Rappahannock River, August 23, 1862.
His Excellency President Davis:
I appointed Monday last, 18th instant, as the day for crossing the Rapidan, but the troops could not be got into position or provisioned. Monday it was hoped we should cross, but the cavalry had not got up, and the order was changed for Wednesday, 20th. This delay proved fatal to our success, for the enemy, through the instrumentality of a spy, got information of our plans and concentration on his left flank while threatening his right, and commenced Sunday night to retire his stores, &c., behind the Rappahannock. The atmosphere was unfavorable for observation, and fear of creating alarms kept reconnaissances quiet until Tuesday, when their withdrawal was discovered. By the time the army had crossed (Wednesday) everything but their cavalry had retired behind the Rappahannock, the fords of which were strongly guarded. Upon examination it was deemed best to turn their right flank, and General Jackson, in commands of our left wing, was put in motion Thursday for the purpose, while General Longstreet threatened, their left with our right. The ground on the left bank of the Rappahannock command that on the right, and, as the examination presented, it was found necessary to extend as high up as the road leading to Warrenton Springs. Yesterday General Stuart, with the cavalry, crossed above the road, and proceeded to cut the enemy’s communication at Catlett’s Station, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. On account of a violent storm he could not burn the bridge over Cedar Creek and was unable to cut it down. He accomplished some minor advantages, destroyed some wagons, and captured some prisoners.
In the mean time Jackson was crossing his force near the Warrenton Springs until interrupted by high water, occasioned by the rain, which has also put a stop to the movement in that direction from this point, as Hazel or Aestham’s River is in swimming condition to-day. There appears to be a heavy rain in the mountains at this time, which will no doubt continue the high water and give the enemy ample time to reinforce General Pope with McClellan’s army if desired. I can get no news from our troops on the North Anna. If McClellan has not halted at Fredericksburg the troops there will be required here. If we are able to change the theater of the war to the James River to the north of the Rappahannock we shall be able to consume provisions and forage now being used in supporting the enemy. This will be some advantage and prevent so great a draft upon other parts of the country. General Pope’s chief quartermaster was captured last night by General Stuart, and he is reported to state that General Cox’s forces are being withdrawn from the Kanawha Valley by way of Wheeling. If the campaign could be pushed in this direction it would have the effect of relieving other parts of the country. To do this all available re-enforcements should be sent here.
I am, with high respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. Lee,
Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol.12, Part 3, pp. 940-941
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 August 18