<br /> Lee Letter: g163

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Robert E. Lee to
Recipient: Jefferson Davis

Mr President,

The enemy availed himself of the withdrawal of troops from Petersburg to the north side of James River, to take a position on the Weldon R.R. He was twice attacked on his first approach to the road, and worsted both times, but the attacking force was too small to drive him off. Before the troops could be brought back from north of James River, he had strengthened his position so much, that the effort made yesterday to dislodge him was unsuccessful, and it was apparent that it could not be accomplished even with additional troops, without a greater sacrifice of life than we can afford to make, or than the advantages of success would compensate for. As I informed your Excellency when we first reached Petersburg, I was doubtful of your ability to hold the Weldon road so as to use it. The proximity of the enemy and his superiority of numbers rendered it possible for him to break the road at any time, and even if we could drive him from the position he now holds, we could not prevent him from returning to it or to some other point, as our strength is inadequate to guard the whole road. These considerations induced me to abandon the prosecution of the effort to dislodge the enemy.

I think it is his purpose to endeavor to compel the evacuation of our present position by cutting off our supplies, and that he will not renew the attempt to drive us away by force. His late demonstration on the north side of the James was designed I think in part, to cause the withdrawal of troops from here to favor his movement against the road, but also to endeavor if possible to force his way to Richmond. Being foiled in the attempt, he has brought back all the troops engaged in it, except those at Dutch Gap, and it is possible that they too will be withdrawn to this side of the James. It behooves us to do everything in our power to thwart his new plan of reducing us by starvation, and all our energies should be directed to using to its utmost capacity our remaining line of communication with the south. The best officers of the Q M Dept should be selected to superintend the transportation of supplies by the Danville road and its Piedmont connections and all the roads south of it.

I shall do all in my power to procure some supplies by the Weldon road, bringing them by rail to Stony Creek, and thence by wagons. One train has already been sent out, and others are prepared to go. I think by energy and intelligence on the part of those charged with the duty, we will be able to maintain ourselves until the corn crop in Va comes to our relief, which it will begin to do to some extent in about a month. It should be our effort to provide not only for current wants but if practicable, to accumulate a surplus to provide against those occasional interruptions of the roads which the enemy’s policy justifies us in anticipating. I think this can be done with proper effort, and by the full use of all the rolling stock we can accumulate.

Our supply of corn is exhausted to-day, the small reserve accumulated in Richmond having been used. I am informed that all the corn that was brought from the south was transported to this place and Richmond, but the supply was not sufficient to enable the Q M department to accumulate a larger reserve. If this be true, it is desirable that steps be at once taken to increase the quantity brought over the southern roads, and if practicable, corn should be brought into Wilmington until our crop becomes available.

I trust that your Excellency will see that the most vigorous and intelligent efforts be made to keep up our supplies, and that all officers concerned in the work, be required to give their unremitting personal attention to their duty. With great respect

Your obt servt

R. E. Lee


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

Printed in Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s Dispatches, Dispatch No. 163.