“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.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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

  1. Ultimately, the 4th South Carolina did reduce its ranks as ordered, but the 5th and 6th South Carolina apparently ignored the order in large degree, according to books I have come across, including Saddle Soldiers, which is based on correspondence from Lt. Col. William Stokes of the 4th South Carolina, and Hampton and His Cavalry in ’64, by Edward Wells, a private in Co. K of the 4th South Carolina. And I believe the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry remained in the state to assist with defense.

    1. Indeed! And the “retention” in the 5th and 6th may reflect Hampton’s request for them to remain at the max allowed size (125) to provide for attrition. That of course set against Beauregard’s desire to reorganize some of those “extras” into other formations in SC. One of the reasons I’m following the story line of Butler’s SC regiments through the 150th is how well this reflects the manpower issues in the Confederacy in the last year of the war. And as the “plot thickens”… if Beauregard was against sending SC cavalry to Virginia in Feb-March-April 1864, how did he feel in the summer of that same year when he was in Virginia himself?

    2. I have a hunch Beauregard may have softened his stand a bit once he got up to the Old Dominion.

      Unfortunately for the 4th, they took, in my estimation, the worst beating of the three regiments while in Virginia, and could have used those extra troopers the most.

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