“The effective force…is inadequate to the defense of the department”: Hatch calls for reinforcements

When Brigadier-General John Hatch assumed command of the Department of the South, he knew, more or less, the deal he was getting.  But just a few weeks into his tenure, he must have felt the victim of some cruel prank.  On May 13, Hatch sent a letter to Army Headquarters in Washington to complain about the shortage of troops at his disposal:

Headquarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C., May 13, 1864.

Col. E. D. Townsend,
Assistant Adjutant-General :

Colonel: I have the honor to state that the effective force, nominally 17,000 men, left by General Gillmore, is inadequate to the defense of the department. Nearly 4,000 of these men are raw colored troops.

General Gillmore was instructed by General Halleck to send from the department what troops could be spared, and it was added that from a report made by him (General Gillmore) it was supposed the force would be from 7,000 to 11,000 men. The report referred to had been made by General Gillmore before he knew that he would himself leave the department. When the instructions came to send the troops north, the general learned that he was to accompany them, and then found that nearly or quite 20,000 could be spared, and that number was accordingly sent north.

Some cavalry, 4,000 disciplined infantry, and two light artillery companies should be sent here without delay. It would be useless to send mere raw colored troops as they do not add to our efficiency; on the contrary, are an element of weakness.

I would also request a reconsideration of the decision not to call out troops for special service in Florida. I believe a regiment could be raised there that for certain services would be more useful than any troops we have. They might be called militia and be called out for three months. I repeat what I reported to General Gillmore when I was there in command, that the people of Florida wish to be loyal, and would be if they were assisted.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Jno. P. Hatch,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Timing could not have been worse.  While written and sent at a time while the armies still sparred at Spostylvania and Resaca, the letter would not reach Washington for a week or so.  And there were certainly no troops to spare for garrisoning South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida.

The “setup” that Hatch must have felt was two-fold.  From Hatch’s point of view, Gillmore took more troops with him to Virginia than were necessary.  And before leaving, Gillmore suggested that more of the new USCT regiments would serve the department well.  Though in defense of Gillmore, the instructions he received (and belatedly received, we must admit) requested as many troops as could be spared.  And those troops went into action in the theater of action where Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant wanted pressure on the Confederates – not like they were simply shuffled to some unimportant tasks.

But Hatch was just a temporary commander, until Major-General John G. Foster arrived.  But many of Hatch’s proposals had merit and promoted after his tenure was over (and he was posted to command the Hilton Head district).  In this letter, he’d mentioned recruiting Floridians to the Federal ranks.  That effort bore fruit.  In fact, William Strickland, whom I mentioned in an earlier post, took his oath and joined the 2nd Florida Cavalry (US) at this time.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 92.)

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