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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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

January 5, 1864


Col. L. B. Northrop,

Commissary-General, Richmond, Va.:


Colonel: Your letter of the 7th ultimo reached here during my absence in Richmond, and I have not been able to reply to it since my return until now.

I regret very much to learn that the supply of beef for the Army is so nearly exhausted. I have endeavored since first taking command to collect for its use all the provisions I could, and am still making every effort in my power to gather subsistence in front of our line of operations. No beef has been issued to the Cavalry Corps by the chief commissary, that I am aware of, for eighteen months. During that time it has supplied itself, and has now, I understand, sufficient to last it until the middle of February.

The commissaries of the corps, under orders of the chief commissary of the army, have purchased all the cattle and provisions within their reach. This is the only relief I can afford to the subsistence department in supplying the army. I cannot adopt your suggestions to employ the organization of your bureau to impress provisions. Neither the law or regulations of the War Department, in my opinion, give me that power. I am authorized by the orders of the Department to impress provisions and forage when occasion required, and I have exercised that power under certain emergencies, through the proper officers of this army, but withdrew it when the necessity passed. You wish me to do it continuously, to accumulate supplies for the troops, and to give orders to that effect to the officers and agents of your bureau, over whom I cannot legitimately exercise any control. As I understand the law and regulations on the subject, you can be empowered to do this by the Secretary of War, and I should consider that I was going beyond my province were I to assume that authority.

I have been mortified to find that when any scarcity existed this was the only army in which it is found necessary to reduce the rations. My information not being official, and derived from officers of other armies, I may be mistaken, but I have never heard of any reduction in the meat ration issued to the troops in and about Richmond, Petersburg, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, or in the Southwest. Many of these troops are in a measure stationary, less exposed to the inclemency of the weather, and undergoing less hardship and danger than the troops of this army. Many of them could with propriety, I think, be placed on lighter diet than troops in the field, and it may have been the case without coming to my knowledge. I understand that at the present time the army of General Johnston is receiving full rations of meat, bread, rice, molasses, and some whisky, while in this army only a quarter of a pound of salt and three-quarters of a pound of fresh meat are being issued. We have also had in addition half rations of sugar and coffee, one day’s issue of fruit, and some lard. These latter articles have been of great advantage. I am always glad to hear of troops receiving abundance of provisions at any point, but think all ought to fare alike, if possible. It stops complaint and produces more contentment.

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

R E Lee,





Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 33, pp. 1064-1065

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 January 2 


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