HD-QRS: 8 Jan[uar]y ’65.
I have listened with great pleasure to the account given by Genl Ripley(1) of the condition of affairs in S. C. & Charleston. It is painful to me to contemplate the evacuation of the city. Its necessity must be determined by the officers on the spot responsible for the act. I do not think it will be abandoned by Genl Beauregard if not imperatively necessary. Its loss would be aggravated if accomp[anie]d by the loss of the army placed there to defend it. I think it safer & perhaps easier to prevent the enemy from reaching Charleston. I hope by concentration of all their forces that Sherman may yet be arrested in his course. If he cannot be, to shut our troops up in the city, without a certainty of supplies & no prospect of a relieving force, might prove their destruction— This question can only be decided by officers on the spot in my opinion. To dictate a line of conduct to them from this distance & in ignorance of the essential elements for a proper judgment might be ruinous.(2)— I think Genl Beauregard in his dispatch of the 6th from Augusta is mistaken as to the 19th & 23rd corps being with Sherman. The 19th with the exception of one division under Emory at Winchester is with Genl Grant. The 23rd Schofields, was on the 4th just below Alex[andri]a— arrested by ice in the Potomac
It is reputed to be on its way to Grant, & prisoners taken Monday stated it had arrived at City P[oin]t on Sunday.(3) I have informed Genl Beauregard[.]
With great respect
Your obt servt
R. E. Lee
His Excy Jefferson Davis
Pres[ident]: C[onfederate]. States.1,2
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:
(1) Brig.-Genl R. S. Ripley, at this time commanding the first military district of South Carolina, which included Charleston. He was, however, soon ordered to join General J. B. Hood.
(2) General Lee might with some authority have discussed conditions at Charleston, having been in charge of that city’s defences in 1862, but here as in every case, where he did not feel that his personal knowledge of a situation was sufficient, he declined to hamper officers on the scene of hostilities. Charleston, it will be recalled, was evacuated on Feb. 18, 1865. Inland communications having been cut off and the city isolated, the garrison withdrew and united with General Johnston’s troops in North Carolina.
(3) Brevet Major-General Wm. H. Emory, commanding the “Middle Military Division,” with headquarters at Stephenson’s Depot. The second division of the 19th Corps was ordered to Georgia on Jan’y. 7, 1865. The 23rd Corps was en route to North Carolina, whither Sherman was marching.
- 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. ↩
- 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. 312-314 ↩