Loring - Jackson Incident
Brigadier general W.W. Loringís troops had disappointed Jackson ever since leaving Winchester. Not as well disciplined as Jacksonís soldiers, Loringís men were continually grumbling about the long marches, the weather and the Cromwellian major general in charge who was accused of favoring ďJacksonís pet lambsĒ as they derisively called the
Stonewall brigade. Many deserted along the way and most of the remainder were so discontent as to be unreliable. Unfortunately, their commander, who should have known better because of his background, encouraged this rebellious spirit and was quite outspoken for a subordinate officer. Jacksonís decision to leave Loring at the lonely outposts of Romney while the remainder of the army wintered in the hospitable arms of Winchester, was the straw that broke the camelís back.
Loring forwarded to Jackson a petition signed by eleven of his officers protesting the conditions at Romney, which were described as "the most disagreeable and unfavorable that could well be imagined." Not trusting Jackson to forward the letter, Loring permitted one of his aides, Colonel William B. Taliaferro, to personally take a copy to Richmond. There, Taliaferro buttonholed every congressman he could find in the capital, complaining loudly and vociferously about Jackson's leadership, and ultimately secured an audience with Confederate President Jefferson Davis himself. He showed Davis a map of the region and "never saw anyone so surprised." The president agreed that Jackson had committed a grave error by leaving Loring's men at Romney and instructed Secretary of War Benjamin "to act promptly" to redress the error. Upon his return to Winchester, which Jackson now made District Headquarters, the Confederate leader was one day greatly surprised to receive the following telegram from Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary of War: ďOur news indicates that a movement is being made to cut off General Loringís command. Order him back to Winchester immediatelyĒ.
Jackson was highly indignant. Being the good soldier that he was, he obeyed orders and recalled Loring to Winchester. Then he promptly fired off an angry letter of resignation, which he forwarded to Benjamin and his immediate superior, Major General Joseph E. Johnston at Manassas. As it turned out, the fears of the secretary of war that Loringís command might be cut off, proved without foundation. Jacksonís resignation request was not due to the misconception that Secretary Benjamin had about events in Northwestern Virginia, nor was it due to the reflection on his ability as a field commander. There was a more important principle at stake which cut the ground from under the feet of a commander in the field. If Jacksonís troops were thus allowed to defy his orders by appealing to higher authority, he would be unable to maintain the discipline over them that is essential to military success. What is more important, a dangerous precedent would be inaugurated which would impair the efficiency and success of Confederate armies in all theaters of war. Nothing but disaster would result from the continuance of such a policy.
Like Loring, Jackson knew how to play a political hand. He also sent a personal letter to Virginia Governor John Letcher, his longtime sponsor, complaining that Benjamin's actions had been a naked attempt "to control military operations in detail from the Secretary's desk at a distance," and would prove ruinous to the army in the future. Jackson piously protested that he was not saying anything against the secretary of war, adding, "I take it for granted that he has done what he believed to be best." Realizing that the South could ill afford to lose the services of so valuable a general as Jackson, the Confederate leaders took steps to repair the blunder. Governor John Letcher made a vigorous protest to Secretary Benjamin, who was willing to listen to reason. He agreed to postpone acceptance of the resignation until Governor Letcher had time to contact Jackson and try to persuade him to remain in the army. Because of the importance of the communication, Governor Letcher did not entrust it to ordinary hands but gave it to the Honorable Alexander R. Boteler of Jefferson County, who was a member of the Confederate Congress, a part-time member of Jacksonís staff, as well as a close personal friend of Stonewall. It took all of Botelerís diplomatic skill to make the obdurate general change his mind. He was greatly aided by scores of letters from all over the South requesting a reconsideration. As many of the writers were clergymen, their entreaties made quite an impression on the religiously-minded Jackson. Finally, when Colonel Boteler mentioned Governor Letcherís fear that the South would be greatly demoralized if Jacksonís resignation was accepted, Stonewall surrendered. He authorized Governor Letcher to withdraw his request for relief, Loring was transferred to Georgia, and the crisis settled. Jackson's subsequent demand for a court-martial of Loring was quietly allowed to wither away.
The incident taught the Confederate war department a lesson in military ethics and usage. But many historians are of that opinion, that the only permanent good to come from the Loring-Jackson feud was Benjamin's switch from secretary of war to secretary of state, a position for which he was better suited, both politically and temperamentally. As for Jackson, it was neither the first nor last time he would clash with subordinates who did not measure up to his own austere and religious definition of duty. Few mere mortals could, or did.