Sunday, December 8, 2013

December 7, 1863 (Sunday): Lee Declines A New Command

General Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress)

President Confederate States, Richmond:
     Mr. PRESIDENT: I have had the honor to receive your dispatch, inquiring whether I could go to Dalton. I can if desired, but of the expediency of the measure you can judge better than I can. Unless it is intended that I should take permanent command, I can see no good that will result, even if in that event any could be accomplished. I also fear that I would not receive cordial co-operation, and I think it necessary if I am withdrawn from here that a commander for this army be sent to it. General Ewell's condition, I fear, is too feeble to undergo the fatigue and labor incident to the position. I hope Your Excellency will not suppose that I am offering any obstacles to any measure you may think necessary. I only seek to give you the opportunity to form your opinion after a full consideration of the subject. I have not that confidence either in my strength or ability as would lead me of my own option to under take the command in question.
      I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

      R. E. LEE,

Official Records, Series I, Vol. 31, Part 3, Page 792.

Davis did not directly offer Lee command of the Army of the Tennessee, but he would undoubtedly would have liked the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia to at least go to Dalton and bring some order to the situation.  In his discussions with Davis Lee must have at least picked up a hint of the idea of him taking command and here he tactfully steps away from the possibility.  This is yet another indication Lee was beginning to have doubts regarding his own health.  In addition, the practical matter of who would lead the Army Northern Virginia in his absence raises itself.  Ewell had seniority, but after losing a leg at Second Manassas he was not up to commanding an army.  In any event, given his temperment, it is difficult to imagine Ewell in command of the entire army for any length of time.

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