Tag Archives: P.G.T. Beauregard

“Again, there has been great abuse in the system”: Hampton vs. Beaureagard over cavalry transfers

Through the winter of 1864, General P.G.T. Beauregard argued with authorities in Richmond about allocations of recruits and conscripts.  At the same time General Robert E. Lee and others in Virginia pressed, with success, for fresh cavalry regiments to replace worn out South Carolina formations.  Although orders from Richmond called for the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th South Carolina Cavalry to Virginia (the first three regiments to form Brigadier-General Matthew Butler’s Brigade).  But movement of those units lagged well behind orders, and was not accomplished even by early spring.  Major-General Wade Hampton, who’d taken leave in part to expedite the movement, was none too happy with Beauregard over the matter.  Writing on April 4, Hampton reported his frustrations to General Samuel Cooper in Richmond:

Last night I returned from Charleston, where I had gone to see General Beauregard as to the movement of the cavalry. As my last letter informed you, I wrote to General Beauregard on my arrival here, inclosing the order of His Excellency the President, and requesting that all the troops mentioned might be made ready to move. When General Beauregard returned from Florida I went down to consult when the troops could move, and in what order he wished to relieve them from duty. To this he replied, that if this cavalry was taken away the whole State between Charleston and Savannah would be left entirely open, but that they were under my orders, and I could take them at any time.

As this seemed to throw the whole responsibility of the withdrawal of these troops upon me, and made me in fact answerable for the picket-lines of General Beauregard, I declined to order the troops to move. I told General Beauregard that my instructions were to “take charge of the movement” of these troops, and that he must, of course, indicate what portion he could spare first. He then ordered Dunovant’s regiment relieved, and that it should report to me. This regiment, like all the others, is badly equipped, and I fear it cannot get off from this point before the 15th instant. Colonel Dunovant is using every effort to expedite the movement. In order to free myself from the position in which I appeared to be placed, that of throwing open the State, I wrote the communication of which the inclosed is a copy, after sending a dispatch to you, saying that “Dunovant’s regiment would move first. General Beauregard desires other regiments to remain till those from Virginia arrive. What are your orders?” No reply came to this; but after my letter of the 1st instant General Jordan informed me that under the order he had received from Richmond he thought these regiments should move at once, and that he would therefore direct them to rendezvous here immediately. I asked that they might do so by the 15th if possible, and he says that they shall. In the mean time I am endeavoring to obtain such equipments as are absolutely necessary for the troops, and I shall move the regiments on as fast as they can be made ready. I hope all difficulty as to the withdrawal of the troops is settled, and I trust that you will approve my action in the matter. There were other difficulties which met me in Charleston, not so important as the one just mentioned, but very vexatious. Orders have been issued for each captain to reduce his company to 80 men, instructing the captains in carrying out the order to retain on their rolls a fair proportion of their dismounted, absent, or sick men, so that instead of all the companies taking with them effective men they will have a portion not fit for duty.

Again, there has been great abuse in the system of details and transfers. General Jordan claims the right to transfer men, not only without but against the consent of their commanding officers. Cases came under my observation where strong, able young soldiers, who desired easy places, were so transferred, one, indeed, transferred, not detailed, by Colonel Rhett, as his orderly. This is all done before the troops are ordered to report to me, so I can do nothing, but I hope that you will either remedy this evil or give me the power to do so. One captain informed me that 30 men (I think that was the number) were detailed from his company, and he was threatened with arrest by General Jordan for protesting against the transfer by Colonel Rhett of one of his men as orderly. If you will allow the captains to select the men to go with them to Virginia, and order all left behind to be sent at once to the conscript camp, an efficient body of men will be carried on, a great abuse will be broken up here, and the men who are now trying to shirk their duty will be punished. I particularly desire to reach these men, and I respectfully request from you orders that will enable me to effect this object. The Charleston Light Dragoons is a fine company, composed of gentlemen, and from this company very large details have been made. It will be hard to fill its ranks again with the same material, and I recommend that the captain be authorized to retain the maximum number in it. I think the law fixes this number at 125, and it would have been better to let all the companies that could do so take that number, as service in Virginia will soon reduce them. Amongst the troops to go on is a very fine squadron, commanded by Capt. William L. Trenholm, who has contributed greatly to its organization and equipment. The squadron was about to be merged into a regiment, of which Captain Trenholm was to have been colonel or lieutenant-colonel. From all the officers in Charleston qualified to judge I heard but one opinion expressed of Captain Trenholm, that he was an admirable officer, and I recommend his appointment as lieutenant-colonel, should he be assigned to the Holcombe Legion. My leave of absence expires on the 16th instant, and I shall leave here then, unless you deem my presence necessary to get the troops off. I hope all will be able to start by the 20th, and if you wish me to remain I beg you to send your order by telegraph. Owing to the deficiency of saddles, I shall have to send the horses in charge of detachments, making the rest of the men go by railroad, as you proposed. The men who have recently had furloughs will take on the horses, and the dismounted men, left to go by railroad, can then have ten days furlough. I have established some depots of forage, and I hope to have them on the whole line.

