” Gen. SHERMAN then showed JOHNSON a dispatch he had just received from GILMORE, saying that POTTER with a force of infantry and cavalry was finishing the work of devastation in South Carolina. SHERMAN forestalled JOHNSTON’s request to have that stopped, by saying that he thought it would not hurt that people to bear a still heavier burden. “Let POTTER burn a little longer,” said he. Gen. BRECKINRIDGE was morose and reticent. He showed plainly how deep was his humiliation. He conversed, however, with those who addressed him, and to Gen. SHERMAN, in a discussion as to the slavery question, made this remarkable confession. “The discussion of the slavery question is at an end. The amendment to the Constitution forever forbidding slavery is perfectly fair, and will be accepted in that spirit by the people of the South.” If this is the feeling of the class he particularly represents, we hall it with gladness.

The news of the assassination of Mr. LINCOLN was received by Gen. SHERMAN while at KILPATRICK’s headquarters, on his way to the first day’s meeting. We have it from Gen. SHERMAN himself, that Gen. JOHNSTON was shocked, and manifested as much feeling and concern as an intimate friend would have done. And well he might, for the exasperated soldiers of the Union army would have desolated the land from the right to the left. The rebel chieftain expressed himself deeply pained at the unfortunate event. He was told that it would be politic in him to publicly disclaim any connection with or knowledge of the deed, or the conduct of our army could not be answered for.

Posted in Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, John C. Breckinridge, Joseph Johnston, Wade Hampton, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment

April 19, 1865: Wade Hampton won’t give up

Wade Hampton III

Wade Hampton writes to Jefferson Davis to tell him that he plans to fight on across the Mississippi, and if necessary to go to Mexico to avoid ever surrendering. ” I shall never take the ‘oath of allegiance.’” In fact, he’ll be back as governor of South Carolina a decade or so, thanks to a campaign of violent disenfranchisement of black voters.

Official Records:

HILLSBOROUGH, April 19, 1865.
His Excellency President DAVIS:

MY DEAR SIR: Having seen the terms upon which it is proposed to negotiate, I trust that I may be pardoned for writing to you in relation to them. Most of our officers look only at the military side of the picture at present, but you will regard it in other aspects also. The military situation is very gloomy, I admit, but it is by no means desperate, and endurance and determination will produce a change. There are large numbers of the Army of Northern Virginia who have escaped, and of these many will return to our standard if they are allowed to enter the cavalry service. Many of the cavalry who escaped will also join us if they find that we are still making head against the enemy.

There are now not less than 40,000 to 50,000 men in arms on this side of the Mississippi; on the other there are as many more. Now the question presents itself, shall we disband these men at once, or shall we endeavor [to] concentrate them? If we disband we give up at once and forever all hope of foreign intervention. Europe will say, and say justly, “Why should we interfere if you choose to re-enter the Union?” but if we keep any organization, however small, in the field, we give Europe the opportunity of aiding us.

The main reason urged for negotiation is to spare the infliction of any further suffering on the people. Nothing could be more fallacious than this reasoning. No suffering which can be inflicted by the passage over our country of the Yankee armies can equal what would fall on us if we return to the Union. In this latter event I look for a war between the United States and England and France, when we of the South, under a more rigorous conscription than has yet obtained here, shall be forced to fight by the side of our own negroes and under Yankee States in this war, and we shall live under a base and vulgar tyranny. No sacrifice would be too great to escape this train of horrors, and I think it far better for us to fight to the extreme limits of our country rather than to reconstruct the Union upon any terms.

