Monday, February 11, 2013

February 11, 1863 (Wednesday): Help Wanted

General Robert E. Lee

February 11, 1863.
Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War:
     SIR: I think it very important to increase the strength of all our armies to the maximum by the opening of the next campaign. Details of officers and men have been sent from all the brigades of this army to collect deserters and absentees. By the return of last month, forwarded to the Department to-day, you will perceive that our strength is not much increased by the arrival of conscripts. Only 421 are reported to have joined by enlistment, and 287 to have returned from desertion, making an aggregate of 708, whereas our loss by death, discharges, and desertions amounts to 1,878. Now is the time to gather all our strength and to prepare for the struggle which must take place in the next three months. I beg you to use every means in your power to fill up our ranks.
     I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,

     R. E. LEE,

Official Records, Series III., Vol. 5, Part 1, Page 695. 

The meager increase in the Army of Northern Virginia highlighted the persistent problem facing Lee.  The Union army drew from a larger population pool and was more able to replace casualties.  In a war of attrition, the Confederacy would inevitably lose.  This is likely one reason Lee continued to seek an aggressive stance in 1863.  Time was not on his side. 

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