Monday, November 11, 2013

November 12, 1863 (Tuesday): "I fear our horses will die in great numbers.."

Civil War Horse and Rider (

November 12, 1863.
President Confederate States, Richmond:
    Mr. PRESIDENT: Our scouts report the Orange and Alexandria Railroad finished as far as Bealeton. They report, moreover, that the road from Union Mills to that point is almost entirely stripped of troops, nearly all the road guards having been sent forward. Trains have lately passed up bringing artillery. Cavalry has passed up with led horses. The route from Bealeton to Kelly's Ford is almost as short as that from Brandy Station to the same point, and the above movements indicate, I think, an advance on the part of General Meade. There are indications also that this advance will take place on our right by lower fords, Germanna and Ely's, as if with the intention of striking for the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad. Should he move in that direction, I will endeavor to follow him and bring him to battle, but I do not see how I can do it without the greatest difficulty. The country through which he will have to pass is barren. We have no forage on hand and very little prospect of getting any from Richmond. I fear our horses will die in great numbers, and, in fact, I do not know how they will survive two or three days' march without food. I hope every effort will be made to send some up, and I think it would be well to stop the transportation of everything on the railroad excepting army supplies.
    One of the scouts brings an extravagant report coming from an official in Washington, that the Union States Government is collecting a large number of horses-40,000-to mount a body of infantry for the purpose of making a raid on Richmond, with a view to the release of their prisoners. The rescue of these prisoners has been for some time a theme with the Northern papers. I think they should, for many reasons, be removed from that city as soon as practicable.
     I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

    R. E. LEE,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 29, Part 2, Page 832.

The rationale behind the Gettysburg campaign remains obvious here months later.  The war had to be taken across the Potomac to relieve the strain on agricultural production and forage in Northern Virginia.  Lee knew Meade was better supplied, well enough to move forward over an extended line, whereas Lee himself was unsure as to whether he could keep the horses needed to move his artillery and trains fed.  The war had become not just a matter of moving armies like chess pieces across a board, but also of keeping horses fed.  Time was not on the Confederacy's side.


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