Lebanon, Va., April 25, 1862
General R. E. Lee,
General: Yesterday I received your letters of the 18th and 21st instant. Before they came I had been called on to act in a few cases, and adopted a line of policy which seems to depart from the direction suggested by you, as will appear by my orders, inclosed herewith for your perusal. Still, this order rests upon a basis that in one view is entirely concordant with your wishes—that my regiments are to be filled before any one else recruits from the counties assigned to me. I find upon examination that I may add 400 men to fill Colonel Moore’s six companies (heretofore with me) to the maximum. I have received a report from Lieutenant-Colonel Leigh within a few days, Colonel Moore1 being absent, by the dying bed of his son, Adjutant Moore,2 which discloses this exact condition of that corps:
Company A 34 21 4 6 10 3 … …
Company B* 64 None 52 6 1+ … … …
Company C 40 7 10 17 3 … … …
Company D 33 22 4 6 … … 1 …
Company E 25 36 3 9 6 … … …
Company F 1 26 … 18 2 … … 1
197 112 73 62 22 3 1 1
*This company, commanded by Captain Horne, is now full to 125.
+ Gone to Kentucky
Thus it will seem that 270 re-enlisted men and recruits for the war only represent the volunteer force of this corps present for duty or sick. I furloughed all who re-enlisted for thirty days, and they are now absent. Since this report was made many of the 112 who refused have volunteered to re-enlist; but of course this was only done in extremis, nor did it make any difference, since under the conscription act they would be retained at any rate, and also be entitled to the bounty at any rate. Added to the others, it gives a total force of 382 to the six companies—for I scarcely put any estimate on the “absent sick” and exclude entirely the deserters—and leaves a margin for 218 additional to fill to 100 men, or 368 to fill to the maximum standard. The remainder was my own work. I added to this corps to fill out to a regiment in fact the following companies:
Company G (from Russell County, Captain Smith), 107 rank and file.
Company H (from Tazewell County, Captain Bruster), 105 rank and file.
Company I (from Russell County, Captain Dickenson), 80 rank and file.
And Lieutenant March, formerly of the corps, will have Company K, with 100 men from Carroll, Wythe, and Grayson, being now en route for camp, and probably up to the minimum standard.
Therefore I may say to you in general terms that the Twenty-ninth Virginia can take on 450 to 500 more men to fill it to the maximum standard, and it is my purpose to do this, unless you control me otherwise.
Now as to the Pound Gap battalion. I brought this corps to the old court-house in Russell, and after a time I went among them in person and made a speech to them. I succeeded in changing the current of their opinions, and, instead of disbanding them, I induced them to entertain some esprit de corps, and to re-enlist for the war on the basis of general service. I raised in one day from the battalion a company of 94 men, who organized on the spot, electing Captain Slemp as their captain. The next day 67 more began a company, of which Captain Pridemore will be made captain when it expands to 100, and 51 more began a company for Captain Russell. These men are from Scott and Lee Counties entirely. Thus you see I obtained volunteers for the war to the number of 212 out of this skeleton battalion of special-service men, and I never have seen finer material in my life. In Slemp’s 94 men there were but two over thirty years of age, and all between that and eighteen, generally ranging from eighteen to twenty-three. I gave all furloughs for thirty days. I directed the battalion of special-service men to be mustered for pay up to that day, and when the muster was completed I made an order placing all who had not chosen to re-enlist into one company, of which I assigned the command to Captain Maness. I discharged from service all boys under eighteen and all men over forty-five who were in the battalion; so that I now have one company of special-service men only, and I hear that most of these have indicated a determination to re-enlist generally for the war, but I am not yet sure of the fact. I gave to Pridemore and Russell time to fill out their companies in Scott and Lee Counties, and I have no doubt they will succeed.
I started for Janesville in person, and had progressed to within 27 miles of it when a courier brought me a telegraphic dispatch announcing the promotion of General Breckinridge and Colonel Williams. Presuming that these appointments would probably demand in some way immediate change of arrangements here, I abandoned my visit to Lee and returned to my post at this place. I do not entertain any fear that the officers alluded to will obtain companies unless gentlemen from Floyd’s brigade have already taken all the young men from the county. I hear that there are many volunteers enlisted in that county to fill up regiments now in the field and that many have not yet left home. But for your letter of the 21st I should not have hesitated to take those volunteers for my own command and for the defense of the country of which I am in charge so long as I remain in it. Now, I shall not interfere with re-enlistments by anybody, and fear much that the Pound Gap battalion will not expand into a regiment. In order to form it my calculation has been to use the following: 1st, Slemp’s company; 5th, Hayne’s company (these are all from Scott and Lee); 6th, Perey’s company, from Tazewell; 7th, Cornutt’s company, from Grayson; 8th, one company from Carroll (I forget the captain’s name, but the company was raised or organized by me); 9th, Ratliff’s company, from Buchanan and McDowell (now numbering about 60 men); and, 10th, Killinger’s company, from Smyth.
