Four Years With General Lee, by Walter H. Taylor, Chapter 1

Four Years With General Lee

Organization of the Army of Virginia.—General R. E. Lee assigned to the Command of the State Troops.—Transfer to the Southern Confederacy.

ON the 2d day of May, 1861, in obedience to telegraphic orders from Governor Letcher, I repaired to Richmond, and was at once assigned to duty at the headquarters of the Army of Virginia. General Lee had been assigned to the chief command, and Colonel Robert’s. Garnett had been announced as the adjutant-general of the active State troops.

The utmost activity prevailed, and the general-in-chief and his indefatigable and most efficient adjutant-general devoted their entire time and energies to the very difficult task of organizing, arming, equipping, and putting into the field the volunteers, with and without partial organization, who responded with so much alacrity to the call of the State authorities. The first matter of importance was the discussion and decision of the question as to the period of service for which the troops should be received and mustered in. While the politicians, and indeed the vast majority of the people, anticipated but a very short and decisive struggle, General Lee took a different view, and stands alone, of all of those then known to me whose opinions were entitled to consideration, as having expressed his most serious apprehensions of a prolonged and bloody war: he, in an especial degree, seemed to appreciate the magnitude of the impending contest, and to realize the inevitable suffering, sacrifice, and woe, which would attend a determined and bitter conflict between the two sections of the United States, each animated by a traditional devotion to cherished institutions; each entitled by inheritance to those characteristic traits of the Anglo-Saxon race, the possession of which precludes the idea of a passive resistance or a mild aggression, when liberty and honor are involved; each falsely estimating the powers and temper of its adversary, and each confident of success.

At this period there was a considerable display of bombastic rhetoric; the purifying process had not yet begun, which ultimately proved the metal of men: would-be and accustomed leaders, not yet stripped of their pretensions, misled the people; some without judgment discoursed flippantly about the sixty or ninety days war that we were to have, demanding only so much time to overcome the entire Yankee nation. Many who entertained views equally absurd were to be found in the North. Doubtless these patriots of both sections were content to retire from service at the expiration of their short terms, convinced that, if the war was not ended, it should have been, and would have been, had they had the direction of affairs. No wonder, then, that when the troops were to be mustered into service there was a decided sentiment in favor of a twelve months’ enlistment. Had General Lee’s wishes prevailed, they would have been mustered in for the war. It is not known how far he endeavored to have his views adopted, beyond the expression of opinion repeatedly made to those who consulted him in his office, in my hearing, in favor of the war enlistment. He contended that, if the conflict should terminate in twelve months, or less, the troops would be at once disbanded and no harm would result; but, if it should be prolonged beyond that period, then there would be a more urgent need for the troops than in the beginning; and the Government would have to deal with the very serious question of the disintegration and disorganization of the army, and the substitution of recruits for veterans, in the very face of the enemy. The civil authorities, however, were loath to believe that there could possibly be any need of troops beyond the period of twelve months, and accordingly the men were enlisted for that time. The same course had been pursued in the other States in their volunteer organizations; and thus was the first step taken toward creating the necessity for the law of conscription which was subsequently enacted by the Confederate Congress.

Under the direction of General Lee, with the aid of the extraordinary administrative ability of Colonel Garnett, the cordial support of the Governor, and the hearty cooperation of a most efficient corps of State officials, the Virginia volunteers were in a wonderfully short time organized, armed, equipped, and sent to the front: so that when the Confederate authorities assumed control of affairs after the State had formally joined the Confederacy, Governor Letcher was enabled to turn over to them the “Army of Virginia,” volunteers and provisional, thoroughly organized and ready for work, and around which, as a nucleus, was collected what afterward became the historic “Army of Northern Virginia.”The capital of the Confederacy was removed from Montgomery to Richmond, and the various departments of the Government immediately transferred to the latter city; the War Department carried on the process of organization and preparation; the functions of General Lee as general-in-chief of the Army of Virginia terminated, and he was created one of the five generals provided for by a law of Congress, in the Army of the Confederate States. Brigadier-General G. T. Beauregard1 and General J. E. Johnston, already in the field, were assigned to the command of the troops in Virginia the former having the “Army of the Potomac” (Confederate States Army) and the latter the forces then collected in the lower Valley of Virginia; these two armies were subsequently united and won the first battle of Manassas under General J. E. Johnston. General A.’s. Johnston had been assigned to the command of the troops raised in the West and Southwest, and which were concentrating in Kentucky and Tennessee.


1. General Beauregard was promoted to be General immediately after the first battle of Manassas.

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