I’ve pulled Hampton’s lengthy account out of respect for context.  This report included a follow up request to retain scouts from the 1st and 2nd South Carolina (which were ordered to South Carolina, as replacements for the fresh regiments), in Virginia to aid the transition.

To be fair, we should also appreciate Beauregard’s problem.  He faced an adversary who used coastal waterways to move about the theater.  Federal raiding parties might appear anywhere between Murrell’s Inlet and St. John’s Inlet.  To fend off such threats, Beauregard needed a strong force of cavalry to patrol and picket.  However, Hampton did have a point with respect to the maintenance of these units.  Far too many were dismounted and unable to perform the duties of cavalry.  And 125 man companies must have seemed like regiments to some of the depleted commands in Virginia.

Hampton’s report reflects the friction between Confederate commanders caused by different theaters contending for resources.  Was there a more efficient way to allocate manpower in the Confederacy?  I submit the heart of that question was if any such plan practical for implementation.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 1258-9.)

Beauregard’s simple code key

Although espionage in the Civil War era tended to be low on the technical scale, say compared to World War II and our modern era, leaders had to worry about captured or otherwise intercepted correspondence.  While telegraph and “wig-wag” communicators often encrypted messages in cypher, to provide a level of security.  US Army signal troops used a cipher disk to facilitate such work:

And the Confederates had their own, simpler, version.  As with any encryption technique, this added time to the transmission of messages.  While fine for daily correspondence, not something a general would want to deal with on a busy battlefield.

Another problem with this disk was security of the cipher itself.  Notice the serial number in the reproduction above.  These were issued by number and tracked by number to account for each.  Not something that every signal operator received.  Only those in positions that rated having a cipher.

In the spring of 1864, General P.G.T. Beauregard needed some means to correspond via encrypted messages to subordinates.  But some of his subordinates lacked access to the cipher disks, or men with cipher disks.  So Beauregard offered his own system:

Hdrs. Dept. of S. Carolina, Georgia, and Florida,
Charleston, S. C., April 7, 1864.

Maj. Gen. Patton Anderson,
Baldwin, Fla.:
General: I inclose you herewith the following simple cipher for future use in important telegrams to these headquarters. For very important telegrams the diplomatic cipher should be used. Please inform me of its reception.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. T. Beauregard,
General, Commanding.

The inclosed cipher was:


Very simple.  Not being a code-breaker myself, I cannot attest to how effective this might be.  But I imagine for the intended purpose of encrypting messages sent via telegraph or courier, this would suffice.   Not far removed from the “Secret Magic Decoder Ring.”

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 406-7.)

“The privilege has not been an abuse”: Beauregard responds to conscription criticism

In January, I discussed a request from General Robert E. Lee in regard to the distribution of conscripts during the winter of 1864 – particularly that those be equitably distributed to replenish losses in the foremost field armies.  Colonel John S. Preston, Superintendent of the Bureau of Conscription, added to this request with his complaint about practices and abuses in South Carolina and Georgia.  There was some justification to Preston’s complaint.  A report from Major John M. Otey, Assistant Adjutant-General for General P.G.T. Beauregard, dated January 23, 1864 included this table showing the aggregate present and absent strength of Georgia regiments:

A couple of those infantry regiments might rebuild a brigade in Virginia.  Although some of these units had seen action outside Charleston during the previous summer, the casualties were relatively light compared to … say… Gettysburg or Chickamauga.  And at the same time, as Preston indicated, these regiments benefited favorably from the volunteer system, as they remained close to home.

But to some extent Beauregard could claim some justification with these big regiments.  Throughout the summer and fall of 1863, he pressed for reinforcements.  Although some arrived, the expanse of the department with threats all along the coast called for more.  In the absence of reinforcements from other theaters, Beauregard benefited from emergency calls by the states for reserve regiments with limited service terms.

