<br /> Lee Letter: g093

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Robert E. Lee
Recipient: Jefferson Davis

Mr. President,

I was much gratified to learn that the enemy had retired from the Richmond and Petersburg road and that our communications were again open. The subject had occasioned me great uneasiness. I think that the best way to operate against the force on James River is to attack its communications, if it cannot be driven off by main force. I do not know what can be effected with our gunboats, but am satisfied that some light artillery and sharp-shooters operating from the side of the river in our possession, can make the enemy very uneasy about his transportation. The night attack on Gen McClellan’s transports at Harrison’s Landing, is represented by him to have caused him embarrassment while his army lay there. His transports were taken down to the broad part of the river and brought up to be unloaded by night. In the narrow part of the stream where the enemy’s shipping now lies, one or more batteries of light artillery, and some picked sharpshooters, could do a great deal of damage. They could also operate below on vessels ascending the river. Sharpshooters could be effectively used at night as the enemy would be obliged to use lights in loading and unloading his vessels. I believe that an active and vigilant officer with a good command could alarm the enemy very much for the safety of his communications, and might cause him to withdraw. I thought it probable that the force of the enemy south of James River was much exaggerated. I could not see from what source he could obtain the large army he was represented to have, as I believe he nearly exhausted his resources in the case to fill up the Army of the Potomac.

We have succeeded so far in keeping on the front flank of that army, and impeding its progress, without a general engagement, which I will not bring on unless a favorable opportunity offers, or as a last resort. Every attack made upon us has been repelled and considerable damage done to the enemy. With the blessing of God, I trust we shall be able to prevent Gen. Grant from reaching Richmond, and I think this army could render no more effectual service. Some of the prisoners who seem disheartened, say that since the movement began, assurances were given that the army of Gen Grant would be reinforced by forty thousand men from the West. They may have only given this out to encourage the men, but it has occurred to me that if the enemy should not deem his progress satisfactory, he might draw troops from the West. I trust that Gen. Johnston will watch carefully for such a movement. We could not successfully resist a larger force than that to which we are opposed, and it is of the first moment that we should have timely information of any increase. I submit these suggestions with great deference to your Excellency, and am confident that nothing in your power will be omitted that can promote our success.

With great 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. 93.