But, if we may believe the testimony of those who were in position to know the facts, the grand master of incapacity, whose hand was felt everywhere, was President Davis himself. Not content with perpetually meddling in the smallest matters of detail, and prescribing the petty routine of office work in the bureau, he interfered, either directly or through his personal subordinates, with military operations which no man, not present with the army, could be competent to control, and which he, probably, was incapable of justly comprehending in any case. With the history of his quarrels with the generals in the field, and the paralyzing effect they had upon military operations, the public is already familiar. Leaving things of that nature to the historian, I confine myself to smaller matters, my purpose being merely to give the reader an idea of the experiences of a Confederate soldier, and to show him Confederate affairs as they looked when seen from the inside.
I can hardly hope to make the ex-soldier of the Union understand fully how we on the other side were fed in the field. He fought and marched with a skilled commissariat at his back, and, for his further staff of comfort, had the Christian and Sanitary commissions, whose handy tin cups and other camp conveniences came to us only through the uncertain and irregular channel of abandonment and capture; and unless his imagination be a vivid one, he will not easily conceive the state of our commissariat or the privations we suffered as a consequence of its singularly bad management. The first trouble was, that we had for a commissary-general a crotchety doctor, some of whose acquaintances had for years believed him insane. Aside from his suspected mental aberration, and the crotchets which had made his life already a failure, he knew nothing whatever of the business belonging to the department under his control, his whole military experience having consisted of a few years' service as a lieutenant of cavalry in one of the Territories, many years before the date of his appointment as chief of subsistence in the Confederacy. Wholly without experience to guide him, he was forced to evolve from his own badly balanced intellect whatever system he should adopt, and from the beginning of the war until the early part of the year 1865, the Confederate armies were forced to lean upon this broken reed in the all-important matter of a food supply. The generals commanding in the field, we are told on the very highest authority, protested, suggested, remonstrated almostdaily, but their remonstrances were unheeded and their suggestions set at naught. At Manassas, where the army was well-nigh starved out in the very beginning of the war, food might have been abundant but for the obstinacy of this one man. On our left lay a country unsurpassed, and almost unequaled, in productiveness. It was rich in grain and meat, these being its special products. A railroad, with next to nothing to do, penetrated it, and its stores of food were nearly certain to be exposed to the enemy before any other part of the country should be conquered. The obvious duty of the commissary-general, therefore, was to draw upon that section for the supplies which were both convenient and abundant. The chief of subsistence ruled otherwise, however, thinking it better to let that source of supply lie exposed to the first advance of the enemy, while he drew upon the Richmond depots for a daily ration, and shipped it by the overtasked line of railway leading from the capital to Manassas. It was nothing to him that he was thus exhausting the rear and crippling the resources of the country for the future. It was nothing to him that in the midst of plenty the army was upon a short allowance of food. It was nothing that the shipments of provisions from Richmond by this railroad seriously interfered with other important interests. System was everything, and this was a part of his system. The worst of it was, that in this all-important branch of the service experience and organization wrought little if any improvement as the war went on, so that as the supplies and the means of transportation grew smaller, the undiminished inefficiency of the department produced disastrous results. The army, suffering for food, was disheartened by the thought that the scarcity was due to the exhaustion of the country's resources. Red tape was supreme, and no sword was permitted to cut it. I remember one little circumstance, which will serve to illustrate the absoluteness with which system was suffered to override sense in the administration of the affairs of the subsistence department. I served for a time on the coast of South Carolina, a country which produces rice in great abundance, and in which fresh pork and mutton might then be had almost for the asking, while the climate is wholly unsuited to the making of flour or bacon. Just at that time, however, the officials of the commissary department saw fit to feed the whole army on bacon and flour, articles which, if given to troops in that quarter of the country at all, must be brought several hundred miles by rail. The local commissary officers made various suggestions looking to the use of the provisions of which the country round about was full, but, so far as I could learn, no attention whatever was paid to them. At the request of one of these post commissaries, I wrote an elaborate and respectful letter on the subject, setting forth the fact that rice, sweet potatoes, corn meal, hominy, grits, mutton, and pork existed in great abundance in the immediate neighborhood of the troops, and could be bought for less than one third the cost of the flour and bacon we were eating. The letter was signed by the post commissary, and forwarded through the regular channels, with the most favorable indorsements possible, but it resulted in nothing. The department presently found it impossible to give us full rations of bacon and flour, but it still refused to think of the remedy suggested. It cut down the ration instead, thus reducing the men to a state of semi-starvation in a country full of food. Relief came at last in the shape of a technicality, else it would not have been allowed to come at all. A vigilant captain discovered that the men were entitled by law to commutation in money for their rations, at fixed rates, and acting upon this the men were able to buy, with the money paid them in lieu of rations, an abundance of fresh meats and vegetables; and most of the companies managed at the same time to save a considerable fund for future use out of the surplus, so great was the disparity between the cost of the food they bought and that which the government wished to furnish them.