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The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.


 

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Lee Family Digital Archive

Coosawhatchie [S.C.]

December 24, 1861

 

My Dear Sir:[1]

            I have just received your note announcing the meeting of the Convention about to take place at Columbia. The exposed condition of the State & the presence of a powerful enemy on her shores will naturally occupy the earnest consideration of that enlightened body. I do not think that any suggestion from me will be necessary or even useful, as I feel certain that every measure requisite for the protection of the State or her citizens will be adopted. In compliance, therefore, with your kind request to make to you any suggestions that seemed to me required by present circumstances, I think it only necessary to repeat more emphatically than perhaps I have been able to do in person, the urgent necessity of bringing out the military strength of the State, & putting it under the best and most permanent organization. The troops, in my opinion, should be organized for the war. We cannot stop short of its termination, be it long or short. No one, I presume, would desire to do so. No one, therefore, will continue in service longer than the war requires. The disbanding & reorganization of troops in time of peace is attended with loss & expense. What must it be in time of war, when it may occur at periods that might otherwise prove highly disastrous? I tremble to think of the consequences that may befall us next spring when all our twelve months’ men may claim their discharge. At the opening of the campaign, when our enemies will take the field fresh & vigorous, after a year’s preparation & winter’s repose, we shall be in all the anxiety, excitement, & organization of new armies. In what different condition will be the opposing armies on the plains of Manassas at the resumption of active operations. I have thought that Genl McClellan was waiting to seize the advantage he would then possess. I beg you will put a stop to this lamentable state of affairs. The Confederate States have now but one great object in view. The successful issue of their war of independence. Everything worth their possessing depends on that. Everything should yield to its accomplishment.

             There is another point to which I would invite your attention. The best troops are ineffective without good officers. Our volunteers, more than any others, require officers whom they can respect and trust. The best men for that position should be selected, and it is important to consider how it can be effected. It would be safe to trust men of the intelligence & character of our volunteers to elect their officers, could they at the time of election realize their dependent condition in the day of battle. But this they cannot do, & I have known them in the hour of danger repudiate & disown officers of their choice & beg for others. Is it right, then, for a State to throw upon its citizens a responsibility which they do not feel and cannot properly exercise? The colonel of a regiment has an important trust, & is a guardian of the honor of the State as well as of the lives of her citizens. I think it better for the field officers of the regiments in State service to be appointed by the governor, with the advice & consent of its legislature, & those in the Confederate service by the President & Congress.

            It would also, in my opinion, add to the simplicity & economy of our military establishment to conform to the same principle of organization. That adopted by Congress is formed by the united wisdom of the State representatives, & is followed in its army. It would be well for the State governments to adopt [it], as far as circumstances will permit. Special corps & separate commands are frequent causes of embarrassment.

            It is useless for me to suggest that measures be taken to develop the military resources of the State; to advance the fabrication of powder, arms & all the necessaries of war, as well as the production of bountiful supplies for her troops & citizens. The strictest economy should be enforced in every department & the most rigid accountability required of its officers. I have not been able to get an accurate report of the troops under my command in the State. I hope it may be as large as you state, but I am sure those for duty fall far short of it. For instance, [Col. Wilmot G.] De Saussure’s brigade is put down at three thousand four hundred & twenty men. When last in Charleston (the day I inquired) I was informed that in one regiment there were 110 men for duty in camp on the Race Course & in the other about 200. Col [John L.] Branch, I am told, had only about 200 men with him at Rockville, though I have had no official report of his retreat from there. The companies of mounted men in the service are very much reduced. The Charleston Light Dragoons & the Rutledge Mounted Rifles have about 45 men each. The companies of Col [William E.] Martin’s regiment are very small. One of them, Capt [Thomas] Fripp’s, reports 4 commissioned officers, 9 noncommissioned officers, & 19 privates. It is very expensive to retain in service companies of such strength, & I think all had better be reorganized.

            I have only on this line for field operations [Col. William C.] Heyward’s, De Saussure’s, [Col. R. G. M.] Dunovant’s, [Col. James] Jones’, & [Col. Oliver E.] Edwards’ regiments from South Carolina & [Col. William E.] Martin’s cavalry. Genl Ripley writes that [Col. Charles J.] Elford’s & [Col. John H.] Means’ regiments are poorly armed & equipped & at present ineffective, & that the organization of the troops thrown forward on James Island is so brittle that he fears it will break. The garrisons at Moultrie, Sumter, Johnson, & the fixed batteries, the best and most stable of our forces, cannot be removed from them. Neither can those at Georgetown, & should not be counted among those for operations in the field.

            You must not understand that this is written in a complaining spirit. I know the difficulties in the way, & wish you to understand them, explain them to the governor, & if possible, remove them. Our enemy increases in strength faster than we do & is now enormous. Where he will strike I do not know, but the blow when it does fall will be hard.

I am, &c.

 

R E Lee

 

Source: The Wartime Letter of R. E. Lee, edited by Clifford Dowdey and Louis Manarin, pp. 93-95

 

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2015 December 21



[1] Andrew Gordon Magrath (1813-1893) was Judge of the Confederate States District Court for the District of South Carolina from May 1861 to December 1864. He was the last Confederate governor of South Carolina, serving from December 1864 to May 1865.

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