• 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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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.



Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

March 27, 1863


Hon. James A. Seddon, Secretary of War:

Sir: About the last of January I directed General W. E. Jones to send an escort of cavalry with Maj. W. J. Johnson, commissary of the cavalry division, into Hardy County, for the purpose of collecting beef cattle, &c. General Jones was also directed to send parties into the counties west for the same purpose. Major Johnson has returned from his expedition, and reports that he obtained in Hardy County 500 beef cattle, 200 sheep, and 4,200 pounds of bacon. He also obtained from Loudoun and Culpeper 200 head of cattle, and from Rockingham 3,000 pounds of bacon. I have not yet learned what amount of subsistence the parties sent by General Jones obtained. I have endeavored during the past campaign to draw subsistence from the country occupied by the troops, wherever it was possible, and I believe by that means much relief has been afforded to the Commissary Department. At this time but few supplies can be procured from the country we now occupy.

General Longstreet has been directed to employ the troops south of James River, when not required for military operations, to collect supplies in that quarter, and penetrate, if practicable, the district held by the enemy. The troops of this portion of the army have for some time been confined to reduced rations, consisting of 18 ounces of flour, 4 ounces of bacon of indifferent quality, with occasionally supplies of rice, sugar, or molasses. The men are cheerful, and I receive but few complaints; still, I do not think it is enough to continue them in health and vigor, and I fear they will be unable to endure the hardships of the approaching campaign. Symptoms of scurvy are appearing among them, and to supply the place of vegetables each regiment is directed to send a daily detail to gather sassafras buds, wild onions, garlic, lamb’s quarter, and poke sprouts, but for so large an army the supply obtained is very small. I have understood, I do not know with what truth, that the Army of the West and that in the Department of South Carolina and Georgia are more bountifully supplied with provisions. I have also heard that the troops in North Carolina receive one-half pound of bacon per day. I think this army deserves as much consideration as either of those named, and, if it can be supplied, respectfully ask that it be similarly provided.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,

R E Lee




March 28, 1863

Referred to Commissary-General for consideration and report.

J. A. Seddon,
Secretary of War


Office of the Commissary-General of Subsistence

April 1, 1863

The reduction of the meat ration in General Lee’s army was due mainly to local causes, that of transportation being chief, as will appear by the following indorsement on a letter received from J. H. Clairbone, commissary of subsistence:



March 28, 1863

Letter of Maj. J. H. Claiborne, relating to lack of transportation, accompanied by one from Mr. Hottel, on same subject.


Office of the Commissary-General of Subsistence,

March 28, 1863

Respectfully referred to the Secretary of War, with a statement of Mr. Hottel, my transportation agent. This paper I had directed to be prepared for the purpose of showing the inadequacy of the transportation for bringing on even the rough articles of meat, the sugar on hand and to hand since the 13th December having been used as a substitute for bacon. This condition requires an instant remedy. Mr. Hottel suggests one, viz, to reduce the passenger trains one-half.

Maj. W. H. Smith, from Raleigh, reports the depots blocked up at three different points, and the railroad men prefer private freight, which they say pays the best. This army is living from hand to mouth as to meat and bread, due to a want of means to get both meat and wheat brought to market. Railroads won out, horses killed up, are obstacles beyond the reach of the Commissary-General of Subsistence.

L. B. Northrop

Commissary-General of Subsistence


Dr. Cartwright, in a lengthy report on the reduction of the meat ration (which was referred to this Bureau by the President), urges that it be done on sanitary grounds. The appearance of the men of General Lee’s army and their health confirm the opinion of Dr. Cartwright as to diminishing the ration, and it is recommended that the bacon and pork ration be accordingly reduced to one-fourth of a pound throughout the army, a measure quite appropriate to the present condition of the country. It is greatly to be feared that it will not be long before there will be found an insufficiency of bread. This matter has already been pressed so often upon the consideration of the Secretary of War, as it has been to General Lee, that another reference to it may seem importunate. But, even at the risk of being so considered, it is a duty to make another appeal, that the remedy against the threatened evil may be applied at once. So much time has been permitted to elapse, that it is questionable whether the remedy can now be applied in time.     

Early in last January, having made many ineffectual attempts to arouse the solicitude of those in whose power the application of the remedy alone resided, I sent an officer of this Bureau to see General Lee personally on the subject, and obtained a letter from the Secretary of War, in addition to one which I wrote General Lee on the subject. But General Lee declined seeing this gentleman. Then the matter was easy of solution; it may be now, if immediately at least two hundred wagons are placed at the disposal of this Bureau, with adequate military protection, to operate in the counties of Rappahannock, Madison, Culpeper, Fauquier, and Loudoun. If this is not done, and that immediately, I can see nothing but want of bread for our army. Every day, nay, every hour, that this is delayed lessens materially the bare present possibility of succeeding in obtaining a sufficient supply even of bread.

The presentation of this question in the form here presented has been deemed to be a duty. Timely notice was given by this Bureau, and earnest appeals made for the means to provide a sufficiency, but in vain. More energetic action must be applied now than was necessary when this matter was first pressed by this Bureau.

I beg that, when want in this regard comes, it will be remembered that this Bureau has pressed this matter with all the zeal which it was possible to exert.


J. B. Northrop

Commissary-General Subsistence 



Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 25, Part 2, pp. 686-687

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 October 13

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