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LT: April 1, 1865 Robert E. Lee

No. 203.

Dated at Hd. Qrs April 1, 1865.
Rec’d at Richmond 11 o’clock P.m.
To His Excellency

President Davis

Brig Genl John E. Morgan can be spared for the purpose indicated by Gov. Watts[.] He is not with his Brigade but Gov Watts knows where he is[.](1)

D. H.                                               R. E. Lee.1


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) General John T. (not E.) Morgan had been “left with his command South of Atlanta to watch and harass General Sherman.” He was probably wanted by Governor Watts “to raise regiments for the depleted ranks of the army” (C. M. H., 7, Ala., 429).


No. 204.

HQRS C[onfederate] S[tates] Armies

1st April 1865

His Exc[ellenc]y Jeff” Davis

Presdt C[onfederate] States


Mr President,

The movement of Gen Grant to Dinwiddie C. H. seriously threatens our position, and diminishes our ability to maintain our present lines in front of Richmond and Petersburg[.]2  In the first place, it cuts us off from our depot at Stony Creek at which point, forage for the cavalry was delivered by the Weldon R.R., and upon which we relied to maintain it. It also renders it more difficult to withdraw from our position, cuts us off from the White Oak road, and gives the enemy an advantageous point on our right and rear. From this point, I fear he can readily cut both the south side & the Danville Railroads being far superior to us in cavalry. This in my opinion obliged us to prepare for the necessity of evacuating our position on James River at once, and also to consider the best means of accomplishing it, and our future course.(1) I should like very much to have the views of your Excellency upon this matter as well as counsel, and would repair to Richmond for the purpose, did I not feel that my presence here is necessary. Should I find it practicable I will do so, but should it be convenient for your Excellency or the Secretary of War to visit Hd Qrs, I should be glad to see you. The reported advance of Stoneman from the West, and the movement of the enemy upon the Roanoke, add to our difficulties.

Very respectfully

Your obt serv’t

R. E. Lee


Douglas Southall Freeman’s Notes:

(1) It is a tribute to Southern confidence in General Lee’s ability that although he had suggested the possibility of the evacuation of Richmond in 1864 and had urged preparations to that end certainly from as early as February 25, 1865 (O. R., 46, 2, 1257), the authorities did not take him at his word. The Secretary of War pleaded for more time; the President notified General Lee that removal on the evening of April 2, 1865, would mean “the loss of many valuables, both for the want of time to pack and of transportation.” (See O. R., 46, 3, 1378, 1379). The Southern people could not believe that Lee would be forced to abandon the capital from which he had struck back every assault since the day he took command. Soldiers and civilians alike could not understand that any odds were too great for him or any obstacle insurmountable. But as he explained in his dispatch regarding the attack on Fort Stedman, failure on that day removed his last hope of any other course than a retreat. The action at Five Forks and the pressure on his flanks rendered the necessity for retreat immediately pressing. When the Federals broke through his weak lines on April 2, he had to notify the President that he would evacuate them the same night. A week later, April 9, his army was surrounded and his brilliant days of warfare were at an end.



  1. 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. 358
  2. SOPO EDitor’s Note: Sheridan’s cavalry had moved to Dinwiddie Court House, but were nearly driven away in disorder on March 31, 1865 at the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House.  On the same day Lee penned this letter, April 1, 1865, George Pickett’s lack of direction at the Battle of Five Forks produced a disaster, leading Grant to order what was the final assaults along the Confederate lines on April 2, 1865.  The Siege of Petersburg had ended.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 358-360
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