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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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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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From D. H. Hill, letter of April 10th 1874

 

            “Longstreet wrote to me and finally stopped over one day in Charlotte to see me, in regard to the Conference held on the Nine Mile Road before the attack on Richmond.

            So far as I know, he is entitled to the audit if the attack upon McClellan’s right flank.  We discussed it together just after the Battle of Seven Pines, and I have every reason to believe him to be the author of it. I believed then & believe now that the attack ought to  have been made on the other flank.

Whether Longstreet influenced the mind if General Lee I cannot say; but he certainly did propose the plan. I was very reluctant to have any communication with Longstreet and consulted judicious friends here in regard to replying to his letter asking me for the particulars of the Conference on the Nine Mile Road. They thought that I was entitled to the truth whatever his late conduct has been. I therefore answered his letter, but he missed it and called to see me here. He was doubtful of his reception & much embarrassed. He is a mere wreck of his former self, & I felt truly sorry for him. My Leige Lord [his wife] would not go in the parlor & left the house. I fear that he noticed it. The whole interview was very painful to me. He has lately written to me asking for the same facts, & I fear his mind is affected, as he does not seem to remember the interview. He was a selfish & self indulgent soldier, but he was true to our cause, and General Pendleton did wrong in attacking his fidelity to the Confederacy. His conduct since the war has excited my bitterest feelings, but since seeing them broken crushed soon, I have felt only pity for him.”

            It may be very true that, in speaking about the proper mode of attacking the enemy, Longstreet may have thought it was best to attack in the enemy right flank, while Hill may have thought it best to attack the other. The attack had to be on the one or the other, as there was no chance to attack in the center, and men would of course have some opinion as to which was the right one to attack. At Gettysburg I first suggested that the enemy’s left flank was the one to attack, but I have never claimed to have originated the plan of attack, and would not have thought of doing it, if we had been entirely successful, as we would have been, most assuredly if Longstreet had not been so slow. A man who is first on the ground is very apt to form an opinion as to what is best to be done, if he have any sense, but if he should happen to fall upon that plan which is afterwards adopted by the commander-in-chief the latter should not be stripped of the credit for superiority.

J. A. Early

 

Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 8, M2009.408

Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, 2016 July 15

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