Monday, March 25, 2013

March 26, 1863 (Saturday): Lee Confides a Plan

Fredericksburg, March 26, 1863.

General W. E. Jones,
   Commanding Valley District, Lacey Spring:

GENERAL:  I have received your letter of the 20th.  I regret the necessity of dividing your command. I hope you will urge constant watchfulness of he part of your officers and men, to prevent surprises.  Forage for your horses, however, must be obtained, and everything done to maintain their condition.  I know this will elicit your earnest attention.
  The continuous bad weather, swollen streams, &c, has prevented the proposed expedition into the Valley for the east.  This I very much regret, as I desired it to be preliminary to that west of the Alleghany.  It is nearly time for the latter to be executed, and as soon as the roads and mountain streams permit, it should move.
   No period has occurred since the commencement of the war so favorable, in my opinion, for dealing a blow against the enemy's possession of the northwest as now.  The paucity of the numbers and the disaffection of our citizens combine in our favor, and if the movement can be made unexpectedly and simultaneously, it must be successful, if rapidly and boldly executed.  Their active force, as far as I can learn, distributed from New Creek to the Kanawha, except the garrisons of Beverly, Phillippi, and Buckhannon, does not exceed three regiments, say 1,500 men.  If therefore we cannot first disturb the enemy's occupation of Martinsburg and his railroad communication through the lower valley, I desire you, when General Imboden is ready to move, to threaten his forces at Romney, New Creek, and Cumberland, so at least to fix them there if you cannot dispossess them, and to prevent their being sent west. Simulataneously with your demonstration, and under cover of it, Imboden's cavalry will move upon Oakland from Moorefield and burn the bridge, which is of wood, near that place, and proceed to Rowlesburg and destroy the bridge there, also of wood.  His infantry and artillery will so regulate their march as to reach Beverley at the same time as his cavalry crosses Cheat River, which will prevent the forces there interfering with his cavalry's destruction of the railroad bridges as far west as Grafton, General Sam Jones in the meantime having fixed the enemy's attention in the Kanawha.
   I think these operations will draw Milroy from Winchester and the Valley to the northwest, open that country, for a time, at least, to us; enable us to drive out horses, cattle, &c, and afford an opportunity to our citizens who wish to join us, and give relief to others now suffering under oppression and robbery.
   I have disclosed the whole plan to you, that you may co-operate knowingly, and give every aid in your power to its success.  Take advantage of every opportunity to damage the enemy on your part, strike at his moving columns, collect cattle, &c, for the army.
   Very respectfully,

   R. E. Lee

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 25, Part 2, Pages 684-684.

It is easy to fix upon the conflict between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia and ignore the strategic importance of the northwest to both armies.  Lee desired greatly to cut the B&O Railroad to the west and essentially isolate Washington from Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.  The bridge at Rowlesburg was the key point on the line whose destruction would ensure for a time this objective. Jones was capable, but worthy of his nickname Grumble, and not the bold warrior of the Valley Jackson had been.  This was the task Jackson had sought to accomplish when he first came to the Valley, but there was no Jackson to execute it now that Union forces in the area had subsided.

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