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LT: June 16, 1864 Robert E. Lee

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  In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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. 134.

Head Qurs A. N. Va.
Drewry Bluff   7 1/2 P.M.

16th June 1864

His Excy Jeffn Davis

President Confed: States

Mr. President,

I received this morning at 2 A.M. a dispatch from Genl. Beauregard, stating that he had abandoned his line on Bermuda Neck and would concentrate all his force on Petersburg. He also said that his skirmishers and pickets would be withdrawn at daylight.(1) I immediately ordered General Pickett’s division to proceed across James River and occupy the lines, directing Genl. Anderson to move another division to the River and proceed in person to Bermuda and take direction of affairs. I requested Genl. Beauregard not to withdraw his skirmishers and pickets until the arrival of those troops, though I feared from the lateness of the hour that he would not receive my message in time. Genl. Anderson’s troops were in the vicinity of Malvern Hill, and it was 9 o’clock A.M. to-day before the division crossed the river at Drewry’s Bluff. One brigade with Genl’s Anderson & Pickett at its head preceded the division more than an hour; but before it could reach the lines, they had been occupied by the enemy, who advanced a force as far as the Petersburg Turnpike. On learning this condition of affairs, I ordered over a second division to the support of the first, and a third to the vicinity of the bridge. The enemy was easily driven back, and General Anderson soon regained our second line of entrenchments. At last accounts the enemy in force occupied our first line, extending from Howlett’s house on the river by Ware Bottom Church, from which I fear it will be difficult and costly to dislodge him. I have not learned from Genl Beauregard what force is opposed to him in Petersburg, or received any definite account of operations there, nor have I been able to learn whether any portion of Grant’s Army is opposed to him. Taking advantage of his occupation of the Bluff at Howlett’s house the enemy brought up five vessels and prepared to sink them in Trent’s Reach. Two had been sunk with Torpedoes in their bows when the officer who reported it to Captain Pegram left. I suppose the object is to prevent our gunboats from descending the river.

A dispatch just received from General Beauregard states that he countermanded the order for the withdrawal of his pickets and skirmishers, and that they occupied our second line at 10 1/4 A M to-day, but that they were afterwards forced to retire upon Petersburg.(2)

I am with great respect
Your obt servt

R. E. Lee



Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Doubtless Beauregard to Lee, June 15, 1864, 11:15 P.M. (O. R., 40, 2, 657).

(2) Not found. The movement here reported was one of the greatest importance to the army and, indeed, to the Confederate cause. When Beauregard was forced to abandon the Bermuda Hundred line, in his efforts to save Petersburg, he thereby opened the mouth of the “bottle” in which Butler had been sealed, and thus enabled the Federal commander to advance his lines and to recapture the railroad from which he had been driven in May. This meant the practical severance of the Confederate line of communications between Richmond and Petersburg and the isolation of Beauregard’s command. Realizing the importance of this line, Lee took the offensive and regained it. In the meantime, Beauregard with a small force had been fighting the Federals in front of Petersburg with splendid courage. From June 15 to June 18, Beauregard’s little force held at bay a Federal army thrice its size and prevented the capture of Petersburg. Not until Lee’s army had driven back Butler and had passed beyond him to Beauregard, was Petersburg safe. General Beauregard has never been given the credit he deserved for his masterly defence of Petersburg at a time when the fall of that city would have meant the separation of Lee from his lines of communication with the South.


No. 135.

Head Qrs Drewry’s Bluff

16 June 1864.

His Excy Jeffn Davis

President Richmond

Mr. President

For some few days back we have been only able to get sufficient corn for our animals from day to day— Any accident to the railroads would cut short our supplies. I directed Col Corley(1) to make this representation to the Qr Mr Genl to-day: he has returned & says Genl Lawton(2) is doing everything he can, but cannot provide more than about 2000 bushels per day. We require 3200 bushels daily for all our animals—I think it is clear that the railroads are not working energetically & unless some improvement is made, I do not know what will become of us— I am therefore obliged to appeal to your Excellency as reluctant as I am to trespass upon your time & attention. I beg that every exertion may be made, not only to supply our daily wants, but to lay up something for future use—Our existence depends upon every ones exerting themselves at this time to the utmost—(3)

I am with great respect

Your obt servt.

R. E. Lee


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Colonel James L. Corley, quartermaster-general, Army of Northern Virginia.

(2) Brigadier-General A[lexander]. R. Lawton, previously mentioned, quartermaster-general of the Confederate States army and formerly brigade commander in Lee’s army.

(3) This dispatch, it will be observed, is somewhat more blunt in its phrases than most of those from General Lee’s pen. His request was doomed to be repeated again and again during the remaining months of the war and went unheeded far more frequently than it was granted. The days of starvation were already upon the army.



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