A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital

Author: John B. Jones  | Date: 1866

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Life in the Confederate Capital (1865)


[January 9, 1865.] WE have Hood’s acknowledgment of defeat, and loss of 50 guns before Nashville.

The papers contain the proceedings of a meeting in Savannah, over which the Mayor presided, embracing the terms of submission offered in President Lincoln’s message. They have sent North for provisions—indicating that the city was in a famishing condition. Our government is to blame for this! The proceedings will be used as a "form," probably, by other cities—thanks to the press!

The Examiner is out this morning for a convention of all the (Confederate) States, and denouncing the President. I presume the object is to put Lee at the head of military affairs. . . .

The Piedmont Railroad has been impressed. A secret act of Congress authorizes it.

Miers W. Fisher writes that if the cabinet indorses the newspaper suggestions of giving up slavery and going under true monarchies, it is all invitation to refugees like himself to return to their homes, and probably some of the States will elect to re turn to the Union for the sake of being under a republican government, etc. . . .

Flour is $700 per barrel to-day; meal, $80 per bushel; coal and wood, $100 per load. Does the government (alone to blame) mean to allow the rich speculators, the quartermasters, etc. to starve honest men into the Union? . . .

[January 10.] We have nothing new in the papers this morning. It is said with more confidence, however, that Butler’s canal is not yet a success. Daily and nightly our cannon play upon the works, and the deep sounds in this moist weather are distinctly heard in the city.

The amount of requisition for the War Department for 1865 is $670,000,000, and a deficiency of $400,000,000! . . .

A Mr. Lehman, a burly Jew, about thirty-five years old, got a passport to-day on the recommendation of the Secretary of the Treasury, to arrange as (agent, no doubt) for the shipment of several thousand bales of cotton, for which sterling funds are to be paid. No doubt it is important to keep the government cotton out of the hands of the enemy; and this operation seems to indicate that some fear of its loss exists.

Some 40,000 bushels of corn, etc. were consumed at Charlotte, N. C., the other day. A heavy loss! Both the army and the people will feel it. There seems already to exist the preliminary symptoms of panic and anarchy in the government. All the dignitaries wear gloomy faces; and this is a gloomy day—raining incessantly. A blue day—a miserable day!

The city council put up the price of gas yesterday to $50 per 1000 feet. . . .

[January 11.] Mr. E. A. Pollard, taken by the Federals in an attempt to run the blockade last spring, has returned, and reports that Gen. Butler has been relieved of his command—probably for his failure to capture Wilmington. Mr. Pollard says that during his captivity he was permitted, on parole, to visit the Northern cities, and he thinks the Northern conscription will ruin the war party.

But, alas! the lax policy inaugurated by Mr. Benjamin, and continued by every succeeding Secretary of War, enables the enemy to obtain information of all our troubles and all our vulnerable points. The United

States can get recruits under the conviction that there will be little or no more fighting.

Some $40,000 worth of provisions, belonging to speculators, but marked for a naval bureau and the Mining and Niter Bureau, have been seized at Danville. This is well—if it be not too late.

A letter from Mr. Trenholm, Secretary of the Treasury, to Mr. Wagner, Charleston, S. C. (sent over for approval), appoints him agent to proceed to Augusta, etc., with authority to buy all the cotton for the government, at $1 to $1.25 per pound; and then sell it for sterling bills of exchange to certain parties, giving them permission to remove it within the enemy’s lines; or "better still," to have it shipped abroad on government account by reliable parties. This indicates a purpose to die "full-handed," if the government must die, and to defeat the plans of the enemy to get the cotton. Is the Federal Government a party to this arrangement? Gold was $60 for one yesterday. I suppose there is no change to-day . . .

Col. Sale, Gen. Bragg’s military secretary, told me to-day that the general would probably return from Wilmington soon. His plan for filling the ranks by renovating the whole conscription system, will, he fears, slumber until it is too late, when ruin will overtake us! If the President would only put Bragg at the head of the conscription business—and in lime—we might be saved.

JANUARY 12TH. . . . Gold at $66 for one yesterday, at auction.

Major R. J. Echols, Quartermaster, Charlotte, N. C., says the fire there destroyed 70,000 bushels of grain, a large amount of sugar, molasses, clothing, blankets, etc. He knows not whether it was the result of design or accident. All his papers were consumed. A part of Conner’s brigade on the way to South Carolina, 500 men, under Lieut.-Col. Wallace, refused to aid in saving property, but plundered it! This proves that the soldiers were all poor men, the rich having bought exemptions or details! . . .

