MERIDIAN, MISS., August 4, 1863.
General S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector General:
SIR: From a sense of duty I make to you this communication. I am personally known to the President, and am well known to the Hon. Wyndham Robertson, representative of the city of Richmond in the State Legislature, and I take the liberty of referring you to these gentlemen. I have been a close observer of the progress of things in Mississippi, and I am satisfied it is absolutely necessary that a new leaf be turned over in this department. As commissioner under the impressment law of Congress, I have felt it to be my duty to make diligent inquiry into the condition of things as to supplies for the army, and I feel warranted in the assertion that there has not existed a deficiency in the State. In the commissary department there has been a great want of foresight and energy. The troops at Port Hudson and Vicksburg should never have been reduced to short rations. These strongholds, by proper management, could have easily been provisioned for six or twelve months. The truth of this statement can be satisfactorily established should it be questioned, and whilst the commissary department has been thus inefficient, its agents have been multiplied to an unnecessary extent, and this is also true somewhat, I think, of the quartermasters department. The great number of able-bodied men connected with these departments has attracted general notice, and to correct this abuse strin- gent measnres must be adopted. Mere general orders will accomplish nothing. I know many persons discharged as conscripts in this State who are fine business men, and whose services should not be lost to the army. I also know of many conscripts capable of performing military duty who have never been in the service of the Government, in the army or elsewhere. The number of absentees, stragglers, and deserters from the army scattered over the State is also alarmingly great. Could all these men be restored to the ranks, a great change would at once be effected in our prospects. The railroads, too, have many persons in their employment whose places could be filled by slaves, and this remark is also applicable to our hospitals.
***I suggest, too, that slaves should be impressed for service in the army as wagoners, pioneers, sappers and miners, & c. Our able-bodied negro men are now being conscripted into the army of the enemy. At Memphis and Corinth there are now several thousand negroes nuder drill, with the prospect of their being made pretty good soldiers; and, to prevent more of our slaves from being appropriated by the enemy, we should ourselves bring their services into requisition. Under judicious treatment, the army is really the safest place for the negroes. It might, perhaps, be well to pay to the negroes a part of their monthly wages, and in every other possible way pains should be taken to attach them to the places they may be called upon to fill.***
I have ever had the fullest confidence in the loyalty of Lieutenant-General Pemberton, and, without expressing an opinion as to his capacity as an officer, I must be permitted at the same time to say that I do not believe that the army which he lately commanded can ever be reorganized by him. The soldiers now scattered over the Confederacy have lost all confidence in General Pemberton, and their determination is almost universal never again to take the field under his lead. It may be that great injustice is thus done General Pemberton, but the prac- tical effect of the want of confidence is the same whether it be with or without sufficient cause. This want of confidence is not confined to the enlisted men, but prevails alike among all classes of the officers. And now, for this want of confidence to be ignored by the Government, would, I fear be most disastrous to the country. General Johnston, I think, still enjoys the entire confidence of the people and soldiers of this department. It is believed here that his long absence from this depart- ment last winter and spring was not voluntary on his part, and, there-fore, blame for the fall of Vicksburg is not generally imputed to him. The recent proclamation of the President on the subject of filling up our ranks is a step in the right direction, but this should be followed up by other measures of the most energetic character that can be devised. There is danger that the army and people will become despondent, and to avert this the Government should now put forth the most strenuous efforts.
Most respectfully, your obedient servant, JNO. W. C. WATSON. [Senator from the State of Mississippi]