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 In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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.
HDQRS A N Va.
26th June 1864.
His Excy JeffN Davis
Presdt C. States
I have had the honor to receive today your letter of the 24th enclosing, me some letters said to have been written by Maj. Ward.(1) I hope the accounts he gives of the sufferings of the citizens of Northern Neck and the South Side of the Rappahannock are exaggerated, though I fear there is much truth in his statements, and can imagine that great atrocities have been perpetrated upon our unfortunate fellow citizens. I know of no way to afford them relief, except by their own energy and strength. If they will organize themselves under proper leaders, they can so punish these marauding bands as to drive them from the country. It would be better for them to send away or destroy their property, horses, provisions &c than to retain them to invite the inroads of the enemy. I will write to Col Mosby to see if he can operate in that country, though I think it would be very hazardous to him as he would certainly be betrayed by the negroes and traders of the country, and his retreat could be easily cut off.(2)
If officers could be selected of proper energy and boldness, it would tend greatly to the proper organization of the people, but I do not know how to select them.
The writer of the letter referred to me, seems to look for help more to persons foreign to the country than to those resided in it. I think if that is the feeling of the Community, there is no remedy for their sufferings. They must come out and defend themselves, and take the consequences of their action.
Your obt servt
R. E. Lee
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:
(1) Not found.
(2) A part of Mosby’s command was, however, later dispatched to the Northern Neck, a section which was isolated from the Confederate forces and easily overrun by marauding Federals who used the rivers.
- 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. 259-260 ↩