A Rebel Clerk’s War Diary, Volume Two

The concluding volume is just as useful as the first volume. You can download and read it for free here.

Jones continues the many themes he had in Volume One. As we read along, we can see the increasing problem of desertion in the confederate army. “Gen. Lee writes that fifty men deserted from Scale’s Regiment, North Carolina (a small regiment), night before last, being incited thereto by the newspapers. He wants pickets placed at certain places to catch them, so that some examples may be made.” [p. 3] On August 4, 1863 he wrote, “Lee is falling back on this side of the Rappahannock. His army has been diminished by desertions; but he has been reinforced pretty considerably since leaving Pennsylvania. The President’s address may reinforce him still more; and then it may be possible a portion of Bragg’s and Johnston’s armies may be ordered hither. If this should be done, the next battle may be fatal to Meade. Our people are thirsting for another victory; and may expect too much.” [p. 5]

He also gives us a glimpse of the growing animosity between Pierre G. T. Beauregard and the confederate government. “A letter from Hon. W. Porcher Miles to the Secretary of War, received the 15th July, urging the government to send some long-range Brooke guns for the salvation of Charleston, and saying that the President had once promised him that they should be sent thither, being sent by the Secretary to the President, was, to-day, August 5th, returned by the President, with a paper from the Secretary of the Navy, showing that, at the time Mr. Miles says he was promised the Brooke guns, there were really none on hand. Thus Mr. Miles has been caught by the President, after the lapse of twenty days! It is not denied, even by the Secretary of the Navy, that long-range guns were on hand at the time—but there were no Brooke guns, simply. Thus, while Charleston’s fate hangs trembling in the balance, and the guns are idle here, twenty days are fruitlessly spent. Mr. Miles appears to be a friend of Beauregard. Every letter that general sends to the department is sure to put twenty clerks at work in the effort to pick flaws in his accuracy of statement.” [pp. 5-6] On May 20, 1864 he wrote, “Col. Northrop is vehement in his condemnation of Beauregard; says his blunders are ruining us; that he is a charlatan, and that he never has been of any value to the Confederate States; and he censures Gen. Lee, whom he considers a general, and the only one we have, and the Secretary of War, for not providing transportation for supplies, now so fearfully scarce.” [p. 215]

Jones, a frank observer of events, tells us about disloyalty within the confederacy as well. “Letters from Western North Carolina show that the defection is spreading. In Wilkes County, Gideon Smoot is the commander of the insurgents, and has raised the United States flag. I have not learned, yet, whether Lieut.-Col. Lay, of the Bureau of Conscription, reached that far; and I was amazed when the good nature of Col. Preston yielded to his solicitations to go thither. What possible good could he, a Virginian, and formerly an aid of Gen. Scott, effect in that quarter?” [p. 33]

Many neoconfederates make a lot of noise about soldiers taking actions against newspapers in the loyal states; however, Jones lets us know this isn’t confined to the loyal states: “A dispatch from Raleigh informs us of a mob yesterday in that city. Some soldiers broke into and partially destroyed the office of the Standard, alleged to be a disloyal paper; after that, and when the soldiers had been dispersed by a speech from Governor Vance, the citizens broke into and partially destroyed the Journal, an ultra-secession paper. These were likewise dispersed by a speech from the Governor.” [p. 41]

Continuing to let us know slavery is at the heart of the rebellion, on October 2, 1863 Jones wrote, “The emancipation and confiscation measures rendered reconstruction impracticable—unless, indeed, at a future day, the Abolitionists of the United States should be annihilated and Abolitionism abolished.” [p. 60] On February 8, 1864, he wrote, “Everywhere our troops in the field, whose terms of three years will expire this spring, are re-enlisting for the war. This is an effect produced by President Lincoln’s proclamation; that to be permitted to return to the Union, all men must first take an oath to abolish slavery!” [p. 146] On September 12, 1864 he told us, “Over 100,000 landed proprietors, and most of the slaveowners, are now out of the ranks, and soon, I fear, we shall have an army that will not fight, having nothing to fight for. And this is the result of the pernicious policy of partiality and exclusiveness, disintegrating society in such a crisis, and recognizing distinction of ranks,—the higher class staying home and making money, the lower class thrust into the trenches. And then the infamous schedule, to make the fortunes of the farmers of certain counties.” [p. 281] On February 6, 1865 he said, “The Congress of the United States has just passed, by a two-thirds vote, an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery. Now the South will soon be fired up again, perhaps with a new impulse—and war will rage with greater fury than ever. Mr. Stephens will go into Georgia, and reanimate his people. Gen. Wise spoke at length for independence at the Capitol on Saturday night amidst applauding listeners, and Governor Smith speaks to-night.” [p. 410]

