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 In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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.
10th Sept 1864.
General Braxton Bragg,
Comdg Armies C. S.(1)
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 7th inst., and the accompanying report of the result of an inspection of the conscript service in Georgia.(2) The facts presented by the last named document are not calculated to give much encouragement. The very small number of men sent to the field by the Conscript law had already attracted my attention, and I have made some suggestions to the President which I thought calculated to make the law more effectual in its operation.(3) Among them I advised that none but reserves and disabled soldiers should be employed to collect conscripts, and that all able bodied men and officers now detailed on that duty, who are of the proper age, be sent to the field. The reserves I think will be likely to do the work more thoroughly, as they will know that the increase of the regular armies diminishes the probability of a call upon their own class. I also advised the enrolling officers be not allowed to grant furloughs to conscripts pending the application of the latter for exemption or detail. I think it a sound principle that the enrolling & conscript officers should be restricted entirely to the duty of putting men in the field. I think we may safely leave it to the conscripts themselves to make out their claims to relief from active service. As the system of exemptions and details is now conducted, I do not expect any material increase of our strength. I was informed by Gen Kemper(4) that in this state alone there were no less than forty thousand exempts, details and applications for detail yet undecided. Of the applicants I suppose the greater part have furloughs Another point that I regard as very essential to the thorough enforcement of the law, is that no officer be put on enrolling duty at his own home. I recommended to the President to have an inspection made of the conscription service with a view to obtain accurate information as to its working. To me it now seems a very imperfect system of recruiting our armies. It is possible that nothing better can be done, but it is certain that in no department of the service are energy, intelligence and practical ability more vitally important to our success. I think the Department should be filled by the best capacity and the greatest vigor and industry that can be obtained, and should be confined to the single duty of putting men in the army. Very respectfully your obt servt.
R. E. Lee
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:
(1) Strictly speaking, Bragg was not “comdg Armies C. S.” No commission to that effect had ever been given him or, in all probability, would ever have been approved by the Confederate Congress. Bragg’s temporary position as military adviser to the President corresponded to that of Halleck, Federal Chief of Staff.
(2) Not found. Many references to the conscription service in Georgia occur in O. R., series 4, 3.
(3) Supra, No. 165.
(4) Brigadier-General James L. Kemper, distinguished at Gettysburg but at this time incapacitated for field service and commanding the Virginia reserves. Kemper’s estimate is undoubtedly high.
- 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. 296-298 ↩