LT: January 30, 1865 Robert E. Lee

   

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in Lee Robert E.

No. 186.

HD-QRS: 30 Jan[uar]y ’65

MR President

In my letter of the 29h Inst: I informed you of the report of the Scouts west of the Valley, relative to the passage of troops over the Bal: & Ohio R.R. from Genl Thomas to Genl Grant. This report is confirmed by Fitz Lees Scouts in the vicinity of Winchester, who state that 15000 troops have passed over said road going to Grant. A second dispatch from Genl Early states that Major Gilmer reports from Hardy Co that large bodies of troops from Thomas army are passing over the Bal: & Ohio R. R. & Northern Central, Eastward, estimated between twenty & forty thousand. The Wheeling Intelligencer of the 23rd says ten or fifteen thousand of Thomas troops were in Bellaire awaiting transportation on B[altimore] & O[hio] R.R. I presume there is no doubt of the fact, & probably the delay in rec[eivin]g Messrs Stephens, Hunter & Campbell, is occasioned by the arrival of some of these troops in James river, which they do not wish disclosed.(1) Grant seems to be taking advantage of the condition of things with the West to bring all his troops East, & will probably move against Richmond the first opportune moment. Hoods army & the troops West of the Mississippi will have little to oppose them, & as they cannot operate there, they should be moved East as rapidly as possible—As stated in my former letter I fear with our present force here, Grant will be enabled to envelope Richmond, or turn both of our flanks & I see no way of increasing our strength.(2)

Very resp[ectfull]y your obt servt

R. E. Lee
Genl.

His Exc[ellenc]y Jefferson Davis
Pres[ident]: C[onfederate] States—Richmond.1,2

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Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Alexander H. Stephens, R. M. T. Hunter and James A. Campbell, then en route to the so-called “Hampton Roads Conference,” for which see Nos. 187 and 188 and notes thereto.


(2)
This is frank warning of what Lee believed to be the inevitable outcome of the operations against his army and in other parts of the South. After the battle of the Crater, July 30, the feint on Richmond, August 13, and the movement on the Weldon railroad, August 18, Grant settled down in front of Lee to await developments in the South which would subdue the army he felt himself unable to beat in the field. While Sheridan was harrying the Valley of Virginia and Sherman was preparing for his march to the sea, Grant remained in his works. On September 29, however, he captured Fort Harrison on the north side of the James at the cost of 2,300 men and held it in spite of Lee’s effort to dislodge him. The engagement at Poplar Spring Church on September 30 and Lee’s attack on Kautz’ cavalry on October 7 were preliminaries to the battle of the Boydton Plank Road, mentioned above. “From this time on,” writes Grant, “the operations in front of Petersburg and Richmond, until the spring campaign of 1865, were confined to the defence and extension of our lines and to offensive movements for crippling the enemy’s lines of communication and to prevent his detaching any considerable force to send South.” But the end was in sight at the time of this dispatch. Grant was extending his line to Hatcher’s Run, Early was on the defensive in the Valley of Virginia, opposition in Tennessee was almost crushed out and Sherman, having reached Savannah in December, was turning north to oppose Hardee in South Carolina and Johnston beyond him. With supplies cut off by the devastation of the Valley of Virginia and by the capture of the Weldon railroad, General Lee was forced to rely on the feeble communication south of Danville. This did not suffice to keep his men from starvation.

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No. 187.

HD-QRS: 30 Jan[uar]y ’65

MR President

I rec[eive]d tonight the accomp[anyin]g letter from Judge Campbell, with the request that I would forward it to you by telegraph in cypher. As I could not get it to you in time for your action to-night, I have determined to send it by a special messenger on the early train tomorrow, when I hope it will reach you as soon as it could be decyphered & placed before you if sent by telegraph.(1)

With great respect
Your obt servt

R. E. Lee
Genl.

His Exc[ellenc]y Jefferson Davis
Pres[ident]: C[onfederate]. States3

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Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Judge Campbell was one of the Confederate commissioners designated to discuss possible terms of peace. His dispatch has not been found but it was probably a report of the conference with the Federals at which request for a safe conduct to Washington was made in writing. The Federal correspondence regarding the famous Hampton Roads Conference will be found in O. R., 46, 2, 505-513. Mr. Stephens’ statement, in his Constitutional View of the Late War states the Confederate position fully. To all projects for peace during the early stages of hostilities, there had been the insurmountable obstacle of Lincoln’s positive and repeated refusal to recognize the Confederate States or to treat with their representatives except as rebels. His first and unyielding demand was that the Confederates lay down their arms before talking of peace. President Davis was of all men the one who would least accept such terms, and he met the various advocates of peace with the insistent requirement that decent recognition, at least as belligerents, had to be accredited the Confederate States before he could discuss peace. The Hampton Roads Conference was brought about through the efforts of Francis P. Blair, Sr., of Missouri. Acting with Lincoln’s knowledge and tacit approval, and proceeding under a Federal pass, Blair came to Richmond, had conferences with President Davis and proposed a plan by which he hoped it might be possible to unite the North and the South for a campaign against Mexico. Mr. Davis listened, considered carefully and sent Mr. Blair away with the assurance that the South would listen to any reasonable terms if respectfully presented. The negotiations to which these dispatches refer then followed. The Conference was held on February 3 but failed through Lincoln’s refusal to consent to any peace the first terms of which were not an absolute and complete restoration of the Federal authority. See note to No. 188, infra.

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Source/Notes:

  1. 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 are simply never going to be available.  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.
  2. Freeman, Douglas Southall (ed.). 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. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915, pp. 330-332
  3. Freeman, Douglas Southall (ed.). 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. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915, pp. 332-334

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