January 19, 1865: Southern discomfort

Jefferson Davis

The New York Times runs a collection of items from Southern papers critical of Confederate leadership. There’s a very pointed critique of Jefferson Davis. As usual, the Charleston Mercury is appalled at the thought of arming slaves — the editor makes the quite reasonable point that they’re not likely to choose to fight for their own slavery against those who would free them. The problem, according to this source, is that there are so many deserters. Just force them back into the ranks, and the south would have plenty of troops to win.

The Southern papers, the receipt of which we acknowledged yesterday, contain the following interesting matter:



From the Charlotteville (Va.) Chronicle.

If Mr. DAVIS and the court were only going to dash their own brains out, we might rally from the calamity; but they are dragging the whole secession fleet after them. We know that we are told that we must hold up the hands of the Government. We have been told so for nearly four years. And if ever press and people did lend an unquestioning confidence to their rulers — if ever a whole country did place itself implicitly in the hands of the Executive — if ever men and treasures were laid at the feet of one man — if ever ship was surrendered to helmsman — it has been done right here in these Confederate States. The Government is (and has been properly) all in all. Our whole male population was freely tendered. We have permitted it to issue Treasury notes, bonds, certificates of indebtedness, to over $1,500,000,000. We have this year paid 6 per cent. of our whole property in taxes.

We have allowed it to impress horses, wagons, cattle, grain, at nominal prices, until it has left the country almost bare. We have seen Congress laid at its feet without spirit or will of its own. We have seen the constitutional advisers of the President so totally ignored that we have never had a solitary cabinet meeting. We have seen the higher appointments in the army all entirely regulated by the will of Mr. DAVIS. We have seen Gen. PEMBERTON made a Lieutenant-General without a single achievement. We have seen him, under instructions from Richmond, sacrifice the Mississippi Valley and an army of thirty thousand veterans. We have seen New-Orleans fall from incompetent measures to defend it.

We have seen Gen. BRAGG defeated at Missionary Ridge from an untimely division of his army in a fruitless expedition against Knoxville. We have seen this officer, after he had lost the confidence of the country, and was driven from his command by public sentiment, made a sort of director-general of our armies in Richmond. We have seen Gen. JOHNSTON abruptly dismissed from the army in Georgia just when his services were most needed. We have seen Gen. HOOD — a plain, untried young man — advanced to the command in this State, merely to lose Atlanta, after several ill-advised and fearful massacres. We have seen the President repair in person to theatre of his disaster only to inaugurate under the same General a campaign which startled the country in its inception and which has terminated in the investment of Savannah and its garrison, and the bloody victory (?) and defeats of Franklin and Nashville.

We now await with the most painful suspense every breath from Savannah; we hear (through Northern official dispatches certainly) that HOOD has lost sixteen pieces of artillery on one occasion and forty on another, with we know not now many prisoners. We hear from Gen. HOOD’s own lips that in his “victory” at Franklin, he lost thirteen generals, killed, wounded or captured. He has ceased to advance, he has begun to retreat. In the Valley here we have opposed a force of cavalry, armed with nothing but a single-barreled musket, to a superior force of the finest cavalry in the world, armed with sabres, pistols and the seven-shooting Spencer gun.

In the Trans-Mississippi TAYLOR was removed for his Spring campaign, and Gen. KIRBY SMITH, who has not done the first solitary thing, has been buried ingloriously in Northwestern Louisiana during the whole of this eventful year. FORREST, whose military genius fitted him for the most important enterprises has been [command]ing a small body of raiding cavalry. Gen. BRAGO, it is true, was dispatched to check Gen. SHERMAN; it appears so far has not met with no success.

Our chances, our river and harbor defences, our international negotiations, our domestic politics, have been managed in precisely the same extraordinary way. For the first, we have never derived any material benefit from our commanding staples of cotton and tobacco. For the second, the proposition to construct gunboats in the beginning of the war was rejected. For the third, we have not applied to European Powers in the only way that we could reach then, and we have encouraged at the North the Republican politicians against their opponents. For the last, we have, as far as it has been possible under the circumstances, systematically offended one of the great original parties in our midst.

