Monday, January 20, 2014

January 20, 1864 (Monday): Lee Contemplates An Attack On New Berne

General George Pickett
HEADQUARTERS, January 20, 1864.
President Confederate States:
   Mr. PRESIDENT: I have delayed replying to your letter of the 4th until the time arrived from the execution of the attempt of on New Berne. I regret very much that the boats on the Neuse and Roanoke are not completed. With their aid I think success would be certain. Without them, though the place may be captured, the fruits of the expedition will be lessened and our maintenance of the command of the waters in North Carolina uncertain. I think every effort should be made now to get them into service as soon as possible. You will see by the inclosed letters to Generals Pickett and Whiting the arrangements made for the land operations. The water expedition I am willing to trust to Colonel Wood. If he can succeed in capturing the gun-boats I think success will be ceratin, as it was by aid from the water that I expected Hoke to be mainly assisted.
    In view of the opinion expressed in your letter, I would go to North Carolina myself, but I consider my presence here always necessary, especially now, when there is such a struggle to keep the army fed and clothed. General Early is still in the valley. The enemy there has been re-enforced by troops from Meade's army, and [by] calling down General Averell with his cavalry. I do not know what their intentions are. Report from General Early yesterday stated that Averell with his cavalry had started for Moorefield. I will, however, go to North Carolina if you think it necessary. General Fitz. Lee brought out of Hardy 110 prisoners, 250 horses and mules, 27 wagons, and 460 head of cattle. He captured 40 wagons, but 13 turned over on the mountains and had to be abandoned. He had also to leave behind between 100 and 200 head of cattle. The difficulties he encountered were very great, owing to the extreme cold, ice, storms, &c. Nearly all his men were frost-bitten, some badly; many injury by the falling of their horses. He got within 6 miles of Paddytown, but could not cross the mountains,owing to the icy roads and the smoothness of his horses. He could take with him neither artillery nor wagons.
     I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

     R. E. LEE,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 33, Part 1, Page 1101-1102.

Ironically, a day after Grant had written Halleck of his proposal for a move on Raleigh by way of Eastern North Carolina, Lee is continuing to press for an attack on Union forces at New Berne, NC.  Neither Grant's nor Lee's proposals would come to fruition.  The Confederate gunboats mentioned would be slow in construction and require troops to defend them.  Yet there was sufficient Confederate force in Pickett's command near to Richmond to allow movement into eastern NC if necessary.  And it does not appear that Grant's proposal was ever seriously considered in Washington, which remained focused on Richmond.

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