Saturday, May 25, 2013

May 26, 1863 (Tuesday): A Matter of Promotion

General Henry Heth

RICHMOND, VA., May 26, 1863.
General R. E. LEE,
Commanding Army of Northern Virginia, near Fredericksburg, Va.:
    GENERAL: Yours of the 25th, with its inclosure, was received last night, and I find that to some extent your views as contained in the letter of the 20th were misapprehended. I inferred from the first letter that you considered Heth, by seniority and equal merit, the preferred candidate for promotion, but that you doubted the propriety of promoting him, because a former nomination to make him major-general had failed in the Senate. I felt the high commendation you bestowed upon Pender to be fully due to him, having marked his conduct in the campaign before Richmond with peculiar admiration. I did not suppose Ransom to be included in the comparison, because the proposition to form a division of Ransom's, Cooke's, and Pettigrew's brigades, in conjunction with a high estimate I knew you put upon Ransom, indicated him as your probable preference for the command of that division. As the case now stands, I perceive that Pender might be promoted to command the division formed of four brigades of A. P. Hill's former division, and Heth to command a division to be formed of the brigades of Heth, Archer, and two others; but it would seem hard that Ransom's brigade should be one of them. This either postpones Ransom's promotion or separates him from the army immediately commanded by yourself, which I believe would not be agreeable to him. The only alternative would be, regarding your letter and that of General Hill as concluding the question of Pender's promotion, to cancel the promotion of Heth, or accepting the condition of separating Ransom from the Army of Northern Virginia. He might be promoted and sent to Mississippi, or exchanged for French or Whiting by sending one of them to Mississippi. You will realize the embarrassment resulting from the fact of Heth's appointment before your second letter arrived, for though the letter of appointment might be withheld, the fact of its having been made probably will be, if it has not been, communicated to him in some unofficial form. I have nothing from General D. H. Hill since he left here. There are, however, reports of active operations in the direction of New Berne. It may be the reconnaissance in force which he had in contemplation. Inclosed is a sketch* handed to me by Doctor Garnett, intended to represent what General Wise side to front toward the enemy have constructed earth-works. The side to front toward the river, and as they cannot be designed to operate against our boats in the Mattapony, must have been to resist an attack anticipated from the northeast side of that river. The force was said to be small-perhaps a brigade. Our intelligence from Mississippi is, on the whole, encouraging. Pemberton is stoutly defending the intrenchments at Vicsburg, and Johnston has an army outside, which I suppose will be able to raise the siege, and, combined with Pemberton's forces, may win a victory. Many thanks for your friendly solicitude. My health is steadily improving, and if we can have good new from the west I hope soon to be quite well again. General Bragg has bravely and patriotically detached strong re-enforcements to General Johnston- so much so that I have to warn him to be mindful of this own necessities. We are attempting by addresses to the Governor of the State to get forces for local defence by the organization of the except corps of minute-men, who are to respond to any call for the defense of cities, railroad, brides, &c. In proportion to the success of this effort, disciplined troops will be relieved from such duties and made available for active operations in the field. I have been glad to learn from the Governor of North Carolina that the decision of Judge Pearson did not touch the question of the constitutionality of the conscript law, but only covered the legality of employing the militia to arrest desertes. The decision against the right thus to use the militia paralyzed the effors of Governor Vance thus to aid us in that regard.
     Very respectfully and truly, your friend,


* Not found.

Series I., Vol. 51, Part 2, Pages 716-717.

The problem of three generals and two divisional commands was solved by putting Ransom in charge of the defenses near Richmond and immediately to the east.  His health, in any case, was problematic.  Pender and Heth were promoted, and soon to have their names writ large in the events of the Gettysburg Campaign.  This letter is one of a number during this period in which Davis and Lee misunderstood each other.  Earlier, Davis had believed Lee advocated (as did Davis) sending Longstreet and his corp west.  There was also a misunderstanding over whether troops should be withdrawn from the South Carolina coast to strengthen Lee for his invasion of the north.

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