The unexpected and unnecessary Loring-Jackson incident almost derailed
two promising military careers.
When Major General William Wing Loring led the successful Confederate defense of Yazoo Pass in March 1863 (see story, P. 46), he unwittingly earned himself a new nickname. Personally directing his men’s fire, Loring cried in the heat of battle: “Give them blizzards, boys! Give them blizzards!” From that moment on, he was known as “Old Blizzards.”
The fact that Loring was in Mississippi at all was due to a serious run-in he had experienced a year earlier with a fellow general who sported an even more famous nickname–“Stonewall.” Indeed, the Loring-Jackson incident very nearly derailed the military careers of both men.
At the time of the incident, Loring was serving under Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Ironically, in light of what later transpired, Loring assured Confederate Secretary of War Judah Benjamin that he was happy to be taking part in Stonewall Jackson’s campaign, “seconded by a command as ardent in the cause as any in the country, men who will cheerfully endure all the hardships incident to a winter campaign.”
The subsequent campaign saw more than its share of wintry hardships. Devastating snowstorms, biting winds and frozen roads made the march to Romney, Va., an unending logistical nightmare. Inexplicably, Jackson had Loring’s men lead the march, instead of his own more experienced troops. When the Union force at Romney withdrew ahead of Loring’s men, Jackson personally blamed Loring for “prematurely” halting his column.
The unsatisfactory conclusion of the campaign was followed by what Loring and his men took to be a pointed insult from Jackson. While “Jackson’s pet lambs” were allowed to winter in the comparative comfort of colonial Winchester, Loring’s men were ordered to remain behind at Romney, which had been thoroughly picked over by the departing Union troops. Loring forwarded to Jackson a petition signed by 11 of his officers protesting the conditions at Romney, which were described as “the most disagreeable and unfavorable that could well be imagined.”
Not trusting Jackson to forward the letter, Loring permitted one of his aides, Colonel William Taliaferro, to personally take a copy to Richmond. There, Taliaferro buttonholed every congressman he could find in the capital, complaining loudly and vociferously about Jackson’s leadership, and ultimately secured an audience with Confederate President Jefferson Davis himself. He showed Davis a map of the region and “never saw anyone so surprised.” The president agreed that Jackson had committed a grave error by leaving Loring’s men at Romney and instructed Secretary of War Benjamin “to act promptly” to redress the error.
Benjamin immediately sent a telegram to Jackson, warning: “Our news indicates that a movement is being made to cut off General Loring’s command. Order him back to Winchester immediately.” Jackson did as directed, but fired off an angry letter to Benjamin that same day, noting: “With such interference in my command I cannot expect to be of much service in the field, and accordingly respectfully request to be ordered to report for duty to the Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington….Should this application not be granted, I respectfully request that the President will accept my resignation from the Army.”
Like Loring, Jackson knew how to play a political hand. He also sent a personal letter to Virginia Governor John Letcher, his longtime sponsor, complaining that Benjamin’s actions had been a naked attempt “to control military operations in detail from the Secretary’s desk at a distance,” and would prove ruinous to the army in the future. Jackson piously protested that he was not saying anything against the secretary of war, adding, “I take it for granted that he has done what he believed to be best.”
In the face of much abuse, Benjamin hastily backed down, writing a flattering letter to Jackson urging him to reconsider his decision to resign and noting–perhaps ironically–that “the people of that District with one voice have made constant and urgent appeals to you, in whom they have confidence.” At the same time, Benjamin transferred Loring to Georgia, away from Jackson’s unforgetting wrath. Jackson’s subsequent demand for a court-martial of Loring was quietly allowed to wither away.
The only permanent good to come from the Loring-Jackson feud was Benjamin’s switch from secretary of war to secretary of state, a position for which he was better suited, both politically and temperamentally. As for Jackson, it was neither the first nor last time he would clash with subordinates who did not measure up to his own austere and quasi-religious definition of duty. Few mere mortals could, or did. R.M.
Roy Morris, Jr., Editor, America’s Civil War