If we cannot use our infantry here, let it disband, calling upon them for volunteers for the cavalry, collect all our mounted force, and move toward the Mississippi. When we cross that river we can get large accessions to the cavalry, and we can hold Texas. As soon as forces can be organized and equipped, send this heavy cavalry force into the country of the enemy, and they will soon show that we are not conquered. If I had 20,000 mounted men here I could force Sherman to retreat in twenty days. Give me a good force of cavalry and I will take them safely across the Mississippi, and if you desire to go in that direction it will give me great pleasure to escort you. My own mind is made up as to my course. I shall fight as long as my Government remains in existence; when that ceases to live I shall seek some other country, for I shall never take the “oath of allegiance. ”

I am sorry that we paused to negotiate, for to my apprehension no evil can equal that of a return to the Union. I write to you, my dear sir, that you may know the feelings which actuate many of the officers of my command. They are not subdued, nor do they despair. For myself I beg to express my heartfelt sympathy with you, and to give you the assurance that my confidence in your patriotism has never been shaken. If you will allow me to do so, I can bring to your support many strong arms and brave hearts-men who will fight to Texas, and who, if forced from that State, will seek refuge in Mexico rather than in the Union.

With my best wishes, I am, very respectfully and truly, yours,

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April 18, 1865: Sherman’s terms for Johnston

William Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman, having told everyone he planned to give Johnston the same terms that Grant gave Lee, sends this bombshell to Washington. Not only has he accepted the surrender of Johnston’s army, he has recognized the state governments of the southern states and guaranteed amnesty to all the Confederates. This is not going to go well.

Official Records:

In the Field, Raleigh, N. C., April 18, 1865.
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT or
Major-General HALLECK,
Washington, D. C.:

GENERAL: I inclose herewith a copy of an agreement made this day between General Joseph E. Johnston and myself, which, if approved by the President of the United States, will produce peace from the Potomac and the Rio Grande. Mr. Breckinridge was present at our conference in his capacity as major-general, and satisfied me of the ability of General Johnston to carry out to the full extent the terms of this agreement, and if you will get the President to simply indorse the copy and commission me to carry out the terms, I will follow them to the conclusion. You will observe that it is an absolute submission of the enemy to the lawful authority of the United States, and dispersed his armies absolutely, and the point to which I attach most importance is that the dispersion and disbandment of these armies is done in such a manner as to prevent their breaking up into guerrilla bands. On the other hand, we can retain just as much of an army as we please.

I agreed to to the mode and manner of the surrender of arms set forth, as it gives the States the means of repressing guerrillas, which we could not expect them to do if we stripped them of all arms. Both Generals Johnston and Breckinridge admitted that slavery was dead, and I could not insist on embracing it in such a paper, because it can be made with the states in detail. I know that all the men of substance South sincerely want peace, and I do not believe they will resort to war again during this century. I have no doubt that they will in the future be perfectly subordinate to the laws of the United States.

The moment my action in this matter is approved I can spare five corps, and will ask for orders to leave General Schofield here with the Tenth Corps, and to march myself with the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-third Corps, via Burkeville and Gordonsville, to Frederick or Hagerstown, there to be paid and mustered out. The question of finance is now the chief one, and every soldier and officer not needed should be got home at work.

I would like to be able to begin the march north by May 1. I urge on the part of the President speedy action, as it is important to get the Confederate armies to their homes as well as our own.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.
[Inclosure Numbers 1.]

Memorandum or basis of agreement made this 18th day of April, A. D. 1865, near Durham’s Station, in the State of North Carolina, by and between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate army, and Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the army of the United States in North Carolina, both present.

First. The contending armies now in the field to maintain the status quo until notice is given by the commanding general of any one to its opponent, and reasonable time, say forty-eight hours, allowed.

Second. The Confederate armies now in existence to be disbanded and conducted to their several State capitals, there to deposit their arms and public property in the State arsenal, and each officer and man to execute and file an agreement to cease from acts of war and to abide the action of both State and Federal authority. The number of arms and munitions of war to be reported to the Chief of Ordnance at Washington City, subject to the future action of the Congress of the United States, and in the meantime to be used solely to maintain peace and order within the borders of the States, respectively.

Third. The recognition by the Executive of the United States of the several State governments on their officers and legislatures taking the oaths prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, and where conflicting State governments have resulted from the war the legitimacy of all shall be submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Fourth. The re-establishment of all the Federal courts in the several States, with powers as defined by the Constitution and laws of Congress.

