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LT: November 2, 1864 Robert E. Lee

No. 171.

Petersburg 2 Nov ’64.

Mr President

I had the honour to receive last ev[enin]g your letter of the 31st(1)— I am sorry to hear that Genl Laws anticipates injustice at the hands of Genl Longstreet— I do not, & think that Genl Laws has nothing to do but his whole duty, & he need fear nothing—I know of no objection to making the transfer of his brigade to Hokes division, provided the change is acceptable to the brigades themselves— It is neither right or politic to consult the wishes of the Comm[ande]r alone.(2)

The information contained in the notes you enclosed me, I hope is exaggerated as regards to numbers — Grant will get every man he can & 150000 men is the number generally assumed by Northern papers & reports—Unless we can obtain a reasonable approximation to his force I fear a great calamity will befall us. On last Thursday at Burgess’ mill we had three brigades to oppose six divisions— On our left two divisions to oppose two corps— The inequality is too great— Our Cavy at Burgess Mill I think saved the day(3)— I came along our whole line yesterday from Chaffins Bluff to this place.(4) Today I shall visit the lines here & to-morrow go down to the right. I always find something to correct on the lines, but the great necessity I observed yesterday, was the want of men.

With great respect
Your obt servt
R. E. Lee

His Exc[ellen]y Jeffn Davis
Pres[ident]: C[onfederate]. States.1,2


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Not found.

(2) The officer to whom reference is here made is Brigadier-General Evander M. Law (not Laws) commanding in Field’s division, Longstreet’s (First) corps, a brigade composed of the 4th, 15th, 44th, 47th and 48th Alabama regiments. His record was good during the campaigns of 1862, but when he was sent to Tennessee with General Longstreet, he had numerous difficulties with that officer. At length resigning, he again incurred the wrath of Longstreet by journeying to Richmond and (Longstreet alleged) by suppressing correspondence.

When Law was returned to his command, he was rearrested by Longstreet’s orders but was at length restored. As the incident caused much friction, Law was sent to South Carolina (see From Manassas to Appomattox, index Law; C. M. H., 7, 1, 422 ff.).

(3) The frank warning here voiced of “a great calamity” unless his army was re-enforced is perhaps the strongest intimation given by General Lee, prior to January, 1865, of his ultimate defeat. The engagement at Burgess’ Mill, here commented on, occurred on Oct. 27,1864, and is known among the Federals as “Boydton Plank Road.” Under the latter title numerous Federal reports will be found in O. R., 42, 1. The best Confederate report of the engagement is probably that of Wade Hampton (loc. cit., 949). This engagement is best remembered in the South for its personal loss to the chivalrous Hampton. While the general was himself directing operations, one of his sons was killed in the charge and another was severely wounded. Hampton never flinched.

(4) Chaffin’s Bluff was the northern connection of the system of defences which protected Richmond and Petersburg. From Chaffin’s ran the Richmond line. From Drewry’s Bluff, across the river, ran a series of works overlooking the river, thereby protecting the water route to Richmond, and joining the lines that began on James River opposite Dutch Gap. The latter was the “Howlett line,” which ran almost due south across Ashton Creek to the Appomattox River. The line then ran along the river for about three miles, turned gradually, enveloped Petersburg and protected the Weldon railroad for some distance. The line was drawn to protect the Richmond and Petersburg railroad, upon which Richmond was dependent for direct communication with Eastern North Carolina and the States to the South. When this line was cut, Richmond was isolated. The next line of communication with the South was via Danville.



  1. 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.
  2. 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. 304-306
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