Monday, February 25, 2013

February 26, 1863 (Saturday): Lee Reports

General Robert E. Lee

President of the Confederate States:
    Mr. PRESIDENT: I was very glad to learn by your letter of the 18th that your health had been re-established, and that you were again able to take the open air. I hope now you will soon regain your strength, and be long preserved to the Republic.
    I have for some time been doubtful of the intentions of the enemy. His movements could be accounted for on several suppositions. The weather for the last eight or ten days has been so unfavorable for observation that it has prevented the scouts from acquiring information. I have only learned positively of three army corps of the enemy having descended the Potomac. Some troops have been set up the river, probably Sigel's corps, but reports are contradictory on that subject. Slocum's division is at Dumfries. Three thousand infantry are reported at Centreville; three regiments of cavalry at Chantilly, scouting as high as Upperville and Paris, and probably connecting with Milroy at Winchester. Franklin's former grand division, detached to Newport News, is probably intended for Burnside, and I see it announced in Northern papers that he is to repair immediately to his new command, without stating where. I think the scene of his operations will be south of James River.
     The army of General Hooker is now located along the line of railroad from Falmouth to Aquia. The infantry formerly thrown out on its flanks has been drawn in and retired toward the Potomac. A line of cavalry on either flank, in proximity to the railroad, extends from river to river. I believe for the present the purpose of crossing the Rappahannock is abandoned, and that the late storms or other causes have suspended the movements recently in progress. The disposition I have described may be intended to continue the remainder of the winter, or until their conscript law becomes operative.
     Around Falmouth there is apparently a large force. During the late storm their pickets on the Upper Rappahannock were withdrawn, and, not being able to hear from the outlying scouts, I directed a reconnoitering party of Wickham's cavalry to cross at the United States Mine Ford, to descend the left bank of the river, and ascertain its meaning. The river was at swimming stage. Within about 5 miles of the ford the enemy's cavalry was found in too great force to drive in. Captain [Robert] Randolph, of the Black Horse Company, having reported his inability to penetrate their lines farther north, General Fitz. Lee was ordered with his brigade from Culpeper, to break through their outposts and ascertain what was occurring. He yesterday penetrated their lines 5 miles in rear of Falmouth, found the enemy in strong force, fell upon their camps, and brought off about 150 prisoners, killing 36, and losing 6 of his own men. I have received no official report, but this is the account given by a lieutenant, who left him at Hartwood Church, on his return to the Rappahannock, which he probably recrossed last night.
     General W. H. F. Lee reports that he engaged two gunboats near Tappahannock, that had ascended the river, and drove them off with a Napoleon and Blakely gun, without loss to us.
     General Imboden reports that Captains [John H.] McNeill and [George W.] Stump, of his cavalry, with 23 men, attacked a supply train of the enemy on the evening of the 16th, on the Northwestern turnpike, 5 miles west of Romney, guarded by 150 infantry and cavalry. After a brisk skirmish, the guard was driven off, 72 taken prisoners, 106 horses with harness, some saddles, bridles, pistols, and sabers captured. Though hotly pursued to the South Branch of the Potomac, Captain McNeill, by marching all night, succeeded in bringing his prisoners, &c., into Hardy, 12 miles south of Moorefield, where, for want of subsistence, he had to parole the former. No loss on his side is reported. These successes show the vigilance of the cavalry and do credit to their officers. The weather and condition of the country forbid any military operations. The last fall of snow was fully a foot deep. The rain of last night and to-day will add to the discomfort of the troops and the hardships of our horses. I had hoped that the latter would have been in good condition for the spring campaign. The prospect in the beginning of the winter was good, and continued so until recently. Now, when their labors are much increased, it is impossible to procure sufficient forage.
     As soon as I can ascertain what is the probable intention of the enemy, and feel that I can leave here with propriety, I will visit Richmond, and consult with you on the condition of things in North Carolina, &c.
Charleston ought to be very strong; there will be but little time now to strengthen it, if it is to be attacked, as I see General Foster left Old Point on the 19th, on his return to Port Royal. There is yet time to do much at Wilmington if improved. General Whiting is a good engineer and hard laborer. If he has the means, he will make a good defense.
     I do not think Burnside will be able to move immediately, but every preparation should be energetically pushed forward. With the additional divisions under Longstreet, I consider that line safe.
     I am, with great respect, very truly, yours,

     R. E. LEE,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 25, Part 2, Pages 642-643.

Lee stayed in close contact with Davis and in doing so was able to avoid interference in his activities. His letters to Davis and generally lengthy and provide a good impression of what his armies capabilities were and Union intentions as he understood them at the time.  Lee appears confident in this letter that there will be no major offensive by Hooker until better weather comes in the spring.  Conditions, as described here, were such that a coordinated movement was not possible.  The underlying fears for securing the approaches to Richmond is here again demonstrated.


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