Nearly all things have been done in malign, perverted way; we have been breathing an impure air; we have been nourishing a vicious blood; we have seen with a refracted light; we have prophesied with stammering lips. Oar leader is afflicted with proud-flesh; he [sees] with an oblique eye; his ear has no sense of harmony; he has no idea of proportions. No idea of relation; he is affected with color-blindness; he combines like the kaleidoscope; he sees with the vividness of the madman, but there is a villainous demon within that wrests things out of their places; like some fine instrument in its conception, a chord or a string has been broken, and what should have discourse eloquent music, utters harsh, discordant sounds.


From the Charleston Mercury, Jan. 9.

The Confederacy at this moment is in much the condition of a man who, having more than once got his enemy under him, with his knee upon his breast, and his hand upon his throat, is, while in the act of dealing him his death blow, assailed from behind by one whom he had supposed to be his best friend, whilst the enemy is released from his grasp for the third or fourth time. Staggering upon his legs from repeated blows from behind, confronting his released and enraged antagonist — weakened in strength, shaken in nerve, sick at heart — his efforts all vain, his skill all vain, his success all vain, exhausted by his long struggle, stunned by the foul blows, reeling, he still bears up and endeavors to summon back his ebbing energies. If conquered, he falls not by the force of the enemy in front, but by the unlocked for blows from behind. Yet, had he expected this foul play, could he at any time by one effort have felled this puny creature in his rear. Even yet he might free himself of his presence, and, retreating slowly before his antagonist in front, gradually collect his strength and hurl him back to the ground.

Will he do it? or will he suffer himself to perish by this foul play?


From the Charleeton Mercury.

Remedies are sought for the discouraging effects of repeated mismanagement in the employment of our military resources — in the plans of campaign chosen in Richmond, and the officers appointed to execute them. Remedies are sought for the effects of a systematic failure to exercise discipline and execute military law toward deserters from our armies. Nobody doubts there being men enough in these Confederate States to carry on this war to a successful termination, if the men can be got out, kept out, and properly fought. But men who ought to be in the army, and others who ought to go into the army at this time, are at home, and not in the army. Patent follies and their disastrous consequences have brought despondency upon the people, and license has thinned the ranks of the defenders of the country.

Instead of aiming at radical changes in the causes of the effects under which we suffer and are endangered, men are found who propose the mad remedy of driving our best negro producers into the war, and forcing them to fight. They are to understand that the Yankees are getting the upper hand of us, and that their time of immunity from war is over; they are to choose between fighting with us, the weaker party, or with the stronger party, our enemy. They are are to fight for slavery (or for individual freedom) on our side, or on the side of our enemy, for total and general emancipation of their families, race and people allured by all the fancied luxuries of nothing to do. Independent of law, independent of principle, independent of our institutions, the proposition appear to us as desperate in its absurdity as it is the reckless of everything else. Can Congress find no remedy for the incompetency and mismanagement which is riding us down to ruin. That is the evil from which we must and can escape.


From the Charleston Mercury, Jan. 28.

It is stated that there are one hundred thousand absentees from the armies of the Confederate States. In this Department, we are credibly informed, there is a single corps of twenty-seven thousand on the rolls, which does not turn out seven thousand effective men. These facts support the statement of President DAVIS, made in his Macon speech, upon his return from a review of the sullen Army of the West, after his removal at Gen. JOHNSTON, the bloody repulses of HOOD, and the fall of Atlanta. Why is it that men are not in the ranks and at the front? Will any one say that the people of these Confederate States are not patriotic?

History tells of no struggle for independence in which more general and heroic devotion was ever displayed. Our people have made great exertions in behalf of a great cause. It is the people of these States who, over and over, have lifted out of the perils ensuing from incompetent mal-administration the affairs of the country. It is the incorrigible inter-meddling, mischievous dictation, malignant prejudices and petty partizanship which make sacrifices apparently endless and useless. It is these things which weigh like a pall upon the heart of the country. It is these things which infuse inefficiency every where, and inspire selfishness and indifference. It is these things which are destroying us, and which must be eradicated by the action of Congress.

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