• 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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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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Lee Family Digital Archive

War Department, C. S. A.,

Richmond, Va., June 9, 1863

General R. E. Lee,

Commanding, &c.:

General: I have the honor to acknowledge your letter of the 3d instant. I have been under a misapprehension, if there was no force absorbed into General Pickett’s division, to supply, at least measurably, General [M.] Jenkins’ brigade, left on the Blackwater. It was not, however, the whole or even larger part of the brigade, temporarily commanded by General [R. E.] Colston, for I was aware the regiments composing that, with the exception of one commanded, I believe, by Colonel [James] Giles, and returned to the command of General Samuel Jones. But previous to the arrival of those regiments from Western Virginia, there was some force, dignified with the name of a brigade, under the command of General Pryor, and that force, increased by Colonel Giles’ regiment, was the brigade to which I had reference, and which I supposed had been substituted to General Jenkins. The distribution of the troops in North Carolina has, however, as you justly remark, been determined by the President, and I only make this explanation to account for the supposition I had entertained. These troops have, I suppose, been in some way incorporated in your army, or been assigned to other portions of General Hill’s command.

I have also received your letter, addressed to Governor Vance, of North Carolina, requesting his co-operation in recruiting the ranks of General Ramsuer’s brigade (the name of which, by the way, was converted by the telegraph operator, not by me, into Ransom’s), and have transmitted it to the Governor, with one from myself, commending your wishes to his favorable consideration.

I have also directed an order from the conscript bureau to the commandant of the conscript post at Raleigh, directing the assignment of conscripts to that gallant brigade until its numbers were brought at least, to an average with the other North Carolina brigades. These steps will, I hope, enable you, while retaining your tried veterans of that brigade, so to recruit its numbers as to give it a respectable average, and bring new recruits under the inspiring influence of its valor and discipline.

You will have heard of the disastrous raids of the enemy in Middlesex, King and Queen, and King William. Parties of their cavalry have passed through those counties, burning mills and barns, plundering and destroying, especially provisions and agricultural implements, and stealing slaves, horses, mules, and cattle. They avow, unblushingly, I am credibly informed, the infamous purpose to destroy means of production and subsistence, and either destroy or drive out the whole faithful population, including women, children, and the men, helpless, aged, and infirm. Such an atrocious system of warfare has never been practiced by any people professing civilization and Christianity, and must awaken the abhorrence of Christendom, as it has aroused among our people glowing indignation and thirst for vengeance.

The enemy, it seems, have quitted West Point altogether, it having been visited by several of our officers and found deserted, and have probably withdrawn most of their forces from Yorktown and Gloucester Point, but have left at the latter places small detachments, including Kilpatrick’s regiment of cavalry, and these are engaged in making destructive forays on the defenseless counties around. We have no adequate force, especially of cavalry, to afford them defense. In this last raid into King William, General Pickett’s division was on one side (north of the Mattapony) and General Wise south and east, and I had sanguine hope the enemy would be entrapped and dealt with as they deserved, but, owing to some misapprehension or mistaken orders, they eluded the latter general and escaped. It is much to be feared that, emboldened by impunity in these raids, they may extend them, with a view to cutting off your communication, by destroying the bridges or railroad track at the Annas or between the Junction and Fredericksburg. I was much pleased to hear that General Pickett had left at least a small brigade at the Junction, for some force there, with at least small detachments at the Mattapony and Pole Cat Bridges, seems to be indispensable to render your communications tolerably secure. All the regiments of General Cooke’s brigade, excepting one, have arrived here, and I have requested General Elzey to direct at least one to the vicinity of Hanover Town, and the residue along the Meadow Bridge road, some miles from the city, so as to be ready to intercept any force coming up King William, or to lend a helping hand either to General Wise or the forces at the Junction. General Wise will keep ward on the Peninsula and at White House, prepared to throw his force and some light guns across the Pamunkey. Still, the enemy may pass up on the north side of the Mattapony almost with impunity, and in that way reach the railroad and the bridges over the Mattapony and Pole Cat.

We sadly need a brigade, or at least a regiment, of cavalry, and without them are almost incapable of assuring timely notice or means of arresting or overtaking the marauders. I know not, however, where to obtain them without endangering important operations. There are here only about 180 horsemen (engaged just now in watching the forces of Upper James) and some 300 men of new companies (formed at the camp in King and Queen), now attached, I believe, to the force at the Junction. These are all untried and unreliable, and I venture to inquire if it would not be well for General Stuart to take them, and send in lieu one of his shattered regiments, or a corresponding battalion of men who are familiar with fire. They could be refreshed, perhaps recruited, here, and would be of much more value to us, while the new companies, well mounted and of the best material, would be made trained soldiers.

You will excuse the diversity of subjects in this letter, as well as its length. I wished to explain these matters to you and have your counsel upon them, and they have all a general connection in relation to the disposition of your forces.

With high esteem, most respectfully, yours,

 

J. A. Seddon,

 

Secretary of War

 

 

 

Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 3, pp. 874-876.

 

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 June 9

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