Fifth. The people and inhabitants of all the States to be guaranteed, so far as the Executive can, their political rights and franchises, as well as their rights of person and property, as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States, respectively.

Sixth. The Executive authority of the Government of the United States not to disturb any of the people by reason of the late war so long as they live in peace and quiet, abstain from acts of armed hostility, and obey the laws in existence at the place of their residence.

Seventh. In general terms, the war to cease, a general amnesty, as far as the Executive of the United States can command, on condition of the disbandment of the Confederate armies, the distribution of the arms, and the resumption of peaceful pursuits by the officers and men hitherto composing said armies.

Not being fully empowered by our respective principals to fulfill these terms, we individually and officially pledge ourselves to promptly obtain the necessary authority and to carry out the above programme.

Major-General, Commanding Army United States in North Carolina.
General, Commanding C. S. Army in North Carolina.

Posted in Henry Halleck, Joseph Johnston, Reconstruction, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment

April 17, 1865: Proposed surrender terms

John H. Reagan

John Reagan, Postmaster-General of the Confederacy, proposes terms for Johnston’s surrender. I guess at this point it wasn’t easy finding major cabinet members.

APRIL 17, 1865.

As the avowed motive of the Government of the United States for the prosecution of the existing war with the Confederate States is to secure a reunion of all the States under one common government, and as wisdom and sound policy alike require that a common government should rest on the consent and be supported by the affections of all the people who compose it, now in order to ascertain whether it be practicable to put an end to the existing war and to the consequent destruction of life and property, having in view the correspondence and conversation which has recently taken place between Major General W. T. Sherman and myself, I propose the following points as a basis of pacification:

First. The disbanding of the military forces of the Confederacy; and,

Second. The recognition of the Constitution and authority of the Government of the United States on the following conditions:

Third. The preservation and continuance of the existing State governments.

Fourth. The preservation to the people of all the political rights and rights of person and property secured to them by the Constitution of the United States and of their several States.

Fifth. Freedom from future prosecution or penalties for their participation in the present war.

Sixth. Agreement to a general suspension of hostilities pending these negotiations.

General Johnston will see that the accompanying memorandum omits all reference to details and to the necessary action of the States and the preliminary reference of the proposition to General Grant for his consent to the suspension of hostilities, and to the Government of the United States for its action. He will also see that I hae modified the first article, according to his sugestion, by omitting the refernce to the consent of the President of the Confederate States and to his employing his good offices to secure the acquiescence of the several States to this scheme of adjustment and pacification. This may be done at a proper subsequent time.


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April 16, 1865: Working out a meeting

John Cabell Breckinridge
John Cabell Breckinridge


Johnston is trying to arrange a meeting with Confederate secretary of war Breckinridge, while Sherman is waiting to hear back from Johnston.

Official Records:

GREENSBOROUGH, April 16, 1865.

Your immediate presence is necessary, in order that I should be able to confer with you.



LEXINGTON, April 16, 1865.
General J. E. JOHNSTON:

I am about to start on a train for Jamestown depot. Hope there will be a car to meet me on the other side of the break.

Secretary of War.


GREENSBOROUGH, April 16, 1865.

Shall I send you a train at Jamestown? State when.



MOREHEAD CITY, N. C., April 16, 1865.
(Received 10. 45 a. m. 18th.)
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT, Washington:

The following is a copy of a telegram just received from General Sherman. I send it to you as he has directed me to keep you advised of his movements by every opportunity:

General EASTON,
New Berne:

The capture of Selma is also announced in rebel papers. I expect every hour an answer from General Johnston, but shall start to-morrow toward Ashborough unless he makes clear and satisfactory terms. You have better hold yourself prepared to give clear and satisfactory terms. You have better hold yourself prepared to give us forage here when the railroad is done, as we have enough provision on hand, but send nothing this side of Goldsborough till ordered by myself, or some army commander.


Brevet Major-General.

