Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/June/Official Correspondence of Gov. Letcher, of Virginia, in 1861

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Southern Historical Society Papers, June 1876

Official Correspondence of Governor Letcher, of Virginia.

The following letters are of interest and value as illustrating the history of the times. Their originals, kindly presented to the Society by Governor Letcher, constitute a valuable addition to our collection of autographs.

Upon a request of Governor Letcher that Lieutenant-Colonel Hardee, United States Army, be allowed to come to Richmond to drill the Virginia cavalry then encamped at the Fair Grounds, General Scott wrote the following letters.

General Hardee complied with the request, and drilled the cavalry several days.

New York, October 22, 1860.

His Excellency John Letcher, Governor of Virginia:

My Dear Sir—I have caused a copy of your letter to be forwarded to Lieutenant-Colonel Hardee, who is, I think, still at West Point, though relieved from duty there. It is not competent for a senior to order a junior of the army on any service whatever, not strictly within the line of his official duties, but I think it probable Colonel Hardee will take pleasure in meeting the wishes of your Excellency. With great respect,

I have the honor to remain,
Your obedient servant,
Winfield Scott.

Headquarters of the Army,
New York, October 22, 1860.

Lieutenant-Colonel W. J. Hardee, First United States Cavalry:

Sir—By direction of the Lieutenant-General commanding the army, I send you the enclosed copy of a letter received by him from the Governor of Virginia. I am also instructed by the General to say, that as you have been authorized to delay proceeding to join your new post until the first of February next, you are, of course, at liberty to accept or to decline Governor Letcher's invitation to visit the encampment of cavalry, as you may think proper.

I am, sir, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
(Signed)E. D. Keys,
Lieutenant–Colonel United States Army,
Military Secretary to Lieutenant-General Scott.

The following from Honorable George W. Summers, and the reply of Governor Letcher, are important:

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Kanawha Courthouse, May 3d, 1861.

John Letcher, Esq., Governor, &c.:

My Dear Sir—So far, the population on either side the Ohio remain quiet. Our former relation of good neighborhood continues. The boats in the Cincinnati trade from this Valley yet make their trips, but have had difficulty in some instances in procuring freights, especially in the provision line. The people of Ohio profess to desire peace and commerce with us; but it is not to be denied that the public mind is in a sensitive condition, rendering it easy for the worst men on either side the border to produce difficulties which might become widespread. To avoid this, I learn that the good and substantial men on both sides have taken measures, by committees of safety, &c., to watch and suppress any out-break. I doubt very much the expediency of Virginia sending any troops to the western border, at least for the present. The appearance of troops at Wheeling, Parkersburg, Point Pleasant, or any places on the Ohio river, would serve to irritate and invite aggression. You could not send enough to do much good, if they chose to invade from the other side. They can concentrate on Wheeling 50,000 men from the other side in twenty-four hours by the various railroads leading to that point; so at Parkersburg, but in less numbers. The Ohio is fordable in the summer and fall at many points, and the whole river, from Sandy to the end of Hancock, easily crossed. We have here, and in all the counties, volunteer companies, home guards, &c. Our mountains are full of rifles, and if invaded, we shall give a good account of ourselves. The question with us is, whether we are not better off, left to ourselves, than to have a small and inadequate force sent to us, which might merely serve as an excuse for an outbreak. What we need is guns in the hands of our own companies.

Whether it might be well to have some troops in the interior, at long distance from the river—such a point as Grafton or Piedmont, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad—might be worthy of consideration.

Troops in any of the counties on the rivers would most probably cut off every supply from below, both for the army and the resident population.

I have ventured to throw out these suggestions, not formally, as to the commander-in-chief, but in the freedom of private friendship, knowing your anxiety to do your whole duty in this crisis, and your wish to obtain information from every part of the State.

I found on reaching home a member of my family in a critical condition (the main cause of my return); this still continues. I had expected the Convention to have adjourned before this time, but I could not have returned to Richmond ere this, for the reason mentioned.

I am well aware that your whole time is occupied with public affairs, but if in the midst of your official duties and burdens you can snatch a moment for a line to me, it would afford me the utmost pleasure. Is this likely to be a general war of invasion, or are the stupids at Washington to attempt a scheme of blockade and border foray, starvation, &c., by cutting off commerce?

I need not say that it will afford me the utmost pleasure to be of any service to you in this part of the State, and I hope you will not hesitate to call upon me. Your communications, when necessary, shall be held as strictly confidential. My best respects for Mrs. L., if she is with you.

With high esteem,
Your obedient servant,
Geo. W. Summers.

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Executive Department, May 10th, 1861.

My Dear Sir—Your favor of May 3d has been received. Deeming it important that the suggestions you have been kind enough to make should be made known to General Lee, who has been entrusted with the defence of the State, I have taken the liberty of submitting your letter to him.

