LT: June 15, 1864 Robert E. Lee

   

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in Lee Robert E.

Editor’s Note: Many Confederate records from 1864 were lost during Lee’s retreat from Richmond and Petersburg.  As a result, many useful primary sources from the Confederate side have been lost.  What might be less well known is that not all of Robert E. Lee’s known writings from the time of the Petersburg Campaign were put into the Official Records.  In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65. These letters and dispatches came from the private collection of Wymberley Jones De Renne of Wormsloe, Georgia.   Many of these letters and telegrams contain insight into the Siege of Petersburg, and will appear here 150 years to the day after they were written by Lee.  The numbering system used in the book will also be utilized here, but some numbers may be missing because the corresponding letter or dispatch does not pertain directly to the Siege of Petersburg.

No. 128.

HDQRS Army N Va.

12:20 P.M.   15th June 1864.

General,

Your letter of 8.45 A.M. enclosing various dispatches from Gen Beauregard, is just received.(1) I directed Gen Hoke this morning, unless he should receive contrary orders from you, to cross the James River and report to Gen. Beauregard. I had a visit this morning from Col [Samuel R.] Paul aid de camp of Gen Beauregard, who stated among other things that the General was of opinion that if he had his original force, he would be able to hold his present lines in front of Gen Butler and at Petersburg. He is however particularly anxious to have Ransom’s brigade, which I believe is now at Chafin’s Bluff, and I doubt whether he will be satisfied or consider himself strong enough until he is ordered to him.(2) I think therefore it had better be done. If Gracie’s brigade cannot be returned to that place, perhaps the locals under Gen Custis Lee might be able to hold it. But as long as this army remains in its front, I will endeavor to make it safe. I had determined to move this army back near the exterior line of defences near Richmond, but from the movements of the enemy’s cavalry this morning, and reports that have reached me, I do not wish to draw too far back. Unless therefore I am better satisfied, I shall remain where I am to-day, as the enemy’s plans do not seem to be settled.(3)

I am much grieved to hear of the death of Lt. Gen. Polk.(4)

Very respectfully
Your obt servt

R. E. Lee
Genl

General Bragg
&c &c1

***

Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Not found. Between the time of this and the previous letter to General Bragg, important developments had taken place. Smith’s corps of Grant’s army, one of the first across the James, had moved towards Petersburg on the night of the 14-15 and was preparing to assault. Fortunately for the Confederates, however, Smith delayed doing so and did not advance on the poorly-manned works until about sundown (see Grant’s report, O. R., 36, 1, 25). Smith’s attack was met with valor by Wise’s brigade. With the arrival of Federal re-enforcements, General Beauregard was forced to abandon his line at Bermuda Hundred Neck and to rush all his troops to Petersburg.

(2) General Lee could not be certain at this time whether Grant’s whole army, the vanguard or troops that had come up the James were moving against Beauregard and could not accordingly afford to strip the Richmond defences. His first accurate information of the nature of the Federal troops before Petersburg came in a dispatch from Beauregard dated 11: 45 A.M. (O. R., 40, 2, 656).

(3) At 6: 00 P.M. General Lee telegraphed more in detail that the enemy’s cavalry had been seen that morning on the Salem Church Road and at Malvern Hill, and that it had been driven down the river road.

(4) Leonidas Polk, Protestant Episcopal bishop of Louisiana and Lieut.-Gen. P. A. C. S., killed near Marietta, Georgia, June 14, 1864.

***

No. 129.

HDQRS Army N Va.

12 1/2 P.M.   15th June 1864.

General,

I directed Col Stevens(1) this morning to throw a ponton bridge across the river at Chafin’s Bluff, for which he thought he had, or could obtain sufficient material[.]  I do not think it would be well to remove the Ponton Bridge now at Drewry’s Bluff, and if we can only maintain one across that part of the river, that at Drewry’s would be more generally advantageous. A bridge below Chafin’s Bluff would be more exposed to the enemy’s gunboats and would prevent free access of our own to the batteries at Chafin’s.(2)

Very resp[ectfull]y

Your obt servt

R. E. Lee

General Bragg

&c &c

2

***

Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Colonel Walter H. Stevens, chief engineer, Army of Northern Virginia.

