<br /> Lee Letter: g080

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Robert E. Lee
Recipient: Jefferson Davis

Mr. President,

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the letter forwarded to me by your directions, containing the views of the writer as to the intentions of the enemy in the approaching campaign.

I have read the speculations of the Northern papers on the subject, and the order of Gen Grant published in our papers yesterday, but I am not disposed to believe from what I now know, that the first important effort will be directed against Richmond. The Northern papers, particularly if they derive their information from official sources, as they profess, do not in all probability represent the real purpose of the Federal Govt. but are used to create false impressions. The order of Gen. Grant, closely considered, is not inconsistent with this idea. There was no apparent occasion for the publication at such a time and place of his intention to take up his Hd Qrs with the army of the Potomac, and the announcement appears to me to be made with some hidden purpose. It will be remembered that northern papers of the 14th inst: represented Gen. Grant as en route for Tennessee to arrange affairs there preparatory to assuming immediate command of the army of the Potomac. What those arrangements were, we do not know, but if of sufficient moment to require Gen Grant’s personal presence in the West just on the eve of his entering upon active duties with another army, it can not be probable that he had completed them by the time his order bears date, March 17th, especially, as several of the few days intervening between his departure from Washington and the publication of the order, must have been consumed in travelling. The establishment of an office in Washington to which communications from other armies than that which Gen. Grant accompanies shall be addressed, evidently leaves everything to go under the direction of the former authorities as before, and allows no room for inferences as to whether any army will be active or not, merely from the fact of the presence of Gen. Grant. There is to my mind an appearance of design about the order which makes it of a piece with the publications in the papers, intended to mislead us as to the enemy’s intention, and if possible, induce corresponding preparation on our part. You will remember that a like ruse was practised at Vicksburg. Just before the Federal Army went down the river, the indications given out were such, that it was thought the attempt on Vicksburg would be abandoned, and that it was proper to reinforce Gen. Bragg, whose army it was supposed would next be attacked. It is natural that the enemy should try to conceal the point which he intends to assail first, as he may suppose that our armies, being connected by shorter lines than his, can concentrate more rapidly. In confirmation of these views, I cannot learn that the army of Gen. Meade has been reinforced by any organized troops, nor can I learn of any coming east over the B&O Rail Road which I have ordered to be closely watched. A dispatch from Gen. Imboden dated March 23rd states that it is reported that the enemy was moving troops westwards over that road all last week. The report is vague but if true, the troops referred to may be recruits, convalescents & furloughed men going to the corps from the east now serving in the West, or they may be reinforcements for the army of Tennessee. I have reiterated my order about watching the road, and directed the rumor above mentioned to be carefully investigated. From present indications, I am inclined to believe that the first efforts of the enemy will be directed against Gen Johnston or Gen Longstreet, most probably the former. If it succeed, Richmond will no doubt be attacked. The condition of the weather and the roads will probably be more favorable for active operations at an early day in the south than in Va. where it will be uncertain for more than a month. Although we cannot do more than weigh probabilities, they are useful in stimulating and directing a vigilant observation of the enemy, and suggesting such a policy on our part as may determine his. His object can be ascertained with the greatest certainty by observing the movements of his armies closely. I would advise that we make the best preparations in our power to meet an advance in any quarter, but be careful not to suffer ourselves to be misled by feigned movements into strengthening one point at the expense of others, equally exposed and equally important. We should hold ourselves in constant readiness to concentrate as rapidly as possible wherever it may be necessary, but do nothing without reasonably certain information except prepare. This information I have already said, can be best obtained by unremitting vigilance in observing those armies that will most probably be active in the campaign, and I trust that your Excellency will impress this fact, and the importance of energy accuracy and intelligence in collecting information upon all officers in a position to do so. Should a movement be made against Richmond in large force, its preparation will no doubt be indicated by the withdrawal of troops from other quarters, particularly the Atlantic Coast and West. The officers commands in these regions should endeavor to get early and accurate information of such withdrawal. Should Gen. Johnston or Gen Longstreet find the forces opposed to them reduced sufficiently to justify attacking them, they might entirely frustrate the enemy’s plans by defeating him. Energy and activity on our part, with a constant readiness to seize any opportunity to strike a blow, will embarrass, if not entirely thwart the enemy in concentrating his different armies, and compel him to conform his movements to our own. If Gen. Johnston could be put in a condition to operate successfully against the army opposed to him, he would effectually prevent a combination against Richmond. In the meantime, to guard against any contingency, everything not immediately required should be sent away from Richmond, and stores of food and other supplies collected in suitable and safe places for the use of the troops that it may become necessary to assemble for its defence. I beg to repeat that the utmost vigilance and circumspection, coupled with active and energetic preparation are of the first moment to us. With high respect,

Your obt. servt.

R. E. Lee Genl.


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

Printed in Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s Dispatches, Dispatch No. 80.