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LT: July 12, 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 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  In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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.

No. 157.

Head Qrs A N Va.

July 12th 1864.

His Excy Jefferson Davis

President C. States


Mr. President

Letters which I have received from Gen. Holmes(1) do not represent affairs in North Carolina in a favourable condition— I do not know what position he holds in the State or what is his command— If his health and strength qualify him for the duty I should think it would be well to give him supreme control of the reserves of the State—From his account their organization proceeds slowly perhaps necessarily so, but every stimulant should be given to hasten it— If Gen. Holmes is incapacitated for these duties I recommend that some officer be sent there who is qualified— From all that I can learn he does not expect to obtain more than twenty five hundred of the Junior Reserves for service in Eastern Carolina & the maintenance of the railroads in that section. He represents affairs in the Western part of the state to be in a critical position. Col. Palmer commands in that district and Gen Holmes thinks he ought to be ordered to report to him— I do not know Col. Palmer nor do I see any actual necessity for his being under Gen. Holmes’ command provided Col P. has control over the reserves in that section of the State & is able to repress the deserters and disloyal who are represented to be banding together to resist authority.(2) The Governor would be more efficacious than any one also in repressing this spirit of insubordination and in enforcing law and order. If Col. Palmer’s is independent the reserves of the Western section should be reported directly to him—Now, I understand, they are reported to Gen. Holmes who assigns them to Col. Palmer.(3)

I am with great respect

Your obt servt.
R. E. Lee1


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Lieut.-Genl Theophilus H. Holmes of North Carolina, commanding Confederate forces in Weldon and vicinity.

(2) By S. O .170, Par. XLIX, A. & I. G. O., July 20,1864, Col. J. B. Palmer was directed to report to Brig.-Genl J. G. Martin who assumed command “of the reserves of the District of Western North Carolina” (O. R., 40, 3, 788). On the 18th (ibid., 781) General Holmes was ordered to resume command of the “North Carolina Reserve Corps.”

(3) This letter is one of many in the long and complex correspondence regarding the exact status of the North Carolina troops, over whom Gov. Zebulon B. Vance exercised an authority which conflicted often with that of the Confederate Government. President Davis was frequently at his wit’s end to know how to avoid difficulty with the testy chief executive of the State.


No. 158.


Received at Richmond, Va. July 12 1864.

                                                          at 8.45 P.M.

Hd. Qrs. Near Petersburg 12

His Excy Jeffn. Davis

Prest. C. S.

Telegram of to-day received. I regret the fact stated. It is a bad time to release [relieve] the commander of an army situated as that of Tenne. We may lose Atlanta and the army too. Hood is a bold fighter. I am doubtful as to other qualities necessary.(1)

(Signed) R. E. Lee


Genl. R. E. Lee

Hd. Qrs. Army N. Va.

July 12 1864.
Telegram in cypher.
Recd. July 12 1864.2


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Amplified more fully in No. 159, infra, q. v.


No. 159.

Camp 12 July ’64.

9 1/2 P.M.

MR. President

I send you a paper of the 10th Inst, containing Mr Secry. Stanton’s bulletin to Gen. Dix, acknowledging a defeat of Genl Wallace at Monocacy by Genl. Early.(1) I have also recd a dispatch from Genl Fitz Lee this evg reporting that he met Gen. Gregg with his division advancing towards Reams station, charged him with three of his regts: & drove him back, capturing some 30 men & two officers— His loss small. The enemy’s not known He thinks he was moving against the R. R. We have only had it in operation two days, but have got through several trains of Corn & provisions.

I am distressed at the intelligence conveyed in your telegram of today. It is a grievous thing to change commander of an army situated as is that of the Tennessee. Still if necessary it ought to be done. I know nothing of the necessity. I had hoped that Johnston was strong enough to deliver battle. We must risk much to save Alabama, Mobile & communication with the Trans Misspi—It would be better to concentrate all the Cavy in Misspi & Tenn: on Shermans communications—If Johnston abandons Atlanta I suppose he will fall back on Augusta— This loses us Misspi & communication with Trans Misspi— We had better therefore hazard that communication to retain the Country. Hood is a good fighter very industrious on the battle field, careless off & I have had no opportunity of judging of his action, when the whole responsibility rested upon him. I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness & zeal. Genl Hardee has more experience in managing an army.(2)

May God give you wisdom to decide in this momentous matter.

Truly & respy Yours

R. E. Lee

His Excy Jeffn Davis
Pres: C. States—

P.S. To-day we could get no papers from the enemy, from which I inferred there was some good news they wished to withold. The one sent was captured. You must excuse its condition.

R. E. Lee3


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Not found, but cf. Halleck to Grant, July 9, 1864 (O. R., 40, 3, 93), and Lincoln to Grant, July 10, 1864 (ibid., 121) in which the defeat of Genl. Lew Wallace is acknowledged.

(2) So far as the editor has been able to ascertain this letter and the telegram of the same date printed above (No. 158) are the only references General Lee ever made in writing to the removal of General Joseph E. Johnston from the army in front of Atlanta and the substitution of John B. Hood as commander. And these, too, seem all the more remarkable in their frankness. General Johnston, it will be recalled, was never esteemed by President Davis, and his conduct of the Atlanta campaign increased the President’s distrust of Johnston’s ability. On the 18th, Johnston was relieved of command,—a step for which, perhaps, President Davis has been more criticised than for any other. It cannot be said from the letter and telegram here printed that General Lee encouraged or approved the change. Aside from his frank statement that he was doubtful of Hood’s qualities as commander of an army, and aside from his quiet recommendation of General Hardee, the whole tone of the letter seems, to the editor at least, to caution President Davis against a hasty change. The most that he can say is the stoical “if necessary it ought to be done.” Lee, it is needless to say, had a very high opinion of General Johnston’s military qualities.



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