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 In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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.
Head Qrs A N Va.,
June 18th 1864.
President Confed. States
From information received last night it is pretty certain that Grant’s whole force has crossed to the South Side of the James River—Wilson’s division of cavalry crossed yesterday. I have ordered all the troops over towards Petersburg leaving the outer defences of Richmond in charge of Gen G. W. C. Lee to whom I have ordered Col. Gary’s command and several light batteries to report—Gen Wm F. Lee I have ordered to Petersburg with Barringer’s N. C. brigade(1) leaving Chambliss(2) to cooperate with Hampton if practicable in striking at Sheridan who is apparently making for the White House. If he cannot cooperate with Hampton I have ordered him to follow Gen. Wm F Lee to Petersburg.(3) Gen Hampton will continue to watch Sheridan and endeavour to strike at him but if the latter escapes & takes transport at the White House Hampton is ordered to move as rapidly as possible for Petersburg.(4) The enemy having transferred Wilsons division of Cavy to the S. Side obliges me to call over Genl W. F. Lee—(5)
Most respy your obt servt
R. E. Lee
I go to Petersburg
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:
(1) Rufus Barringer, of North Carolina, commanding the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th N. C. cavalry.
(2) John R. Chambliss of Virginia, in command of W. H. F. Lee’s old cavalry brigade.
(3) Cf. R. E. Lee to W. H. F. Lee, June 17, 1864 (0. R., 40, 2, 663).
(4) Cf. Lee to Wade Hampton, June 18, 1864: “If Sheridan escapes and gets to his transports at the White House you must lose no time in moving your entire command to our right near Petersburg. Keep yourself thoroughly advised of his movements and intentions as far as practicable” (O. R., 40, 2, 667). Correspondence with the cavalry officers is frequent in the Official Records, for this time (loc. cit.).
(5) These were the troops whose activities on the north side of the river, after Grant’s main army had crossed, raised whatever doubts there may have been in General Lee’s mind as to the extent to which Grant had transferred his forces to the south side of the river. Richmond’s northern defences were now left in the hands of the local forces, composed largely of department clerks, with small details from the main army.
- 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. 249-250 ↩