I stretched my legs and arms and arched my spine against the bench on the bank of the San Saba and looked back over my shoulder at the western horizon. I could see that a faint blush of rose still covered several degrees of sky along the horizon line; above it for a few more degrees, the sky was cast in shades of light yellowish green; higher still was a gun metal blue which turned to solid black. Jupiter was still visible above the horizon and Regulus was high up in the sky. Turning front, I looked straight up above the whispering blackness of the central Texas river and saw Camelopardalis, the giraffe, stretching his long neck upwards toward the steady brightness of Polaris. It was still early in the evening and the night sky was too beautiful to quit.
To the navigator, the location of the polar star is the most important point in the sky. In high winds, with stormy seas heaving his ship from under him, if he can just get a glimpse of that star with his instruments, he can always find the right road that will lead him true on his journey home; for a trial lawyer like me however, finding the right road that leads to the truth behind human actions depends on the use of instruments which lack the precision of the navigator's sextant. The trial lawyer can examine the ground where a person's actions occurred and he can read the statements that person made over time as well as the statements made by percipient witnesses, but he can rarely discover the whole truth behind any person's actions; and yet, taking care to mark the gaps and highlight the contradictions shown by the evidence, he can find the right road that points in the direction of the probable truth.
While Abraham Lincoln was slowly winding his way through New York state on his way to Washington, the Union was losing Texas. When the Gulf States seceded from the Union, in December 1860 and early January 1861, Texas found itself effectively cut off from communication by land with tshe United States. Louisiana on its eastern border was gone from the Union and, except for the northeast corner of its territorial border that touches Arkansas, Texas was separated from the other American states by 700 miles of indian country. In the middle of January, the Texas legislature called into session a convention of delegates from the people to decide whether Texas should follow the Gulf States out of the Union. On February 1st, the convention adopted an ordinance of secession to be voted on by the people on February 23rd and if approved, to become effective on March 2; two days before Abraham Lincoln was to be sworn in as President of the United States.
In the late night hours of February 15, 1861, a wagon pulled by two tired mules appeared on the fringe of a camp site at Leon Springs, a spot where transients gathered ten miles north of San Antonio on the Fredericksburg Road. The outline of crossed sabers with the words U.S. Calvary was painted on the wagon's canvas covering. In the spring seat of the wagon, General Lee released his grip on the leather ribbons in his hands and knotted them to the brake handle at the side of the seat and swung his body round, stepping down from the seat to the ground. Going to the side of the wagon, he removed a cover from a water bucket secured to a ledge between the wheels and reached in, withdrawing a sponge dripping with water. He then went forward to the mules and worked the sponge over their nostrils. When he was done he began working at the fittings to unhitch the animals from the wagon bow.
A bon fire was blazing in a pit in the center of the camp, sending sparks and embers haphazardly up into the black night. A group of men were standing around the perimeter of the fire, talking excitedly among themselves. As he worked with the horses, General Lee ignored the glances of the men silhouetted in the light of the blazing fire. A couple of the men were lanky cowboys who were returning to their ranches after a few days spent in the bars and gambling dens of San Antonio. Several of the others were peddlers who carried household wares on a circuit of the towns and villages that were spotted along the road from El Paso to Austin; and there were two teamsters who had stopped on their way to Indianola with a wagon load of buffalo skins.
The peddlers had arrived at Leon Springs an hour before Lee's ambulance pulled in. General Lee heard one of them say that a man named Ben McCulloch was camped next to the Austin Road where it crosses the Salado River about five miles northeast of San Antonio with 500 men; McCulloch was going to ride into San Antonio at daylight and take control of the U.S. Arsenal and the Alamo where the Army was storing ordinance and commissary supplies. Hearing this, the cowboys standing together in the circle of men at the fire laughed and clapped each other on the back. McCulloch's name was well known in Texas. He had come to Texas at the outbreak of the Texas revolution and fought in the battle of San Jacinto. During the Mexican War, he was a captain in the Texas Rangers and participated with Zachary Taylor's Army in the Battle of Buena Vista. In late January, 1861, the Texas Convention had appointed him a colonel of cavalry with orders to force the U.S. Army to evacuate Texas.
