• 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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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 editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.


 

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Headquarters Department of Northern Virginia,

November 28, 1862

 

Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith,

Commanding, &c., Richmond, Va.:

 

General: Your letter of the 26th instant has been received. Since my letter of the 23d, all the information I have been able to obtain tends to show that the whole army of General Burnside is concentrated along the roads between the Rappahannock and Potomac. No indications of a design to transfer it elsewhere have been discovered. The wharves at Aquia Creek have been built, cars and engines have been seen on the railroad track, which is being repaired, and the telegraph line to Alexandria is being reinstated. No transports have been discovered on the Potomac, but there are war steamers and gunboats lying off the mouth of the creek, and steamboats and tugs, with sailing vessels, employed in transporting supplies for the troops. A new road is being cut from Evansport to Brooke’s water station, on the railroad, and it is stated to have been plowed up, harrowed and rolled. Detachments of troops by land and water are reported to be joining the army, and I judge, from appearances, that whatever military operations are in contemplation will be made from this basis.

What the designs of the enemy are I do not know. His force is represented by our citizens as immense, and he has succeeded in impressing them with the belief that it rises to 400,000. This, of course, is an exaggeration, and I do not believe that it reaches one-half of that number. I have as yet discovered no preparations to cross the Rappahannock, except the collection of a large pontoon at General Burnside’s headquarters, on the Stafford road, unless the appearance last evening about sunset of three gunboats at Port Royal may prove the commencement.

While it is necessary to make every preparation against the operations of the enemy south of James River, we cannot hope to meet him at every point with anything like equal force. I think with you that efforts will be made to get possession of Wilmington, and perhaps other points of the railroad south of James River. I think, though, at present these demonstrations are intended as feints; but should they find us weak at any point, they will be converted into a real attack. I wish it were possible to re-enforce you from this army; but if it is weakened by detaching men to the several points named by you, I see nothing left for it but to fall back before the enemy. We must risk some point in order to have a sufficient force concentrated, with the hope of dealing a successful blow when opportunity favors.

The four Mississippi companies, to which you allude, were ordered on the 24th to rejoin their regiment, and ought to have been with it on the 26th, the date of your letter.

The Thirteenth and Fifteenth Virginia Cavalry, Colonels Chambliss and Ball, have been brigaded under General W. H. F. Lee, and are operating on the south bank of the Rappahannock, in the direction to which you refer. The Sixty-first Virginia, I think I previously informed you, has, at its own request, been attached to General Mahone’s brigade. The Norfolk Light Artillery Blues are here, and Major Moore’s battalion by your report being in Richmond, should you need more artillery, you had better use the latter, instead of transferring the former. We are, as you say, weak in numbers at all points, especially in comparison with the forces opposed to us; but, notwithstanding this disparity, I think we may accomplish a great deal by energy and promptness, and I feel assured that everything will be done in your department that can be.

I trust that, with your laboring force, the defensive works at the various points will be rapidly completed.

I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your obedient servant,

R E Lee

General

 

 

 

Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 21, pp. 1038-1039

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 January 5             

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