April 27, 1862: Confederates order cotton destroyed

P.G.T. Beauregard

The repulse at Shiloh pushed the Confederate line entirely out of Tennessee, and the fall of Island No. 10 opposite New Madrid, MO opened the Mississippi to Union gunboats, probably south almost to Vicksburg, MS. Beauregard, via Van Dorn, ordered the Confederate river navy to take the word to all the planters, and to have them destroy all their cotton to keep it out of Union hands. Both sides would rely on cotton to fund their war efforts, and the south couldn’t afford to let all the cotton along that stretch of the Mississippi be converted into Federal ammunition. No dispatches record what the planters had to say to this, but I suspect they weren’t too pleased. This is one reason why the big plantation owners voted for Bell rather than Breckinridge in 1860.

From the Official Record:

Memphis, Tenn., April 27, 1862.

Captain JOHNSON,


SIR: You will proceed in the steamer furnished for the purpose by the quartermaster along the Mississippi River. You will inform the planters on its banks that the river is now open to the enemy, and that the interests of our country demand that they shall at once destroy all of their cotton. No time is to be lost in the execution of this duty. Should any hesitate or fail to comply with your call upon them, you will yourself take possession of and burn the cotton, taking care to injure no other property.

It is made your duty to see that all of the cotton within reach of the river is destroyed at once. The proprietors will take an account of the amount destroyed, as you will of all which you may have to destroy yourself. These orders are given to you by General Van Dorn under instructions from General Beauregard.

In executing the above orders you will go as far up and down the Mississippi as the gunboats of the enemy will allow; and in the event of your being pursued by them, if you cannot run your boat into a place of security from them, you must, on abandoning, destroy her, to prevent the enemy from getting possession of her.

Very respectfully, yours,


Assistant Adjutant-General.

(Copies to Lieutenant Hill, Captain Lyles, Captain Clendening, Memphis.)

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