Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 27, 1863 (Sunday): To Feed An Army

Virginia Farm Land (landtrustva.com)

March 27, 1863.

HON. JAMES A. SEDDON, Secretary of War:
    Sir: About the last of January I directed General W. E. Jones to send an escort of cavalry with Maj. W. J. Johnson, commissary of the cavalry division, into Hardy County, for the purpose of collecting beff-catte, &c.  General Jones was also directed to send parties into the counties west for the same purpose.  Major Johnson has returned from his expedition, and reports that he obtained in Hardy County 500 beff-cattle, 200 sheep, and 4,200 pounds of bacon.  He also obtained from Loudoun and Culpeper 200 head of cattle, and from Rockingham 3,000 pound of bacon.  I have not yet learned what amount of subsistence the parties sent by General Jones obtained.  I have endeavored during the past campaign to draw subsistence from the country occupied by the troops, wherever it was possible, and I believe by that means much relief has been afforded to the Commissary Department.  At this time but few supplies can be procured from the country we now occupy.
   General Longstreet has been directed to employ the troops south of James River, when not required for military operations, to collect supplies in that quarter, and penetrate, if practicable, the district held by the enemy.  The troops of the portion of the army have for some time been confined to reduced rations, consisting of 18 ounces of four, 4 ounces of bacon of indifferent quality, with occasionally supplies of rices, sugar, or molasses.  The men are cheerful, and I receive but few complaints; still, I do not think it is enough to continue them in health and vigor, and I fear they will be unable to endure the hardships of the approaching campaign.  Symptoms of scurvy are appearing among them, and to supply the place of vegetables each regiment is directed to send a daily detail to gather sassafras buds, wild onions, garlic, lamb's quarter, and poke sprouts, but for so large an army the supply obtained is very small.  I have understood, I do not know with what truth, that the Army of the West and that in the Department of South Carolina and Georgia are more bountifully supplied with provisions.  I have also heard that the troops in North Carolina receive one-half pound of bacon per day.  I think this army deserves as much consideration as either of those named, and, if it can be supplied, respectfully ask that it be similarly provided.
   I have the honor to be, with great respect, you obedient servant,

  R. E. LEE

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 25, Part 2, Pages 686-687.

Lee's army was less well provided than the others named because they were supplied from the interior of the Confederacy and not the front lines of the war.  Virginia was providing for two armies (Union and Confederate) while supplies in the Carolinas and Georgia were relatively free from interference.  It is interesting to note Lee raises the possibility the health of the Army might impact its operational availability during the spring.  The situation was dire, and explains why Lee would chance sending Longstreet away at this critical juncture.  Simply put, northern Virginia could not feed the Army of Northern Virginia.  Thus were at least some of the seeds of the Gettysburg campaign sown.


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