He also lets us know that confederates themselves were responsible for much destruction and theft in the confederate states. On December 17, 1863 we find, “A letter from Mr. Underwood, of Rome, Ga., says our people fly from our own cavalry, as they devastate the country as much as the enemy.” [p. 116] On December 25, Jones wrote, “No war news to-day. But a letter, an impassioned one, from Gov. Vance, complains of outrages perpetrated by detached bodies of Confederate States cavalry, in certain counties, as being worse than any of the plagues of Egypt: and says that if any such scourge had been sent upon the land, the children of Israel would not have been followed to the Red Sea. In short, he informs the Secretary of War, if no other remedy be applied, he will collect his militia and levy war against the Confederate States troops! I placed that letter on the Secretary’s table, for his Christmas dinner. As I came out, I met Mr. Hunter, President of the Senate, to whom I mentioned the subject. He said, phlegmatically, that many in North Carolina were ‘prone to act in opposition to the Confederate States Government.’ ” [p. 119]

While he does adhere to the loyal slave myth, Jones does give us information on some disloyalty among slaves, such as this from January 21, 1864: “Last night an attempt was made (by his servants, it is supposed) to burn the President’s mansion. It was discovered that fire had been kindled in the wood-pile in the basement. The smoke led to the discovery, else the family might have been consumed with the house. One or two of the servants have absconded.” [pp. 132-133] The next day he heard more information on this incident and duly recorded it: “It is thought the negroes that attempted to burn the President’s house (they had heaped combustibles under it) were instigated by Yankees who have been released upon taking the oath of allegiance. But I think it quite as probable his enemies here (citizens) instigated it. They have one of the servants of the War Department under arrest, as participating in it.” [p. 133] On February 15, we find a quote from the Richmond Dispatch: ” ‘Another of President Davis’s Negroes run away.—On Saturday night last the police were informed of the fact that Cornelius, a negro man in the employ of President Davis, had run away. Having received some clew of his whereabouts, they succeeded in finding him in a few hours after receiving the information of his escape, and lodged him in the upper station house. When caught, there was found on his person snack enough, consisting of cold chicken, ham, preserves, bread, etc., to last him for a long journey, and a large sum of money he had stolen from his master. Some time after being locked up, he called to the keeper of the prison to give him some water, and as that gentleman incautiously opened the door of his cell to wait on him, Cornelius knocked him down and again made his escape. Mr. Peter Everett, the only watchman present, put off after him; but before running many steps stumbled and fell, injuring himself severely.’ ” [p. 150] On May 15 we find, “Most of the able-bodied negro men, both free and slave, have been taken away—in the field as teamsters, or digging on the fortifications. Yet those that remain may sometimes be seen at the street corners looking, some wistfully, some in dread, in the direction of the enemy. There is but little fear of an insurrection, though no doubt the enemy would be welcomed by many of the negroes, both free and slave.” [p. 212]

