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LT: January 31, 1865 Robert E. Lee

No. 188.

HD-QRS: 31 Jan[uar]y ’65

His Exc[ellenc]y Jefferson Davis

Pres[ident]: C[onfederate]. States—Richmond

MR President

I rec[eive]d from Mr Stephens this ev[enin]g the following dispatch which he desired might be sent to you.

“By note of invitation from Genl Grant Messrs Stephens, Hunter & Campbell left for City Point at 5 o’clock this ev[enin]g, to meet at that point gentlemen expected there from Mr Lincoln. Should these gentlemen not arrive, Genl Grant promises to return Mr Stephens & party to our lines”(1)

I have thought it better to send this by courier on the early train in the mor[nin]g rather than by telegraph

Very respy your obt servt
R E Lee


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) The correspondence between General Grant and the Confederate commissioners, dated January 30, 1865, is printed in O. R., 46, 2, 297 and 312 as follows:

Petersburg, Va., January 30, 1865.

Lieut. Gen. U. S. Grant:

Sir: We desire to pass through your lines under safe conduct and to proceed to Washington to hold a conference with President Lincoln upon the subject of the existing war, and with a view of ascertaining upon what terms it may be terminated, in pursuance of the course indicated in his letter to Mr. F. P. Blair of January 18, 1865, of which we presume you have a copy; and if not, we wish to see you in person, if convenient, and to confer with you upon the subject.

Yours, very respectfully,

     Alexander H. Stephens.

     J. A. Campbell.

     R. M. T. Hunter.

     January 31, 1865.

Hon. Alex. H. Stephens,

Hon. J. A. Campbell,

Hon. R. M. T. Hunter:

Gentlemen: Your communication of yesterday, requesting an interview with myself and a safe conduct to Washington and return, is received. I will instruct the commanding officer of the forces near Petersburg to receive you, notifying you at what part of the line and the time when and where conveyance will be ready for you.

Your letter to me has been telegraphed to Washington for instructions. I have no doubt but that before you arrive at my headquarters an answer will be received directing me to comply with your request. Should a different reply be received, I promise you a safe and immediate return within your own lines.

U. S. Grant,

President Lincoln, it will be remembered, had dispatched an aide-de-camp, Major T. T. Eckert, to confer with the commissioners and to state the conditions upon which they would be received. Although these conditions were not in accordance with the instructions of the Confederate commissioners, they waived the point and reported themselves ready for conference. But this was not accepted, and it was only at the insistence of General Grant, who showed an excellent spirit throughout, that the commissioners were eventually given a hearing.



  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. 334-336
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