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 In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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.
HD QRS Army N Va.
21st July 1864.
His Excy Jeffn Davis
President C. States
Since we began to use the Weldon R R,(1) we have been endeavouring to accumulate a reserve of corn at this place, in case the road should be again cut. But since we have brought away the supplies that accumulated at Weldon, Gaston & Wilmington during the interruption of traffic on the road, it has been found that we cannot get more than sufficient for daily consumption, and sometimes not enough for that, thus making it necessary, to entrench upon the small reserve of four or five days that we have on hand. The reason of this state of things is that corn is not brought in sufficient quantities from the south to Weldon, Gaston & Wilmington, the points with which the Weldon R. R. communicates. I hope it is being brought by the Danville(2) & Piedmont(3) roads to Richmond and that it is being accumulated there in sufficient quantities to serve the army in case of a renewal of the interruption of our roads. But I think that if possible, it should be brought from the south by the Weldon road also, as it is capable of aiding in the required accumulation, and we cannot tell how soon it may be needed. Commissary stores exceeding our wants are now coming to this point & being forwarded to Richmond, but I think it would be advisable to make arrangements to place a sufficient supply of corn at the points above indicated to enable us to draw from them to the extent of the capacity of the road, without at the same time relaxing in any degree the efforts to bring it to Richmond by the Danville Road. I dislike to add to the troubles and labors of your Excellency, but deem this subject sufficiently important to be brought directly to your attention.(4)
With great respect
Your obt servt
R. E. Lee
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:
(1) The Petersburg and Weldon, now the Atlantic Coast Line, the most direct route at the time from Richmond and Petersburg to the Carolinas.
(2) The line from Richmond to Danville, long known as the “Richmond and Danville” and now a part of the Southern system.
(3) The Piedmont was a weak and uncertain line from Danville into North Carolina, subject to frequent washouts and interruptions.
(4) Lee’s insistence upon this point was not without reason. Already the army defending Petersburg was on extremely short rations and, on several occasions, was on the point of starvation. Many commands that left the Petersburg defences on March 31, 1865, received no rations, other than a small amount of parched corn, until after they surrendered at Appomattox.
- 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. 285-287 ↩