Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

January 19, 1864


Brig. Gen. A. R. Lawton,

Quartermaster-General, Richmond, Va.:

General: I desire to state more fully to you my views with reference to procuring a supply of shoes for the army, as I fear that unless great efforts are made the return of the season of active operations will find a large number of the men barefooted.

It is the opinion of the quartermaster of this army that if we were supplied with tools and materials, from one-third to one-half of the army could be shod by the system of brigade shoemakers, already brought to your attention. I am satisfied that this system can be made an important auxiliary of the department, and am anxious that some measure may be devised to procure leather in sufficient quantities. I caused a requisition for the least amount that we could get along with, viz, 37,500 pounds to be made, of which we have only received 8,000 or 9,000 pounds. I hope that the rest will be forthcoming. I think there is leather, and enough, in the country concealed by speculators, of which we never hear until the enemy captures and destroys it. Such was the case at Salem, were General Averell reports that he destroyed cords of it. Such was also the case at Luray and Sperryville. That at Luray was in the hands of a speculator named Borst, I am informed, who had concealed it there.

If this leather cannot be had in any other way it should be impressed. But before resorting to impressment I would much prefer to resort to the system of exchanging hides for leather. This approaches nearer to a purchase on a specie basis, and would certainly draw out the leather from its concealment, and not have that tendency to repress production which is one of the worst consequences of impressment. I recommend that the prohibition against such exchanges be removed from this army at least, in view of the vital importance of procuring a prompt supply of leather. The result of the experiment would enable you to judge better of its merits, and afford a better idea of the amount of leather in the country than can be otherwise obtained.

Should you resort to impressment I advise that good men be selected to regulate it. Major Bell, quartermaster at Staunton, or Captain Phillips, assistant quartermaster at the same place, would manage the matter so as to prevent hardship and get as much as can be expected by that system. I think that we could be more expeditiously and certainly supplied by exchange, however. Whatever is to be done must be done without delay, as it is indispensable to the efficiency of the army in the approaching campaign. The letter will be placed in charge of active and vigilant officers in the brigade, who will see that none is wasted in that all is applied to the use of the troops.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee,





Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 33, pp. 1098-1099

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2021 November 21