Posted in John C. Breckinridge, Joseph Johnston, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment

April 15, 1865: Informing Sherman of Lincoln’s death


Stanton writes to Sherman to inform him of Lincoln’s assassination, and to warn him that another conspirator is said to be after Sherman.

Official Records:

Washington City. April 15, 1865 – 12. 10 p. m.
(Sent 1. 40 p. m.)
Major-General SHERMAN,

President Lincoln was murdered about 10 o’clock last night in his private box at Ford’s Theater in this city, by an assasin who shot him through the head with a pistol ball. About the same hour Mr. Seward’s house was entered by another assassin, who stabbed the Secretary in several places, but it is thought he may possibly recover; but his son Frederick will probably die of wounds received from the assassin. The assassin of the President leaped from the box, brandishing a dagger, exclaiming, Sic semper tyrannis! and that now Virginia was revenged. Mr. Lincoln fell senseless from his seat, and continued in that state until twenty-two minutes after 7 o’clock, at which time he breathed his last. General Grant was published to be at the theater, but fortunately did not go. Vice-President Johnson now becomes President, and will take the oath of office and assume the duties to-day.

I have no time to add more than to say that I find evidence that an assassin is also on your track, and I beseech you to be more heedful than Mr. Lincoln was of such knowledge.

Secretary of War.


WASHINGTON, D. C., April 15, 1865.
Major-General SHERMAN:

It has been stated that when an assassin was chosen to kill Mr. Seward one also was sworn to murder you. His name was said to be Clark. He is about feet nine inches high, rather slender, high cheek bones, low forehead, eyes dark and sunken, very quiet, seldom or never speaks in company unless spoken to, has a large dark-brown mustache and large long goatee, hair much darker than whiskers, complexion rather sallow; while in Paris, March 12, wore dark-gray clothes, a wide-awake slouched hat. He is a Texan by birth, and has a very determined look. He had a confederate, whose name was Johnson, but no description of him is given.

Major-General and Chief of Staff.

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April 14, 1865: Johnston wants to parley

Gen. Joseph Johnston

Johnston writes to Sherman requesting a “temporary suspension of active operations”, and Sherman responds that he can offer him the same terms Grant gave Lee.

Official Records:

In the Field, April 14, 1865.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN,
Commanding U. S. Forces:

GENERAL: The results of the recent campaign in Virginia have changed the relative military condition of the belligerents. I am therefore induced to address you in this form the inquiry, whether, in order to stop the further effusion of blood and devastation of property, you are willing to make a temporary suspension of active operations, and to communicate to Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding the Armies of the United States, the request that he will take like action in regard to other armies; the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


[Indorsement to General Sherman's handwriting.]

Received April 14, 12 night. Answered same hour.

In the Field, Raleigh, N. C., April 14, 1865.
General J. E. JOHNSTON,
Commanding Confederate Army:

GENERAL: I have this moment received your communication of this date. I am fully empowered to arrange with you any terms for the suspension of further hostilities as between the armies commanded by you and those commanded by myself, and will be willing to confer with you to that end. I will limit the advance of my main column to-morrow to Morrisville, and the cavalry to the University, and expect that you will also maintain the present position of your forces until each has notice of a failure to agree.

That a basis of action may be had, I undertake to abide by the same terms and conditions as were made by Generals Grant and Lee at Appomattox Court-House, on the 9th instant, relative to our two armies; and, furthermore, to obtain from General Grant an order to suspend the movement of any troops from the direction on Virginia. General Stoneman is under my command, and my order will suspend any devastation or destruction contemplated by him. I will add that I really desire to save the people of North Carolina the damage they would sustain by the march of this army through the central or western parts of the State.

I am, with respect, your obedient servant,

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April 13, 1865: Sherman in Raleigh

Sherman in Atlanta, 1864

Sherman takes Raleigh, and Johnston continues to retreat in front of him.

