On Saturday, the enemy's lower Mississippi fleet attacked our batteries at Port Hudson. The result reported is that only one of their gun-boats got past, and that in a damaged condition. The frigate Mississippi, one of the best war steamers of the United States, was burned, and the rest retired down the river, badly repulsed. We sustained no loss.
To-day, the Secretary of War sent in a paper indorsing Judge Meredith's opinion in regard to foreigners who have accepted service in our country, viz., that they are liable to conscription. This is in the teeth of the decision of the Assistant Secretary, Judge Campbell, Col. Lay's father-in-law, and upon which the bureau has been acting, although Gen. Rains, the Superintendent, permitted it with reluctance, upon the assurance of Col. L. that such was the will of the department. This business may produce an explosion.
I walked with Gen. Rains this afternoon in Capitol Square. He is annoyed at the action of Col. Lay in following the instructions of the Assistant Secretary of War in regard to foreigners. The decision had not the sanction of the Secretary of War, Mr. Seddon. He thinks several thousand men may have been permitted to escape military service by it He intended to lay Judge Campbell's decision before the President, but it disappeared very mysteriously from his desk. And to-day it reappeard just as mysteriously. And, simultaneously, and quite as mysteriously, a paper appeared, signed by Mr. Seddon, Secretary of War, suggesting that the bureau act in conformity with Judge Meredith's opinion, directly in the teeth of Mr. Assistant Secretary Campbell's decision! And-it was dated March 13th, full four days before. What delayed it, and who brought it, no one seemed to know. Col. Lay suggested that it be sent back, with an indorsenent that the bureau had been already acting under the decision of Judge Campbell (just the reverse of the opinion), Assistant Secretary of War, “by order of the Secretary of War.” To this Gen. R. demurred, and said the bureau would conform its action to Mr. Seddon's suggestions; and he charged a clerk to preserve that paper. Col. L. grumbled awfully at Mr. Seddon's off-hand decision, without mature reflection.
Gen. Stewart (of Maryland) was at the office a short time before, and advocated Mr. Seddon's views; for he knew how many Marylanders would be embraced in the decision, as well as other foreigners.
Lieut.-Col. A. C. Jones, Assistant Adjutant-General, had, in the name of the bureau, notified Gen. Winder, this morning, that Marylanders, etc. were not liable to bear arms for the South after being in the service two years!
The general says he will have all the commandants of conscripts written to immediately; and that he will have an interview with the Secretary of War in relation to the matter.
Every man we can put in the field is demanded; and many fear we shall not have a sufficient number to oppose the overwhelming tide soon to be surging over the land. At such a crisis, and in consideration of all the circumstances attending this matter, involving the loss of so many men, one is naturally startled at Judge Campbell's conduct.
SOURCE: John Beauchamp Jones, A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the Confederate States Capital, Volume 1, p. 275-6