• The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • 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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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 curator, Colin Woodward, about how you can contribute to this historic project.




18th May 1864.


President Confed. States.



The position of affairs has undergone no material change since my telegram to the Secretary of War last night. The federal army occupies the Valley of the Ny extending across the road from Spottsylvania C. H. to Fredericksburg. His position is strongly entrenched, and we cannot attack it with any prospect of success without great loss of men which I wish to avoid if possible. The enemy’s artillery is superior in weight of metal and range to our own, and my object has been to engage him when in motion and under circumstances that will not cause us to suffer from this disadvantage. I think by this means he has suffered considerably in the several past combats, and that his progress has thus far been arrested. I shall continue to strike him whenever opportunity presents itself, but nothing at present indicates any purpose on his part to advance. Neither the strength of our army nor the condition of our animals will admit, of any extensive movement with a view to draw the enemy from his position.

I think he is now waiting for reinforcements. Scouts report that the 22d corps, composed of invalids, or as they are now termed, veteran reserves, has already arrived, and also the Irish Battalion organized Washington. The garrisons that have been in the fortifications around the latter place, Baltimore, and in other localities at the north, including some regiments of heavy artillery armed as infantry, have also arrived.

Other reports represent that General Grant has called for additional reinforcements, and been assured by the Federal Secretary of War that he shall have all he requires. The volunteers for one hundred days will be used as garrisons, and all the available troops in the North will doubtless be sent to the Army of the Potomac. The importance of this campaign to the administration of Mr. Lincoln and to General Grant leaves no doubt that every effort and every sacrifice will be made to secure its success. A Washington telegram of the 11th published in a northern paper of the 13 states that it is reported that the 10th and 18th Army corps now north of the James will be called to General Grant, as they are not strong enough to take Richmond, and too strong to be kept idle. The recent success of General Beauregard may induce the fulfillment of this report, if the idea was not previously entertained.

It is also stated that the troops from General Sherman’s Dept under General Smith, which reinforced Genl Banks for the Red River expedition, have been ordered back, it may be to join Genl Sherman or to be brought East. The defensive position of Genl. Johnston which I doubt not is justified by his situation, may enable the enemy to detach a portion of the force opposed to him for service here. I trust that no effort will be spared to prevent this, or should it occur, to give timely notice of it.

From all these sources, General Grant can, and if permitted will repair the losses of the late battles, and be as strong as when he began operation.

I deem it my duty to present the actual, and what I consider the probable situation of affairs to your Excellency, in order that your judgment may be guided in devising the means of opposing the force that is being arrayed against us. I doubt not that you will be able to suggest the best measures to be taken, and that all that the emergency calls for will be done as far as it is in your power.

With great respect

Your obt servt

R. E. Lee






Source: Douglas Southall Freeman, ed., Lee’s Dispatches, pp. 183-186.



Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 February 29

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