Confidential    Hdqrs. Army of Northern Virginia,

December 6, 1862


Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith,

Commanding, &c., Richmond, Va.:

General: I have received copies of dispatches of the 2d instant, forwarded to you by officers serving south of James River. They, like others transmitted to me, knowing nothing of the circumstances connected with them, present no definite idea of operations which may be in progress or contemplated. I presume you know what weight to give them, and should like always to have your opinion accompany them. I have found our good ladies, from whom much of this information has been derived, are not apt to take a calm and dispassionate view of events attending the war. The reports that I have received from other sources do not make the force at Suffolk as large as is represented by the informants of General French, and Northern Papers seem rather to indicate an apprehension of an attack by you, which I have considered was the cause of the re-enforcements being sent, under General Corcoran and others.

General Burnside’s army, I am inclined to believe, is encamped between the Rappahannock and Potomac, nor can I learn of any preparation to transfer it elsewhere. I have scouts on both flanks north of the Rappahannock, and also on the Potomac. They must be very negligent of their duty if any movement is made without my knowledge.

The steamers loaded with troops, reported by paroled officers, and mentioned in your dispatch of to-day, I do not think passed down the Potomac. I have thought it probable that they may be part of the expedition under General Banks, which I see has sailed from New York, put into Hampton Roads for shelter from the late storm. This, however, may be determined by the character of the boats. The expedition, I am inclined to believe, is destined for Texas.

The withdrawal of this army from the front of General Burnside, or even a portion of it, would, I think, cause his advance to Richmond, and cut us off from the supplies we are now drawing from the valley of the Rappahannock. I think it important to keep him at a distance as long as possible.

If you can, with the force in the vicinity of Richmond, retard, if not successfully oppose, the advance of the enemy south of James River, the army could arrive there in time to give battle. I hope your strength is sufficient for this purpose, and I should be glad to know the number of troops you would be able to concentrate when occasion requires it.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

R E Lee,




Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 21, p. 1052

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 January 26