General Lee finished with the mules and leaving them to stand in harness where they were, he went to the rear of the traveling wagon and climbed in. There was a small metal bed inside and he sat on it, dropped his boots on the floor and laid down to sleep.
Twelve months earlier, in the winter of 1860, General Lee had returned to Texas under orders from Winfield Scott, the general-in-chief of the Regular Army, to assume command of the Department of Texas with headquarters at San Antonio Barracks. At that time the commander of the Department, Brigadier general David E. Twiggs, was living at New Orleans ostensibly on leave of absence, but effectively retired from active duty because of his advanced age and very poor health. Twiggs, a Georgian, was one of only four general officers of the line on the Army's roster at that time. John Wool, a Northerner of advanced age, and William Hardee, a Southerner, were two of the others. Wool and Hardee were also brigadier generals but they were junior to Twiggs in rank. The fourth general officer was Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, the country's most celebrated general after Washington at that time.
Like Wool and Hardee, Twiggs became a brigadier general as a consequence of his service in the war with Mexico. In 1846, as a colonel of the Dragoons, Twiggs led Zachary Taylor's Army on its advance from North Texas to the Rio Grande and commanded the right wing during the Army's successful battle with Santa Ana's forces at Palo Alto. After Santa Ana withdrew from Taylor's front and marched to confront General Scott who had landed an army at Vera Cruz on the Gulf coast, Twiggs was promoted to brigadier general. At that time he transferred to General Scott's Army and led the right wing on its advance around Santa Ana's left flank at a mountain pass near the town of Cerro Gordo. During the subsequent battles around Mexico City, Twiggs commanded Scott's left wing at Contreras and Churubusco and he led the attack which resulted in the capture of the city. When the Army withdrew from Mexico after Santa Ana's capitulation, Twiggs commanded the Department of the West with headquarters in St. Louis. When the department was divided, in 1857, General Twiggs took command of the new Department of Texas where he remained until he took his leave of absence and retired to New Orleans, in 1859. He died in early 1862.
By 1860, General Scott had been on active duty in the United States Army longer than any other officer on the roster. He was 74 years old and, like Twiggs, in poor health. Born on a farm in the tidewater region of Virginia, General Scott entered the Army in 1808 with the rank of captain, and quickly rose to become the youngest of the Army's three brigadier-generals in 1814. Severely wounded in the War of 1812 at the Battle of Lundy's Lane, Scott recovered to become a major-general, in 1816. After marrying into the Mayo family of Richmond, Virginia, Scott was given command of the Third Department which covered the northeastern seaboard and he removed his family to New York city. In addition to the War of 1812, Scott also commanded armed forces in the Black Hawk War, the Seminole Wars and the war with Mexico. In 1841, Scott became general-in-chief of the Army. In 1852, he was nominated for President by the Whig Party on an anti-slavery platform but lost the election to Franklin Pierce.
Shortly before Lincoln's election as President, on November 6, 1860, Twiggs reported to Scott that he was ready to resume active duty. On November 13th, Captain A.C. Meyers, an assistant quartermaster stationed at New Orleans, wrote to Twiggs to inform him that General Scott had ordered him to return to the command of the Department of Texas. Meyers's letter to Twiggs reads,
"General, here is your order to command in Texas. Secession seems to progress. Georgia has raised the colonial flag. We must have trouble."
Meyers enclosed with his letter special order No. 133 dated November 7th, issued by Lt. Colonel Lorenzo Thomas, acting as an assistant adjutant general on the Headquarters staff of General Scott which was located in New York city at that time. The special order reads,
"Having reported for duty, Bvt. Maj. General David E. Twiggs will proceed without delay to San Antonio and resume the command of the Department of Texas.
