Monday, August 12, 2013

August 12, 1863: The Diary of John B. Jones

Wartime Richmond, Virginia.
On this day 150 years ago, Confederate war clerk John B. Jones wrote of food supplies, gold being sent out of the Confederacy on blockade runners, and reports of the Battle of Gettysburg, more than a month earlier.
August 12th.—Letters from Georgia to-day assure the government that the grain crops of that State will afford a surplus sufficient for the army, cavalry and all, for 12 months.

Also one from P. Clayton, late Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, censuring the commissary agents in Georgia, who are sent thither from other States, who insult the farmers and encourage speculation.

Mr. Memminger is shipping gold from Wilmington, $20,000 by each steamer, to Bermuda and Nassau. Why is this? Cotton is quite as good as gold, and there are thousands of millions worth of that in the country, which Mr. Memminger might buy, certainly might have bought for Confederate notes, but, in his peculiar wisdom, he would not. And now, the great financier is shipping gold out of the country, thinking, perhaps, it may arrest the depreciation of paper money!

Col. Northrop, Commissary-General, is still urging a diminution of rations, and as our soldiers taken by the enemy fare badly in the North, and as the enemy make a point of destroying all the crops they can when they invade us, and even destroy our agricultural implements and teams, he proposes, in retaliation, to stop meat rations altogether to prisoners in our hands, and give them instead oat gruel, corn-meal gruel, and pea soup, soft hominy, and bread. This the Secretary will not agree to, because the law says they shall have the same as our troops.

I read to-day Gen. Lee’s report of his operations (an outline) in June and July, embracing his campaign in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The enemy could not be attacked advantageously opposite Fredericksburg, and hence he determined to draw him out of his position by relieving the lower valley of the Shenandoah, and, if practicable, transfer the scene of hostilities north of the Potomac.

The movement began on the 3d of June. The divisions of McLaws and Hood (Longstreet’s) marched for Culpepper C. H. They were followed on the 4th and 5th by Ewell’s corps, A. P. Hill’s still occupying our lines at Fredericksburg.

When the enemy discovered the movement (on the 5th), he sent an army corps across the Rappahannock, but this did not arrest Longstreet and Ewell, who reached Culpepper C. H. on the 8th, where they found Gen. Stuart and his cavalry. On the 9th the enemy’s cavalry and a strong force of infantry crossed the Rappahannock and attacked Gen. Stuart, but they were beaten back, after fighting all day, with heavy loss, including 400 prisoners, 3 pieces artillery, and several colors.

Gens. Jenkins and Imboden had been sent in advance, the latter against Romney, to cover the former’s movement against Winchester, and both were in position when Ewell left Culpepper C. H. on the 16th.

Gen. Early stormed the enemy’s works at Winchester on the 14th, and the whole army of Milroy was captured or dispersed.

Gen. Rhodes, on the same day, took Martinsburg, Va., capturing 700 prisoners, 5 pieces artillery, and a large supply of stores.

More than 4000 prisoners were taken at Winchester; 29 pieces artillery; 270 wagons and ambulances; 400 horses, besides a large amount of military stores.

Precisely at this time the enemy disappeared from Fredericksburg, seemingly designing to take a position to cover Washington.

Gen. Stuart, in several engagements, took 400 more prisoners, etc.

Meantime, Gen. Ewell, with Gen. Jenkins’s cavalry, etc., penetrated Maryland, and Pennsylvania as far as Chambersburg.

On the 24th, Lt.-Gens. Longstreet and Hill marched to the Potomac, the former crossing at Williamsport and the latter at Shepherdstown, uniting at Hagerstown, Md., advancing into Pennsylvania, and encamping near Chambersburg on the 27th.

Ewell’s corps advanced as far as York and Carlisle, to keep the enemy out of the mountains, and to keep our communications open.

Gen. Imboden destroyed all the important bridges of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from Martinsburg to Cumberland, damaging the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Preparations were made to march upon Harrisburg, when information was received of the approach of the army of the enemy, menacing communications with the Potomac, necessitating a concentration of our army at Gettysburg.

Hill became engaged with a superior force of the enemy on the 1st July, but Ewell, coming up by the Harrisburg road, participated in the engagement, and the enemy were driven through Gettysburg with heavy loss, including about 5000 prisoners and several pieces of artillery.

The enemy retired to a high range of hills, south and east of the town.

On the 2d, Gen. Ewell occupied the left, Gen. Hill the Center, and Gen. Longstreet the right.

Longstreet got possession of the enemy’s position in front of his corps after a severe struggle; Ewell also carried some strong positions. The battle ceased at dark.

The next day, 3d July, our batteries were moved forward to the positions we had gained, and it was determined to renew the attack.

Meantime the enemy had strengthened his line. The battle raged with great violence in the afternoon, until sunset. We got possession of some of the enemy’s batteries, but our ammunition failing, our troops were compelled to relinquish them, and fall back to their original position with severe loss.

Our troops (the general says) behaved well in the protracted and sanguinary conflict, accomplishing all that was practicable.

The strong position of the enemy, and reduction of his ammunition, rendered it inexpedient for Gen. Lee to continue longer where he was. Such of the wounded as could be moved, and part of the arms collected on the field, were ordered to Williamsport.

His army remained at Gettysburg during the 4th, and began to retire at night, taking with it about 4000 prisoners, nearly 2000 having been previously paroled. The enemy’s wounded that fell into his hands were left behind.

He reached Williamsport without molestation, losing but few wagons, etc., and arrived at Hagerstown 7th July.

The Potomac was much swollen by recent rains, that had fallen incessantly ever since he had crossed it, and was unfordable.

The enemy had not yet appeared, until the 12th, when, instead of attacking, Meade fortified his lines.

On the 13th Gen. Lee crossed at Falling Waters, the river subsiding, by fords and a bridge, without loss, the enemy making no interruption. Only some stragglers, sleeping, fell into the hands of the enemy.
Jones' diary touched on many interesting topics on this day.

1) Richmond's growing dependence on Georgia for food, which would place great strain on Confederate transportation and logistics.

2) One unintended consequence of the blockade is that it is causing gold to drain out of the Confederacy. As hard currency leaves the Confederate economy, inflation will destroy the value of Confederate paper currency.

3) The problem of feeding prisoners of war. This problem would only get worse as Southern attitudes towards Black troops was causing the prisoner exchange system to break down. Some Confederates are beginning to advocate deliberately starving Union prisoners.

4) The great length of time it took accurate news to make its way to headquarters from the battlefield. It took ore than a month after the battle for John B. Jones in Richmond to piece together an accurate account of what had happened in Pennsylvania.

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