Four Years With General Lee, by Walter H. Taylor, Chapter 14

Four Years With General Lee

The Strength of the Army of Northern Virginia, taken from the Original Returns now on File in the Archive-Office of the War Department, Washington, D.C.

AFTER the notes contained in the preceding chapter had been prepared, and when I was about to address myself to the task of reproducing the statement of the strength of the Army of Northern Virginia, made by me from memory, soon after the war, in compliance with the request of General Lee, I ascertained that some of the field and monthly returns of that army were on file in the archives of the War Department at Washington.

Inasmuch as several unsuccessful attempts had been made to obtain permission to examine the Confederate papers there on file, and recognizing the force of the objection of the officials in charge to a general inspection of those documents, it was with considerable misgiving, and indeed with but little hope, that I caused application in my behalf to be made to the authorities for permission to examine the army returns alluded to; relying solely upon the fact of my having supervised the preparation of those returns for several years as an argument in favor of having an exception made in my case.

Success crowned my effort, and I take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the very kind and courteous treatment I received at the hands of the officials of the War Department, who extended to me every facility for the accomplishment of my purpose; and at the same time I take pleasure in assuring my former comrades-in-arms of the evident purpose of the Government authorities charged with the custody of these records to discard all sectional bias in the prosecution of their labors, and to preserve faithfully and impartially all documents which are now in their custody, or which may be hereafter committed to their care, in order that, so far as it is in their power, the truth, and nothing but the truth, shall be preserved. Let us indulge the hope that the day is not far distant when the American people, without distinction, will find pleasure in the contemplation of all that was manly, all that w T as virtuous, all that was noble, all that was praiseworthy, in the recent struggle between the sections, whether developed on the side of the North or that of the South; and that the next generation will cherish, with pardonable pride, the remembrance of the deeds of valor, sacrifice, and noble daring, with which the history of that war so richly abounds, whether the heroes thereof wore the blue or the gray.

Let censure fall only where fanatics feigned to be patriots, or men forgot their manhood, and, screened behind an alleged military necessity, gave evidence of an evil heart in deeds of malignant cruelty or wanton destruction; and let merit be acknowledged and praise be bestowed wherever firm devotion to principle and to duty found illustration in deeds of valor and of sacrifice.

As soon as practicable I availed myself of the permission accorded me, and proceeded to make an examination of the army returns on file in the Department. The first paper that was examined by me proved to be an informal return of the strength of the army commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, which I at once recognized as having been on file in General Lee’s office, and the indorsement upon which was in my own handwriting, except the date, which was added either by Mr. Davis or General Long, who was then private secretary to General Lee, and read as follows: “Army near Richmond, Department of Northern Virginia, May 21, 1862.” Within was the following statement of the strength of the several commands of which that army was then composed:



Whiting’s brigade2,398
Hood’s brigade1,922
W. H. Hampton’s brigade2,225
S. R. Hatton’s brigade2,030
Pettigrew’s brigade2,017


A. P. Hill’s brigade2,512
Pickett’s brigade2,460
R. H. Anderson’s brigade2,168
Wilcox’s brigade2,616
Colston’s brigade1,750
Pryor’s brigade2,310


McLaws’s brigade2,084
Kershaw’s brigade2,567
Griffith’s brigade2,534
H. Cobb’s brigade3,796
Toombs’s brigade2,357
D. R. Jones’s brigade2,342
Reserve artillery Cabell240


Early’s brigade2,380
Rodes’s brigade3,040
Colonel Ward’s command890
Raines’s brigade1,830
Featherstone’s brigade2,224
Colonel Crump’s command787
Cavalry brigade1,289
Reserve artillery:
Total. 920
Total strength of all arms53,688

I then examined carefully all the field and monthly re turns of the “Department of Northern Virginia” on file in the Archive-Office, and copied therefrom the following extracts, which make an authoritative statement of the strength of the army commanded by General Lee at the periods named:

By reference to the returns of the Federal armies of the 1st of March, 1865, as given in the report of the Secretary of War to the Thirty-ninth Congress (vol. v., p. 55), I find that General Grant had available at that date, the Army of the Potomac under General Meade, one hundred and three thousand two hundred and seventy-three present for duty; the army in the “Department of Virginia” under General Ord, numbering forty-five thousand nine hundred and eighty-six; and the cavalry force of the Middle Military Division under General Sheridan, twelve thousand nine hundred and eighty strong: making an effective total of all arms of one hundred and sixty-two thousand two hundred and thirty-nine.

There is no return of the Army of Northern Virginia on file in the Archive-Office, at Washington, of later date than that last given. It will be seen that on the 28th of February, 1865, General Lee had available thirty-nine thousand eight hundred and seventy-nine muskets. During the month of March the army lost heavily. In the assault made by General Gordon’s troops on the line of the enemy, on the 25th, the Confederate loss was between twenty-five hundred and three thousand. The loss to the army by desertion, in the last thirty days of the siege, was three thousand men; an average of one hundred per day. On the 31st of March, General Lee had therefore but thirty-three thousand muskets, with which to defend a line over thirty miles in length—one thousand men to the mile!

In the engagement at Five Forks on the 1st of April, the divisions of Pickett and Bushrod Johnson were well-nigh annihilated by the Federal turning force, under Sheridan and Warren, which overwhelmed them; the loss sustained there reached seven thousand men.1 In the encounters at other points on the 31st of March and the 1st of April, and in the general assault on the lines made on the 2d of April, the loss was very heavy, perhaps six thousand men. So that, when General Lee withdrew his army from the lines during the night of the 2d of April, he had not over twenty thousand muskets available. The cavalry had also suffered heavily, and, of all arms, not over twenty-five thousand men began the retreat that terminated at Appomattox Court-House.

Speaking in behalf of my former comrades of the Army of Northern Virginia, I here rest our case, and declare our readiness to accept the judgment of the world, as to the genius and skill of the commander, and the valor and endurance of the men, who fought so nobly and fell so bravely, full of honors, though denied success.

In what I have written, I have endeavored, first, to assist in making clear some matters touching the history of General Lee, heretofore shrouded in obscurity or doubt; secondly, to present a statement of the strength of the army which he commanded, that could be relied upon as accurate.

In regard to the first branch of my undertaking, I need not that others should remind me of the imperfect manner of its execution; but, of the matter, and of the spirit in which I addressed myself to the work, I claim that my only aim has been historic accuracy. Indeed, I have written as if under the supervision of General Lee himself, fully realizing that, were that illustrious man now living, he would scorn any advantage obtained through injustice to others, or the sacrifice of truth: and this conviction has been present to my mind as a controlling force through my entire narrative.

In regard to the second branch of my subject, I feel assured that the statement of the strength of the Confederate army has been presented in such form as to command the confidence of all. Startling to some as the disparity in numbers between the two armies on certain occasions may appear, it is nevertheless established upon incontrovertible evidence, and makes pardonable the emotions of pride with which the soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia points to the achievements of that incomparable body of soldiery, under its peerless and immortal leader. Had he lived, I have shown that it was his purpose to prepare for the benefit of posterity, and as a just tribute to the courage and endurance of his men, a true statement of the odds against which they had to contend. What the designs of an inscrutable but all-wise Providence prevented him from doing, in this particular, I have had the temerity to attempt, and now submit the result of my labor to the judgment of my countrymen, in the hope that in criticising my work they will not lose sight of the purpose by which I have been actuated, or the spirit in which I have performed my task.


1 The Federals claim to have taken five thousand prisoners.

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