|23, Confederate official complains to Richmond about failure of conscription in East Tennessee
NEAR RUSSELVILLE, EAST TENN., January 23, 1863
Hon. Ben. Hill, C.S. Senate
DEAR SIR: As you were on your return home from Congress last September I was so fortunate as to fall in with you and have a hasty conversation upon the state of affairs in East Tennessee, and the proper course to be pursued in this department. On that occasion I was pleased to find your mind open to the truth and capable of comprehending our peculiar political and social condition. As I was taking leave of you (as the train neared New Market, where I stopped) you told me that you would address the President directly upon the subject, which I have no doubt you did. I then hoped much from your action in the premises; but other counsels prevailed. Effects have followed causes, and developments have established the correctness of what I then told you was the condition of East Tennessee. I would not now trouble you with the affairs of East Tennessee if I did not feel constrained so to do by a sense of duty. It is to the calm, conservative patriots that the country must look, in this her darkest hour of trial, for deliverance. As such I have ever looked upon and now address you.
That I may the more clearly present and enforce my present views, I beg to recall to your remembrance the substance of the views expressed in the conversation referred to. On that occasion you will remember that I predicted disaster from the proposed conscription of East Tennessee. I told you that the people of East Tennessee were misrepresented and misunderstood, that there was but one single legitimate argument in favor of conscription, and that was that the men of East Tennessee were as much bound to fight for our independence as our own volunteers or the men from any other section, and that in view of moral obligation they were entitled to no peculiar exemption, and in that view the soldiers in the service had the right to feel that all should fare alike; but that being said, all was said. The end and object of the war are to preserve American institutions in their purity, defend the principles of the American Constitution, and as the only means of doing that, establish the independence of the Confederacy-whip Lincoln and his followers. To do this we must husband all our resources and bring out all our available strength; that if we found within our borders a section where the people were not politically with us, yet not our open, active enemies, it was the duty of our rulers to rise to the exigencies and importance of the occasion, take men as they were, and not as they should have been, and use them for the furtherance of the great end to be attained-the gaining of our independence-in such spheres as they could be made useful, and not with any narrow, contracted policy of political proscription decapitate or convert. I told you that East Tennesseeans, as you and I, had to be devoted to our Government, created by our State and Federal Constitutions. In the opening of the political struggle preceding the Revolution...all conservative men rallied around their institutions of Government, adapting the one word Union as the comprehensive indices by which was originally meant our constitutional Government as composed of our State sovereignties and Federal sovereignties as created by our constitutions, and under the ruling cry of Union formed a party, and as such party prepared to resist all political encroachments upon our institutions.
After Mr. Lincoln's first proclamation many of our best men, believing that the call for troops was only to defend the Capital against attack as threatened in the imprudent speech of Mr. Secretary Walker, again rallied to the cry of Union. And the[n] began the separation of friends in East Tennessee. At the time the separation was slight; on the stump the discussion became bitter. The breach was widened and culminated in the proposition to dismember our State. That passed away, and the great wrong to the people by the Union leaders was here committed of again rallying as a party under the cry of Union for the purpose of preventing men who had advocated the separation of the State from the Federal Union from being elected to office. Step by step (many steps taken in consequence of the rashness, not to say wickedness, of the men who claimed to control South whole counsels in East Tennessee) the people were led on until as a whole they took what they felt they had the right to take, the ground of neutrality, so far as active hostilities were concerned. This I tell you was the actual condition of East Tennessee when it was proposed to enforce the conscript law.
