<br /> Lee Letter: g065

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Robert E. Lee
Recipient: Jefferson Davis

Mr. President

The number of desertions from the 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 seriously 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 partizan 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 enroute for the south along the mountain ridges. Night before last thirty went from one regiment and eighteen from another. Great dissatisfaction is reported among the good men in 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 to the most meritorious and urgent cases at the rate of one for every hundred men present for duty. I would now respectfully submit to your Excellency the opinion that all has been done which forebearance and mercy call for and that nothing will remedy this great evil which so much endangers our cause except the rigid enforcement of the death penalty in future in cases of conviction. I am with great respect

Your obt Servt.

R. E. Lee General


W. J. De Renne CollectionWormsloe, Chatham County, Georgia (1914)

Printed in Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s Dispatches, Dispatch No. 65.