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 In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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 Army N Va.
5th July 1864.
His Excellency Jeffn Davis
Presdt C. States
The subject of recruiting and keeping up our cavalry force, has occupied much of my thoughts, especially since the opening of the present campaign. The enemy is numerically superior to us in this arm, and possesses greater facilities for recruiting his horses and keeping them in serviceable condition. In the several engagements that have taken place between the cavalry of the two armies, I think great loss has been inflicted upon him, but it has been attended with a diminution of our force which we were less able to bear. Could I sweep his cavalry from the field, or preserve a fair proportion between its numbers and our own, I should feel that our present situation was in a measure secure. But in view of the disparity that exists, and the difficulty of increasing or even maintaining our force, I cannot but entertain serious apprehensions about the safety of our southern communications. Should we be unable to preserve them, I need not point out the consequences. I do not know from what quarter reinforcements can be had. There is one regt. of Georgia Cavalry under Col Anderson which I believe is desirous of joining this army. [SOPO Editor’s Note: Lee appears to be referring to Colonel Robert H. Anderson’s 5th Georgia Cavalry. It never did join the Army of Northern Virginia.] The War Department can best decide whether it can be spared but if it can be, I beg that it may be ordered to me without delay. You will know whether any can be drawn from Gen Johnston’s Dept. That which is in Western Va is needed there and I am aware of no other source of supply. I think that horses might be obtained from Texas, as we have now access to the Mississippi at various points. Those horses would make very serviceable animals for cavalry, and could be brought across the river by swimming, as cattle are higher up the stream and on the Missouri river if only a few can be obtained in this way, it would be of great assistance. It has also occurred to me that horses at least for artillery service could be obtained on the Northern and Western borders of Va. by the system of exchange which is now being successfully carried on for subsistence. If good agents were selected and sent to the Western and Northwestern parts of the State, with authority to exchange cotton and tobacco for horses, the facilities for carrying on the traffic would be greater than that in articles of more difficult transportation, and at the present prices of those commodities in the North, the profits would be a great temptation, and insure the success of the experiment.(1) I think if anything is to be done, now is our most favorable opportunity. I hope your Excellency will be able to devise some means of obtaining an increase of our supply of horses, and recruiting our cavalry, as upon that in a great measure I believe, depends the issue of the campaign in Va.
Your obt servt
R E Lee
Camp Petersbg 5 July ’64.
Your letter of the 4th Inst: was delivered to me this morg by Col: Wood.(2) He with the gentlemen accompg him are on the road to Stony Creek depot, 28 miles by the road they have to march where they will take the cars to Weldon. I procured horses for two & an ambulance for the other two & the baggage. I sent directions to Genl Whiting(3) to provide them with two 20 pd Parrotts if possible & to furnish every other facility in his power to expedite their movements— I hope they will sail on Saturday. I have gone over all the points of the expedition with Cols: Wood & Lee,(4) & we can now only trust to their energy & judgment & the blessing of a merciful Providence. The arrangement made with Genl. Early is the best I can suggest He is to send a helping hand after he hears of the success of the expedition, & I think there is no danger of his precipitating matters. I do not see how the attention of the Potomac flotilla can be attracted to a remote point, unless Early’s movements may call them to Washington. This would be the best diversion, & in the best quarter. Every thing I think has been done that can be; & we have good ground to hope for the success of the enterprize.(5)
Most respy. your obt servt
R. E. Lee
His Excy Jeffn Davis
Pres: C. States.1
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:
(1) This form of trade, though repeatedly prohibited by law, was at this time a regular means of procuring limited quantities of supplies. It was a tradition in the Confederate army that a Federal soldier would “sell the shirt off his back” for tobacco.
(2) Not found.
(3) Commanding at Wilmington, from which point, as this dispatch makes plain, the proposed expedition against Point Lookout was to start.
(4) John Taylor Wood and G. W. C. Lee.
(5) See supra, No. 149 and infra No. 155.
- 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. 273-276 ↩