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LT: September 9, 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  In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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. 164.

HDQRS Army N Va.

9th Sept 1864.

His Excy Jeffn Davis

Presdt. C. States

Mr. President,

In connection with the subject of bringing into the field all able bodied men, to which I recently called your Excellency’s attention, I beg leave to submit a few additional considerations.

The duties of the Bureau of Conscription and of the Department superintending the enrollment of Reserves might in my opinion be consolidated in each state with advantage. The duties of both might be performed by one. A large number of able-bodied men and officers fit for and liable to do field duty, are now employed by the conscript Bureau. I think those men and officers should be sent to the field, and their places supplied by an adequate number of Reserves. The latter I think would be more efficient, at least if we look at the motives that may be supposed to influence them. The detailed conscript engaged in enrolling duty is interested in continuing the necessity for his own detail, which would cease as soon as all able-bodied men in his district have been brought out. The Reserves on the other hand would know that just in proportion as our regular armies are strengthened, will the necessity of a call upon their own class be diminished. They would therefore more naturally exert themselves to increase those armies. I therefore respectfully advise that but one force be employed to enroll conscripts and reserves in that it be taken from the latter class and the disabled men, all able-bodied men and officers now employed by the Bureau being at once sent to the army. In selecting officers for the business of conscription and enrollment, I earnestly recommend that some be employed at their own homes. The influence their action will have in determining all questions of detail and exemption renders the propriety of this suggestion apparent. I also advise that no enrolling officer be permitted to grant a furlough pending an application for discharge or detail. Let it be their business to send men to the field who are physically able & of the right age. We may safely trust the men so sent to establish their own claims to exemption or detail.

I think that care should be taken to have an adequate force of reserves in each district, for the duties above referred to, but not more than are actually necessary. I would also recommend that inquiry be made whether any advisory boards employ able-bodied men as clerks.(1)

Very respectfully

Your obt servt

R. E. Lee



Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) “Detailed men” and “reserves” represented two distinct classes,—the former those who were fortunate enough to be “detailed” for service in executive departments, at prisons, etc., the latter those past conscript age, boys under sixteen, etc. Though the “detail” evil never became in the South the scandal it was in the North, it was a constant source of irritation to the soldiers and of concern to the military commanders. To General Lee, who saw his small army dissolving, while no recruits except boys under sixteen, conscripts and old men were coming to the colors, the necessity of keeping able-bodied men from details was imperative. With the correspondence of this date there appears in the De Renne collection the following:

Extract of letter from Brig Gen John Echols commdg Dept E. Tennessee to Gen. R. E. Lee, dated Sept. 5th, 1864. . . . “East Tenn is in a terrible condition from the large numbers of guerillas, and bush-whackers, deserters from both armies who infest the whole country. Murders are of almost daily occurrence and atrocities of all kinds are perpetrated. The public roads are all unsafe and an officer cannot travel without a strong escort. The country of south western Va. is fast getting into the same condition. There we have strong organized bands of deserters from the eastern armies who are defying authority and levying contributions upon the citizens. I have already directed the most active measures to be taken against them where they are most troublesome, and am employing the Reserves in this duty. But this state of things cannot be entirely remedied, and men properly brought into the service, and kept in when sent forward, unless we have a more rigid and faithful enforcement of the law and military regulations by the officers of the conscript Department. I am satisfied that the conscript laws are not rigidly and thoroughly enforced in south western Va. or we should have more men in the commands drawn from that section. I hope that the commdg Genl may find the time and opportunity to press this subject upon the attention of the authorities. I think that the public interests would be promoted by an entire change in the conscript agents in this portion of Virginia, which cannot be too soon attended to.”

Charles Marshall
Lt Col & A. D. C. [Cf. O. R., 43, 2, 864 ff.]




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