E. Kirby Smith Reacts to News of The “protracted and desperate fighting” in Virginia
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Lieutenant General Smith writes near the close of the Red River Campaign, a Confederate victory, concerning a misunderstanding over a statement he was said to have made concerning General Walker’s performance during the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863. Smith betrays concern over the first reports of the Battle of Spotsylvania, in Virginia. “My anxiety is intense, as each paper brings intelligence of the protracted and desperate fighting in Richmond. I do not doubt the result but so much hangs upon the fate of that army that all other interests are absorbed in expectation of the result. Eight days they fought, on the 11th & 12th at Spotsylvania C.H. The Battle was great. Sedgwick was killed. On the 13th Lee was four miles behind Spotsylvania C.H. falling back for provision. This is from the Federal papers. They claim victory…” E. KIRBY SMITH.
Autograph Letter Signed, to Major General J. George Walker. Shreveport, La., May 20, 1864. 2 pp.
Shreveport May 20th 1864,
My dear General,
On my return to Shreveport I examined the books to find if anything in my correspond[ence]with the War Dept. could be construed into a reflection upon your course whilst operating on the River opposite Vicksburg. The enclosed [not present]is a copy of my only letter on the subject. This you see could not have induced the remark, which in fact I believe was never made but that there is some misunderstanding on the subject. I will take advantage of the first opportunity for correcting any impression that may have been made upon the president’s mind to your prejudice.
My anxiety is intense, as each paper brings intelligence of the protracted and desperate fighting in Richmond. I do not doubt the result but so much hangs upon the fate of that army that all other interests are absorbed in expectation of the result. Eight days they fought, on the 11th & 12th at Spotsylvania C.H. The Battle was general. Sedgwick was killed. On the 13th Lee was four miles behind Spotsylvania C.H. falling back for provision. This is from the Federal papers. They claim victory.
Present my regards to Mrs W - & remember me to Friends & the Members of your staff.
Maj Gen Geo Walker
A fine-content letter from the commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department to division commander General George Walker in western Louisiana. Smith opens by attempting to smooth over a controversy surrounding a statement Smith was reported to have made criticizing Walker's conduct during operations on the west bank of the Mississippi in 1863. In actuality, it had been Richard Taylor who had criticized Walker after the Battle of Milliken’s Bend, fought on June 7, 1863. Smith, under direct orders from President Davis, sought to create a diversion to help lift Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Vicksburg by attacking Union positions west of the river. Although a small battle in the larger context of the war, it was the first battle in which colored troops played a prominent role on the Union side. Many of Walker’s men infamously showed no quarter to captured colored troops in this battle. Only the appearance of Union gunboats, the Choctaw and Lexington, saved the day for the Union. Still, General Taylor, in his official report to Smith, wrote, “I used every personal exertion to insure success. . . . Nothing was wanted but vigorous action in the execution of the plans. . . . Unfortunately, I discovered too late that [Walker’s] division was possessed of a dread of gunboats.”
Smith’s letter seems to have assuaged Walker, to a certain extent, but the larger problem for him was his emerging feud with General Taylor, his principle subordinate. It had been Taylor who had done the most to blunt Nathaniel Banks’s Red River Campaign, which was winding down as Smith wrote. Whereas Taylor wanted to concentrate most of the troops in the department for another assault on Banks, with the opportunity to capture all of the federal river fleet, Smith decided to detach two of Taylor’s divisions to chase Union General Frederick Steele into Arkansas. On May 16, a minor engagement between Taylor and Banks took place at Mansura. On May 18, there was a final, indecisive battle at Yellow Bayou. Taylor was furious at Smith’s orders, and tendered his resignation, which President Davis refused to accept, instead offering him command of the Department of Alabama and Mississippi.
J. George Walker (1822-1893), a Missourian, volunteered for the Mexican War and rose to the rank of captain. Early in the Civil War, he joined the Confederate Army as lieutenant colonel of the 8th Texas Cavalry. He earned steady promotion in the Army of Northern Virginia, and by November 1862, after a fine performance at Antietam, was made major general. He was then reassigned to the Trans-Mississippi, with command of the Texas Division, which soon became known as “Walker’s Greyhounds.” When Richard Taylor was promoted to department command east of the Mississippi, Walker commanded the Department of West Louisiana, still under E. Kirby Smith.
Edmund Kirby Smith (1824-1893) was a career U.S. Army officer who fought in the Mexican War under Gen. Zachary Taylor and taught mathematics at West Point. He spent most of his life in the South and was in command of Camp Colorado in Texas when that state seceded; he refused to surrender it to federal forces. Smith commanded the Army of East Tennessee and participated in the invasion of Kentucky, earning promotion to lieutenant general. From 1863 until the end of the war he commanded the Trans-Mississippi Department, rising to full general, though he failed to materially assist the besieged Vicksburg garrison in 1863, and his tenure was plagued by feuds with subordinates such as Richard Taylor. After the war he became a professor of mathematics at the University of the South in Sewanee.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies(1880-1901), series 1,
vol. 24, ch. 36, p. 462.
Parrish, T. Michael. Richard Taylor: Soldier Prince of Dixie (Chapel Hill, 1992), pp. 245-404.
Lightly toned, some text show through, two miniscule chips with little impact to text, mounting remnant to blank upper corner.