Saturday, January 12, 2013

January 13, 1863 (Tuesday): Lee to Davis

Globe Tavern on the Weldom Railroad

HEADQUARTERS, Camp near Fredericksburg, January 13, 1863.
President of the Confederate States, Richmond, Va.:
    MR. PRESIDENT: I have had the honor to receive your dispatch of yesterday.
    For several days past there have been general indications of some movement by the army of Burnside, but nothing sufficiently definite to designated true. Rumors are abundant, but whether it is intended to retire, advance, or transfer it elsewhere I cannot ascertain. I am pretty sure that the whole army is between Rappahannock and the Potomac. No considerable portion ought to have been able to leave without my knowing it. Re-enforcements of infantry and artillery have reached it from Washington. Wharves are still being constructed at Potomac Creek. The army has recently been more concentrated, its land communication with Alexandria more strongly guarded, and its right flank more extended toward the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. Cattle are being driven down on the Maryland side and crossed over on steamers to Aquia. No winter quarters are being erected, but the men are covering themselves, constructing chimneys to tents,&c.
    There are a great many vessels of all sorts in the Potomac, but not more than enough to supply so large a force. It is said by their army than their transports were sent off with General Banks, and that there are not enough now to move it.
     Citizens in Stafford and King George Counties are not allowed to leave their dwellings. Persons even going to mill are guarded.
    You may have remarked that recent Northern papers are silent as to its movements. It is said this is by order. I have hope I from day to day to have been able to discover what is contemplated, and to be guided in my movements accordingly. I think by spring, if not before, they will move upon James River. In the mean time they will endeavor to damage our railroads,&c., in North Carolina, and get possession of Wilmington and Charleston.
     Should General Burnside retire from his present position, I have intended to throw part of this army into North Carolina, and with another endeavor to clear the Valley of the Shenandoah. I did not wish to move until the designs of the enemy were developed. I have hoped that General Smith, with the troops at his disposal, could keep the enemy in North Carolina in check in the mean time. I still hope so. Since you seem to think my presence there would be of service, I will endeavor to go on as soon as I can.
    All the troops in that State should be concentrated as near as possible to the threatened points. Charleston will not be attacked until Wilmington is captured. General Beauregard can, therefore, fight them at both points. As far as I have been able to judge, I have apprehended the movements in North Carolina were intended more as a feint to withdraw troops from this point, when General Burnside could move at once upon Richmond. Telegraph me your wishes.
      With great respect, your obedient servant,

     R. E. LEE,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 21, Part 1, Page 1092.

The exchanges of views between Lee and Davis were in contrast to those between Lincoln and his various commanders.  Lee's tact and diplomacy kept Davis from taking more direct control of matters in the field, as the President felt his was kept informed and his views given due consideration.  There was so much turnover in the Union command structure early in the war, and so much of a division of opinion within the two political parties as to war aims and personalities, that Lincoln did not have the luxury of a strong personal relationship with his commanders.  What is also clear in this letter is how fixed on the James River threat Lee would be.  He foresaw the inevitable result of the fall of Petersburg and the rail network running from eastern North Carolina to Richmond through it.   

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