A copy of this letter is herewith inclosed;* and I have only to say, in addition to the explanation therein given, that Lieutenant Mills was entirely ignorant of the fact that the press referred to was under military rule, and that I had informed him before that coal was stored there belonging to the Navy Department, which he could obtain for use on board the receiving under his charge when he required it, making it for granted that with his knowledge of naval regulations he would understand the necessity of making a requisition me for the coal before sending for it. His conduct in going to the press with a dozen armed men, to take the coal by force if resisted, and in using a dray and bags belonging to the press without consent of the agent in charge, was certainly reprehensible and altogether unnecessary; but his offense was against naval and not military rule, as he encountered no sentinel, nor had any been over the coal, as I am confident the military authorities were not even aware of its being there.
I have made a report to Flag-Officer Hollings of the whole affair, sending copies of my letters to General Withers and Mr. Mills' statement. No one can regret more sincerely than myself that any misunderstanding should occur between officers charged with the duties belonging to the separate branches of the public defense at this time; and I have always regarded the requests of General Withers as of equal force with his orders when it has been in my power to comply with them; but when he threatened to arrest me and the whole force under my command for an infraction of discipline on the part of one of my subordinates, and that without even giving me an opportunity to investigate the nature of this offense, I considered it my duty, not only to myself but to the service to which I belong, to inform that I was not placed under his orders, especially as I received on the 9th ultimo an order from Flag-Officer to obey no orders but those coming from him, and to use my own judgment about complying with the requests of General Withers.
Under these circumstances I hope the Department will sustain me in having made what I intended as a respectful remonstrance against an unwarrantable assumption of authority and a gross violation of the rule of courtesy which should govern all officers in their official intercourse.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. D. JOHNSTON,
Lieutenant in Charge of Naval Station.
MOBILE, December 4, 1861.
Brigadier General JONES M. WITHERS,
Commanding Military District of Alabama:
SIR: I inclose herewith the statement of Lieutenant T. B. Mills relative to the occurrence at Hitchcock's press, of which you took occasion to speak to me this morning in the presence of two officers of the Army in a manner not only offensive to my feelings as an officer and a gentleman, but altogether unwarrantable between officers holding our relative positions.
You will perceive by Lieutenant Mills' statement that the charge you made against him of having overpowered one of your sentinels and taken coal which was under his charge is entirely groundless, inasmuch as the coal in question belongs to the Navy Department, and is stored in a part of the warehouse not in use for army purposes and in which no sentinel is stationed.
* Lieutenant Mills' letter not found.
51 R R-VOL VI