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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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

August 14, 1864


Hon. Secretary of War,

Richmond, Va.:


Sir: I regret to state that the desertions are increasing in some of the regiments of this army. General Hill reports, on the 12th instant, the desertion of a lieutenant and twenty-four men from the Ninth Alabama Regiment, ten men from Dement’s (Maryland) battery, and six others from different regiments of Mahone’s division. The troops are suffering much discomfort in the trenches, which may in part account for these desertions, and the circular issued by the Washington authorities, promising immunity to deserters and exemption from military service, may also have had its effect. From the statements of Federal deserters of the feeling in their army, I wrote to you some time since that I thought good might be done by issuing an order promising to receive their deserters and give them the means of reaching their homes by a safe route, and shall be glad to know your views on the subject. In some cases I believe particular causes of discontent are alleged to exist among our men. In the Ninth Alabama, from which there have been numerous desertions, it is said that the dismissal, last winter, of a favorite officer gave great dissatisfaction. The deserters are supposed to be making their way home with the intention of joining some cavalry commands that are being organized in Alabama, as I am informed. Unless this practice be checked, our army will be seriously weakened. Steps should be at once instituted to punish all officers who receive deserters into their commands, and I recommend that the organizations, said to be forming in Alabama, be at once visited, and in case deserters from this or any other army be found in them, the authority to raise them be revoked, and the officers and men placed in the regular service. I have before pointed out the evil consequences resulting, in my opinion, from granting authority to raise new companies, &c.; but, if it must be done, I advise that in all cases the presence of any absentee from another command in one of the new ones, whether the officer commanding was aware that the man had no right to enlist with him or not, be held a sufficient reason for revoking the authorization and breaking up the new organization. I see no other way of arresting the evil, and causing those engaged in recruiting new commands to take sufficient precautions against receiving deserters.

With great respect, your obedient servant,


R E Lee,





Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 42, Part 2, pp. 1175-1176

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 August 14  

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