Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Words from the Governor

In the following letter,  occupied Tennessee's Military Governor Andrew Johnson suggests that Buell take certain actions to relieve his shortages of supplies and labor.  The basic philosophy is to make his political enemies among the upper class provide the supplies and the escaped slaves, or "contraband",  that are seeking refuge among the Union Army's ranks provide the labor.  This is another indication that the proponents of "total war" are beginning to shout down the traditionalists like General Buell who argue that every outrage committed against the citizens only stiffens their resistance to the occupation.  As for the escaped slaves, they would now have to pay for their freedom with forced labor, emancipation being some months away.

Although the letter itself is issued from a major (Governor Johnson's Assistant Adjutant General) to a colonel (General Buell's Chief of Staff), the message is clearly intended to be from the governor to the general.  The sense of urgency is primarily due to the fact that John Hunt Morgan has recently completed his first raid from Tennessee into Kentucky and back again. The governor certainly has a right to be worried about what this bold Confederate general intends to do with the army and supplies he has amassed in his travels.  For a summary of this raid in Morgan's own words, go to


Nashville, August 1, 1862.

Colonel J. B. FRY,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Chief of Staff:

I beg leave to report to the commanding general the substance of a conversation held at this office with Governor Andrew Johnson yesterday. The conversation was protracted, and on the part of the Governor deeply earnest, and the main points were supported by considerable detail. The Governor is so informed as to have adopted the conviction that an attempt will be made very soon by the rebels to repossess themselves of this State, and that they consider the possession of the capital a necessary incident. He believes that if they should succeed the moral and physical consequence would be disastrous to our cause, and that therefore means to the contrary should be applied which would defeat their designs beyond a peradventure. He is satisfied that the enemy has numerous secret adherents who in a crisis would give them aid, particularly should there be prospect of their success without great sacrifices; but that many of these are not ready for considerable sacrifices, and would be deterred if they were sure these sacrifices would follow.

Hence the Governor argues in reference to saving the city that an evidence of determination to hold on our part at any cost would deter them, and to corroborate this quotes a fact, that when the city was lately threatened members of a secret committee went out to restrain their friends, assuring them that the city would be destroyed by us should they get possession.

The Governor therefore believes that if the enemy is convinced we mean to hold it he would hesitate to attack, uncertain as he would be of adherents within, and suggest the construction of works of defense in the shape of redoubts and other earthworks. The labor he advises to be taken from those who render it necessary, and that contrabands, of which he has now control of a good many, be used in that way habitually.

The Governor says that recent observation has changed his ideas in regard to treating rebels with lenity. At one time he advised it, but now believes that they must be made to feel the burden of their own deeds and to bear everything which the necessities of the situation require should be imposed on them.

This I believe is the substance of all that was said, but, as I observed before, there was much elaboration of detail and evidence of earnest conviction.

I am, colonel, respectfully,
your obedient servant,
Major, Fifteenth U. S. Infantry,
Act. Asst. Adjt. General

P. S.- General Mason writes Governor Johnson by letter received to-day and sent to me that there is no doubt of the organization of guerrilla bands near Clarksville, and that the wealthier part of the population is disloyal and humbler classes the reverse; that it would be difficult to raise a cavalry regiment there, but there are sufficient horses belonging to the secessionists to mount as many men as needful.

He wants Governor Johnson's order to "possess and occupy" the horses. General Mason says he has but 250 men near Clarksville, on the opposite side of the river. He says further that he is advised by Colonel Bruce that he has sent 400 men to Russellville.

I am, respectfully,
Major, Fifteenth U. S. Infantry,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. General

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