Pointing the Finger
The Johnston Letter of Indictment

     In accordance with a request by General Joseph E. Johnston in the wake of the fall of Vicksburg, the Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederate States, General Samuel Cooper, relieved him of the Department of Tennessee on July 22, 1863. President Jefferson Davis had called into question the officer's conduct in the operations preceding, leading up to the city's capitulation.
     One week earlier on the 15th of July, the Commander in Chief published a thirty four point letter of indictment recapping all that the Confederate Government had expected of their commander and calling into question his responsibility in the surrender of Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton's command.
     By direction of Special Orders No. 275 of November 24, 1862, the Virginian was assigned to the Department of Tennessee covering Western North Carolina, Northern Georgia as well as Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana east of the great river. By virtue of this, General Joseph E. Johnston commanded all the forces within these borders including the armies of Braxton Bragg and Franklin Gardner, commanding at Port Hudson, Louisiana.
     This order had left the general with the authority to maneuver troops from one state to support those in another, or so perhaps it seemed. Since the department itself had been so large, and time constraints both to the department commander as well as the mobility of the armies, tenuous, the authorities in Richmond split the chain of command for all field commanders to report to either the Department or to Richmond using the most expedient for instructions.
     The general was ordered on the 9th of May to take command of the forces in Mississippi personally, if not to give the Confederate soldier bottled up in Vicksburg the hope of a military turn about. It was Johnston's hope of relieving the strangle hold upon the Confederate bastion there, yet he felt his forces were too insufficient to have done so requesting more be sent if he were to accomplish the task.
     There developed a power struggle with the Confederate War Department and Johnston regarding the means necessary to drive Grant's army from taking the last strong hold on the Mississippi River. It was advised that if more troops were indeed necessary that General Bragg's army was still standing by as relief troops. On the 12th of June, Richmond read an understanding that General Johnston did not feel he had the authority to take troops from Bragg's army having been notified previously by the Chief Executive that no more troops could be spared him anywhere. It was becoming plain that the department commander's authority had been tampered with, thus tying his authoritative hands. It had played on the War Department's mind to re-enforce the Vicksburg defenses with troops from Virginia and the Carolinas, but General Lee's notion of invading Pennsylvania prevented Richmond from acting on this, even though the President had alluded to the fact he had sent re-enforcements from the eastern theatre.
     Jefferson Davis considered the situation in Vicksburg so desperate he was appalled over Johnston re-enforcing the army in Tennessee with troops from Mississippi, yet the president was reminded that this occurred only twice; first when a division of cavalry and infantry were sent north upon Major General McClernand and Major General Sherman's abandonment of the siege and the second on the 13th of April when Grant's army had back stepped away from the city. The department commander was simply shifting strength to more vital points along his territory as pressure was relieved.
     From the distance in which Joseph Johnston was ordered to take command in Mississippi, he felt it best with Richmond sharing duel authority over the operations in Tennessee that they make the decision to hold either the state of Tennessee or Mississippi. This was the apprehension of the commanding general for in two separate dispatches to the Confederate War Department, he had mentioned weakening Tennessee would cost the occupation of it. With only the greatest of military blunders on behalf of the federal army would the manpower within this vast department be capable of holding both Tennessee and Mississippi together.

     Twice in dispatches regarding the toggle of troops, Johnston pointed out that the President could not spare anymore. Yes, he would have known best of Bragg's situation in Tennessee, however the President feared the idea of withdrawing more and instructed the general to rely on what he had of the irregular forces he was capable of mustering in and around Mississippi.

     General Joseph Johnston had his hands tied. Richmond itself kept a tight reign on the practical decisions necessary to save both states, and time went against the South in shifting manpower. President Davis in his reprimand had informally charged the department commander with abandoning his district, only insinuating the high crime against his general. In the end, the salvation of Vicksburg was assured only if General Johnston would have shifted a relieving force, if he could have had more troops in the district that responded faster, and that he should have known the importance of the river bastion and over ridden the civil authority residing in the Confederate capital more than a thousand miles away.

Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2004

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwars.net