He also keeps track of the food prisoners receive in the confederacy, taking note when they don’t have meat, especially for a number of days, and he also records exchanges throughout the diary. He even lets us know when he disagrees with the confederate policy: “Last night, when it was supposed probable that the prisoners of war at the Libby might attempt to break out, Gen. Winder ordered that a large amount of powder be placed under the building, with instructions to blow them up, if the attempt were made. He was persuaded, however, to consult the Secretary of War first, and get his approbation. The Secretary would give no such order, but said the prisoners must not be permitted to escape under any circumstances, which was considered sanction enough. Capt. —— obtained an order for, and procured several hundred pounds of gunpowder, which were placed in readiness. Whether the prisoners were advised of this I know not; but I told Capt. —— it could not be justifiable to spring such a mine in the absence of their knowledge of the fate awaiting them, in the event of their attempt to break out,—because such prisoners are not to be condemned for striving to regain their liberty. Indeed, it is the duty of a prisoner of war to escape if he can.” [p. 164]

There are other instances of disagreement with confederate policy as well, such as on October 12, 1864: “The despotic order, arresting every man in the streets, and hurrying them to “the front,” without delay, and regardless of the condition of their families—some were taken off when getting medicine for their sick wives—is still the theme of execration, even among men who have been the most ultra and uncompromising secessionists. The terror caused many to hide themselves, and doubtless turned them against the government. They say now such a despotism is quite as bad as a Stanton despotism, and there is not a toss-up between the rule of the United States and the Confederate States. Such are some of the effects of bad measures in such critical times as these.” [p. 304] On December 6 he tells us, “And yet our conscription superintendents, under orders, are busily engaged furloughing and detailing the rich slaveowners! It is developing a rapidly growing Emancipation party, for it is the establishment of a privileged class, and may speedily prove fatal to our cause. Our leaders are mad, and will be destroyed, if they persist in this policy.” [p. 349]

Jones is useful in tracking the debate in the confederacy over whether or not to put African-Americans into the ranks as soldiers. His information counters the delusional claims of neoconfederates that there were thousands of African-American confederate soldiers. On September 23, 1864 he wrote, “Gen. Lee writes that, in his opinion, the time has come for the army to have the benefit of a certain per cent of the negroes, free and slave, as teamsters, laborers, etc.; and he suggests that there should be a corps of them permanently attached to the army. He says if we do not make use of them in the war, the enemy will use them against us.” [p. 291] Note this is not using African-Americans as soldiers, but rather as teamsters and laborers and other positions that would free white men to be combat soldiers. He gives us this information on November 8, 1864: “Congress assembled yesterday, and the President’s message was read. He recommends the employment of 40,000 slaves in the army, not as soldiers, unless in the last extremity; and after the war he proposes their emancipation. This is supposed to be the idea of Mr. Benjamin, for foreign effect. It is denounced by the Examiner.” [p. 326] Again, this is not to use African-Americans as soldiers. The emancipation proposed is a limited emancipation for those who served the confederacy in the field, keeping the rest in slavery. On November 11, he wrote, “The Richmond Enquirer is out, to-day, in an article advocating the employment of 250,000 negroes in our army.” [p. 330] He notes on December 13, “The rich men are generally indignant at the President and Gov. Smith for proposing to bring a portion of the negroes into the army. They have not yet awakened to a consciousness that there is danger of losing all, and of their being made to fight against us. They do not even remove them beyond the reach of the enemy, and hundreds are daily lost, but still they slumber on. They abuse the government for its impressments, and yet repose in fancied security, holding the President responsible for the defense of the country, without sufficient men and adequate means.” [pp. 353-354] The next day, “The bill to employ 40,000 negroes, as recommended by the President, for army purposes, though not avowedly to fight, has passed one House of Congress. So the President is master yet. There ought to be 100,000 now in the field.” [p. 354] On the first day of 1865 he wrote, “The proposition to organize an army of negroes gains friends; because the owners of the slaves are no longer willing to fight themselves, at least they are not as “eager for the fray” as they were in 1861; and the armies must be replenished, or else the slaves will certainly be lost.” [p. 372] Jones also gives us what he’s learned of Howell Cobb’s views: “Gen. Howell Cobb writes his views, etc. Utterly opposed to arming the slaves—better emancipate them at once, conceding to the ‘demands of England and France,’ and then enlist them. But he thinks a return to the system of volunteering would answer to fill the ranks with white men; also suggests that the President concede something to popular sentiment—restore Gen. J. E. Johnston, etc. He says gloom and despair are fast settling on the people.” [p. 393] The February 24, 1865 entry tells us, “Yesterday the Senate voted down the bill to put 200,000 negroes in the army. The papers to-day contain a letter from Gen. Lee, advocating the measure as a necessity. Mr. Hunter’s vote defeated it. He has many negroes, and will probably lose them; but the loss of popularity, and fear of forfeiting all chance of the succession, may have operated on him as a politician. What madness! ‘Under which King, Benzonian?’ ” [p. 431]