By Order of Lt.General Winfield Scott."
A letter General Lee wrote on November 24th to his son, Custis, who was stationed at Washington, shows that, after Twiggs received Special Order No. 133, he informed Lee he was returning to duty. In his letter, Lee said,
". . . I am looking daily for the arrival of General Twiggs, a letter from whom was received a week since saying he was about returning to resume the command of the Department. I shall soon be turning my face to the Comanche country, but to what point I cannot say till the arrival of General Twiggs."
Two weeks later, on December 13th, the same day that General Scott appeared in Washington D.C. and established his headquarters at the Winder Building on 17th Ave. near the War Department building and the White House, General Twiggs appeared at San Antonio Barracks and relieved General Lee of the command of the Department. Upon his arrival, Twiggs's first action was to order General Lee to proceed to Fort Mason and assume command of the 2nd Calvary Regiment. Twiggs's second action was to begin to bombard General Scott with letters asking what was to be done with the Federal Government's public property when Texas seceded.
The day after Twigg's return to San Antonio, General Lee wrote to Custis Lee and said,
"General Twiggs thinks the Union will be dissolved in six weeks, and that he will then return to New Orleans. If I thought so I would not take the trouble to go to Mason, but return to you now. I hope, however, the wisdom and patriotism of the country will devise some way of saving it, and that a kind Providence has not yet turned away from us."
It is a peculiar circumstance that, just after Lincoln's election as President, General Twiggs returned to active duty and assumed command of the Department of Texas. Twiggs was 70 years old and in poor health when he took his leave of absence, in 1859. General Lee was 53 years old, in excellent health and he had efficiently commanded the Department of Texas for 12 months; by any objective criteria, he was fully capable of carrying out any orders regarding the protection of the Army property and forces when Texas seceded. Furthermore, while Lee and Twiggs were both Southerners to the core and would both follow their States out of the Union, General Scott knew, in November 1860, that Georgia as a Gulf State would secede from the Union months before Virginia and, thus, Lee, in command in Texas, would be far less affected by his status as a Southern man than would Twiggs.
Given the available record, it seems obvious that General Scott's order placing Twiggs in command in Texas was based on political and personal considerations, not military ones. A week before Lincoln's election, Scott had sent a letter to President Buchanan that described the distribution in the United States of the armed forces under his command and it identified several military installations in the South which were not sufficiently garrisoned to repel attack. The letter also disclosed that Scott generally concurred with the view of politicians from the Border States, like Bell, Breckinridge and Crittendon, that under the Constitution the Federal Government possessed no powers which could be used legitimately to coerce a State to adhere to the Union. In Scott's view, the exercise of the war power by the Federal Government against the South could only be justified if the secession of a group of states cut off the territorial connection between the States remaining in the Union.
At the time that General Scott disclosed these views in his letter to Buchanan, Army regulations specified that the Adjutant General of the Army was responsible for maintaining a complete record of communications between the President, the Secretary of War, the General-in-Chief and all department and field commanders. The mechanism employed to maintain the completeness of this record was to assign to an officer on the staff headquarters of each commander in the chain of command, the duty to act as an assistant to the Adjutant General. The officer assigned the duty of acting as an assistant was required to obtain an exact copy of each original order or other communication issued by the headquarters staff and forward it to the Adjutant General in Washington.
Under the ordinary operation of this system of documentation, neither the President nor the Secretary of War ordinarily issued orders of military consequence directly to commanders in the field; instead, they issued instructions to the General-in-Chief and through his staff he issued orders to the officers in the field. In the 1880's, the War Department published a large set of books entitled, Official Records of the Rebellion, which contain all written military communications connected to the Civil War which the Adjutant General's system of documentation preserved. Whether by intention or accident, some communications between the army headquarters staffs and field officers on both sides of the Civil War were not preserved by the system. Neither the original or a copy of General Scott's order returning Twiggs to command of the Department of Texas, for instance, can be found to exist anywhere in the records of the Federal Government.
