Civil War Letters of Francis H. Smith
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Selected letters, May 1864.
May 2, 1864 HQ, VMI
Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge
Comd. Dept. of Western Va. Dublin Depot
I have the honor to enclose herewith a letter from General R.E. Lee, Commanding Army of N. Virginia, addressed to the Adjutant General of Virginia--also--a copy of instructions from the Governor of Virginia communicated by the Adjutant General defining my duty as Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute.
Under these instructions and suggestions, I now respectfully report to you, for such orders as the emergencies of the approaching campaign may call forth. The Corps of Cadets numbers an aggregate of 280, of whom 250 may be relied upon for active duty, leaving 30 as a necessary guard to the Institution and as disabled. The command is organized as a battalion of infantry of four companies, and is usually accompanied by a section of Artillery. It is fully equipped, except in horses, and these are impressed in case of need. We have abundance of ammunition, tents, knapsacks, shovels & picks, and will be prepared to march at a moment's notice.
Brig. Gen. Imboden is about constructing telegraphic communication between the Institute and Staunton. This he hopes to have in operation by the middle of May. In the mean time he will communicate with us by signals. Any intelligence from Dublin Depot had better be forwarded to Gen. Imboden at Staunton, with instructions to be immediately transmitted to me.
I remain, General, very respt. yr. obt. servant/signed/Francis H. Smith/.
[Breckinridge replied on May 4.]
May 6, 1864Capt. J. Wills
Mr. Norgrove may have mentioned to you that I was desirous of buying a boat for this Institution.
I am anxious to secure your kind offices in making the selection & purchase, & will most cheerfully pay any expenses you may incur, and also a commission for your trouble.
I want a large and first class boat, such as may be run on the North River Canal. I am not sure whether a deck boat will be best for my purpose or not--or whether it may not be better to buy an open boat which is so arranged as to be closed in. I will explain to you what I desire to use such a boat for and then you can judge better than I can.
I may have to transport Artillery, say from Richmond or Lynchburg to this place, or the reverse, or [illegible] of guns and ammunition. When not engaged in transporting army supplies, I may want to bring up coal or wood--and take back hay or flour or general merchandise, all this on account of the state or of the Confederate states. When not running on their duties, she may be employed as a general freight boat.
I should like to get a boat equipped fully, & fitted to run as soon as possible, and if possible to get a reliable Captain to whom I would be willing to pay the customary rates.
As I have said above, you will be best able to judge what kind of boat will suit me best and I now authorize you to close a bargain for the same, subject to the condition that the boat is to be delivered to me at Lexington, and to be paid for here, by an order or draft on the Governor of Virginia./signed/Francis H. Smith.
May 6, 1864Col. A.W. McDonald, CSA
Comd., Lexington Va.
A worthy gentleman of Liverpool has presented to the state of Virginia a Confederate flag to be raised over the grave of the lamented Jackson. The Governor of Virginia has assigned to me the duty of carrying out the wishes of the generous donor, and I have fixed the 10th day of May, the anniversary of his death, as the time for the [interesting] ceremony. Governor Letcher will deliver an address appropriate to the occasion. I shall be pleased if you & all officers & soldiers on duty at this post would unite with us in this ceremony./signed/Francis H. Smith
May 11, 1864, 6 a.m. Maj. Gen. J.C. Breckinridge, CSA.
Your dispatch of yesterday by courier was recd. by me at 9 P.M. I immediately gave orders to Lt. Col. Ship, Commandant of Cadets, to have his battalion in readiness to move this morning at 7 o.c. They are now forming, & will reach Bell's 16 miles today & be in Staunton tomorrow.
I have issued to them rations for 2 days, & will send with them 500 lbs. of bacon & as much beef as I can find transportation for. I have 64 barrels of flour near Staunton. I send 100 bushels of corn for forage.
The cadets are armed with Austrian Rifles & take 40 rounds of ammunition. The section of Artillery will consist of 3 in. iron rifles & the ammunition chests of the limbers & caissons will be filled. I have 10 or 12 6 lb. brass pieces here, mounted, and 1 12 lb howitzer, if any should be needed.
Horses have been impressed for the Artillery & transportation, but the horses are slow in coming in. The artillery have orders to reach the Infantry Battalion tonight.
I have ordered the four companies of reserves to rendevous here & will arm & equip them, and hold them in readiness to move at a moment's notice. No commanding officer has been appt. to this Battalion. I will [illegible] the Commd. of the Post of Lexington to supply rations should they be called out.
Your dispatch finds me very unwell, but I shall hope to be with you tomorrow. Lt. Col. Ship has orders to report to you on reaching Staunton. If the reserve companies are required to move to Staunton, I will have them in readiness to move tomorrow & shall get transportation for 6000 lbs bacon from the commissary of C.S. here.
/signed/Francis H. Smith.
May 12, 1864
Maj. Gen. W.H. Richardson, A.G.
My dear Sir
On Tuesday night at 9 o. clock I recd. a dispatch from Maj. Gen. Breckinridge, by courier, that an advance up the valley was threatened by Sigel, & directing me to move the cadets with a section of Artillery to Staunton where he was. The order was accordingly given, & they left at 7 A.M. yesterday, expecting to reach Staunton today.
I am detained by a severe hoarse cold, but expect to join by day after tomorrow. It appears the movement of Sigel is a mere demonstration by way of diversion. I was also ordered to have the reserves in readiness & I am today making arrangements to issue their arms & ammunition.
May 17, 1864HQ, VMI
Maj. Gen. William H. Richardson A.G.
Your telegraphic dispatch of the 16th and the letter of Gov. Smith of the 15th were duly received by this evening's mail.
