While Still a U.S. Army Officer, Future Confederate General William Hardee Schemes to Acquire Guns for Georgia
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“The Govr proposed that I should act as the agent of the state [Ga.]and should go at once to the North and obtain such arms and munitions as are of pressing necessity … [but] when it became known to the authorities in what capacity I was acting they might with propriety break up the business by ordering me forthwith to my post in the West … Now, my dear friend, in these trying times you must make some sacrifices to serve your state, and you could not do it most certainly than by accepting this commission [in my stead]. Let us go on together and do all in our power to arm and equip the state.”
A remarkable letter illustrating the breathtakingly rapid pace of events toward secession in the wake of Lincoln’s election on November 6, 1860. One month before South Carolina seceded, William Hardee slides toward treason by asking Paul Semmes to accept an official commission from the state of Georgia to purchase arms and munitions in the North and agreeing to accompany him on the mission. Even though Georgia had not yet seceded, its governor, Joseph Brown, was clearly anticipating such a move, and the state legislature appropriated $1 million for the task. Georgia became the fifth state to adopt ordinances of secession on January 19, 1861. WILLIAM J. HARDEE.
Autograph Letter Signed, to Paul J. Semmes. Milledgeville, Georgia, November 24, 1860. 3 pp.
Novr 24 1860.
My dear Genl:
I had a long conversation last night with Govr Brown respecting the purchase of arms for the state of Georgia. The Govr proposed that I should act as the agent of the state and should go at once to the North and obtain such arms and munitions as are of pressing necessity. With every disposition to serve the state I felt great embarrassment in receiving a commission which might be regarded as inconsistent with my obligations to the Gen’l Government. Besides, when it became known to the authorities in what capacity I was acting they might with propriety break up the business by ordering me forthwith to my post in the West. I proposed to the Governor if he would appoint you as the agent of the state that I would with pleasure accompany  you to the North and give such aid to the purchase as I might be able – I told him I knew you well, that we were old friends, that I had entire confidence in your ability and that he might depend on concert of action between us. He seemed much pleased at this suggestion, said he would be delighted to obtain your services, that the soldiery & the state generally would have confidence in what you might do, but feared you might not be willing to accept the position.
Now, my dear friend, in these trying times you must make some sacrifices to serve your state, and you could not do it most certainly than by accepting this commission. Let us go on together and do all in our power to arm and equip the state. We are sadly in want of every thing except the ‘bone & sinew.’ I have just had a conversation with our friend Colo Lawton on the subject & he expressed great hopes that you might be in condition to accept the appointment. Major Williams will write you on the same subject. Telegraph me if you decide to go. The Govr is really disturbed about the matter, and if you should not consent I don’t know what he will do. Write me  also, and say distinctly when you can come, the sooner the better. My time is precious. With best wishes,
Yr sincere friend,
Gen’l Paul. J. Semmes.
Hardee had just been appointed lieutenant colonel of the 1st U.S. Cavalry, and was on leave until February 1. His most recent assignment had been commandant of cadets at West Point. He was, as the letter indicates, treading on dangerous ground, which is why he asked his old friend, Semmes, to accept the commission. Semmes agreed, and the two Georgians made their way to New York City in mid-December, 1860. The Georgia legislature appropriated $1 million for Semmes, and he went on to negotiate several large contracts with such manufacturers as Robert Parrott, Augustus Veile, and Colt. He also purchased “tons of musket and cannon powder” from E.I. du Pont of Wilmington, Delaware, as historian Gerard Patterson notes. Semmes and Hardee even stopped in Washington to meet with Major Henry Wayne of the Quartermaster Department, a West Point classmate of Hardee. From Wayne they purchased 100 Sibley tents.
Georgia had not yet seceded when the manufacturers signed agreements with Semmes. And, as historian Gerard Patterson makes clear, it cannot be known with certainty how much materiel from northern or border state manufacturers made its way to Georgia and other Southern states in the months between secession and the first shots at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Du Pont sundered ties with Georgia and other Southern states only after Fort Sumter fell. Once Georgia seceded in January, Hardee resigned his U.S. Army commission.
William J. Hardee (1815-1873) of Georgia had a distinguished prewar military record in the Seminole War and Mexican War, and had reached lieutenant colonel of the 1st U.S. Cavalry when he resigned in January 1861. He published Hardee’s Tactics, the best-known drill manual of the era. Hardee was appointed brigadier general in the Confederate Army in June 1861, earned promotion to major general in October, and commanded a division under Albert S. Johnston in Tennessee. After the Battle of Shiloh, Hardee was promoted to lieutenant general. He served as corps commander in the Army of Tennessee for most of the rest of the war, and was known as a reliable but not brilliant officer. With meager resources, Hardee defended Savannah in the face of Sherman’s March to the Sea in December 1864.
Paul J. Semmes (1815-1863) was a Georgia banker and planter who served as captain of the Columbus Guards, a state militia unit, from 1846 until 1861. In 1861, he was elected colonel of the 2nd Georgia Infantry. Semmes and his regiment fought in most of the major battles of the Army of Northern Virginia. Semmes was mortally wounded at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. His cousin was Raphael Semmes, the Confederate naval hero and Captain of the Alabama.
Patterson, Gerard A. “America’s Civil War: Arming the South With Guns From the North,”
Civil War Times (October 2007). http://www.historynet.com/americas-civil-war-arming-the-south-with-guns-from-the-north.htm/4, accessed 4-18-08.