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LT: January 28, 1865 Robert E. Lee

No. 184.

28th Jan[uar]y 1865

His Exc[ellenc]y JeffN Davis
Presdt C[onfederate] States,

Mr President

I beg leave to repeat the suggestion I made to you in Richmond with reference to the publication of a stringent order requiring all cotton, tobacco & naval stores to be burned to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy.(1) I think the acquisition of these commodities, especially cotton, is greatly desired by the enemy for many reasons, as is shown by the seizure of all they can get access to, and by the intimation of their willingness to encourage the trade in it. I think if an order were issued, and published in all the papers, directing that all cotton &c in places exposed to the enemy, be stored in such a way that it can be fired on his approach without endangering other property, and that when this cannot be done for want of time, that it be burned in the streets and roads, at the same time holding military commanders responsible for the faithful execution of the order, it would have a very good effect in enabling us to make arrangements to render our cotton &c available as it is desired to do. The enemy would see that they can only get the cotton on the terms we propose, and besides, I think it very desirable to prevent him from getting it on any other.(2)

With great respect,

Your obt servt
R. E. Lee


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) Cf. supra, No. 180 and note 1. At Savannah alone, Sherman had captured approximately 25,000 bales of cotton.

(2) This policy was pursued at Columbia and at Petersburg, where much cotton and tobacco respectively were stored. On the evacuation of Richmond, the destruction of tobacco probably led to the memorable fire that laid in ashes the business section of the city.



  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  In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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. 328-329
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