Monday, February 24, 2014

January 27, 1864 (Monday): Lee Evaluates His Officers

General Robert E. Rodes

HEADQUARTERS, Orange Court-House, January 27, 1864.
   I have not been unmindful of your request, expressed in your letter of the 16th instant,* desiring my opinion in reference to the reorganization of the troops in West Virginia. It is the difficulty of this subject and the importance of selecting a proper commander that has caused my silence. There are many able officers in this army, and many, I have no doubt, capable of administering that department, could I designate them. All have done well in their present positions, but to send them to a new and difficult field would be an experiment. But so important do I consider the maintenance of Western Virginia to the successful conduct of the war that I will relinquish any of them you may select for its command, though I do not know where to replace them. A change, I think, is necessary, both for the country. The duties might be more unsuitable to the health of General Ewell than his present position. I have also great confidence in the ability of Generals Early, Rodes, Edward Johnson, and Wilcox. Of the brigadiers, I think General Gordon, of Alabama, one of the best. I do not know to what duty General Buckner is assigned, but of the officers that have seen serving in that department I think General Ransom is the most prominent. If any of these officers be selected, and they should not answer, they should be removed and another tried.
    If a proper man can be found I think it would be better to include the Shenandoah Valley in his command, in order that he might concentrate the troops where most necessary. A better discipline should be instituted among the troops themselves. Their local character should be abolished by law, all deserters from other armies be returned to their proper commands, and all authority to organize companies, either within or without the enemy's lines, be revoked. This authority causes desertion from the general service. Men go within the enemy's lines, either really or nominally, with the connivance or invitation of the officers, to enter these organizations. In a word, the system should be such as to organize the men of the country for its defense, and not for their convenience or the benefit of certain individuals. Unless this is done the resources of that country will be lost to us, both its mineral wealth and provisions. The first step to improvement is an energetic, active commander, and no time should be lost in his selection.
     I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

     R. E. LEE,
*See G. W. C. Lee to R. E. Lee, p. 1091.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 33, Part 1, Page 1124.

Left off the list were Anderson and Heth.  Lee was personally fond of Heth, but he had not distinguished himself at Gettysburg, nor had Anderson.  Hays had served during the Mine Run campaign in charge of Early's division, but was not equal to the others in rank, being only a brigadier general.  No 1st Corp officers were mentioned, as all were with Longstreet in Tennessee.  Early would ultimately take this command, with mixed results.

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