Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 18, 1863 (Friday): Longstreet on Strategy

Civil War Petersburg (
Petersburg, Va., March 18, 1863.
General R. E. LEE,
Commanding, & c., Fredericksburg, Va.:
    GENERAL: Your letter of 10.30 p. m. yesterday is received. I do not think it would be well to draw off any portion of Pickett's division at present. All of it cannot well be taken from here as long as the enemy holds this force of his so near Richmond. The force at Newport News and Suffolk cannot be less than 26,000. We shall have to meet that with hardly a third, including Pickett's division; but there are three brigades of Pickett's division near here, which may possibly be thrown up by rail; that is if the enemy makes no effort to advance by the south side. I think, however, that he will make a diversion from Suffolk, and as strong as is in him.
    Your letter,+ in relation to supplies, of yesterday is this moment received. All things considered I now think that our better plan would have been to fight the enemy on the Rappahannock with the force that you have there, or slightly diminished even, and to leave the force that was here to drive back the enemy in North Carolina and draw out the supplies there. I cannot divest myself of the opinion that an obstinate resistance on the Rappahannock will hold that line, and the force that I had here would then do to drive the enemy out of North Carolina, where it seems we must get our supplies. With the force left here by the withdrawal of Hood's division nothing can be done more than to hold our fortified positions and railroads, and the latter is somewhat doubtful. If it is necessary to give ground anywhere it seems to me that it would have been better to retire your force across the Anna, and to keep possession of all that part of North Carolina where we may be able to get supplies. From your report of the scarcity of supplies with you I fear that Hood's division may be more than you can supply, and I doubt if it can reach you in time by marching. I shall therefore try and have it sent by railroad, unless I get authority by telegraph to stop it. I shall go to Richmond this afternoon and await there further intelligence.
     I remain, general, your most obedient servant,


 P. S. - The enemy is re-enforcing at New Berne and at Suffolk. His intentions it is presumed are to make  diversions on both points when he moves to cross the Rappahannock. Success at either point will be pushed, of course, unless he fails again on the Rappahannock.

+ Not found; but see Longstreet to Hill, same date. 

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 18, Part 1, Page 924.

Lee had directed Pickett and Hood be held ready to move back to the Army of Northern Virginia in the wake of the crossing at Kelly's Ford.  Longstreet desired to keep them with him and sent Hood to the railroad in anticipation of a move, but kept Pickett in place.  He deigned to advise Lee he had force sufficient to hold the line of the Rappahannock.

It would appear the seeds of Longstreet's attitude at Gettysburg were sewn at Petersburg where he kept his headquarters during the Suffolk campaign.  Lee would agree to cancel his orders once he released only cavalry had crossed at Kelly's Ford, but his subsequent communication with Longstreet was more than usually direct. Complicating matters was the fact Richmond administrative types considered Longstreet in charge of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, covering eastern Virginia and NC.  It is very possible Longstreet may have considered himself now a peer of Lee, as opposed to merely a subordinate.

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