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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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



Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

August 17, 1863

His Excellency Jefferson Davis,

President of the Confederate States:

Mr. President: The number of desertions from this army is so great, and still continues to such an extent, that unless some cessation of them can be caused, I fear success in the field will be endangered. Immediately on the publication of the amnesty, which I thought would be beneficial in its effects, many presumed on it, and absented themselves from their commands, choosing to place on it a wrong interpretation. In one corps, the desertions of North Carolinians, and, to some extent, of Virginians, has grown to be a very serious matter. The Virginians go off in many cases to join the various partisan corps in the State. General Imboden writes that there are great numbers of deserters in the valley, who conceal themselves successfully from the small squads sent to arrest them. Many cross the James River near Balcony Falls, en route for the south, along the mountain ridges. Night before last, 30 went from one regiment and 18 from another. Great dissatisfaction is reported among the good men of the army at the apparent impunity of deserters.

In order to remove all palliation from the offense of desertion, and as a reward to merit, I have instituted in the army a system of furloughs, which are to be granted, in the most meritorious and urgent cases, at the rate of one for every 100 men present for duty.

I would now respectfully submit to your excellency the opinion that all has been done which forbearance and mercy call for, and that nothing will remedy this great evil which so much endangers our cause excepting the rigid enforcement of the death penalty in future in cases of conviction.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, Your Excellency’s obedient servant,

R E Lee,          




Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 29, Part 2, pp. 649-650

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2019 April 2

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