Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

January 10, 1863


Hon. James A. Seddon,

Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.:


Sir: I have the honor to represent to you the absolute necessity that exists, in my opinion, to increase our armies, if we desire to oppose effectual resistance to the vast numbers that the enemy is now precipitating upon us. It has occurred to me that the people are not fully aware of their danger, nor of the importance of making every exertion to put fresh troops in the field at once; and that if the facts were presented by those whose position best enables them to know the urgency of the case, they and the State authorities would be stimulated to make greater efforts. I trust, therefore, that it may not be deemed improper by the Department to communicate these facts to the Governors of the several States, that they may give efficient aid to the enrolling officers within their limits, and arouse the people to a sense of the vital importance of the subject.

The success with which our efforts have been crowded, under the blessing of God, should not betray our people into the dangerous delusion that the armies now in the field are sufficient to bring this war to a successful and speedy termination. While the spirit of our soldiers is unabated, their ranks have been greatly thinned by the casualties of battle and the diseases of the camp. Losses in battle are rendered much heavier by reason of our being compelled to encounter the enemy with inferior numbers; so that every man who remains out of service increases the dangers to which the brave men, who have so well borne the burden of the war, are exposed.

The great increase of the enemy’s forces will augment the disparity of numbers to such a degree that victory, if attained, can only be achieved by a terrible expenditure of the most precious blood of the country. This blood will be upon the heads of the thousands of able-bodied men who remain at home in safety and ease, while their fellow-citizens are bravely confronting the enemy in the field, or enduring with noble fortitude the hardships and privations of the march and camp. Justice to these brave men, as well as the most urgent considerations of public safety, imperatively demand that the ranks of our army should be immediately filled.

The country has yet to learn how often advantages, secured at the expense of many valuable lives, have failed to produce their legitimate results by reason of our inability to prosecute them against the reenforcements which the superior numbers of the enemy enable him to interpose between the defeat of an army and its ruin.

More than once have most promising opportunities been lost for want of men to take advantage of them, and victory itself has been made to put on the appearance of defeat, because our diminished and exhausted troops have been unable to renew a successful struggle against fresh numbers of the enemy. The lives of our soldiers are too precious to be sacrificed in the attainment of successes that inflict no loss upon the enemy beyond the actual loss in battle. Every victory should bring us nearer to the great end which it is the object of this war to reach.

The people of the Confederate States have it in their power to prevent a recurrence of these misfortunes, and render less remote the termination of this desolating war, at much smaller expense of treasure, suffering, and blood than must attend its prosecution with inadequate numbers. They must put forth their full strength at once. Let them hear the appeal of their defenders for help, and drive into the ranks, from very shame, those who will not heed the dictates of honor and of patriotism. Let the State authorities take the matter in hand, and see that no man able to bear arms be allowed to evade his duty.

In view of the vast increase of the forces of the enemy, of savage and brutal policy he has proclaimed,1 which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death, if we would save the honor of our families from pollution, our social system from destruction, let every effort be made, every means be employed, to fill and maintain the ranks of our armies, until God, in his mercy, shall bless us with the establishment of our independence.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R E Lee





1. Lee is referring to the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on 1863 January 1.




Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 21, pp. 1085-1086

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 September 18