The object of my visit to Lee was to try to raise a company to take Killinger’s place, so as to let him go into McMahon’s regiment.
You see how nearly I had accomplished the work without interfering with recruits already gone to other corps. If those could be stopped who have not gone already the work would have been completed perfectly by the 10th of May. Cornutt’s, Perey’s, Gray’s, Hayne’s, Slemp’s, the Carroll company are already actually in the field for the war, and organized and on duty. I thought you approved my plan, and I went to work vigorously. That regiment is to-day really larger than Colonel Moore’s, and both can be filled out; but now your letter will control me, I am afraid, to the demolition and overthrow of the new corps. Independent of this new regiment, Mr. McMahon, formerly aide to General Floyd, has authority, I hear, to raise another, which I was informed was directed at headquarters or by the Secretary of War to report to me for duty, and to go into camp at once. Several of the captains of companies in it have been to see me and expressed their wish to be with me, and (as I learned from them) wanted to know when I would require them in the field. I replied that I could not let them have longer time than the 10th of May, and would be pleased that they should take the field by company at once, so that I might inspect their equipments and see that they were properly provided for while we remained near a depot. I found that they required Killinger’s company from Smyth and wanted Cornutt’s from Grayson to make out the regiment, and I was disposed to assist them, presuming that their authority was ample and already secured. They reported to me that the companies already raised were as follows: First, Hunter’s; second, Lynch’s, third, Dunn’s; fourth, McDaniel’s; fifth, Blessing’s; sixth, Buchanan’s; seventh, Killinger’s. These are all from my counties, and all raised since the Governor’s proclamation. These gentlemen said the regiment as thus constituted was to be made out by three companies from East Tennessee, already raised for the purpose; two of them commanded by Captains Cecil and Blair, and I forget the other name, if I ever heard it. They wanted the Marshall Rifles, from Grayson (Cornutt), and their regiment could and would organize and report to me by the 10th of May. My idea and plan was then to make one brigade of Virginia troops, composed of the Fifty-fourth, the Twenty-ninth, the Pound Gap regiment, Jeffress’ battery of six pieces, the McMahon regiment, and Jenifer’s Eighth Virginia Cavalry (if it ever reports, which it has not yet done). The other force to be my Kentucky troops, to wit: Williams’ regiment; battery of four pieces; Bradley’s Mounted Rifles; Shawhan’s cavalry squadron, composed of his Kentucky company and Otis Caldwell’s Virginia company; Witcher’s and Stratton’s companies of Mounted Gunmen. Witcher has now about 80 men; Stratton had 40 when he left here to go down into Logan County to recruit. His return will be some two weeks hence.
I receive occasional additions to my Kentucky force, and I have several officers (that are to be) now in the interior of that State, obtaining recruits and organizing my friends for a proper and prompt reception of my command when it shall again enter the State. They represent the people as being very restive, but as disarmed, and nearly despairing of our ability to do anything for their relief and deliverance. As soon as I can have a copy made I will send you a letter, addressed by me to Governor Magoffin last month, which I have reason to believe he duly received, though I have no reply to it yet. Its motive and points you will readily comprehend.
I have thus explained to you, general, the plan I had adopted and was pursuing to try to create a force for the war that would give me a command at least equal to my rank. I was pursuing it under great difficulty, and when my relations to a stranger people were invested by circumstances with points of exceeding delicacy. I did not purpose to exhaust the militia, but to extract from it only such numbers as would complete the four regiments above alluded to and to interfere as little as possible with recruits already obtained from this quarter. My success depended on stopping any further recruiting by any one but myself, and holding on to all who had not, in fact, gone out of the district. I permitted recruits to go to General Heth’s corps, because he would be engaged in defending the same country in a degree that I should look to, and it made no difference to which of us the volunteers went. Accordingly, while we were together at Wytheville, I sent 20 men to his command; he has sent to mine, such as wished to come here from his quarter. I left him the whole county of Bland (composed of parts of Tazewell, Wythe, and Mercer), though it was mostly in my boundary. I think I have been observant of the public interest in all my steps. I know I have tried to be so, and I have suffered the men to volunteer and go as they pleased until I saw that my object must fail, and that I must be unable to protect any part of the district if no limit was placed on these removals.
Your letter, countervailing my policy and orders, will be strictly obeyed, and I shall take pains to let the people know that volunteers may go where they prefer within the limitations suggested by your letter. If the new regiments can be made, I hope they will be permitted; if they cannot, of course they must be abandoned, and the body of volunteers composing them will be disposed of according to the pleasure of the head of the army.
Pardon the liberty I take in remarking that in my judgment great dissatisfaction will be given when the transfers shall be made and this section shall find itself without defenders. It was my purpose to organize four militia regiments in my district as a reserved force, each as nearly 1,000 men as practicable. The conscript bill having passed, it was plain the provisions of that bill would affect the organization of militia companies already established by me. Assuming from the language of the bill that a registry of ages must precede any draft from the militia, I issued the order to my militia captains of which I inclose you a copy. I will ascertain from their returns approximately the number of men liable as conscripts in my district, and it can be done directly.