I told you that they would turn their strength against whichever Government attempted to force them from their position; that if the effort was made to enforce the conscript it would ruin us and greatly damage the Confederacy; that we would get no soldiers; that it would cause a stampede to Kentucky in part and a hiding out in the caves and mountains, and in the end the destruction of our section; that where we would get one man as a recruit we would send three to Kentucky and require the withdrawal of two soldiers from the army to protect East Tennessee; that we would send 10,000 men to Kentucky to the Federal lines clamoring for assistance to recover for them homes, from which they claim to have been driven; and that in all probability another effort would be made to invade East Tennessee. What I then predicted is now in part the history of this unhappy country. If you will require a report from the enrolling officer at Knoxville you will find that he has not added to the strength of the Army. He has not mustered into service as many men as have been taken from the ranks to hunt up conscripts and guard exposed points, the guarding of which has been rendered necessary by the excitement incident to this false move.
In addition to this a raid has been made upon our railroad, and every day the enemy receives full information of the state of our forces, and unless you can get the President to interpose and arrest the evil every man of the old Union party will leave. The expenses of the department are very heavy, an officer for every district in each county, any number of braided and brass-buttoned gentlemen who ought to be with their commands taking their ease as recruiting officers, besides the soldiers that are detailed to police the county and hunt up conscripts. It is now apparent to all (except a special few whose notions of a cleansing of the political sanctuary urge to seize upon the opportunity to drive from the country all who are not active political friends) that the effort to conscript East Tennessee is not only a failure, but a disastrous calamity to our cause. East Tennessee has been regarded as one of the most important sections of the Confederacy, not only on account of her geographical position and her connecting railroads, but on account of her stock and grain. Our Union men of East Tennessee did more to further our cause in 1861 by the supplies furnished than they could have done had they been zealous secessionists and in the Army, and so in 1862, though greatly interfered with by the State draft. And so now we need the labor of the farmers of East Tennessee upon their farms more than we need their unwilling service in the field, could we even get them into the Army. They are willing to work, and under the influence of Gen. Smith's proclamation of last spring were beginning to become interested in the success of our cause, as it gave to them so advantageous a market freed from the hitherto almost overpowering competition of Kentucky and the Northwestern States. When Governor Harris attempted to enforce his draft in East Tennessee last spring a fearful stampede commenced and was in steady progress. Gen. Smith by his proclamation stopped the execution of the law and invited the people to return. They did so by the thousands, not only those who had crossed the lines as citizens, but some who had entered the Federal service, some of whom are now in our Army as willing volunteers. Although the evil is in part beyond our reach, much can yet be done. If the President will under the act of Congress suspend the enforcement of the conscript law in East Tennessee and by his proclamation invite all East Tennesseeans to return to their homes, restoring them to citizenship and assuring them that during the present struggle they should [not] be required to enter the Army against their will, upon condition that they devote themselves industriously to the cultivation of their farms, all who have not yet left home will remain, all who are out in the caves, mountains, &c. (and their name is legion), will at once return, and so will every man in Kentucky who is not in the Federal Army, and all in the Army who can get a good chance to desert.
Nine-tenths of the producing labor of East Tennessee is white labor, hence, when by conscription or stampeding the men subject to military duty leave, the labor of East Tennessee is gone. There are within our borders at this time thousands of families left without any male members capable of labor. These helpless women and children are to become a charge upon the public, for whatever may be the sins of their husbands and fathers the Southern people cannot deal cruelly with them. Acts of vengeance to our women and children we must leave to our enemies with which to blacken the pages of history.
I commend to your consideration the views here so hastily and imperfectly expressed, and beg of you to interest yourself in behalf of East Tennessee. I of course do not expect my plan to be literally pursued. If any of my suggestions are adopted, all I desire is, all I seek to do is, to get before the President the true state of things in East Tennessee, relying upon his superior judgment to devise the mode of relief. Please excuse my intrusion and the length of my letter. I am not in the habit of inflicting such penance upon public men.
I am, sir, yours,
ROBT. M. BARTON*
OR, Ser. IV, Vol. 2. 368-370.
*Ed. note - Robert McKinney Barton, 34th (Confederate) General Assembly representing Hancock, Hawkins, and Jefferson counties. His home , "High Oaks" was in Hamblen County. During the war he served in Abingdon, VA, as head of railroads.