Hd. Qrs. March 23. 1865.
Genl. Johnston at 1.30 P.M. today telegraphs from Smithfield “Sherman’s whole army being entrenched in my front morning of 20th. we did not attack, but held our position to cover removal of wounded and occupy enemy. There was heavy skirmishing 20th. & 21st., and several partial attacks by him handsomely repulsed. Troops of Tennessee Army have fully disproved slanders that have been published against them Evening and night of 21st. enemy moved towards Goldsboro where Schofield joined him, and yesterday we came here.
Sherman’s course cannot be hindered by the small force I have. I can do no more than annoy him. I respectfully suggest that it is no longer a question whether you leave present position. You have only to decide where to meet Sherman.”(1)
Please give me your counsel.
(Signed) R. E Lee
Genl. R. E. Lee
Hd. Qrs. March 23. 65.
Telegram in cypher.
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:
(1) Printed in O. R., 47, 2, 1453, with these words added after “Sherman” in the concluding paragraph: “I will be near him.”
- 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 In 1915, some of Lee’s previously unpublished letters and dispatches to Jefferson Davis and the War Department were published in Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862-65.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 Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C. S. A. to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America 1862-65.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, p. 339 ↩