When the vessel to which General Bragg refers crossed the Mobile bar the Confederate steamer Florida was at the city, 30 miles off, and of course could render no assistance.
The Florida had recently gone there from the lake after an engagement with a Federal steamer, and on observing her arrival in the public papers I directed Flag-Officer Hollins to prevent her form lying at the city a moment beyond what her necessities might require.
General Bragg complains that the little guard boat did not go out to the vessel's assistance, which he says was pursued by the enemy's gunboats. This is a small sailing schooner, mounting one gun, commanded by an active and zealous young naval officer, and I trust that he would have sailed out against the enemy's gunboats could he have rendered any service. I will call upon him to explain his apparent neglect of duty.
I concur with you in the necessity of securing perfect harmony of action between the land and naval forces, and so soon as the steamers now nearly completed for service in the waters near Mobile shall go into commission I will give such instruction as will, I think, certainly secure it. At present there is but one small sailing schooner and two barges. The naval office in charge, and who is reported by General Withers as "unreliable and inefficient," Lieutenant Jas. D. Johnston, is regarded by the service and the Department as one of the best officers of the old service. Perhaps the cause of General Withers' report may be found in the letter of Lieutenant Johnston, a copy of which is inclosed.
General Bragg's letters are herewith returned.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. R. MALLORY,
Secretary of the Navy.
MOBILE, December 9, 1861.
Honorable S. R. MALLORY,
Secretary of the Navy, Richmond:
SIR: On the morning of the 4th instant I was accosted by Brigadier-General Withers, commanding this military division, in the presence of Major Hessee and Lieutenant Holt, assistant quartermaster at this place, in these words: "Some of your marines have been overpowering one of my sentinels and taking coal from Hitchcock's press." I replied, "Yes, sir, I have heard something of that, and intend to reprimand Lieutenant Mills for it." To this General Withers replied, "Reprimand him, sir! You must arrest him sir; my orders to you are to arrest him, sir, at once, "using a highly excited tone and manner. I then said, "That is a matter for me to attend to, general, and not you." Whereupon he is a matter a for me to attend to, general, and not you." Whereupon he replied, "I don't care, sir; my instructions to you are to investigate the matter and to arret him, and if you don't I'll arrest the whole of you;" and then left me without waiting for a reply. He spoke throughout in an exceedingly angry and offensive tone, and did not seem disposed to listen to anything I had to sail.
I immediately directed Lieutenant Mils to furnish me with a written explanation of his conduct in the case; and in the afternoon of the same day I addressed a communication, inclosing Lieutenant Mills' statement, to General Withers, informing him that I had investigated the circumstances connected with the occurrence which had so seriously excited his displeasure, and that the charge made against Lieutenant Mills of having overpowered one of his sentinels was entirely groundless.