Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,
June 26, 1864
His Excellency Jefferson Davis,
President Confederate States:
Mr. President: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 25th instant. General Hunter has escaped Early, and will make good his retreat, as far as I can understand, to Lewisburg. Although his expedition has been partially interrupted, I fear he has not been much punished, except by the demoralization of his troops and the loss of some artillery. From his present position he can easily be reorganized and re-equipped, and unless we have sufficient force to resist him will repeat his expedition. This would necessitate the return of Early at Staunton. I think it better that he should move down the Valley, if he can obtain provisions, which would draw Hunter after him, and may enable him to strike Pope before he can effect a junction with Hunter. If circumstances favor, I should also recommend his crossing the Potomac. I think I can maintain our lines here against General Grant. He does not seem disposed to attack, and has thrown himself strictly on the defensive.
I am less uneasy about holding our position than about our ability to procure supplies for the army. I fear the latter difficulty will oblige me to attack General Grant in his intrenchments, which I should not hesitate to do but for the loss it will inevitably entail. A want of success would in my opinion be almost fatal, and this causes me to hesitate in the hope that some relief may be procured without running such great hazard. I should like much to have the benefit of Your Excellency’s good judgment and views upon this subject.
Great benefit might be drawn from the release of our prisoners at Point Lookout if it can be accomplished. The number of men employed for this purpose would necessarily be small, as the whole would have to be transported secretly across the Potomac where it is very broad, the means of doing which must first be procured. I can devote to this purpose the whole of the Marylanders of this army, which would afford a sufficient number of men of excellent material and much experience, but I am at a loss where to find a proper leader. As he would command Maryland troops and operate upon Maryland soil it would be well that he should be a Marylander. Of those connected with this army I consider Col. Bradley T. Johnson the most suitable. He is bold and intelligent, ardent and true, and yet I am unable to say whether he possesses all the requisite qualities. Everything in an expedition of the kind would depend upon the leader.
I have understood that most of the garrison at Point Lookout was composed of negroes. I should suppose that the commander of such troops would be poor and feeble. A stubborn resistance, therefore, may not reasonably be expected. By taking a company of the Maryland artillery, armed as infantry, the dismounted cavalry and their infantry organization, as many men would be supplied as transportation could be procured for. By throwing them suddenly on the beach with some concert of action among the prisoners, I think the guard might be overpowered, the prisoners liberated and organized, and marched immediately on the route to Washington.
The artillery company could operate the guns captured at the Point. The dismounted cavalry with the released prisoners of that arm could mount themselves on the march, and the infantry would form a respectable force. Such a body of men under an able leader, although they might not be able without assistance to capture Washington, could march around it and cross the upper Potomac where fordable. I do not think they could cross the river in a body at any point below Washington, unless possibly at Alexandria. Provisions, &c., would have to be collected in the country through which they pass. The operations on the river must be confided to an able naval officer, who I know will be found in Colonel Wood. The subject is one worthy of consideration, and can only be matured by reflection.
The sooner it is put in execution the better, if it be deemed practicable. At this time, as far as I can learn, all the troops in the control of the United States are being sent to Grant, and little or no opposition could be made by those at Washington. With relation to the project of Marshal Kane, if the matter can be kept secret, which I fear is impossible, should General Early cross the Potomac, he might be sent to join him.
Very respectfully, Your Excellency’s 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. 37, Part 1, pp. 766-768
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 September 19