THE CONFEDERATE COMMISSARIAT AT MANASSAS
BY COLONEL L. B. NORTHROP, COMMISSARY-GENERAL, C. S. A.
Generals Beauregard, Imboden, and Johnston in the foregoing articles [see pages 221, 239, and 250] criticise the management of my department in the matter of supplies for the Confederate army at Manassas either before or after the first battle. In the statements of these generals, there is some conflict, but they all concur in making me appear a preposterous imbecile, whom Mr. Davis was guilty of retaining. General Imboden in effect charges Mr. Benjamin with suppressing, in order to shield my incapacity, an official report of a board of officers convened by Johnston.
July 29th, 1861, General Beauregard wrote to his aides, Colonels Chesnut and Miles,—the latter read the letter in the Confederate Congress,— about his vision of capturing Washington, and thus laid the foundation of the cabal against Mr. Davis which made the Confederate Government a ”divided house.” It produced a resolution of inquiry, followed soon by a standing committee, and afterward, in January, 1865, by a unanimous resolution, in secret session of both houses, to appoint a joint select committee to investigate the condition and management of all the Bureaux of the War Department. The session of this committee on commissary affairs was held January 23d, 1865. During the war the investigations of the standing committee into my policy and methods were frequent; several were long taking testimony, for one member, H. S. Foote,—who when I was myself in prison published me as cruel to Federal prisoners,—was ever zealous to attack. Every investigation ended in approval. I have a letter from Mr. John B. Baldwin, chairman of the joint select committee, stating that he had declared in Congress, as the result of their examination, “that the commissary department of subsistence, under the control of Colonel Northrop, the Commissary-General, had been managed with a foresight and sagacity, and a far-reaching, comprehensive grasp of its business, such as we had found in no other bureau connected with the army supply, with perhaps a single exception.”
The facts are that the engineer, General Beauregard, neglected his communications, so that “troops for the battle” and “supplies” were “retarded”; but the supplies were at the depot. “Eighteen heavy cannon, called for two weeks before,” occupied unloaded cars at Fredericksburg, where there was a large supply of flour that had been accumulating since early June. Numerous cars were retained as stationary storehouses ”for provisions,” “useless baggage,” and “trunks”; one hundred and thirty-three cars were abstracted by the “military” power from the use of the railroads for two weeks and more before the battle until returned by the Quartermaster-General and Mr. Ashe, the Government agent. There was plenty of lumber available to construct a storehouse. General Beauregard was not “urgent on the Commissary-General for adequate supplies before the battle,” for there was no ground of complaint. It was after the battle, when the vision of capturing Washington had seduced him, that he tried to construct a ground of complaint anterior to the battle.
General Beauregard made but one demand on me (July 8th, by a telegram which I have) for a commissary of the old service. Lieutenant-Colonel Richard B. Lee was added; no one was removed. On the 6th day of July I ordered Fowle to buy all the corn-meal, and soon after all the bacon, he could. July 7th, Beauregard ordered him to keep in advance a two weeks’ supply for 25,000 men, and Major Noland was ready to supply any number of beeves. The findings of the Board (on which Colonel Lee sat) are incoherent as stated by Imboden. The interdictions alleged by him are refuted by Colonel Ruffin (my chief assistant), and by all the letters sent officially to me in August, 1861. I have Fowle’s detailed report of the rations at Manassas; there was plenty of provision for a march on Washington. If I had removed his commissaries as he alleges, or had “interdicted ” them as General Imboden states, General Beauregard need not have been hampered, in a country which all the generals have declared abounded in the essentials of food.
General Johnston’s comments on the commissariat are unfounded. He “requested” an increase of provisions which his commissary alone could determine, and allowed the accumulation to go on for twelve days after he knew that he had more than he wanted. When I was informed, I did what he should have done — telegraphed the shippers to stop. Two weeks before his move he promised my officer, Major Noland, the transportation deemed sufficient, and of which he had assumed direct control. Empty trains passed the meat which had been laid in piles, ready for shipment. Empty trains lay idle at Manassas for days, in spite of Noland’s efforts to get them. General Johnston says the stores of the other departments were brought off. Eight hundred new army saddles, several thousand pairs of new shoes, and a large number of new blankets were burned — Quartermaster’s stores then difficult of attainment.