Headquarters, Alexandria, Va., April 24, 1861

Maj. Gen. R. E. Lee


Your dispatch of the 23rd instant, by telegraph, has been received. I had fully anticipated all your instructions. I recognized from the moment I took position and command on this line of operations the policy of preserving the anomalous military position now existing, but which may at any moment be overthrown in the present disorganized and feeble military position of our State, and especially on this line of operations. Time, therefore gained on the one side will enable us to organize and strengthen; but, unless every possible nerve is strengthened on our side, and every moment reckoned as a month, our enemy will press us in this race. Your summons, therefore, from the heart of the State should be “To arms! To arms!” from the center to the remotest confines, and, as soon as you can cover from Alexandria to the heart of the State, at Richmond, immediately extend the whole might of the commonwealth to come up to the aid of the line of operations. I stand here to-day in sight of the enemy’s position, an army now numbering from ten to twelve thousand men, under arms, and rapidly increasing by re-enforcements from the North, while I have today but three hundred men fit for duty; and while I am without any staff organization, cannon, or any ordnance and ammunition, without any officers, engineers, artillery, or ordnance, and without suitable staff officers, it will be my part to mask your designs and operations; to act for the present absolutely on the defensive; to watch the enemy; to keep you informed of his movements; to rally to my aid the whole country in the rear; to organize, and await re-enforcements from every possible quarter. Indicate to me, as soon as possible, whatever points shall be decided upon in rear of my position for the rendezvous of any proposed re-enforcement. Your instructions, also, as to the best position of my own headquarters and of my camp of recruits and organization in my rear will be gladly received. I am moving back the flour from Alexandria to the depots on the railroads in the interior. I am also moving back a large amount of railroad iron, which we shall want for batteries. I am cutting off the supplies from Washington, and sending them back to the farms, or returning what may pass through this place. In case of a change of existing military status, in case the enemy take the initiative and invade our soil, I would be glad to have your instructions or advice as to the line by which I should retire to soonest meet with support and co-operation. Say whether you think I ought to continue my headquarters in Alexandria or remove them elsewhere, or under what probable contingencies I should make any movements.


Philip St. Geo. Cocke,








Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol., 2, pp. 776-777.