Slip from the “Norfolk, Virginian” of the 22nd Aug: 1874
President Davis and General Johnston. – It having been asserted that General Robert E. Lee advised the removal of General Joseph E. Johnston from the command of the Southern Army of the Tennessee in 1864, General Johnston has sent to General A. H. Colquitt, President of the Georgia Branch of the Southern Historical Society, a letter from Wade Hampton to correct the error. General Hampton positively asserts that General Lee was earnest in expressing not only his regret at General Johnston’s removal but his entire confidence in him. It is also said he had urged the Secretary of War not to remove him, as no better officer could be found to take his place.
In regard to this alleged advice of Genl. Lee, about which so much has been said, I deem it wise, whilst yielding to my wishes so far as to refrain from any public statements, to write this denial of the charge, as of probable value to the future historian. All dispatches between the Presdt. & Genl. Lee at the time indicated not of a character to be made public, were put in cypher. I was the custodian & interpreter of this cypher.
Mr. Davis sent a dispatch to Genl. Lee in cypher, which I interpreted, in substance as follows: He stated that heavy pressure was being brought upon him to have Genl. Johnston removed: He asked Genl. Lee what he thought of complying with this request so earnestly pressed, & of Genl. Hood as the successor of Genl. Johnston.”
The reply of Genl. Lee is indelibly impressed upon my mind and was in substance and I think literally as follows: “I deem the present a most in opportune time for any change of commanders. Genl. Hood is certainly a most gallant, efficient officer, but I doubt his capacity for so extended a command.”
That Genl. Johnston was removed I construe not so much as any evidence that Mr. Davis disregarded the advice of Genl. Lee (for he always by deed and act manifested the greatest confidence in the General) but rather as positive proof of the very earnest efforts made by certain prominent citizens to have Genl. J removed.
W. H. Taylor
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 8, M2009.410
Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, 2016 July 18