Jones reproduces this letter from R. E. Lee to the confederate congressman Ethelbert Barksdale, younger brother of William Barksdale, who was killed at Gettysburg:

Headquarters Confederate States Armies,
“February 18th, 1865.

Hon. E. Barksdale, House of Representatives, Richmond.

Sir:—I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 12th inst., with reference to the employment of negroes as soldiers. I think the measure not only expedient, but necessary. The enemy will certainly use them against us if he can get possession of them; and as his present numerical superiority will enable him to penetrate many parts of the country, I cannot see the wisdom of the policy of holding them to await his arrival, when we may, by timely action and judicious management, use them to arrest his progress. I do not think that our white population can supply the necessities of a long war without overtaxing its capacity and imposing great suffering upon our people; and I believe we should provide resources for a protracted struggle—not merely for a battle or a campaign.

“In answer to your second question, I can only say that, in my opinion, the negroes, under proper circumstances, will make efficient soldiers. I think we could at least do as well with them as the enemy, and he attaches great importance to their assistance. Under good officers, and good instructions, I do not see why they should not become soldiers. They possess all the physical qualifications, and their habits of obedience constitute a good foundation for discipline. They furnish a more promising material than many armies of which we read in history, which owed their efficiency to discipline alone. I think those who are employed should be freed. It would be neither just nor wise, in my opinion, to require them to serve as slaves. The best course to pursue, it seems to me, would be to call for such as are willing to come with the consent of their owners. An impressment or draft would not be likely to bring out the best class, and the use of coercion would make the measure distasteful to them and to their owners.

“I have no doubt that if Congress would authorize their reception into service, and empower the President to call upon individuals or States for such as they are willing to contribute, with the condition of emancipation to all enrolled, a sufficient number would be forthcoming to enable us to try the experiment. If it proved successful, most of the objections to the measure would disappear, and if individuals still remained unwilling to send their negroes to the army, the force of public opinion in the States would soon bring about such legislation as would remove all obstacles. I think the matter should be left, as far as possible, to the people and to the States, which alone can legislate as the necessities of this particular service may require. As to the mode of organizing them, it should be left as free from restraint as possible. Experience will suggest the best course, and it would be inexpedient to trammel the subject with provisions that might, in the end, prevent the adoption of reforms suggested by actual trial.

“With great respect,
“Your obedient servant,
R. E. Lee, General.” [pp. 432-433]

Finally, on March 17, 1865 he wrote, “We shall have a negro army. Letters are pouring into the department from men of military skill and character, asking authority to raise companies, battalions, and regiments of negro troops. It is the desperate remedy for the very desperate case—and may be successful. If 300,000 efficient soldiers can be made of this material, there is no conjecturing where the next campaign may end. Possibly “over the border,” for a little success will elate our spirits extravagantly; and the blackened ruins of our towns, and the moans of women and children bereft of shelter, will appeal strongly to the army for vengeance.” [p. 451] However, on March 23, “The parade of a few companies of negro troops yesterday was rather a ridiculous affair. The owners are opposed to it.” [p. 457]

