Headquarters, Department of Northern Virginia
Camp near Culpeper Court House
November 17, 1862
From the general reports received from the scouts yesterday, it is plain that the enemy is abandoning his position around Warrenton, and does not intend to advance in the direction first assumed. His troops and trains, as far as can be discovered, are moving towards the Orange & Alexandria Railroad; but whether with a view of massing them on that line of communication, to threaten Gordonsville, or to fall down upon Fredericksburg, or to retire towards Alexandria, to be transferred by water south of the James River, I cannot yet discover. The railroad trains are kept in active operation, but it is not known whether they are employed in carrying troops toward Alexandria, or in bringing them in this direction. Knowing the difficulties of his pursuing his former route along the Blue Ridge, I have supposed from the halt that has taken place, that he intended to march upon Fredericksburg, but have learned of no preparations to rebuild the wharves, &c., at Aquia, or to subsist his army, which would naturally precede such a movement. I think it therefore probable that the movement in execution is with a view of transferring the army south of James River. And the appointment of Genl Burnside to the command favors this supposition. I will give you further information as soon as anything reliable can be ascertained. But in the mean time, I beg that every preparation that can possibly be made, with a view of opposing his progress in North Carolina, may be urged forward.
In the condition in which both corps of this army now are, I do not think it advisable to advance upon the enemy, as it might injure their efficiency in future operations, which I think are threatening us. Partial operations however have been & are being made, tending to embarrass and damage the enemy.
I learn that Col [John D.] Imboden was unable to destroy the bridging at Cheat River in consequence of the strength of the enemy in that quarter, & is in position on the Shenandoah Mountains. He captured one company of the enemy, paroled the men & brought off their arms & equipments. Col [Henry B.] Davidson reports that the force which has been threatening Staunton has retired beyond the Alleghanies.
I am most respy, yr obt svt
R. E. Lee
Source: Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee, edited by Clifford Dowdey and Louis Manarin, pp. 337-338
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2015 November 17