Mr. Ould, to whom it appears the Secretary has written for his opinion . . . gives a very bad one on the condition of affairs. He says the people have confidence in Mr. Seddon, but not in President Davis, and a strong reconstruction party will spring up in Virginia rather than adopt the President’s ideas about the slaves, etc. . . .

Mr. Miles introduced a resolution yesterday (in Congress) affirming that for any State to negotiate peace is revolutionary. Ill timed, because self-evident.

Gen. Bradley T. Johnson writes from Salisbury, N. C., that because the travel hither has been suspended by the government, the Central Railroad Company of that State refuse to send the full amount of trains for the transportation of soldiers. It must be impressed too.

I am assured by one of the President’s special detectives that Francis P. Blair, Sr. is truly in this city. What for? A rumor spreads that Richmond is to be evacuated.

Gen. Lee writes for the Secretary’s sanction to send officers everywhere in Virginia and North Carolina, to collect provisions and to control railroads, etc. The Secretary is sending orders to different commanders, and says he would rather have the odium than that it should fall on Lee! The Commissary-General approves Lee’s measure.

Gen. Lee’s dispatch was dated last Might. He says he has not two days’ rations for his army!

Commissary-General Northrop writes to the Secretary that the hour of emergency is upon us, and that Gen. Lee’s name may "save the cause," if he proclaims the necessity of indiscriminate impressment, etc.

JANUARY 13TH. . . . Beef (what little there is in market) sells to-day at $6 per pound; meal, $80 per bushel; white beans, $5 per quart, or $160 per bushel. And yet Congress is fiddling over stupid abstractions!

The government will awake speedily, however; and after Congress hurries through its business (when roused), the adjournment of that body will speedily ensue. But will the President dismiss his cabinet in time to save Richmond, Virginia, and the cause? That is the question. He can easily manage Congress, by a few letters from Gen. Lee. But will the potency of his cabinet feed Lee’s army?

A great panic still prevails in the city, arising from rumors of contemplated evacuation. If it should be evacuated, the greater portion of the inhabitants will remain, besides many of the employees of government and others liable to military service, unless they be forced away. But how can they be fed? The government cannot feed, sufficiently, the men already in the field. . . .

I believe there is a project on foot to borrow flour, etc. from citizens for Gen. Lee’s army. Many officers and men from the army are in the city to-day, confirming the reports of suffering for food in the field. . . .

Mr. Secretary Seddon is appointing men in the various districts of the city to hunt up speculators and flour; appointing such men as W. H. McFarland and others, who aspire to office by the suffrages of the people. They will not offend the speculators and hoarders by taking much four from them. No—domiciliary visits with bayonels alone will Suffice. . . .

It is understood that the President announced to Congress to-day the arrest of the Hon. H. S. Foote, member of that body, near Fredericksburg, while attempting to pass into the enemy’s lines. This, then, may have been Capt. Norton’s secret mission; and I believe the government had traps set for him at other places of egress. Meantime the enemy came in at Savannah. This is considered the President’s foible—a triumph over a political or personal enemy will occupy his attention and afford more delight than an ordinary victory over the common enemy. Most men will say Mr. Foote should have been permitted to go—if he desired it.

JANUARY 14TH. . . . The news that Goldsborough, N. C., had been taken is not confirmed. Nor have we intelligence of the renewal of the assault on Fort Fisher—but no one doubts it.

The government sent pork, butchered and salted a few weeks ago, to the army. Art order has been issued to borrow, buy, or impress flour, wherever found; but our political functionaries will see that it be not executed. The rich hoarders may control votes hereafter, when they may be candidates, etc. If domiciliary visits were made, many thousands of barrels of flour would be found. The speculators have not only escaped hitherto, but they have been exempted besides.

The Assembly of Virginia passed a resolution yesterday, calling upon the President to have revoked any orders placing restrictions upon the transportation of provisions to Richmond and Petersburg. The President sends this to the Secretary, asking a copy of any orders preventing carts from coming to market.

Flour is $1,000 per barrel to-day! . .

If Richmond be relinquished, it ought to be by convention and capitulation, getting the best possible terms for the citizens; and not by evacuation, leaving them at the mercy of the invaders. Will our authorities think of this? Doubtful.

J. B. Jones, (Philadelphia, 1866), II, 381–386 passim.

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Chicago: John B. Jones, A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2023, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=TSNQTZX2KUW52D1.

MLA: Jones, John B. A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital, Vol. II, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2023. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=TSNQTZX2KUW52D1.

Harvard: Jones, JB, A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2023, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=TSNQTZX2KUW52D1.