The impetus for Twiggs's return to duty seems to have been Lincoln's election. In late October or early November, 1860, General Scott became aware that Texas politicians, like Senator Louis Wigfall, were lobbying Secretary of War, John Floyd, to substitute Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston in place of General Lee in the command of the Department of Texas. The only explanation for Wigfall's interest in replacing Lee with Johnston seems to be the fact that Johnston was a citizen of Texas and Lee was not. After Johnston graduated from West Point, in 1826, he resigned from the U.S. Army and immigrated to Texas in the 1830's. In 1836, he was commissioned a brigadier general in the Army of Texas and after Texas won its independence from Mexico, in 1838, he was appointed Secretary of War of the new Republic of Texas. When the United States annexed Texas, in 1849, Johnston obtained a commission in the U.S. Army as a paymaster with the rank of Major. In 1855, he was made colonel of the newly formed 2nd Cavalry. In 1857, Johnston was breveted a brigadier general and made commander of the Department of Utah where he remained until he returned to Washington in the summer of 1860. Given his connections to Texas, Wigfall probably thought that Johnston would be more willing than Lee to accede to a demand by secessionists to give up the property of the Federal Government.
When Colonel Johnston was informed of Floyd's suggestion that he go to Texas, Johnston's reaction was negative. Like most of the soldiers in the Army from either side of the Mason-Dixon Line, he knew that Lincoln's election would probably result in disunion between the States. In the event he accepted the command of the Department of Texas, Johnston's duty as an officer in the United States Army would be to protect and defend the military property of the Federal Government. This duty would bring him into direct conflict with the interest of the Texans to seize the military property of the Army and force out the troops. Johnston's attitude was that his duty as an Army officer trumped his sense of connection to Texas and, therefore, if he accepted the assignment blood would be shed in an attempt to take the Federal property.
Johnston was determined to avoid being placed in a position where he would be duty-bound to forcibly resist an act of aggression made by Texas against the Army. He quickly visited General Scott in New York and requested that he be assigned to duty some place else. After communication with Floyd, Scott issued orders which sent Johnston to California to assume command of the Department of the Pacific. The orders were issued in the middle of November and Johnston sailed from New York on December 21, 1860; by way of the Panama route, he reached San Francisco in the middle of January, 1861. Three days before the bombardment of Fort Sumter began on April 13th, Johnston decided to resign his commission and he wrote a letter to Scott, requesting a replacement. On April 25, Irvin Sumner, Lincoln's traveling companion on the railroad trip to Washington, appeared in San Francisco and relieved Johnston from duty. On that date, Sumner was given Johnston's brevet rank as brigadier general.
Sidney Johnston's refusal to take General Lee's place as commander of the Department of Texas, in 1860, forced Secretary of War Floyd and Senator Wigfall to look for another candidate who might be trusted to passively give up the Federal military property in Texas. By a process of elimination, the only likely candidate left was David Twiggs. All the other senior line officers were either sympathetic to the North or were entrenched in important positions they would not willingly give up for the Department of Texas.
Whether it was Floyd and Wigfall or General Scott, who solicited Twiggs to return to active duty, the record does not show. No correspondence exists in the records of the Rebellion which explain how Twiggs came to report for duty. Neither does it contain a copy of Scott's special order 133, ordering the transfer of the department's command from Lee to Twiggs, which was filed and preserved by the Adjutant General's staff in the ordinary course of its work. A copy of Scott's order does exist but it was discovered The only copy of the order in existence is one Colonel Meyers enclosed with his November 6, 1860 letter to Twiggs. Meyers's letter with its enclosure was discovered in a search of the residence in New Orleans, in 1863, which Twiggs lived in prior to his death in 1862. When Scott issued Special Order 133, he also relieved the officer in command of the garrison at Charleston Harbor and replaced him with Major Robert Anderson. Anderson and Scott had become familiar with each other during the period that Anderson was an artillery instructor at West Point and worked with Scott on a committee reviewing the curriculum of the school. When Scott selected Anderson as the officer to take command at Charleston, he had no reason to think Anderson's southern origins would interfere with the performance of his duties. When Anderson reacted to South Carolina's adoption of an ordinance of secession by moving his forces into Fort Sumter, he did exactly what Scott expected he might do under the circumstances.