The suspension of the mails has delayed your rec. of my letter of the 12th informing you that acting under the instructions of Gen. R.E. Lee, the Corps of Cadets had been called out by Maj. Gen. Breckinridge to assist him in meeting a threatened advance of the enemy up the valley under Gen. Sigel.
A dispatch from Gen. Breckinridge asking for the cadets to be immediately marched to Staunton was recd. by courier at 9 p.m. on the 10th. At 7 a.m. on the 11th the battalion of cadets, in four infantry companies, and a section of artillery, marched under the command of Lt. Col. Ship with two days rations. They reached Staunton on the 12th and immediately advanced with the command of Gen. Breckinridge to meet the enermy. My health confining me here, Col. Gilham went as Acting Supt.
I have now the honor to report that I have just recd. an official dispatch from Col. Gilham, dated New Market May 16, in which he states "that all the cadets were engaged, and bore a most important and conspicious part in the battle of the previous day." and my account testifies to the great gallantry and splendid conduct of the cadets.
I regret to report many casualties.
Five cadets were killed viz. Cadet W.H. Cabell, C. Crockett, H. Jones, McDowell, and Stanard.
Wounded--Lt. Col. Ship, slightly and on duty & Comd. of Cadets
Lt. A. Govan Hill, Asst. Professor & Comd. Company
Cadets White, T., Dillard of Amherst, Gibson F., Randolph, Macon, Dickinson (slightly), Upshur, Darden, Woodlief, Smith F., Smith E., Walker, Haynes, Garnett, Goodwin (slightly), Peirce (slightly), Jefferson, Marshall, M., Atwill, Moorman, Merritt, Shriver S., Garrow, Read C.H., Pendleton R., Wise J. (slightly), Triplett, Wise L. (slightly), Berkeley, Christian, Stuart, J.A., Wheelwright, Mead (slightly), Bransford, Spiller, G., Johnson, P., Harris (slightly).
Besides sending Col. Gilham & Col. Ross to aid in providing every necessary comfort for the cadets, I ordered Surgeon Madison, Asst. Surgeon Ross, Hospital Steward Kohle, the Hospital attendant ith four servants, an ambulance & full medical supplies to accompany the command. On Satruday, in anticipation of a fight I sent a wagon with supplies of coffee, sugar, tea, and other comforts.
I have succeeded in getting a private conveyance to go down tomorrow, altho still very unwell, and shall take clothing & other supplies to meet the necessities of the wounded.
Lt. Hill is severely wounded in the head.
The present duty of the cadets may modify your suggestion & that of the Sec. of War and Governor, in reference to the orders sending the cadets to Richmond. Under the circumstances, I shall be constrained to refer your dispatch to Gen. Breckinridge, and in the meantime respectfully request you to make known the position of the cadets to the Governor & Sec. of War. your dispatch to Staunton will reach me there.
I remain, General, very Respt./signed/Francis H. Smith.
May 18, 1864. Death of Cadet Henry J. JonesHQ , V.M. Institute
May 18th, 1864
I am directed by the Supt to inform you, that acting under the suggestions and instructions of General R.E. Lee and the Governor of Virginia, the Corps of Cadets was made subject to the orders of General Breckinridge to cooperate with him if at any time a threatened advance of the enemy might either endanger us here, or the safety of Gen Lee's army.
On the 9th inst a dispatch was received from General Breckinridge informing the Supt that Genl. Sigel was advancing up the valley and urging the immediate junction of the cadets with his command at Staunton. This order was promptly obeyed, and resulted in a general victory over the enemy on the 15th inst near New Market in which the cadets bore an important and conspicuous part.
I regret to inform you that your brother [Henry Jenner Jones, VMI Class of 1867] was killed. Five cadets were killed and thirty-seven wounded. Your brother's remains were interred, together with the others, in the cemetery at New Market on the evening of the 16th inst. His grave is so marked that there will be no difficulty in distinguishing it if at any time you should desire to have his remains removed.
Providence has so ordained it that these young men should be sent off in early youth--they fell nobly fighting in a just cause, in which all Sourthern youths are willing to pour out [their] heart's blood. I am sir, Very respectfully, yr obt servt
J.H. Morrison, A.A. V.M.I.
May 25, 1864. Death of Cadet William H. McDowellVirginia Mil. Institute
May 25th, 1864
Mr. R.I. McDowell
Mount Mourne, Iredell Co. N.C.
You have doubtless received before this the mournful intelligence that your [noble] son has been added to the long list of the gallant dead who have fallen in defending their country against the invasion of a ruthless foe. The newspapers have furnished you with accounts of the victory gained by Gen. Breckinridge over Sigel near New Market, and every notice of the fight bgears unequivocal testimony to the value of the aid rendered by the Corps of Cadets and the [illegible] valour that they displayed in the action. You have also received, I suppose, an official letter from the Adjutant informing you of the sad event.
I can add nothing more except the statement that the fatal ball passed entirely through his body, entering a little to the [illegible] of the breastbone and coming out on the left of the spine, passing probably through the heart, so that it may be concluded that his death was instantaneous.
This I received from Col. Gilham who examined the body before its interment. I have not been able to see anyone who was near him when he fell, as the cadets have not returned to the Institute, [having been] ordered to Richmond.
The Quartermaster will endeavor to preserve any mementos or any property of the cadets who have fallen, but cannot at present while the Corps is absent identify what belongs to each. The letter which you gave me for him [3 words illegible] and which weighed as a heavy burden on my heart after I heard before I reached home, that the words of affection it contained could never reach the eyes closed in death forever--together with a second one received from the office for him, I have directed to be kept subject to your order not choosing to subject them to the risk of the mail in the present uncertainty of transmission.
I offer no words of condolence. I know how to sympathize with you for my noblest son fell slain in battle not two months after he left the Institute--and I know by experience that the only comfort for so great a sorrow must come from a source higher than any on earth.