• The Lees of Virginia
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  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia

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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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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Hd Qrs Chaffin’s 12th Oct. 64 (confidential)

Gen J A Early

Commg Valley Div

Genl

I recd last night by the hands of Capt. Page, your report of the 9th Inst: of operations in the Valley, & your two letters of the same date. My regret is equal to your own at the reverses that occurred at Winchester & Fisher’s Hill, but I hope our loss can be redeemed. To do this it will be necessary for you to keep your troops well together, to restore their confidence, improve their condition in every way you can, enforce strict discipline in officers & men, keep yourself well advised of the enemy’s movements and strengthen, & endeavour to separate & strike them in detail. The Cavy I think could be reinvigorated & encouraged by aiding them with Infy, in addition to instituting strict discipline, especially if you could take advantage of the enemy’s Cavy’s present boldness by leading them into ambuscade’s of Infy.

You have in Fitz Lee’s & Roper’s commands some of the best scouts in the army, men that have been habitually in that service & upon whose judgements & reports you can rely. If you could send them in rear of the enemy, they could keep you advised of his movements. You can get more certain information in the way than by the open operations of Cavy unless you are sufficiently strong to tear down all opposition.

I think by these means & others which your good judgement [sic] will dictate your command will be restored to its former condition & efficiency. It will be necessary also for you to make use of all available troops. If they are not the best or such as we would prefer, they may on emergencies do much if used to the best advantage. If they can do nothing more than guard trains, hold positions & swell your numbers, they will be of great benefit. The reserves & local troops were organized for this purpose & should be encouraged & made use of. They can also collect stragglers, absentees &c if properly applied. I wish you to gather what aid you can from this source.

Genl Breckenridge writes that as soon as he can make some necessary preparations he will send to you Cosby’s & Giltner’s brigade with a battery of artillery if you require it. Communicate with him at Wytheville. Every exertion must be made to get out all our force & concentrate it where required. I will endeavor to send the officers you desire. But their promotion is not so operational as I believe all can act in the positions you require by virtue of seniority, & it may be better to get them from their qualifications, as has frequently been done in other cases. The last defeat of your cavalry (on the 9th) is much to be regretted. It may have been proceeded from bad management & I wish you to investigate it. I would not for the present send them too far from your main body, or allow them to hazard too much.

Although the enemy’s cavy may exceed ours in numbers & I know it does in equipment, still we have always able to cope with them to advantage & can do so again by proper management. You have the greater portion of the Cavy in Virga & it must be made effective. The men are good & only require to be properly commanded. I wish you would bring every officer who misbehaves before a board of a board of examiners, or a court martial, as their cases require, & have their conduct investigated. I wish you also to make requisitions for such Cavy arms as you require & if possible I will have them supplied.

I am not so satisfied that it is Sheridan’s intention to leave the Valley. It may be so, but I do not think his burning the bridges behind him & laying waste the country proves it. That might have been to cripple you. I have thought it possible that it might become necessary to send a part of his force to Missouri, or to rebuild the Manassas R.R. & that either might have caused his withdrawal towards the Potomac. If he retires to the Potomac & you find yourself able only to demonstrate against him, that can be done by a smaller force & Kershaw[1] can at once be sent to me. If he crosses the Blue Ridge & sends a part of his force to Grant, you had better move against him & endeavour to crush him. But if the condition of your force will not allow you to attempt it the latter, then you can detach Kershaw to me & watch him with the remainder of your force. If he should remain in the lower Valley & send reinforcements to Grant, you can reinforce me correspondingly & watch him with the rest of your troops. It is impossible at this distance to give definite instructions. You can only proceed on the principle of not retaining with you more troops than you can use to advantage, in any position. The enemy may take, & send the rest to me. I have weakened myself very much to strengthen you. It was done with the expectations of enabling you to gain success that you could return the troops if not rejoin me yourself I know you have endeavoured to gain that success & believe you have done all in your power to ensure it. You must not be discouraged but continue to try. I rely upon your judgement & ability & the hearty cooperation of your officers & men still to secure it. With your united force it can be accomplished. I do not think Sheridan’s Infy or Cavy numerically as large as you suppose, but either is sufficiently so not to be despised & great circumspection must be used your operations. Grant is recg large reinforcements & building up his army as large apparently as at the beginning of the campaign. This makes it necessary for me to draw me to use every man I can.

Very resply & truly yours

               R. E. Lee

               Genl.

 

 

[Early’s note]: On the day on which this letter was written I moved down the Valley from New Market & this movement resulted in the battle at Cedar Creek. Immediately after the battle at Winchester I telegraphed to Colonel Lee at Staunton for all the reserves under his command & he informed me that all of them had been sent to Richmond & that he had none under his control. I did not receive a military man from this source during the whole campaign.

Fitz Lee’s Cavy divn. composed of Wickham’s[2] & Lomax’s[3] brigades, when it joined me, after General Anderson left the Valley, did not number 1200 men. Rosser[4] did not bring our 600 men of his brigade, though its strength was reported much larger before it reached me, the men straggled very much on the march from Kentucky & many of them went to their homes as they got to the Valley. The cavalry under Lomax and dwindled to about 1700 men before the battle of Winchester, McLaughlin’s whole brigade [illegible] having deserted & gone to Southwestern Va.

Kershaw’s division numbered 2700 muskets when it joined me at Port Republic

I had estimated Sheridan’s Cavy at between 6 & 800 & his infantry at a little over 20,000. His cavalry turned out to be 10,000 & his infantry much larger than I had estimated it to be, and I am satisfied it was not a man under 35,000

                                        J A Early

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Robert E. Lee Headquarters Papers, Mss3 L515a, Folder 9, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond

 

 

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 March 22


[1] Joseph B. Kershaw (1822-1894), a South Carolina general and infantry commander, who served in the Army of Northern Virginia.

[2] Williams Carter Wickham (1820-1888).

[3] Lunsford L. Lomax (1835-1913).

[4] Thomas L. Rosser (1836-1910).

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