Scott's assessment of General Lee's commitment to duty was no different. Scott's personal relationship with General Lee began in 1846 when he worked as an engineer on Scott's headquarters staff in the war with Mexico. During that time Scott bestowed three brevets of rank on Lee for his conspicuous service. Later, during General Lee's years as Superintendent of West Point, Scott spent much social time in his company. From his personal contact with Lee, Scott must have known that as Anderson did at Charleston, Lee would resist attempts to seize the military property of the Department of Texas if he was in command when Texas adopted an ordinance of secession. In a letter to his son, Custis, written the day after Twiggs relieved him of command, General Lee made plain he would react like Anderson did to threats of coercion when he wrote,
"While I wish to do what is right, I am unwilling to do what is wrong, either at the bidding of the South or North."
In deciding to remove Lee from command in Texas, Scott must have calculated, not only how Lee would react to coercion but also the consequences of reaction. The tactical situation confronting General Lee in Texas was very much different from that which Anderson confronted at Charleston. Anderson was in command of about 65 artillerymen in possession of a practically impregnable bastion loaded with heavy guns and surrounded by water. Under Lee's command in Texas, there were 22 companies of infantry, 10 companies of cavalry and 5 companies of artillery stationed in over twenty forts scattered across 1,200 miles of the Texas landscape manning two lines of defense; one guarding against Mexican invasions from the south and the other guarding against Comanche invasions from the north.
In the certain event of the secession of Texas, Scott knew it was ridiculous for the Federal Government to expect that it could garrison the Texas forts. The only rational strategy to adopt would be to concentrate the garrisons as rapidly as possible and march the columns north through Indian Country to the forts in Kansas. Assuming that the garrisons had the means to transport sufficient supplies to sustain themselves on the long march out of Texas, early movement of the Army regulars would probably be successful but Scott knew the Texans would be harassing their columns until the Red River was crossed. Given the political confusion within the Buchanan Administration at the time, however, General Scott could not reasonably have expected his civilian superiors to authorize the Army's early movement out of Texas. Since Lee could not evacuate Texas without orders, Scott had to decide whether or not to force Lee into making an early choice between his duty as an officer in the United States Army and his connection to the South.
As with his handling of Sidney Johnston's request to go to California instead of Texas, General Scott could not ignore the fact that under the circumstances confronting Lee in Texas, the nature of the duty an Army officer owed the United States was far from clear. On March 15, 1855, as he was leaving his position as Superintendent of West Point, General Lee accepted Congress's commission as a Lieutenant-colonel of the line. At that time he executed the following Oath of Allegiance proscribed by the Army Regulations as approved by the Congress of the United States.
I, Robert E. Lee, appointed a Lieutenant Colonel of the Second Regiment of Cavalry in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever; and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the Rules and Articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.
R.E. Lee Bt. Col. U.S.A.
The reason most Americans of Lincoln's time did not expect the politicians in control of the Federal Government to coalesce behind a policy of war against the South was that they did not think of the United States as a single indivisible nation; they thought of the United States as a voluntary union of States; each made up of people who were sovereign in their own right. How then could any one who read the terms of the Oath of Allegiance to the United States reasonably believe that General Lee was obligated to serve them against their enemy when their enemy was his State? Seeing nothing to be gained in forcing Lee to make a choice between defending the interest of the North or the interest of the South, Scott twice in six months used his power to keep Lee neutral.