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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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



Petersburg, July 23, 1864

His Excellency Jefferson Davis:


Mr. President: I have had the honor to receive your letter of the 22d instant inclosing a memorandum of information obtained of the probable movements of General Grant’s army. I am aware of the ease with which the troops sent for the protection of Washington can be returned to this point. I, however, think it very doubtful whether President Lincoln will permit this to be done as long as General Early is so close to the Potomac. Should he be able to obtain a large militia or volunteer force on the north bank of the Potomac, it might be hazarded, but I have not discerned any alacrity exhibited by such troops to take the field. General Early supposed the force which engaged him on the 18th at the Shenandoah to be composed of the Sixth Corps, Hunter’s troops, and two divisions of the Nineteenth Corps. I had previously heard of the arrival in Washington of the latter corps but was diverted to meet that emergency. Its presence in Washington is confirmed by the inclosed letter, which seems to be from Mr. Baxter, member of Congress from Vermont. I have written to General Early to inquire what has become of the force he drove across the Shenandoah, and to say that if he cannot detain on that frontier, it will be necessary for him to return. I have thought much upon the subject of intercepting the enemy’s communications on James River, and have written to General Ewell that I would spare troops for the purpose if it could be accomplished. I am aware of the difficulties and of the enemy’s facilities for cutting off a small force, and our inability to apply a large one. Still I hope something can be obtained. I have no idea that Grant will evacuate his position unless forced. It is one from which he can attack us at three points, as he may select, and our success will depend upon our early information and celerity of movement, as we have not troops sufficient to guard all points. I believe the troops reported to have crossed James River this morning are for the purpose of preventing our operations on the river. I have sent Kershaw’s division to Chaffin’s Bluff to re-enforce General Conner. A mounted force with ling range guns might, by a secret and rapid march, penetrate the lines south of the Potomac, and excite the alarm of the authorities at Washington, but if its approach was known, I fear the defenses south of the river could be manned in time to prevent it. Wishing you all health and prosperity,

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

R E Lee





Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 40, Part 3, pp. 793-794


Transcribed by Colin Woodward    


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