Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January 21, 1864: "most of our railways are in a critical condition"

Brigadier General Alexander R. Lawton, C.S. Army
On this day 150 years ago, Brigadier General Alexander R. Lawton replied to complaints from General Joseph E. Johnston about supplies and the state of rail transportation behind Johnston's lines. After three years of war, the Confederacy's railroads were falling apart.
RICHMOND, January 21, 1864.

General J. E. JOHNSTON,

Dalton, Ga.:

GENERAL: Several dispatches from yourself in reference to the condition of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, suggesting the transfer of sundry trains to Atlanta and a change of management at Atlanta, have been received and acknowledged by telegraph. Full explanations I have reserved for this letter.

It is certainly true that the condition of the Western and Atlantic Railroad is not such as could be desired, but its supply of rolling-stock is the same as that which sufficed General Bragg's army at a distance 30 miles beyond the position you now occupy, and is far in excess of that on the Virginia Central, which is supplying the Army of Northern Virginia. The fact is not to be disguised that most of our railways are in a critical condition, and the needs of transportation must continue to cause greater anxiety in the further progress of the war; but it is a fact established by actual inspection, and otherwise notorious, that the railways meeting in Atlanta are in the best average condition and best supplied with rolling-stock of any roads meeting at any one point in the Confederacy, while your army is nearer its sources of supply than any other large army in the country. In regard to the six trains running from Augusta toward points in North Carolina, I beg leave to state that Major Peters is mistaken as to the freights they transport; they are not all, nor the most of them, devoted to cotton. The forces in Virginia and North Carolina depend for most of their supplies upon Georgia and a small portion of South Carolina, thus requiring armies to be supplied from a distance of 500 to 800 miles. This causes excessive pressure on the railways between Georgia and Richmond, increased in South Carolina by the demands of the city of Charleston, and a long coast constantly threatened; and I will add that so far as these trains are devoted to the transportation of Government cotton, they are performing a most important service, for I see no hope of keeping our armies in the field without the shoes, blankets, and woolens which we receive from abroad in return for the cotton exported. I submit these facts in reference to the present demands and means of transportation in the hope that our views will not differ when they are based upon the same information. I have applied to the Governor of Georgia to apply the remedy on the road controlled by that State, and will endeavor to make some addition to its rolling-stock from the small number of cars and locomotives which we have saved from the enemy in the falling back of our armies. Railroad transportation is scarce everywhere, but I am satisfied your army is at this time better served than any other in the Confederacy. I regret that you did not adopt my suggestion, made by telegraph, to inquire into the manner in which Major Hottle conducts railroad transportation at Atlanta (through your chief quartermaster or otherwise) before you insist on a change there. Major Peters was ordered to Mississippi to act, with the advice and assistance of Samuel Tate, esq., in the construction of railways in that section some time before you took command at Dalton. He was only permitted to remain in Atlanta until Major Hottle should be fully instructed, and to present temporary confusion, but he has remained there up to this time, and therefore no injury can be attributed to the change you refer to. I am satisfied that Major Hottle's past experience in railway matters and his great physical energies will be found equal to any emergency. Major Peters (a most worthy officer) is advanced in years and was so pressed that he tendered me his resignation, which I declined to approve.

Permit me to add in conclusion, general, that I will be most happy to render all the assistance in my power, and after you are fully possessed of all the facts to act upon your wishes, as far as I am able to do so.




alonzo said...

What a terribly elegant and gentlemanly response and rebuke to a "superior" officer.

Johnston himself had briefly served as Quartermaster General in 1860-1861, and received his promotion to brigadier with that appointment. This, of course, was before Johnston joined the rebellion, and was in service to the United States, not the Confederacy.

For his part, Lawton had resigned his commission in the US Army a good bit earlier than Johnston (1840), taking up law and railroad administration and politics thereafter.

(Actually, Lawton "retired" his commission, a distinction with some difference, I am sure (but unsure what it is, precisely). In any event, prior to the Civil War, Lawton hadn't been an "army man" for long - West Point Class of '39 (artillery), and retired in 1940.)

Johnston (who trained as a civil engineer at West Point) was much involved in railroading after the war.

Anyway, those of my nuggets of dross to add to what is an interesting post, and to this very revealing letter from 150 years ago.

Thank you.

Staff said...

An excellent comment.