Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia

Camp near Fredericksburg

January 4, 1863



            Your letter of the 1st instant has been received. As you seem to be certain that the enemy are reinforcing Suffolk and passing troops from that point to New Berne, I would recommend that you collect a force at Goldsboro, and within supporting distance of it, adequate to oppose them. I do not think that the enemy can bring into the field in that region at present a large or stable force. Their troops must be new and not very reliable, nor have they an officer there that I am aware of in whom much confidence is reposed by his Government. It is an impossible for him to have a large operating army at every assailable point in our territory as it is for us to keep one to defend it. We must move our troops from point to point as required, & by close observation and accurate information the true point of attack can generally be ascertained. I may be mistaken, but I have thought that the troops at your disposal would be sufficient to drive back the threatened incursions of the enemy south of James River until he is reinforced from some of his armies now in the field.

            Genl Burnside has all his army between Fredericksburg and Aquia Creek, with the addition of Sigel’s corps. His own headquarters are near Brooke’s Station, nor is there any indication of an embarkation or retrograde movement or going into winter quarters. I think it dangerous to diminish this army until something can be ascertained of the intentions of that opposed to it, and I hope you will be able by judicious arrangements and concentration of the troops under your command, to protect the frontier line of North Carolina. Partial encroachments of the enemy we must expect, but they can always be recovered, and any defeat of their large army will reinstate everything. From information received from the Secretary of War, I yesterday put Ransom’s division in motion to Hanover Junction, and will continue him to Richmond unless I receive other information. You will find it necessary in North Carolina to dispose your troops so that they can march to the points required instead of trusting to the railroads, otherwise it will be impossible to collect your troops as speedily as necessary. The railroads must be reserved for transporting munitions of war. I would recommend that you take the field in person and endeavor to get out troops from the State of North Carolina for her defense. Wilmington should be defended at all hazards.

I have the honor to be with great respect, your obt svt


R. E. Lee



Source: The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee, edited by Clifford Dowdey and Louis Manarin, pp. 383-384


Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 January 4


[1] Gustavus Woodson Smith (1821-1896) was born in Kentucky. He briefly served as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia after the wounding of Joseph E. Johnston. The following day, however, Lee replaced him. In August of 1862, Smith became commander of the Department of North Carolina & Southern Virginia, which included him overseeing the defenses of Richmond. In February 1863, Smith joined the staff of P. G. T. Beauregard. On 1864 June 1, Smith served as a commander of militia forces in Georgia, where he remained until the end of the war. Smith died in New York City on 1896 June 24.