(2) The James River at Drewry’s Bluff makes a sharp turn almost east. At the point where it turns southeast again is Chafin’s Bluff. Below the latter point, the Confederates had no works except those for the protection of the fort.

***

No. 130.

HDQRS Army N Va.

12 3/4 P.M.   15th June 1864.

His Excellency Jeffn Davis
President C. States,
Richmond
Mr. President,

As I informed you last evening I had intended to move the troops nearer the exterior lines of defences around Richmond, but from the movements of the enemy’s cavalry and the reports that have reached me this morning, his plans do not appear to be settled. Unless therefore I hear something more satisfactory, they will remain where they are.(1) Should I move my camp, it will be somewhere on Cornelius Creek in the cleanest wood I can find near the New Market Road or Osborne Turnpike.(2)

Most resp[pectfull]y

Your obt servt

R. E. Lee

Genl.3

***

Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) The presence of cavalry on the north side of the river, (see No. 128, supra) had raised some question in General Lee’s mind as to how much of Grant’s army had crossed, although he knew that the movement was in progress. It would manifestly have been foolish to leave the Richmond defences open to a cavalry raid or to a strong column on the north side of the river.

(2) Cornelius Creek ran southwesterly into the James River just above Drewry’s Bluff. The Osborne turnpike and the New Market road paralleled the James at this point and crossed the creek about a mile apart. Substantial works were located at this point, about five miles from Richmond.

***

No. 131.

Ridley’s Shop

Charles City Road

6:50 P.M. 15th June. [1864]

Mr. President,

Your note of 1:20 P.M. to-day has just been received.(1) As soon as I heard of the enemy’s crossing the Chickahominy at Long Bridge I moved Heth’s division across the river(2) to White Oak Swamp bridge, and prepared the other troops for motion. Our skirmishers at daylight were moved forward, and finding no enemy in front of our lines for between one and two miles were recalled, and the army moved over the Chickahominy. Gen Heth’s divn holds the White Oak Swamp bridge, the rest of Hill’s corps is at Ridley’s Shop(3) at the intersection of the Long Bridge and Charles City roads. Longstreet’s corps is to his right on the Long Bridge Road, and Hoke’s division at the intersection of the Darby Town and Long Bridge roads. Our cavalry occupy the Willis Church road and Malvern Hill.(4) The only enemy we have yet seen is that that has come up from the Long Bridge, and is opposed to Gen Heth at White Oak Swamp bridge and extends to this point[.] We have driven him from this position down the Long Bridge Road, but I have not yet heard that White Oak Swamp Bridge is uncovered[.] Gen Early was in motion this morning at 3 o’clock & by daylight was clear of our camps. He proceeded on the mountain road direct to Charlottesville, and arrangements have been made to give him 15 days supplies. If you think it better to recall him, please send a trusty messenger to overtake him to-night[.] I do not know that the necessity for his presence to-day is greater than it was yesterday. His troops would make us more secure here, but success in the Valley would relieve our difficulties that at present press heavily upon us.(5) As I write, Wilcox’s division is pressing the enemy down the Long Bridge Road. Most respectfully

Your obt servt.

R. E. Lee

Genl.4

***

Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Not found.

(2) That is, the Chickahominy.

(3) Given on the maps as “B Shop,”—blacksmith’s shop. In rural Virginia the “shop” is traditionally a smithy.

(4) The forces north of the James were thus lying in a northeast-southwest line pointing toward the river at Dutch Gap.

(5) After being dispatched to meet and drive back Hunter, Early was instructed to move down the Valley, to cross the Potomac and to threaten Washington. This movement, it was hoped, would relieve the Valley and might possibly lessen the pressure on Richmond.

***

No. 132.