Official Records:

RALEIGH, N. C., April 13, 1865.
(Received 7 p. m. 15th.)
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT,
City Point, Va.:

We entered Raleigh this morning. Johnston has retreated westward. * I shall move to Asheville [Ashborough] and Salilsbury or Charlotte. I hope Sheridan is coming this way with his cavalry. If I can bring Johnston to a stand I will soon fix him. The people here had not heard of the surrender of Lee, and hardly credit it. All well.


Posted in Joseph Johnston, North Carolina, Sherman's March, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment

April 12, 1865: Sherman will pursue Johnston

Gen. Joseph Johnston

Sherman responds to the news of Lee’s surrender with a promise to pursue Johnston to Raleigh. He says he’ll offer the same terms Grant did, which would be a good idea.

Official Records:

In the Field, Smithfield, N. C., April 12, 1865 – 5 a. m.
(Received 2. 20 p. m. 14th.)
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT,
Commanding Armies of the United States, Virginia:

GENERAL: I have this moment received your telegram announcing the surrender of Lee’s army. I hardly know how to express my feelings, but you can imagine them. The terms you have given Lee are magnanimous and liberal. Should Johnston follow Lee’s example I shall of course grant the same. He is retreating before me on Raleigh, but I shall be there to-morrow. Roads are heavy, but under the inspiration of the news from you we can march twenty-five miles a day. I am now twenty-seven miles from Raleigh, but some of my army is eight miles behind. If Johnston retreats south I will follow him to insure the scattering of his force and capture of the locomotives and cars at Charlotte; but I take it he will surrender at Raleigh. Kilpatrick’s cavalry is ten miles to the south and west of me, viz, on Middle Creek, and I have sent Major Audenried with orders to make for the south and west of Raleigh to impede the enemy if he goes beyond Raleigh. All the infantry is pointed straight for Raleigh by five different roads. The railroad is being repaired from Goldsborough to Raleigh, but I will not aim co carry it farther. I shall expect to hear from General Sheridan in case Johnston does not surrender at Raleigh. With a little more cavalry I would be sure to capture the whole army.

Yours, truly,

Posted in Joseph Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Sherman's March, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment

April 11, 1865: Davis making plans

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis writes to the governor of North Carolina and to Joe Johnston, in charge of his remaining significant forces. He hasn’t heard from Robert E. Lee, but pretty clearly knows what happened. Now he wants to plan the next move.

Official Records:

GREENSBOROUGH, N. C., April 11, 1865.
Governor Z. B. VANCE,
Raleigh, N. C.:

I have no official report, but scouts, said to be reliable, and whose statements were circumstances and corroborative, represent the disaster as extreme. I have not heard from General Lee since the 6th instant, and have little or no hope from his army as an organized body. I expected to visit you at Raleigh, but am accidently prevented from executing that design, and would be very glad to see you here if you can come at once, or to meet you elsewhere in North Carolina at a future time. We must redouble our efforts to meet prevented from executing that design, and would be very glad to see you here if you can come at once, or to meet you elsewhere in North Carolina at a future time. We must redouble our efforts to meet present disaster. An army holding its position with determination to fight on, and manifestest ability to maintain the struggle, will attract all the scattered soldiers and daily rapidly gather strength. Moral influence is wanting, and I am sure you can do much now to revive the spirit and hope of the people.



GREENSBOROUGH, N. C., April 11, 1865.
General J. E. JOHNSTON,
Headquarters, via Raleigh, N. C.:

The Secretary of War did not join me at Danville; is expected here this afternoon. As your situation may render best, I will go to your headquarters immediately after the arrival of the Secretary of War, or you can come here. In the former case our conference must be without the presence of General Beauregard. I have have no official report from General Lee. The Secretary of War may be able to add to information heretofore communicated. The important question first to be solved is, at what point shall concentration be made, in view of the present position of the two columns of the enemy and the routes which they may adopt to engage your forces before a prompt junction with General Walker and others. Your more intimate knowledge of the data for the solution of the problem deters me from making a specific suggestion on that point.


Posted in Jefferson Davis, Joseph Johnston, Robert E. Lee | Leave a comment