• The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • 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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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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[Inclosure No. 1]

State of Virginia, Executive Department,

Richmond, Va., October 6, 1864.

General Robert E. Lee:

Dear Sir: The subject of our free conversation on Sunday week has constantly occupied my mind, and has attracted it with deep interest to passing events in the Valley. In consequence of some little unfriendliness in my relations with General Early, I have hesitated to go as fas as perhaps my duty to the country required; but I can no longer feel that I am in the performance of my duty if I withhold the following frank communication. I am in frequent correspondence with the Valley, and speak confidently when I say that it is of greatest consequence to the country that General Early should be relieved. I have a letter, dated October 2, from an officer who has my entire confidence, in which he says;

            We left Waynesborough, yesterday at 8 a.m. in the rain, and marched all day through the hardest, coldest, and bleakest storm of the season. Winter has few more severer days. A squadron of General Lomax’s division has just passed my tent, nearly all of which is without guns. I know nothing of the situation , and cannot, therefore pronounce the march of yesterday unnecessary, but I can say this much, unless it was imperative it was cruel and injudicious; cruel because a great many of the command are shoeless and without blankets, and injudicious because exposure to such weather will necessarily produce a great deal of sickness. The quartermaster stated that shoes enough to supply the army were expected at Waynesborough yesterday, the day we started for this place. If the march yesterday was necessary it is singular that we remain here to-day. This and other things, and the thorough knowledge that seems to prevail throughout the army of General Early’s character, have produced the impression among the men that he has no feeling for them, his appearance along the line of march excites no pleasure, much less enthusiasm and cheers. No salute is given. He is not greeted at all by private or officer, but is allowed to pass, and passes, neither receiving nor taking notice. The army once believed him a safe commander, and felt that they could trust to his caution, but unfortunately this has been proven a delusion and they cannot, do not, and will not give him their confidence. He was surprised at Winchester. He did not expect a general engagement that day. This destroyed the confidence which the reputation for safety once gave the army in him, and Fisher’s Hill was the terrible sequence. General Early, having on every occasion fought his army in detail, has established the belief that he cannot fight it en masse. This is another source of weakness in the army. Since he has been commanding this district twenty-five pieces of artillery have been captured by the enemy. Where else in the Confederacy, since the beginning of the war, have as many been lost by a Confederate general commanding in the field? At Baker’s Creek[1] by Pemberton, I suppose. Who has the folly to do Pemberton reverence now? I know one thing that I believe the good of the country requires that General Early should not be kept in command of this army; that every officer with whom I have conversed upon the subject is of the same opinion, and I believe it is the sentiment of the army.

I have given you these extracts as one piece of information; others and from high sources might be furnished, but I deem it unnecessary. General, I know very well the military properties of General Early; he is brave and I have no doubt patriotic, but he has no other qualities for independent command, none whatever. As I said to you in our former interview, I was satisfied his trip to the mountains last fall, as now, would prove a failure, and so said. He has no heart for his men, none of the gaudia certaminis,[2] of the true soldier, no dash, I may say, no activity, utterly deficient in the great and essential power of rapid combination, &c. Who shall succeed him is the question. If I might venture an opinion, which I have heretofore forborne to you, General Breckinridge is of all men the man. It may be that it would not be well to take him from his present position, but I learn from sources that have my confidence, that the fighting may be regarded as pretty well over in the southwest, and I have no doubt were General McCausland ordered to that section of the State, where he is well known, General Echols would be able to keep everything safe and snug. Should General B. be ordered back to the Valley, I respectfully suggest that he should take with him Vaughan, Cosby, and Duke. Their commands would be willing to go with General B. without doubt, and the country by their removal would be relieved from a terrible pest. You have now, general, my views frankly given; I would not have given them but from a stern sense of duty, a duty which as the Chief Magistrate of Virginia I could not refrain from performing. I implore prompt and immediate action.

With high consideration, I am, general, very truly yours,

Wm. Smith

Source: The War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 43, Part 2, pp. 894-895.

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 March 25


[1] More commonly known as the battle of Champion Hill, fought 1863 May 16, which was the turning point in Grant’s campaign for Vicksburg.

[2] Latin, meaning “joys of battle.”

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