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LT: January 21, 1865 Robert E. Lee

No. 183.

Petersburg 21 Jan[uar]y ’65

Mr President

I have just rec[eive]d the copy of the dispatch of the 20th from Genl Hardee, which you did me the honour to send to me, in reference to his holding the city of Charleston. It would certainly be of great importance to hold the City in every point of view, but if it cannot be held successfully, it had better be evacuated. As to the requisite means Genl Hardee must judge. By contesting the advance of the enemy, collecting all the men in Georgia & S. C. his approach may be retarded, till the arrival of Genl Beauregard with forces from Hoods army.(1)

Very respy your obt servt
R. E. Lee

His Exc[ellenc]y Jefferson Davis
Pres: C[onfederate]. States1,2


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) With the Trans-Mississippi Department cut off, with no effective opposition to the Federals in Alabama and Mississippi, with Georgia overrun and with Hood impotent in Tennessee, the only hope of the Confederates was to draw in their forces before the northern advance of Sherman and to consolidate all of them in one compact fighting force. When Lee was forced to evacuate the Petersburg-Richmond lines in April, his plan was to carry his troops to meet Johnston in North Carolina. Charleston, the defence of which is discussed in this dispatch, had to be evacuated on February 18 after it had been completely isolated.



  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  In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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, p. 327
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