Now the carry over was criticism from Virginia.  Coincidentally or not, on the same day of fighting at Olustee, Beauregard’s headquarters issued General Orders No. 25.  Then on the next day, February 21, he responded to the inquiries from Richmond:

An order herewith, marked A, will show to what extent I have taken steps to give effect to the views of His Excellency, but it is proper to add that I had contemplated and given instructions looking to such an order some time since, and that such an order would have been issued previously but for the constant movement of troops in this department for months past. I feel satisfied the order will work satisfactorily, and trust will have the full approval of the War Department.

I cannot return these papers, however, without some remarks, in justice to myself and the officers of my command, in connection with the communications of Colonel Preston, both of the 9th April, 1863, and 15th January, 1864.

With that, Beauregard proceeded to debunk claims made by Preston over the span of several pages.   These were, if I may, secondary points of order to the larger issue.  “Exhibit A,” as he labeled it, was General Orders No. 25.  As he was apt to do in such exchanges, Beauregard saved his best ammunition for the end:

Colonel Preston, it will be observed, regarded the State as drained of all conscripts between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, and yet it is believed that a number of that class of men are included among those who have joined companies in this department as volunteers; doubtless in many instances because they feared conscription, but who had previously been able to elude enrollment. The extension of the act and orders regulating conscription, to include all between thirty-five and forty years of age, gave the regiments and companies in this State material accessions of volunteers at once, in January and February, 1863, but ever since that time there has been volunteering to a considerable extent, apparently, of men under circumstances which induced me to believe that the privilege has not been an abuse, but that in that way there have been drawn into the Army men who otherwise would have escaped conscription to an indefinite time. The troops were wanted here, and there have never been more men in the department than were actually needed.

In regard to the reserve regiments, at around the same time Lee raised concerned, Beauregard sought authority to directly enroll those men.  Attached as “exhibit B” was a January 21 letter to General Samuel Cooper in Richmond:

In three weeks the time of service of the South Carolina reserve regiments will have expired and a material reduction of my forces will take place. Unless otherwise directed, I shall construe the circular from your office, of the 8th instant, to authorize me to send officers to these regiments before the expiration of their time of service, to enroll all persons subject to conscription, as there must be material loss of time if those troops must pass through the camp of instruction at Columbia before I can again have their services.

This did, of course, provide a source of conscripts, though not in overwhelming numbers.

Beauregard’s General Orders No. 25 were straight forward.  The “meat” of it, in paragraph I, capped the number of men authorized per unit:

I. Companies of artillery, cavalry, and infantry in this department will at once be reduced to the maximum number allowed by law, to wit:

1. For a company of cavalry, 5 sergeants, 4 corporals, 1 farrier, 1 blacksmith, 2 musicians, and 80 privates.

2. For a company of heavy artillery or infantry, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 2 musicians, and 125 privates.

3. For a light battery of 6 guns, 1 sergeant-major or first sergeant, 1 quartermaster-sergeant, 6 sergeants, 12 corporals, 1 guidon, 2 artificers, 2 buglers, and 125 privates.

4. For a light battery of 4 guns, 1 sergeant-major or first sergeant, 1 quartermaster-sergeant, 4 sergeants, 8 corporals, 2 buglers, 1 guidon, 2 artificers, and 125 privates.

The rest of that lengthy order provided for allowances for absences, system for cross-leveling, a board of officers to oversee the process, and a thirty-day deadline for commanders to comply.  Arguably Beauregard had addressed the abuses cited.  However, in April Preston was only able to report an addition of 698 men to the army from South Carolina (compared to 495 in December, 929 in January, and 878 in February).

But the broader issue remained.  The Confederacy lacked manpower.  In his April 30 report, Preston stated (excluding North Carolina submitting incomplete returns and no figures from the Trans-Mississippi):

From the reports now in this Bureau, it appears that for the months of December, January, February, and March, 7,513 conscripts were assigned to the Army, 2,325 volunteers were assigned to the Army, 8,306 deserters were returned to the Army–18,144 increase to the Army….

Upon the same reports, exclusive of North Carolina, there are 20,435 conscripts exempted by law and orders, 5,847 conscripts exempted by boards of examination.

The Army of Northern Virgina would report over 33,000 casualties in the Overland Campaign. Such figures lend credence to the “has not army enough” line.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 542 and 623-9; Series IV, Volume 3, Serial 129, page 364.  Also see: Moore, Albert Burton. Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 1996.)