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LT: June 21, 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 are no longer 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  In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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.

No. 139.

Petersburg 21 June ’64.

MR President

I have recd your letter of the 20th Inst: enclosing one from the Pres: of the Petersburg & Richmond R.R.(1) It is stated the road will be in operation this mor[nin]g(2)—Genl Grant will concentrate all the troops here he can raise, from every section of the U. S. I saw it stated some days since in one of their papers. That A. T. Smith’s corps, which had returned from the Red River, had embarked at Vicksburg in a number of transports & ascended the Miss[issip]pi— I have not heard of it since. Its destination may have been Memphis. I hope Early will be able to demolish Hunter,(3) but I doubt whether Hampton will be able to injure Sheridan. His force is small in comparison with the enemy’s & he seems to be looking to reinforcements more than to what he can accomplish himself.(4) I hope your Exc[ellenc]y will put no reliance in what I can do individually, for I feel that will be very little. The enemy has a strong position, & is able to deal us more injury than from any other point he has ever taken. Still we must try & defeat them. I fear he will not attack us but advance by regular approaches. He is so situated that I cannot attack him.(5) The battery at Hewlett’s will open to-day at 12 M[eridian, i.e. Noon]— The Navy & G. W. C. Lee cooperating as far as they can—I very much regret to learn that my reply to your confidential note has not reached you— It was sent the night I recd it by the messenger (one of Genl Bragg’s I think) who brought your note.(6) I stated that notwithstanding my esteem & admiration for Genl. Pendleton—his truthfulness, sincerity & devotion to the country, I had never thought of recomm[din]g him for the command of a corps in this army. You must not understand that I think him incapable for such a command, but I had never seen anything that caused me to select him, & therefore was unable to recommend him. I can spare him if you think he is the best available. I do not know the officers in Genl J’s army whom you enumerate. Genl Stuart may be the best.(7) Genl Johnston had a high opinion of Genl Ewell & I can bear testimony to his soldierly qualities. But I think his health & nervous system has been shaken by his great injury & though active & attentive that he cannot without breaking himself down undergo the arduous duties of a Corps Commdr I can spare him if Genl Johnston desires.(8) I should think he would require a commander at once as I understand Genl Loring is the Senior present.(9) Praying that you may enjoy all health & happiness.

I remain most resp[ectfull]y & truly

R. E. Lee

His Excy Jeffn Davis
Pres: C. States.1


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Not found.

(2) Lee, at midnight, June 16, notified the President of the Richmond and Petersburg railroad that Butler had burned “about one-half mile of the railroad below Walthall Junction” and urged him to repair the track “as soon as it is practicable” (O. R., 40, 2, 660).

(3) Hunter escaped; Early promptly moved up the Valley.

(4) Hampton, it will be recalled, was moving against Sheridan, whose cavalry still remained on the north side of the James. For Hampton’s view of his situation, see his letters to Bragg (June 20, 1864; O. R., loc. cit., 669-670). For Lee’s congratulations to Hampton upon the success of his movement, see O. R., 36, 3, p. 903.

(5) This is the first reference in this correspondence to the probable outcome of the campaign,—the first time Lee admitted that he could not expect victory. It is needless to point out that the strategy he here anticipated on the part of General Grant is that which the Federal commander pursued until the capture at Petersburg. Beaten or driven back in every assault, he advanced to victory “by regular approaches.”

(6) The note from Davis not found; Lee’s reply (June 15, 1864, 8: 20 P.M) is printed supra, no. 133.

(7) A. P. Stewart, see note to dispatch of June 15, 1864, 8:20 P.M.

(8) Lieut.-General R. S. Ewell, long commander of the Second (Jackson’s) Corps. At Groveton, Va., in the engagement of August 28, 1862, Ewell was so severely wounded that his leg had to be amputated. Continuing in the service he was, on May 19, 1864, badly injured when his horse was shot. Thereafter he was disabled for field duty (C. M. H., 1, 677-78). Ewell protested on June 1, 1864, against invalidism. He wrote (O. R., 36, 3, 863): “The opinion of my medical attendant, Dr. McGuire, and that of myself, is that I am as able for duty today as at any time since the campaign commenced. I am unwilling to be idle in this crisis, and, with the permission of the commanding general, I would prefer to remain with this army until circumstances may admit of my being replaced in command of my corps.” On June 4, however, General Lee thought it necessary for General Ewell’s health to give him rest and consequently placed Early in command of the corps (ibid., 873). Writing of General Ewell on June 12 (ibid., 897-98) General Lee, in typical phrases said: “During the late movements of the army, the condition of General Ewell’s health rendered it proper that he should be relieved temporarily from the command of his corps. Although now restored to his usual health, I think the labor and exposure to which he would be inevitably exposed would at this time again incapacitate him for field service. The general, who has all the feelings of a good soldier, differs from me in this opinion, and is not only willing but anxious to resume his command. I, however, think in the present emergency it would jeopardize his life; and should his strength fail, it would prove disadvantageous to the service. I, therefore, propose that he be placed on some duty attended with less labor and exposure.” And he recommends Ewell for the place to which he was immediately appointed,—that of commander of the Richmond defences. Here Ewell remained until he joined his old chieftain on the retreat toward Appomattox. He was captured before the surrender.

(9) W. W. Loring of Florida, a native of North Carolina, major-general, P. A. C. S. Loring is especially remembered for his services in Egypt after the war.



No. 140.


Received at Richmond, June 21, 1864.

By telegraph from Petersburg [June] 21

To His Excellency, Jeffn. Davis,

I left Lt. Col. Williams(1) engineer, in charge of battery at Howletts. He should have been there. I will order an officer there to-night.

24/480                                             R. E. Lee


Genl. Lee


June 21/64.
June 22/64.2


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Lieut.-Col. John A. Williams, engineer corps.



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