January 26, 1863.
Hon. James A. Seddon,
Secretary of War:
Sir: I have directed the chief commissary of the Army of Northern Virginia, Colonel Cole, to repair to Richmond, with a view of ascertaining what supply of provisions can be relied on for the support of the troops. As far as I can learn, we have now about one week's supply, four days' fresh beef, and four days' salt meat, of the reduced ration. After that is exhausted, I know not whence further supplies can be drawn. The question of provisioning the army is becoming one of greater difficulty every day. The country north of us is pretty well drained of everything the people are willing to part with, except some grain and hay in Loudoun, nor can impressment be resorted to with advantage, inasmuch as any provisions retained for domestic use are concealed. A resort to impressment would, in my opinion, in this region, produce aggravation and suffering among the people without much benefit to the army. But I think if the citizens in the whole county were appealed to, they would be willing to restrict themselves and furnish what they have to the army. I beg you will give this matter immediate attention, and do what is possible in the case.
As far as I can learn from our scouts, the enemy has closed his troops up to the line of the Rappahannock, and has moved two corps, Sumner's and Franklin's, 8 miles above Falmouth, with a view to crossing the Rappahannock.
I have read General Burnside's address to his army, in the Philadelphia Inquirer of the 23d (before it was put in motion), and a general movement was announced in the same paper. The late storm has probably retarded the accomplishment of their plans.
Under the circumstances, I am more than usually anxious about the supplies of the army, as it will be impossible to keep it together without food.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. Lee
Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Seris 1, Vol. 215, part 2, pp. 597-598.
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 May 2