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 In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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.
Head Qrs A N Va
Aug. 9th 1864.
Presdt Confederate States
The soap ration for this Army has become a serious question— Since leaving Orange C. H. the Commissary Lt Col. Cole has only been able to make three issues of three days rations each. The great want of cleanliness which is a necessary consequence of these very limited issues is now producing sickness among the men in the trenches, and must effect their self respect & morale. The importance of the subject and the general complaints which have arisen must be my excuse for troubling you with the matter— An offer of 24000 pounds at $3.75/100 has been made to the Commissary of the Army but the Commissary General declined to authorize the purchase at that price.— He speaks of the purchase of several lots at a smaller price $2.50/100 per pound but holds out no definite prospect of sending an adequate supply— such is the condition of the troops & their immediate necessities in regard to soap are so great that I hope the purchase of the 24000 pounds at even the advanced price of $3.75/100 will be authorized & that contracts will be entered into at once for the future regular and adequate supply of the soap ration to the troops(1)—Their health, comfort & respectability cannot otherwise be secured.
With great respect your obt servt
R. E. Lee
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:
(1) The schedule of impressment prices for May and June, 1864, quotes soap at $2.00 the pound (O. R., 42, , 1152), but the schedule for Oct. 1864-Jany. 1865 fixed the price at $1.00 the pound. The lack of a soap ration was every whit as “serious” a question as General Lee explained. Itch had been added to the other burdens of the army.
- 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. 288-289 ↩