HDQRS 7:50 P.m.
Riddle’s Shop 15th June. [1864]

Mr. President,

I omitted to mention in my note just written the importance of warning our papers not to allude even by implication to the movements of our troops. I have just learned that the correspondent of the [Richmond] Inquirer(1) is aware of Gen. Early’s movements but had written to his paper not to publish it. As secrecy is an important element of Gen. Early’s expedition, I beg that your Excellency will cause notice to be sent to all the newspapers not to allude to any movement, by insinuation or otherwise. Of course it will not do to particularize that movement, as it may not be known I think it would be well to charge the Telegraph operators not to forward a dispatch referring in any way to Army movements.(2)

Very respy

Your obt servt

R. E. Lee
Gl.5

***

Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) The Richmond Inquirer, the ante-bellum “democratic Bible of the South,” founded by Thomas Ritchie, edited by him, continued by his nephews and edited for a time by O. Jennings Wise, son of Governor Henry A. Wise of Virginia. Ritchie’s biography has been written by C. M. Ambler (Richmond, 1913).

(2) The frequent references in General Lee’s dispatches to the intelligences procured from the New York and Philadelphia papers will show how valuable to either side were the newspapers of the other. The Richmond press was as diligently sought after by the Federals as were the Northern papers by the Confederates. The Richmond press, at this time, was conservative with the exception of the Examiner, edited by the radical John M. Daniel, an earnest opponent of the administration. The Federals appear, however, to have used the Dispatch most frequently to study Confederate movements. Cf. Lee to Davis, July 1, 1864, infra.

***

No. 133.

8:20 P.M. 15 June ’64.

MR President

I have just recd your note of to-day—(1) I directed Ransoms brigade this afternoon, if no contrary orders had been recd—, to report to Genl. Beauregard,(2) & replaced it for the night by one of Longstreet’s—Genl G. W. C. Lee will repair to Chafins tomorrow at 3 A.M. with a portion of his command, leaving the Va. reserves to support the batteries at Bottoms bridge—

I am much grieved at the death of Genl Polk. I am unable to recommend a successor—As much as I esteem & admire Genl Pendleton, I could not select him to command a corps in this army. I do not mean to say by that he is not competent, but from what I have seen of him, I do not know that he is—(3) I can spare him, if in your good judgment, you decide he is the best available. I know nothing of the character of those officers you designate. As far as I do know some, I should think they would not answer. Major Genl Stewart I do not know—(4)  I regret I am unable to aid you, for I know the importance of selecting a proper officer.

Only the enemys Cavy, opposed us today & they were driven back on all the roads— If Genl Johnston would like Genl Ewell(5) I would spare him. My own opinion is that Genl E s health is unequal to his duties, but he does not agree with me—Johnston knows & likes him, & I do the same.

Most truly & respy yours

R. E. Lee
Genl.

His Excy Jeffn Davis
President.6

***

Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Not found.

(2) Cooper ordered the brigade forward from Chaffin’s to Beauregard in all haste (O. R., 40, 2, 658).

(3) The reference is to Brig.-Genl. W. N. Pendleton, chief of artillery, A. N. Va. Nothing could better illustrate General Lee’s absolute candor than this frank unwillingness to recommend Pendleton. The latter, a minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church, was one of General Lee’s personal friends and later was his rector at Lexington. Yet because he had no proof of Pendleton’s qualifications for the higher place General Lee would not recommend him.

(4) Alexander P. Stewart of Tennessee, familiarly known to his men as “old straight,” a West Pointer of the class of 1842 and room-mate of John Pope and J. E. B. Stuart. His military record was excellent and his achievements at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga and elsewhere had won him praise. He was given the promotion and was commissioned lieutenant-general, June 23, 1864 (C. M. H., 1, 693-95).

(5) Lieutenant-General Richard S. Ewell, one of Lee’s corps commanders and an able fighter. General Ewell’s health had been so much impaired by hardship and wounds that he could not share actively in the campaign. He was assigned, shortly after the date of this, to the command of the Richmond defences and did not rejoin General Lee until the evacuation of Richmond. For fuller details see infra, No. 139, note 8.

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Source/Notes:


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