General Lee concurs fully with you in the views you have presented, and the steps taken by him for the protection and defence of your section of the State coincide almost exactly with the course you have advised me to pursue. He agrees with you that it would be impossible for us to raise a force at this time sufficiently strong to resist the large bodies of troops in the States of the Northwest, at the command of the Federal Government, and that it is inexpedient and unwise to invite an invasion by the concentration of troops among you. But he thinks it important to guard your section from the lawless bands which may be tempted to make raids upon you if they found that the volunteer force is not organized and ready for service. He has therefore instructed the officers placed in command to gather a volunteer force at Grafton, the point designated by you, from the surrounding counties, and hold it in readiness to be employed at any point where its services may be required.

Arms have been sent to the volunteer companies, but no troops have or will be sent from this part of the State. While this line of policy is suggested by our comparative weakness, and by the difficulty of collecting, in any short time, an organized force in Northwestern Virginia, sufficient to meet a large body of troops coming against us, it is also called for by the distracted and divided state of our own people; and I know of no better way of establishing unity of feeling and of securing a hearty co-operation on the part of all our citizens, in the support of the State, in the position it now occupies, than by placing arms in the hands of men known to be loyal and true, to be used in their own defence.

I shall be glad to hear frequently from you upon the subject of your letter, and to receive any suggestions you may be pleased to make.

I remain, most respectfully yours, &c.,
John Letcher.

Hon Geo. W. Summers, Charleston, Kanawha County, Va.}}

The two following letters from President Davis are of interest:

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Richmond, June 7, 1861.

Dear Sir—I have the honor to acknowledge yours of yesterday, covering the letter of General Floyd and its enclosure, to wit: three captains' commissions, which had been regularly issued by you. Permit me to express my regret, that in the effort to organize a brigade for the defence of Southwestern Virginia, and the important line of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, that there should have been any interference with your unquestionable authority and commendable efforts to increase the military power of Virginia. The apprehension of a movement by the enemy towards East Tennessee, renders it necessary, at the earliest practicable period, to have—say two regiments embodied in the Southwestern District of Virginia; and, if you can consistently do so, I would be glad that the companies in question should be left in that region until General Floyd can complete the organization of his brigade, and, if you please, that these companies should form a part of it.

Enclosed please find a copy of the letter this day addressed to General Floyd, and believe me to be,

Very respectfully, yours, &c.,
Jefferson Davis.

To His Excellency John Letcher, Governor of Virginia.}}

Richmond, June 7th, 1861.

General John B. Floyd:

Dear Sir—Governor Letcher has sent me yours of the 4th instant, covering the commissions of four captains, and a statement to the effect that those officers were duly commissioned and regularly in the service of the State of Virginia, and could not therefore rightfully transfer their companies to another service.

Please find enclosed a copy of my reply to him. Should he be pleased to transfer the companies to your brigade, the difficulty will thereby be removed, otherwise you will not fail to perceive they cannot be incorporated into the command you are authorized to organize and muster into service. The good temper exhibited by the Governor induces me to hope that he will thus aid you in the formation of your brigade, and you will permit me in friendly spirit I assure you that he has manifested none other than the best wishes for yourself personally, and for the success of the service entrusted to you.

I have the honor to be,
Very respectfully yours,
Jefferson Davis.

The letters which follow are interesting illustrations of what Virginia was enabled to do in assisting to arm the troops of other States as well as her own:

Richmond, September 20th, 1861.

To his Excellency Governor John Letcher:

Sir—I am happy to be the vehicle of communication of the enclosed resolutions of the Committee of Safety for the town of Wilmington, in which your Excellency will perceive that your kindness to the citizens of Wilmington in their moment of danger is duly and highly appreciated. With the sincere assurance that your Excellency's kindness will always by us be remembered with gratitude, I have the honor to be,

Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
Wm. S. Ashe.

Wilmington, N. C., September 17th, 1861.

At a meeting of the Committee of Safety for the town of Wilmington, the following proceeding was adopted:

Honorable Wm. S. Ashe having reported that he had procured from Governor Letcher, of Virginia, an eight-inch columbiad and a supply of muskets—

"Resolved, That the thanks of this Committee are eminently due and are hereby most earnestly tendered to his Excellency John Letcher, Governor of Virginia, for the promptness with which he has responded to the application for arms by this Committee.

"Resolved, That a copy of the foregoing resolution be handed to Mr. Ashe, with the request that he will communicate the same to Governor Letcher."

S. D. Wallace, Secretary.

Richmond, Va., September 21st, 1861.

Honorable Wm. S. Ashe:

Dear Sir—I have had the honor to receive your letter of yesterday, enclosing resolutions adopted by the Committee of Safety for the town of Wilmington, expressive of their thanks for the arms which it was in my power to furnish for their defence. In the distribution of the arms, &c., at my disposal, it has afforded me pleasure to provide, as far as possible, for the defence, not only of my own State, but of all the Confederate States, engaged as we are in a common cause for the maintenance of rights and institutions dear to us all.

