Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia
December 16, 1862
I have the honor to report that the army of Genl Burnside recrossed the Rappahannock last night, leaving a number of his dead & some of his wounded on this side. Our skirmishers again occupy Fredericksburg & the south bank of the river. Large camps and wagon trains are visible on the hills of Stafford, & his heavy guns occupy their former positions on that bank. There is nothing to indicate his future purpose. I have sent one brigade of cavalry down the Rappahannock & have put Jackson’s corps in motion in the same direction. I think it probable an attempt will be made to cross at Port Royal. Another brigade of cavalry has been sent up the Rappahannock with orders, if opportunity offers, to cross and penetrate the enemy’s rear & endeavor to ascertain his intention. I learn from prisoners that the three grand divisions of Genl Burnside’s army, viz, Hooker’s, Sumner’s, & Franklin’s, crossed this side, & were engaged in the battle of the 13th. They also state that the corps of Genls Heintzelman & Sigel reached Fredericksburg Sunday evening. Should the enemy cross at Port Royal in force before I can get this army in position to meet him, I think it more advantageous to retire to the Annas & give battle than on the banks of the Rappahannock. My design was to have done so in the first instance. My purpose was changed not from any advantage in this position, but from an unwillingness to open more of our country to depredation than possible, & also with a view of collecting such forage & provisions as could be obtained in the Rappahannock Valley.
With the numerous army opposed to me, and the bridges & transportation at its command, the crossing of the Rappahannock, where it is as narrow & winding as in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, can be made at almost any point without molestation. It will therefore be more advantageous to us, to draw him farther away from his base of operations.
The loss of the enemy in the battle of the 13th seems to have been heavy, though I have no means of computing it accurately. An intelligent prisoner says he heard it stated in the army to have amounted to 19,000, though a citizen of Fredericksburg who remained in the city computes it at 10,000. I think the latter number nearer the truth than the former.
I hope that there will be no relaxation in making every preparation for the contest which will have to be renewed, but at what point I cannot now state.
I have learned that on the side of the enemy Generals Bayard & [Conrad F.] Jackson were killed, and Generals Hooker & Gibbon wounded, the former said to be severely so.
I am most repecty, your obdt servt
R E Lee
Source: The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee, edited by Clifford Dowdey and Louis H. Manarin, 363-364.
Transcribe by Colin Woodward, 2015 December 15