I should like to know if bounties to volunteers will be paid under any circumstances hereafter?
It seems to me it would have greatly facilitated the creation of force could the Government, with one agency, be using compulsory process to raise force, while at the same time it offered bounty of $50 to all who would enter as volunteers for the war. I believe, if the acts taken together will admit of such a construction, I could fill my contemplated regiments to the maximum standard. Will you please ascertain what construction is placed upon the bounty act and conscript act, taken together, and let me know by telegraph immediately?
I have been frequently asked whether bounties would yet be paid to new volunteers who have not been in the service, and I have replied that I thought they would not. Your reply can be, “They are,” or “They are not,” and I will comprehend the answer to refer to the question whether bounties are or are not yet paid to volunteers enlisting for the war. I know they are still paid to all re-enlisting, and this because they are obliged to serve whether they wish to do so or not.
I shall ascertain from the returns called for by my order the number of militia between eighteen and thirty-five years of age; also the number between thirty-five and forty-five.
In my judgment the workers in niter and in the various mechanic arts necessary to the community should be taken as far as possible from men over thirty-five, so as to leave for the active disposable force of the country as many young men as possible; hence I required the proceedings of the board of exempts and the ages and occupations of persons excused for the pursuit of trades, &c.
I think I shall find occasions when the emergency will justify a substitution of one person for another, for you may rest assured there has been more shuffling in this matter of exempts than is creditable to parties or to officials. My effort has been, and will be, to make my militia regiments a sort of corps de reserve, in course of instruction and preparation for the field, yet some part of every regiment constantly on public duty; as, for example, the militia regiment of Wythe, Smyth, Carroll, and Grayson, and that of Washington and Russell, should by turns furnish a company to watch the East Tennessee frontier—the railroad—and guard against surprise by disloyalists from East Tennessee at Abingdon, Marion, Saltville, Wytheville, all of which are important depots for armies in the field, and each of which may be struck at from the southern side. These companies will thus gather ideas of military life, and while on duty can be prepared for more active service. The remainder of the regiment will keep an eye to the operations in the field, and the people will, even at the handle of the plow or in the harvest field, feel that their life is semi-military, and liable at any moment to become wholly so. Besides, this system will break the transfer from one condition to the other, and has a tendency to prepare all who remain with us to practice loyalty. Your mind will at once embrace the ideas of my system, and will discover how materially your instructions of the 21st tend to overthrow them. I think it best to place the whole before you, while declaring that I shall render implicit obedience to the course indicated by your directions.
The counties north of this have displayed a disloyalty as bad as any of those in Northwestern Virginia, and throughout the district there have been signs of the same spirit. I hear through the sheriff of this county that 900 Virginians have been sworn into the service of the enemy at Pikeville since the proclamation of the Governor of Virginia. One of my captains (Ratliff), who is now here for guns, informs me that two-thirds of Buchanan and McDowell Counties are against us. I think the same proportion will obtain in one-half of the county of Wise. The desertions from Lee, Scott, and Russell have been very numerous; for my scouts inform me of the continual passage of men from Virginia into Kentucky. I requested martial law to be proclaimed over this district, and at all events over the counties of Lee, Wise, McDowell, Buchanan, and Wyoming, and I thought it might as well embrace all the rest. I am unable to conjecture why martial law was proclaimed over East Tennessee and over the districts commanded by Generals Jackson and Heth, and not over that in which I am operating, unless it was apprehended I might make some improper use of the powers, or because it was designed to place some one else here in my stead. The failure to declare it upon my suggestion has at any rate been a sufficient reason for my failure to repeat the request, and I now content myself with the statement of the condition of affairs prevailing in this quarter of the country.
Depredations have been constantly committed in Lee by East Tennesseans, and threats are made from Harlan County, Kentucky, to lay the country waste. In Lee County the militia have lately had several engagements with Unionists from Tennessee passing over into Kentucky. My courier yesterday brought me word from General Richmond of a conflict last week, in which our militia killed some 25, and took 75 prisoners, who were sent to Cumberland Gap. The county is invested by enemies on every side, and great excitement prevails. In Buchanan the Union men surprised Captain Ratliff the other day, killed 1 of his men, took 2 prisoners, and stampeded about 50 of his men, who lost the arms they had, being some ten or a dozen country rifles of their own private property. I am issuing some more rifles to the company, and have directed that these marauders shall be driven out of the district.
I received your letter marked “Confidential” last evening, and will make my answer a special dispatch.
Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, series 1, vol. 10, part 2, pp. 444-449
1. Alfred Cleon Moore (1805-1890), who hailed from Patrick County, Virginia.
2. Algernon Sydney Moore (1836-1862).