28 April 1864: “it is the duty of a soldier so to conduct himself as to dignify titles and not derive importance from them.”

Item Description: Correspondence, 28 April  and 8 May 1864, between General Edmund Kirby Smith  and Major General R. Taylor, in which Taylor expresses extreme dissatisfaction with Kirby Smith’s leadership and Kirby Smith denies his claims. Edmund Kirby-Smith was a United States and Confederate Army officer, president of the University of Nashville, and professor of mathematics at the University of the South.

[Item transcription available below images]

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Item Citation: From the Edmund Kirby-Smith Papers #404Southern Historical CollectionWilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item Transcription:

Hd Qrs Dist Western La
In the field April 28th 1864


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 22d inst. After having placed Walker’s Division in a useless position, seventy miles from an enemy, and kept it idle for fifteen days, after two days victorious fighting, you use this as a reason for removing it from my command, without previously knowing my situation and necessities and contrary to the promise you made me at Shreveport. I dismiss the idea that Steele should move on Shreveport; Steele who has already retreated over a hundred miles, and been completely foiled in his plans by Genl Price with his raw cavalry. Or, if such a purpose could be rationally entertained why not suppose that Banks would advance again from Alexandria? Can he not receive reinforcements as well as Steele? The remains of Banks’s army will now number double Steele’s original strength and he is accompanied by a fleet numbering more guns than any but a first class naval power could put afloat. I cannot conceive what “political and military points of view” are to be attained for the Confederacy by abandoning the certain destruction of an army of thirty thousand men, backed by a huge fleet, to chase after a force of ten thousand, in full retreat, with over a hundred miles the start. To accomplish this, inscrutable purpose, I was prevented from following up my victories, allured to Shreveport by compliments on my readiness to serve under Genl Price, and then unexpectedly deprived of the bulk of my army. Since then not a day has passed without some portion of my small force being taken from me, not with my consent, but without even the usual official courtesy of sending the orders through my hands. To day brings news that you have ordered two batteries from me, batteries of which are priceless value to my plans. Two companies of cavalry also are taken. Since I left Shreveport and gained my little force near Natchitoches not an hour has passed unmarked by some good blow struck for the cause, yet I am stripped hourly of troops. When I stated to you that I should fight a battle for Louisiana and your Department no efforts were made to reinforce me. The commands of Churchill and Parsons remained in Shreveport from the 24th of March until the 4th of April, and the only reason given is that they were without ammunition, which could have been distributed in two hours. You had four or five hundred men detailed from Walkers and Mouton’s Divisions at the various Bureaux in Shreveport. About to fight a battle against a force you considered to strong for the whole army under your command. I appealed in vain for these men. yet, after the great battle had been won, when you deprived me of command, all the men of Walker’s Division were returned to their colors, and that too when you were marching after a retreating foe with reinforcements equal to his original strength, Genl Price after foiling Steele asked for only four thousand Infantry to complete his destruction. You take the field with nine thousand and are hourly drawing on me for more. your communication closes by inviting me to Arkansas where, “I can place you on duty with increased rank and would feel that I had left the conduct of operations in safe hands.” What has occurred since you removed the conduct of operations from my hands, after Pleasant Hill to change your opinion of my capacity? General, had you then left the conduct of operations in my hands, Bank’s army would have been destroyed before this, the fleet would have been in our hands or blown up by the enemy. The moral effect at the North and the shock to public credit would have seriously affected the war. By this time the little Division of Polignac and Vincent’s La cavalry would have been near the gates of New-Orleans prepared to confine the enemy to narrow limits. I would have been on the way with the bulk of my army to join Price at Camden enriched with the captured spoils of a great army and fleet. Steele would have been brushed from our path as a cobweb before the broom of a house maid. We would have reached St. Louis our objective point by midsummer and relieved the pressure from our suffering brethren in Virginia and Georgia. All this is as true as the living God and required no more than ordinary energy for its accomplishment. You might have had all the glory, I would have been content to do the work either under you or Genl Price. Your confidential staff might have thrown the blame of every failure on me unrebuked and claimed the credit of every success for you without contradiction. Not a word should have passed my lips when I heard it announced, as lately at Shreveport, that the signal victories at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill were triumphs of your skill and strategy, victories with which your communications to me show, you had as little connection as with the “Army in Flanders.” You speak of placing me on duty with increased rank. Has the President been pleased to promote me? If so I have received no notice of it. As I informed you at our late interview I do not seek promotion. At the proper time, should the President think proper to reward any service of mine by giving me increased rank, I would be extremely grateful. Until that time comes I am contented, for I have learned from my ancestors that, it is the duty of a soldier so to conduct himself as to dignify titles and not derive importance from them. In a late communication you asked me for advice and stated that I had always given you a hearty support. The statement is but just. For more than a year I have supported you even when your policy was fatally wrong for I believed it my duty to give my commander a warm and earnest co-operation. The events of the past few weeks have so filled me with discouragement that I much fear I cannot do my whole duty under your command, and I ask that you take steps to relieve me as soon as it can be done without injury to the service.

Very Respectfully
Yr Obt Srvt
(Sign’d) R. Taylor
Maj. Genl

Genl E. Kirby Smith
Comd’g Dept Trans Miss
(Sign’d) Geo Williamson
Maj & A. A. G.

HdQrs Trans-Miss Dept
Camden May 8/64

Respectfully returned to Genl Taylor. His communication is not only improper but unjust. I cannot believe but that it was written in a moment of irritation or sickness.

(Sign’d) E. Kirby Smith


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