By mid-May 1863 two brigades, those of Brigadier-General S.R. Gist and Brigadier-General W.H.T. Walker, had left the Atlantic coast to reinforce Confederate forces in Mississippi. The departure of these two brigades, pending transfer of more troops, and reallocation of heavy guns left many in South Carolina and Georgia feeling nervous. Were their needs being overlooked, again?
Congressman William Porcher Miles, along with others to include Charleston Mayor Charles Macbeth, pressured Richmond to reverse the shift of troops and resources. On May 13, 1863, Secretary of War James Seddon responded to these demands:
Gentlemen: Your telegrams remonstrating against the orders of the Department withdrawing troops from Charleston for the defense of Vicksburg and the Mississippi have been received with much concern and have caused anxious inquiry and reflection. You cannot doubt that the utmost solicitude is felt for the adequate defense and protection of your city, both for its intrinsic importance and the political significance that attaches to it, and that without the gravest consideration neither the apprehensions of its citizens would be awakened nor any portion of its gallant defenders be withdrawn. We are not however, unfortunately, so supplied with forces that we can retain them at all points we would wish to preserve without the sense of insecurity, but are obliged to employ them where great and pressing danger imperatively demands their presence and succor.
Now, while we can understand and appreciate the anxieties felt by yourselves and your fellow-citizens, yet we cannot think they rest on such foundations as ought to deter from the use of the force in your department on a field of more imminent danger and not less importance.
The prestige of your late brilliant victory will itself avail much to deter the enemy. Besides, we have satisfactory assurance that, a large portion of the enemy’s forces has been withdrawn from the vicinity of Charleston–first to North Carolina, and, since the late battle of Chancellorsville, to re-enforce Hooker. The near approach, too, of your sickly season and the present sultry weather give added confidence of no serious danger of attack on Charleston.
The enemy cannot have more than 10,000 or 15,000 troops at the at-most near you. Now, on inspection of the last returns (near the close of April) from your military department, it appears that after all deductions from the number of effectives then returned for the troops sent back to North Carolina and ordered to Mississippi, there will be left for the defense of Charleston and Savannah more than 15,000 troops of all arms; of these I have directed 5,000 should be tried infantry. Surely, with this force you can be in no serious danger, considering the superiority of spirit and valor in your soldiers and the advantages of intrenchments, from a force probably not equal, certainly not superior, of the Yankee enemy.
This being the real condition, I beg you to reflect on the vital importance of the Mississippi to our cause, to South Carolina, and to Charleston itself. Scarce any point in the Confederacy can be deemed more essential, for the “cause of each is the cause of all,” and the sundering of the Confederacy would be felt as almost a mortal blow to the most remote parts. Surely, if even some risk were incurred the end would justify it. You do not know, and I could be scarcely justified in stating, the causes that preclude succor from General Lee’s army and other points to General Pemberton, but you may rely upon it that only on the fullest consideration and under the gravest necessity is the draft made on Charleston and persisted in, despite the earnest remonstrance of gentlemen so highly esteemed as yourselves.
I can only add, in conclusion, that I would advise the organization, at least by mustering and arming, of all citizens among you capable of bearing arms. A force very effective behind intrenchments might thus be added to your military defenders.
In the middle of 1863, Seddon sounded a lot like General Albert S. Johnston had in the winter of 1862. Maybe not the same assessment, but similar conclusions. Seddon, and by extension the top leadership in Richmond, felt the Mississippi had priority of effort. Charleston, after all, was under much less pressure. A recent victory had set the Federals back on their heels. He felt for sure the Yankees had shifted troops north to bolster the Army of the Potomac after defeat at Chancellorsville. His estimate of the Federal strength was not far off, as returns dated May 10 indicated only 16,259 men in the Department of the South (although that was just a temporary “dip” in numbers). And, as he put it, the “sickly season and the present sultry weather” would dissuade the Federals from major operations.
Sure, we know well with a century and a half of hindsight that Virginia and Mississippi were the important sectors at that stage of the war. No disputes there, save those South Carolinians. But it is that last paragraph that stands out to me – “...I would advise the organization, at least by mustering and arming, of all citizens among you capable of bearing arms.” That sounds close to Johnston’s call for the “greatest effort.”
General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Department would have to defend Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia with the meager resources on hand. And at the same time expect to forward more troops as required to shore up lines elsewhere. What was not expected is Federal troops opposing Beauregard rose to 24,737 troops by early June. And the Federals were indeed planning offensive operations in spite of the summer weather.
More importantly, consider Seddon’s response here in context of other happenings at the close of May and early June in Mississippi and Virginia.