A Presidential Review That Didn’t Go Very Well

ECWer Stephen Davis of Cumming, Georgia, is finishing up his book on the generalship of John B. Hood, which will be published later this year by Savas Beatie. From it Steve draws the following story:

During the war President Jefferson Davis visited the Army of Tennessee three times, reviewing the troops on each occasion. His last review, held on September 26, 1864,when Hood’s army was encamped at Palmetto, Georgia, proved to be least successful, at least in terms of the reaction of the officers and men.

That morning Davis, Hood and maybe others–Maj. Gen. Howell Cobb and Tennessee Gov. Isham Harris were also at Palmetto then–passed before the troops. “President Davis is here, and is expected to review the troops today,” wrote Col. Lovick P. Thomas of the 42nd Georgia; “we are arranging to be under arms at 8 one half o’clock this morning.” Robert M. Magill, 39th Georgia, entered in his diary that day, “Monday, 26th.–Jeff Davis to come round at 9 a.m. Everything has to be cleaned up.”

According to one press report, Davis “was received by the men with great applause and made them a speech.” “Cheer after cheer went forth as he passed by accompanied by the music from each band,” recorded Capt. William Dixon of the 1st Georgia. Brig. Gen. Francis Shoup, Hood’s chief of staff, was also positive. “The President and General Hood, with their respective staffs, rode out to the front today,” he recorded on the 26th, “and were enthusiastically received by the troops.” In truth, some Rebs  seem to have hallooed vociferously. “The President together with Genl’s Hood, Hardee &c road past on splendid chargers, bowing and touching their hats,” Lt. Marcus Ely of the 54th Georgia wrote his wife the next day, “and we in return flourished our old hats and yelled like a set of maniacs. Splendid bands were discoursing sweet music all along the line–colors were flying &c–taking in all we had quite a gala day.”

Capt. Samuel Foster of the 24th Texas, in Granbury’s brigade of Cleburne’s division, recorded a funny incident during Davis’ review.

Now it so happened that F R Lubbock late Governor of Texas was on Davis’ staff, and he naturally supposing that the Texas soldiers would be glad to see him, thought he would take this occasion to introduce himself and we would give him a grand cheer–He made a serious mistake and so spoiled the whole thing. He stoped in front of an Irish (Brigade) Regt. just on our right before he got to us. Thinking he had found us, rode square up about the centre pulled off his hat and says “I am Governor Lubbock of Texas” and just when he expected to hear a big cheer, an Irishman says, “An who the bloody H–l is governor Lubbock?” with that peculiar Irish brogue, that made the Governor wilt. He turned his horse and galloped on to catch up with the President and party and pass by us without even looking at us.

Others, however, noted a more sullen reaction by the men. Capt. Benjamin L. Posey of the 36th Alabama wrote a week later, “there was an absence of enthusiasm” among the troops.

Things got uglier when some malcontents began to call out for a return of their old commander. Corporal Magill recorded, “pretty  weak cheering. Some shouting Johnston. Give us Johnston again.”

Davis and Hood could only ride on, doubtless chastened. “I regretted I should have been the cause of this uncourteous reception to His Excellency,” Hood admitted in his memoirs. He was right. “The troops did not like Hood,” Robert Patrick of the 4th Louisiana entered in his diary after the review. Yet it was not Hood’s doings alone that the men objected to; it was the president’s as well. According to a correspondent of the Montgomery Mail, the soldiers’ cool response to the president reflected their lingering resentment that he had fired Old Joe. “The feeling in the army for Gen. Johnston is yet as enthusiastic as it was when he bade the troops a sad farewell,” the reporter claimed. “The sullen glances which were cast at the President, while here, were marks of the displeasure entertained in his presence….They wished, in their own blunt way, to give expression to the estimation in which they held Mr. D.” And they clearly did so, according to Brig. Gen. Arthur Manigault’s postwar recollection. “No cheers saluted him, countenances were depressed and sullen,” he remembered. “‘Give us Johnston! Give us our old Commander!’  and other remarks of a similar nature” were shouted; “this happened in many brigades.”

Officers tried to still the outbursts. “Arrests and threats of punishment alone prevented the cry from becoming loud and general,” Manigault remembered.

One could not help remarking the expression of President Davis’s countenance as he passed. He looked thin, care-worn, and angry. A scornful expression rested on it. He scarcely deigned to lift his hat from his head as we saluted. General Hood, with the Corps commanders, their staffs, and a large escort, accompanied him. All looked uneasy and apprehensive. I never remembered taking part in an affair of the kind so cheerless and unsatisfactory as this one was, where everyone seemed anxious to have it over.

    After the war James H. McNeilly, chaplain of the 49th Tennessee, recalled an incident of the Palmetto review.

Our colonel was an enthusiastic man, and several who knew his temperament warned him not to call for cheers for the President. They told him that our men would not do anything to insult him, but they would not cheer him. So they urged the colonel to remain quiet in his position while the President passed, and the men would present arms and salute. He promised to do as advised. The President passed the Mississippi division and was greeted with ringing cheers. Our colonel’s enthusiasm got away with him. As the President came opposite us our colonel spurred his horse out of the line and, swinging his hat about his head, cried: “Three cheers for our President!” but there was no response. The men were as silent as the grave. I never pitied a man more than I did the crestfallen colonel as he got back into line. We all loved him, for he was a grand man and a lovable one, but the men felt that they had warned him. Mr. Davis passed on as if not noticing, saluting us as he rode by.

Davis never again visited the Army of Tennessee; the war ended seven months after his Palmetto review. Given the lukewarm reception he got from Hood’s men, he would have had little reason to want a repetition of the experience.