Here’s an interesting anecdote regarding R. E. Lee: “I saw Mr. Lyons to-day, who told me Mr. Hunter dined with him yesterday, and that Gen. Lee took tea with him last evening, and seemed in good spirits, hope, etc. Mr. Lyons thinks Gen. Lee was always a thorough emancipationist. He owns no slaves. He (Mr. Lyons) thinks that using the negroes in the war will be equivalent to universal emancipation, that not a slave will remain after the President’s idea (which he don’t seem to condemn) is expanded and reduced to practice. He favors sending out a commissioner to Europe for aid, on the basis of emancipation, etc., as a dernier ressort. He thinks our cause has received most injury from Congress, of which he is no longer a member. If it be really so, and if it were generally known, that Gen. Lee is, and always has been opposed to slavery, how soon would his great popularity vanish like the mist of the morning! Can it be possible that he has influenced the President’s mind on this subject? Did he influence the mind of his father-in-law, G. W. Park Custis, to emancipate his hundreds of slaves? Gen. Lee would have been heir to all, as his wife was an only child. There’s some mistake about it.” [p. 398]

Jones gives us this view of Jefferson Davis: “The President is considered really a man of ability, and eminently qualified to preside over the Confederate States, if independence were attained and we had peace. But he is probably not equal to the role he is now called upon to play. He has not the broad intellect requisite for the gigantic measures needed in such a crisis, nor the health and physique for the labors devolving on him. Besides he is too much of a politician still to discard his old prejudices, and persists in keeping aloof from him, and from commanding positions, all the great statesmen and patriots who contributed most in the work of preparing the minds of the people for resistance to Northern domination. And the consequence is that many of these influential men are laboring to break down his administration, or else preparing the people for a return to the old Union. The disaffection is intense and wide-spread among the politicians of 1860, and consternation and despair are expanding among the people. Nearly all desire to see Gen. Lee at the head of affairs; and the President is resolved to yield the position to no man during his term of service. Nor would Gen. Lee take it.” [p. 372]

He also has some choice views of the confederate congress: “Yesterday much of the day was consumed by Congress in displaying a new flag for the Confederacy—before the old one is worn out! Idiots!” [p. 409] “Our commissioners are back again! It is said Lincoln and Seward met them at Fortress Monroe, and they proceeded no further. No basis of negotiation but reconstruction could be listened to by the Federal authorities. How could it be otherwise, when their armies are marching without resistance from one triumph to another—while the government ‘allows’ as many emissaries as choose to pass into the enemy’s country, with the most solemn assurances that the Union cause is spreading throughout the South with great rapidity—while the President is incapacitated both mentally and physically by disease, disaster, and an inflexible defiance of his opponents—and while Congress wastes its time in discussions on the adoption of a flag for future generations!” [pp. 409-410]

This anecdote is interesting for those who think of “bust a cap” being a contemporary urban slang only: “As I crossed Franklin Street, going down to the department this morning, I heard on my right the cry of ‘halt!’ and saw a large man in citizen’s clothes running toward me pursued by a soldier—coming from the direction of Gen. Ewell’s headquarters. The man (perhaps a deserter) ran on, and the soldier took deliberate aim with his rifle, and burst a cap. I stood and watched the man, being riveted to the spot by a strange fascination, although I was nearly in a line with the pursuit. An irresistible curiosity seized me to see the immediate effects of the shot. The man turned up Ninth Street, the soldier fixing another cap as he ran, and, taking deliberate aim, the cap failed to explode the charge again. I saw several persons crossing the street beyond the flying man, who would have been greatly endangered if the rifle had been discharged. In war the destruction of human life excites no more pity than the slaughter of beeves in peace!” [p. 292]

Jones ends his diary after Lincoln’s assassination, calling it “a dastardly deed–surely the act of a madman.” [p. 480]

After the war, Jones reworked his diary, adding some things based on hindsight, and then he returned to Philadelphia. He died in February, 1866, a few months before his diary was published.

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2 comments

  1. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

    Al,
    This is a splendid primary source. It just goes to show how important primary sources are in studying history. Historians did not make up the past. They discovered it in the handwriting of the people who were there. The neo-confederates will just have another person to disown. Eventually they will run out of confederates in their crazy quest to deny the facts.

    1. Already, Jimmy, neoconfederates who push the black confederate myth have to reckon they’re calling R. E. Lee a dithering fool who had no idea who was in his army. They’re calling the entire confederate government idiots who had no clue who was in the army. Otherwise there would have been no debate about putting African-Americans into the army.

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