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LT: January 20, 1865 Robert E. Lee

No. 182.

HD-QRS: Petersburg 20 Jany ’65

His Excy Jefferson Davis
Pres: C. States—Richmond

MR President

I am aware that it will take some time to regulate & perfect the Piedmont R. R. & that the whole difficulty cannot at once be overcome by the Governments taking it in charge— Its condition is so important to our military operations as well as to the welfare of the community that I venture to enclose a letter lately rec[eive]d from Genl Martin. I do not see how a road can be worked advantageously & to its full extent without a regular schedule for running the trains— Under a temporary pressure it might be operated by special instructions by telegraph— I understood that the road was so operated while under charge of the Danville Comp[an]y, & I presume there is some reason for continuing it, but as soon as a fixed schedule can be established & regular connections made with the roads north & south the better. I would also suggest that a competent Engineer with four or five hundred labourers be sent to ditch drain & repair the road along its whole extent. From the character of the present Sup[erintenden]t I trust the road if once put in good order, will be efficiently managed.(1)

I have the honour to be
Your obt servt
R. E. Lee



Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) The Piedmont Railroad, frequently mentioned in these dispatches, was a necessary link in the communications with the South after Lee abandoned his efforts to keep the Weldon Railroad open. The road in question was from Danville to Greensboro and gave much concern to the Government. In December, when Hoke attempted to proceed by it to North Carolina, he had great difficulty and lost three days in transporting a single brigade forty-eight miles. He urged upon General Lee the wisdom of seizing the railroad, repairing it and operating it directly (O. R., 46, 2, 102627). In January bad conditions were made worse by a disastrous flood which damaged the road-bed for twenty miles and made it impassable. This mishap led to virtual starvation in Lee’s army (ibid., 1034). The “Genl Martin” to whom reference is made in this letter was Brig.-Genl James G. Martin of North Carolina, at this time commanding the reserves in the Western District of North Carolina under Lieut.-Genl T. H. Holmes. He had seen service in Virginia during the campaign of 1864 (see C. M. H., 4, 332 ff.).



  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. 324-327
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