Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 29, 1863 (Thursday): Lee Assesses Conditions

July 29, 1863.
President of the Confederate States:
    Mr. PRESIDENT: Your letter of the 21st instant has been received and I am much obliged to you for the suggestions it contains. As soon as I receive an official account of the casualties in the army, it will be forwarded. The list of our wounded and missing I know will be large. Many of the first could not be moved, and had to be left behind. The latter will be swelled by the stragglers, who commenced, on crossing the Potomac, to stray from the line of march, and were intercepted by the enemy`s cavalry and armed citizens, notwithstanding every effort which was made to prevent it. Our people are so little liable to control that it is difficult to get them to follow any course not in accordance with their inclinations. The day after the last battle at Gettysburg, on sending back the train with the wounded, it was reported that about 5,000 well men started back at night to overtake it. I fear most of these were captured by the enemy`s cavalry and armed citizens, who beat their route. These, added to other stragglers, men captured in battle, and those of the wounded unfit to be transported, will swell our list of missing, and, as far as I can judge, the killed, wounded, and missing from the time we left the Rappahannock until our return will not fall short of 20,000. This comprises, however, the slightly wounded and those who straggled from the ranks, who are now rejoining us. After recrossing the Potomac, I commenced to consolidate the troops, considering the cases individually and united Archer`s and Heth`s (Field`s) former brigade under General H. H. Walker, and Pender`s and Heth`s divisions under General Heth. The accession of convalescents and stragglers is enlarging these divisions so much that I shall have to separate them again.
    As regards General Davis` Brigade, I think it will be better to attach the three Mississippi regiments to Posey`s brigade, in Andersons division, where I hope they will soon be increased in numbers. The North Carolina regiment of this brigade I suggest be attached to Pettigrew`s old brigade.
    The only objection to this plan is that it breaks up General Davis` command; but if his indisposition will detain him long from the field, it will be best to do it, for the present, at least. Although our loss has been so heavy, which is a source of constant grief to me, I believe the damage to the enemy has been as great in proportion. This is shown by the feeble operations since. Their army is now massed in the vicinity of Warrenton, along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, collecting re-enforcemnts. Unfortunately, their means are greater than ours, and I fear when they move again they will much outnumber us. Their future plans I Cannot discover, and think it doubtful, with their experience of last year, whether they will assume the Fredericksburg line again or not, though it is very probable. Should they do so, I doubt the policy of our resuming our former position in rear of Fredericksburg, as any battle fought there, excepting to resist a front attack, would be on disadvantageous terms, and I therefore think it better to take a position farther back. I should like your views upon this point. The enemy now seems to be content to remain quiescent, prepared to oppose any offensive movement on our part. General Meade`s headquarters are at Warrenton. I learn by our scouts that the seven corps are between that point and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. They are all much reduced in numbers. From the observation of some corps, the report of citizens and their prisoners, the reduction is general, and the corps do not exceed from 6,000 to 8,000 men. I have halted Ewell`s corps on Robertson River, About 3 miles in front of Madison Court-House, where grazing is represented to be very fine, and in the vicinity of which sufficient flour can be obtained. We have experienced no trouble from the enemy in crossing the Blue ridge. Excepting the attempt at Manassas Gap upon Ewell, and of a cavalry force on the Gourd Vine road on A. P. Hill, our march has been nearly unmolested. Our cavalry is in our front along the Rappahannock. I am endeavoring to collect all the provisions I can in this part of the country, which was also done in the Valley. While there, in order to obtain sufficient flour, we were obliged to send men and horses, thresh the wheat, carry it to the mills, and have it ground. There is little or no grain in that vicinity, and I cannot learn of more in Madison than sufficient for Ewell`s corps.
    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

     R. E. LEE,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 27, Part 3, Pages 1048-1049.

Did Lee delay as long as possible telling Davis the magnitude of his losses for fear word would spread to the press and embolden Meade to attack?  It is striking how long it took Lee to fully inform the government of his losses, although here he represents the toll on Meade's Army to be as great.  He believes Meade will not attack him, although it is possible in hindsight to believe Meade would have done so had he better information on Lee's location and intent.  The importance of the cavalry to these campaigns is evident in correspondence about this time.  Stuart's troopers remained active and the Union was not able to gather much information from behind the screen he established. 

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