I return to the Committee my acknowledgments for their resolutions, and many thanks to you for the kind terms which you have employed in communicating them to me.

I am, truly,
John Letcher.

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Richmond, Va., October 9th, 1862.

My Dear Governor—I have the honor to present to you Mr. Edmund Turner, of my staff, and to say that you will place me under the greatest of obligations by delivering to him the order for the arms which you were kind enough to offer me day before yesterday, and by informing him how and where they are to be obtained.

Please let me have as many as you can spare.

I shall thus be made by you doubly welcome to my new command, and in the use of these arms promise to justify your kindness.

I am engaged this evening with a part of my family, who have just arrived from the country, and will leave to-morrow morning.

Under no other circumstances would I have failed to call upon you and thank you for the prompt and efficient manner in which you have always acted in support of my humble efforts to serve our cause, and for your present kindness in offering me the means to do so, where they are so much needed.

Doctor Mayo informs me that you will leave for the salt works to-morrow morning, and as I may not meet you for a long time, allow me to express my high appreciation of your great and eminent services to our noble, suffering and uncomplaining State, now afflicted by the direst calamities, and threatened with the most formidable dangers that can befall a gallant and virtuous people.

God grant you, and all who labor in her cause, the success which such efforts justly merit.

With sentiments of the highest regard,
I remain, Governor,
Very faithfully, your friend and servant,
J. Bankhead Magruder,


Headquarters First Kentucky Brigade
Bowling Green, Kentucky, November 30th, 1861.

Colonel—The muskets, I am informed, have reached Nashville. I am in receipt of your communication of November 12th, and am under the greatest obligations for your kindness and attention in the matter.

Very truly yours,
John C. Breckinridge.

Will you be good enough to express my warm thanks to Governor Letcher, to whom I will write in a few days? The guns shall be distributed in his name to my ill-armed brigade.

J. C. B.
Col. Charles Dimmock, Chief of Ordnance Department, Richmond, Va.

Confederate States of America,
Treasury Department,
Richmond, December 9, 1861.

My Dear Sir—With the thanks of Governor Pickens and myself for your prompt and considerate response to our request for arms for South Carolina, I herewith send you a receipt of the Governor for the same.

Very truly yours,
C. G. Memminger.

His Excellency Governor Letcher, present.

Charleston, South Carolina, December 3d, 1861.

Received from Governor Letcher, of the State of Virginia, five hundred muskets, altered to percussion, as a loan to the State of South Carolina, through Mr. Henry Spannick, as special agent for the State of Virginia.

W. G. Eason,
Assistant Ordnance Officer, South Carolina.

The following letter from General R. E. Lee will be read with interest, as showing that at an early day he appreciated and sought to provide against the danger of the disorganization of the volunteer forces of the Confederacy:

Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, December 26th, 1861.

His Excellency John Letcher, Governor of Virginia:

Governor—I have desired to call your attention to the necessity of making provision for replacing the Virginia regiments transferred to the Confederate States for twelve months previous to the limitation of their present term of service. I hope the late law of Congress will induce them to re-enlist. But should it not, I tremble to think of the different conditions our armies will present to those of the enemy at the opening of the next campaign.

On the plains of Manassas, for instance, the enemy will resume operations, after a year's preparation and a winter of repose, fresh, vigorous and completely organized, while we shall be in the confusion and excitement of reorganizing ours. The disbanding and reorganizing an army in time of peace is attended with loss and expense. What must it be in time of active service in the presence of the enemy prepared to strike? I have thought that General McClellan is waiting to take the advantage which that opportunity will give him. What is then to stand between him and Richmond? I know of no way of ensuring the re-enlistment of our regiments, except by the passage of a law for drafting them "for the war," unless they volunteer for that period. The great object of the Confederate States is to bring the war to a successful issue. Every consideration should yield to that; for without it we can hope to enjoy nothing that we possess, and nothing that we do possess will be worth enjoying without it.

I have also wished to speak of one of our best officers. Colonel Carter L. Stevenson. He has been and still is in Western Virginia, acting as Adjutant-General of General Loring. He ought to be at the head of a regiment. He is a faithful, energetic officer, and at this time I should suppose not wanted in his present position. Cannot he get a Virginia regiment, with Lieutenant-Colonel S. Bassett French as Lieutenant-Colonel, and be sent out here? I want troops badly, and want them for the war. I fear Colonel French will get sick if he remains longer in Richmond, and you would be obliged to give him up then.

Our enemy here is very strong, and his fleet all-powerful in these waters. As yet he has effected but little, and if he will leave his big floating guns, that sweep over the lowlands like a scythe, I hope he will not have everything his own way.

With my best wishes, my dear Governor, for your health and happiness, and kind regards to all around you, I remain with high respect, truly and sincerely yours,

R. E. Lee.