President Jefferson Davis Writes the Confederate Congress, Transmitting a Battle Report From the Western Theater

A rare document, entirely in his hand, carrying the news of a major Confederate defeat

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From the collection Samuel Hunt, who lowered the Confederate flag over the Confederate capitol in Richmond, Virginia after Confederate troops abandoned the city

It was August 22, 1862. Robert E. Lee was now in command of the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan’s great plan to capture Richmond by moving his 100,000-strong army...

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President Jefferson Davis Writes the Confederate Congress, Transmitting a Battle Report From the Western Theater

A rare document, entirely in his hand, carrying the news of a major Confederate defeat

From the collection Samuel Hunt, who lowered the Confederate flag over the Confederate capitol in Richmond, Virginia after Confederate troops abandoned the city

It was August 22, 1862. Robert E. Lee was now in command of the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan’s great plan to capture Richmond by moving his 100,000-strong army up the Virginia peninsula was crushed, and McClellan was almost done withdrawing, to the shock and mortification of the entire North. Stonewall Jackson’s audacious campaign in the Shenandoah Valley was culminating in a stunning victory – a rout really. J. E. B. Stuart had just assumed command of the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, and immediately raided Union Army headquarters, capturing Gen. Pope’s dispatch book. This would help the Confederates score a huge win at Second Bull Run just a week later. Enlistments in the Union Army lagged, as Lincoln maneuvered to get more recruits. This was truly the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.

But in the West, the situation was not all to the Confederate’s liking. Grant had won at Forts Henry and Donelson. In May 1862, at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Union forces succeeded in establishing Federal control of most of Missouri and northern Arkansas. In June, a Union flotilla had launched an expedition on the southern section of the White River in Arkansas, and in the June 17 engagement at St. Charles the Confederates effectively lost control of that river. John W. Dunnington was in command of the Confederate forces there, and he and his men inflicted serious losses on the Union navy but were forced to retreat. In August 1862, Dunnington went to the capital of Richmond to report on the events in person.

John William Dunnington was a Confederate naval and infantry officer. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he joined the Confederate Navy. He served for approximately nine months in Arkansas, and the affair at St. Charles was part of that service. Dunnington was rare in that he held the rank of officer in both the Confederate Army and Navy during the war and served both east and west of the Mississippi River.

In his August 18, 1862, message to the Confederate Congress, President Davis stated: “The report of the Secretary of the Navy embraces a statement of the operations and present condition of this branch of the public service, both afloat and ashore…” But the report of the St. Charles fight was not ready on time for that message.

Davis passed on Dunnington’s report to the Confederate Congress a few days later. Autograph letter signed, Richmond, Va., August 22, 1862, “To the Senate and House of Representatives of the Confederate States”, transmitting that report. “I herewith transmit for your information a communication from the Secretary of the Navy, supplementary to his Report appended to my message to Congress of the 18th instant, and covering the Report of Lieutenant John D. Dennington of C.S. Navy of the engagement at St. Charles on the White River in the State of Arkansas.” On the verso the letter is docketed, “Message President transmitting Report of Lieut. Jno. Dennington of engagement at St. Charles on the White River, Ark.”

Samuel Furman Hunt was in the Ohio Senate, Judge Advocate General of his state, and a judge of the Superior Court of Cincinnati. Near the end of the American Civil War, he lowered the Confederate flag over the Confederate capitol in Richmond, Virginia after Confederate troops abandoned the city. This message of Jeff Davis belonged to Hunt and comes with his letter transmitting it.

This letter is a true rarity. In all of our decades in this field, this is just the second letter of Davis to the Confederate Congress that we have had, and the only such letter completely in his hand.

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