<br /> Lee Letter: g125

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Robert E. Lee
Recipient: Jefferson Davis

Mr. President

I have just received your note of 11½ P.M. yesterday, I regret very much that I did not see you yesterday afternoon, and especially after your having taken so long a ride. If the movement of Early meets with your approval, I am sure it is the best that can be made, though I know how difficult it is with my limited knowledge to perceive what is best.

I think the enemy must be preparing to move South of James River. Our scouts and pickets yesterday stated that Gen Grant’s whole army was in motion for the fords of the Chickahominy from Long Bridge down, from which I inferred that he was making his way to the James River as his new base. I cannot however learn positively that more than a small part of his Army has crossed the Chickahominy. Our contest last evening, as far as I am able to judge was with a heavy force of cavalry and the 5th corps of his army. They were driven back until dark as I informed you, by a part of Hill’s corps. Presuming that this force was either the advance of his Army, or the cover behind which it would move to James River, I prepared to attack it again this morning, but it disappeared from before us during the night, and as far as we can judge from the statements of prisoners, it has gone to Harrison’s landing. The force of cavalry here was pressed forward early this morning, but as yet no satisfactory information has been obtained. It may be Gen Grant’s intention to place his army within the fortifications around Harrison’s landing, which I believe still stand, and where by the aid of his gunboats, he could offer a strong defence. I do not think it would be advantageous to attack him in that position. He could then either refresh it or transfer it to the other side of the River without our being able to molest it, unless our ironclads are stronger than his. It is reported by some of our scouts that a portion of his troops marched to the White House, and from information derived from citizens, were there embarked. I thought it probable that these might have been their discharged men, especially as a scout reported under date of the 9th inst: that transports loaded with troops have been going up the Potomac for three days and nights, passing above Alexandria. On the night of the 8th, upwards of thirty steamers went up, supposed to be filled with troops, no doubt many of these were wounded and sick men. Still I apprehend that he may be sending troops up the James River with the view of getting possession of Petersburg before we can reinforce it. We ought therefore to be extremely watchful & guarded. Unless I hear something satisfactory by evening, I shall move Hoke’s division back to the vicinity of the Ponton Bridge across James River in order that he may cross if necessary. The rest of the army can follow should circumstances require it.

The victories of Forest and Hampton are very grateful at this time, and show that we are not forsaken by a gracious Providence. We have only to do our whole duty, and everything will be well. A scout in Prince William reports that the enemy are rebuilding the bridges on the 0&A RR. adjacent to Alexandria. This may be with the view of opening the Manassas Gap RR to communicate with the Valley, their tenure of which I trust will not be permanent. Most respectfully

Your obt servt

R. E. Lee Genl.

Notes:

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

Printed in Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s Dispatches, Dispatch No. 125.