LT: March 24, 1865 Robert E. Lee

   

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in Lee Robert E.

No. 193.
[Telegram]
(Copy)

Head Qrs. March 24/65

Hon. J. C. Breckenridge,

Secy. of War.

A scout just escaped from the prison barge off City Point reports fifteen monitors and forty-five gunboats above Bermuda Hundred.(1) He is a very bold man, but I think there must be some error in his report.(2)

R. E. Lee

Respectfully submitted for the information of the President.

John C. Breckenridge

Secy. of War. Mar. 25/65.

[Endorsed]

Genl. R. E. Lee
Hd. Qrs. March 24 1865.

Copy telegram to Secy. War.

A scout reports fifteen Monitors and forty-five Gun-boats above Bermuda Hundred.—There must be some error in his report.

Rec[eive]d. March 25. 1865.1,2

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Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Located on the James River just above City Point, the headquarters of General Grant. General Lee doubts that the enemy has as many vessels in the channel.

(2) With the correspondence of this date are two dispatches from F. G. De Fontaine, Charlotte, N. C, to the (Southern) Associated Press, as follows:

Charlotte 24th. 1865. Charlotte friday 24th. indebted to enterprise Southern Express Courier Augusta papers to 20th. no important Military movements reported. Capt. Dickinson Florida made Captures several officers men during late raid— Forrest placed Command all Cavalry, district Mississippi East La. West Tennessee his first General Order promises reorganization discipline and threatens extermination Confederate Stragglers Robbers deserters. Thomas’s Troops being mounted for supposed march through Alabama—raids being made from Hernando Mississippi towards Senatobia— Many Compliments of Kirby Smith in west. Wafford in command at Atlanta— reorganization in Georgia already commenced—reinforcements from Northern Mississippi sent to Grant. Large bodies of troops moving in west and important movements reported. Legislature of Mississippi about to convene in extra session said for purpose calling state convention. Message Governor Brown of Georgia commences by defence state against attacks of the Press for permitting Sherman march unmolested through state says she was abandoned to her fate neglected by Confederate Authorities and while her Army of able bodied Sons were held for defence of other States were denied privilege strike next blow for protection of homes. Georgia was compelled to rely upon few old men and boys claims golden opportunity lost for over-throwing Sherman, had he been resisted from start forced to fight and exhaust ammunition surrender would have been certain—recommends establishment of Militia System to be in no case turned over to Confederate Govt, but retain for home defence says only fourteen hundred and fifty exempts in state and mostly over age recommends passage law authorizing impressment provisions in hands of persons under bond to Confederate Government who refuse to sell surplus to indigent families Soldiers complains that Confederate Agents can lock corn cribs & smoke house against State purchasing officer—referring to penitentiary says more than half convicts released to fight—since deserted—recommends death punishment for robbery, horse stealing, burglary, oppose arming slaves believes them more valuable in agricultural labors they dont wish to go in army and principal restraint now upon them is fear that if they leave enemy may make them fight. Compel them to take up arms and they desert by thousands whatever may be our opinion of their normal condition or interests we cannot expect them to perform deeds of heroism when fighting to continue enslavement of wives and children. Not reasonable to demand it of them whenever we establish fact they are Military people we destroy our theory that they unfit to be free when we arm slaves we abandon slavery. Complains of usurpations of Confederate Congress in disproportion of Taxation and says much most objectionable legislation imposed upon by votes of men who act without responsibility to constituency . . . Army takes Government to task for great Vanity alleged abuses such as illegal imprisonment arrest of Citizens without authority by provost guards the passport system and partiality of Government to men of wealth who are given nominal positions which keep them out of army while poor men boys forced into ranks—Animadverts severely upon Generalship of President and traces his Military career during war. Claims our Govt, now Military despotism drifting into Anarchy and that if present policy persisted in must terminate reconstruction with or without subjugation. Brown states utterly opposed to both but if he favored either he would give earnest support to President’s policy as surest mode of diminishing our armies exhausting resources breaking spirits of our people and driving them in despair to seek refuge from worse tyranny by placing themselves under Government they loath and detest in case existing evils recommends repeal Conscription act return to Constitutional mode of raising troops by States—observance good faith with Soldiers prompt pay abandonment of impressments and Secret Sessions and no more representation without Constituency and finally taken from President his power Commander in Chief Calls for Convention of States to amend Constitution and closes in following language— My destiny linked with my country if we succeed I am free man if by obstinacy weakness rules we fail common ruin awaits us all. The night is dark the tempest howls the ship is lashed with turbulent waves the helmsman is steering to the whirl pool—our remonstrances are unheeded and we must restrain them or the Crew must sink together buried in irretrievable ruin.”

No Alarm in Charlotte enemy reported moving in direction Camden Cheraw Fayetteville thought that raiders and not main column visit city—during retreat from Columbia train cars filled with ladies broke down enemy threatened Capture. Hampton with cavalry threw himself in position to defend them with the life of every man in his command. Hampton Butler Wheeler done most fighting on retreat main force not being generally engaged from best information western portion of Columbia burned supposed by Cotton ignited in streets reported extent of fire from Main Street to Charlotte Depot nearly three fourths of mile doubtful as to magnitude but positive as to some fire-persons preparing to return.

F. G. De Fontaine

Charlotte 25th. 1865.

To the Associated Press:

No additional News from front Still supposed Enemy making way North by Cheraw on Fayetteville. News from Columbia corroborated kind treatment inhabitants. Ursuline Convent protected by guard. No public property allowed burned in city private residences. Sherman’s Hd. Qrs. Monday Nickerson’s Hotel. Large force reported western portion city. Alarm Charlotte partially subsided. Weather bad roads heavy interfering with rapid military movements.

F. G. Defontaine

 

***

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, p. 340-344

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