Hd Qrs Army N Va
14th Dec. 1864
His Excy Z. B. Vance
Governor of N. Carolina
I have the honor to enclose copies of two communications referred to me by the Secretary of War, with reference to the illicit trade now going on in Eastern N. C. and its bad effects upon the people. Your Excellency may be able to get more complete information on the subject, and ascertain the extent of the evil complained of. The trade of the Govt for the supply of the army is necessary, but it was not intended that barter should be resorted to with those from whom supplies could be obtained by ordinary purchase, as is alleged to be the case in the letter of Mr. Wilson. I see no objection to our people exchanging cotton etc. for necessaries, but it should be placed under proper restrictions, and the mere sale of commodities for money or Federal currency is manifestly injurious. This should be prevented, and I have thought that the state authorities can render great assistance in the matter, and therefore bring it to your attention. I hope you will be able to devise means to prevent the abuse of the privilege of exchange within the borders of N. Carolina. We cannot afford to convert our products with Federal money, nor can the system of exchange be tolerated for purposes of speculation. I respectfully ask that your Excellency will give the subject your serious consideration, and lend the aid of your authority to put the whole system of barter under such restrictions as will confine it to its legitimate end—that of exchanging our products for supplies for the army and for our needy population. The laws of congress subjects contraband articles in transit to the enemy’s lines without proper authority to confiscation, together with the vessel or vehicle containing them. The act is hard to be enforced, but if the state would add a personal punishment to offenders of the class I have above alluded to, it might be found effectual.
Your Obt servt
R. E. Lee
[written by pencil crossways:] “File carefully & answer that I will exert all my influence to promote the object of his letter. ZBV”
Dec. 14th 1864
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 4, M2009.321, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall.
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2015 September 17.