Two Miles from Fredericktown, Md., September 7, 1862
His Excellency President Davis,
Mr. President: I find that the discipline of the army, which, from the manner of its organization, the necessity of bringing it into immediate service, its constant occupation and hard duty, was naturally defective, has not been improved by the forced marches and hard service it has lately undergone. I need not say to you that the material of which it is composed is the best in the world, and, if properly disciplined and instructed, would be able successfully to resist any force that could be brought against it. Nothing can surpass the gallantry and intelligence of the main body, but there are individuals who, from their backwardness in duty, tardiness of movement, and neglect of orders, do it no credit. These, if possible, should be removed from its rolls if they cannot be improved by correction.
Owing to the constitution of our courts-martial, great delay and difficulty occur in correcting daily evils. We require more promptness and certainty of punishment. One of the greatest evils, from which many minor ones proceed, is the habit of straggling from the ranks. The higher officers feels as I do, and I believe have done all in their power to stop it. It has become a habit difficult to correct. With some, the sick and feeble, it results from necessity, but with the greater number from design. These latter do not wish to be with their regiments, nor to share in their hardships and glories. They are the cowards of the army, desert their comrades in times of danger, and fill the houses of the charitable and hospitable in the march. I know of no better way of correcting this great evil than by the appointment of a military commission of men known to the country, and having its confidence and support, to accompany the army constantly, with provost-marshal and guard to execute promptly its decision.
If, in addition, a proper inspector-general, with sufficient rank and standing, with assistants, could be appointed to see to the execution of orders, and to fix the responsibility of acts, great benefits and saving to the service would be secured. I know there is no law for carrying out these suggestions, but beg to call your attention to the subject, and ask, if this plan does not meet with your approval, that, in your better judgment, you will devise some other, for I assure you some remedy is necessary, especially now, when the army is in a State whose citizens it is our purpose to conciliate and bring with us. Every outrage upon their feelings and property should be checked.
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. 19, Part 2, pp. 597-598
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 September 5